Alan Broughton

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth
By Charles Massy
University of Queensland Press, 2017
592, paperback

In Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth, Monaro farmer Charles Massy has written an excellent book on agricultural change to restore the environment.

Massy talks about his transformation from a land degrader to a land regenerator, and the inspiration he received from dozens of other Australian farmers who have done the same.

After decades of successfully avoiding responsibility for the consequences of its glyphosate herbicide, Monsanto has been ordered to pay US$39 million to cancer sufferer Dewayne Johnson by a San Francisco court, writes Alan Broughton.

Monsanto was also fined $250 million. This is the first of about 8000 such cases pending in the United States. Shareholders in Bayer, the huge German chemical company that purchased Monsanto in June for $60 billion, lost 10 billion euros as a consequence.

Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides, shows there is plenty of peer-reviewed science finding monumental faults with pesticide use and regulation — science ignored by regulators.

A packed meeting in Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria on March 21 was horrified as the implications of a planned mineral sands mine in the area were revealed.

The Kalbar Resources mine has been in the planning stage for several years and is due to start next year. The site is at Glenaladale, about 20 kilometres from Bairnsdale in grazing country, but only 350 metres from the $200 million a year vegetable growing industry in the Mitchell River Valley.

When Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai succumbed to cancer on February 14, he left his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in turmoil without an obvious successor.

Tributes are pouring in for this “hero of the nation”, according to Zimbabwe Standard. Its editorial said: “Tsvangirai is an undoubted hero whose commitment to democracy and human rights will inspire many generations to come.”

Crop varieties have been selected and reproduced over thousands of years by farmers, creating great diversity. India, for example, used to have 200,000 varieties of rice. Seeds were kept each year for replanting and exchanging in what was a free or low-cost system for many farmers.

The term “Green Revolution” refers to the introduction of high-yielding varieties of staple food crops, particularly wheat and rice, into Third World countries, starting in the 1960s. The stated aim was to raise food production to end hunger and prevent revolution.

An unstated secondary aim was to raise the penetration of agribusiness into the Third World. Profits could be made by selling the new varieties of seed and the fertilisers, pesticides and equipment that were indispensable to their success.

Zimbabwe is facing elections next year, with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Popular Front (ZANU-PF) government likely to be returned despite its huge unpopularity.

The 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first and only president, plans to seek re-election for another five years. But there is a bitter scramble within his party to find his successor. The scramble is purely for power — policy is irrelevant to the struggle.

Monsanto, one of the world’s biggest pesticide and seed corporations and leading developer of genetically modified crop varieties, had a stock market value of US$66 billion in 2014. It has gained this position by a combination of deceit, threat, litigation, destruction of evidence, falsified data, bribery, takeovers and cultivation of regulatory bodies.

 There is money to be made in farming, but not by the farmers.

The terms of trade for farmers continually declines and farmers are forced off the land. Governments and international bodies advocate further deregulation and trade liberalisation and greater use of technology. But these policies have undoubtedly failed in their stated aims of increasing food security and rural prosperity. The beneficiaries have been only agribusiness corporations.

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