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Opinion: It does not take GMOs to feed the world

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Fayyaz Hussain/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A farmer harvests corn at a field on the outskirts of Faisalabad, Pakistan, June 18, 2015. Reed argues that the world can grow enough food successfully without farming methods that use agrochemicals and GMOs.

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I grew up in a diversity-loving community. The old adage “it takes all kinds” was written into my blood…until I said it to a new acquaintance.

“No,” he replied. “There are some kinds we could really do without.”

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And he’s right. We could do without many kinds of people.

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I think the same is true of farming practices—but I have been hearing something different. I first came across the “It-Takes-All-Kinds-of-Farming” theory at the 2014 Camden Conference. The message that came out of one panel was that organic farming is fine, but that we need all kinds of agriculture if we are going to feed the world.

To which I say: No. It does not take all kinds.

We can feed the world without the kind of farming that depends on managing weeds with toxic chemicals rather than with mulch and weeding. According to a new assessment by the World Health Organization, glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was found to probably be carcinogenic to humans. We don’t need that. We don’t need costly chemical fertilizers that slowly destroy soil’s ability to grow crops while exacerbating climate change.

In fact, I would say we do not need any new farming technologies until they are rigorously tested and proven harmless. Not when we have an arsenal of inexpensive sustainable techniques at our fingertips that can improve soil, protect the environment, and produce a high yield—without doing any harm.

Some might say my rose-colored glasses are too thick. That if I believe we can feed the 7 billion people on this planet without big ag, petrochemicals, and GMOs, that maybe my “kind” is not needed.

But maybe the naysayers haven’t visited places like Harvest for the Hungry Garden in Santa Rosa, CA, where over 20,000 pounds of organic produce is grown annually on a three-quarter-acre lot. Maybe they haven’t visited the hundreds of farms in Central America whose successes I have had the privilege of sharing. Before beginning work withSustainable Harvest International, the families working these small farms were some of the poorest on our planet. Through working with us, they learn organic techniques that allow them to produce plenty of healthy food for themselves and others. Each of these farmers is offered the opportunity to choose from a large and ever-growing menu of techniques that we teach—because though it doesn’t take all kinds, it does take many.

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None of the farming practices taught by Sustainable Harvest International, however, include agrochemicals or GMOs. We believe it takes only those kinds that produce more food without contaminating air, water, and soil, endangering the lives of humans and other species, increasing greenhouse emissions, or destroying soil’s ability to continue producing food in the decades to come. For those of you doubting how small farmers using organic methods can feed the 7 billion, I invite you to come to Central America with me to witness the power of small-scale, organic farms.

I hope that those promoting harmful farm products will join us innovating on the many healthy farming practices that already exist. Having the courage to change your mind will be rewarded when you stand up for people and the planet—not only by saying it doesn’t take all kinds, but by contributing to the kind of development we truly need.

This is a guest article by Florence Reed, founder and president of Sustainable Harvest International.