February 9, 2015

The Bt Cotton Fraud Part Two: Its Performance in the Field


Part One.
In Part 2 we’ll survey the real world performance of Bt cotton in India. This is in contrast to the “studies” of Monsanto flacks like Matin Qaim, much touted in the corporate media. Qaim, who barely set foot outside the Mahyco greenhouses and field test sites during his few visits to India (he’s based in Germany), simply propagates corporate-asserted numbers based on secret data from the corporate trials. There’s no reason to trust these numbers in the first place, and even if they were true they’d be valid only for the ivory tower conditions of the trial sites. Either way these figures have zero validity for real world agriculture of any sort, let alone that practiced by small farmers. Yet this person is the go-to guy for the corporate media and Monsanto hacks everywhere. Since we can assume Monsanto provides the best flackery it can, in dismissing Qaim we can dismiss the entire pro-Bt “side of the story” as fraudulent and invalid. Now let’s move on to what reality testifies.
1. Bt cotton never improved yields. Data compiled by government and trade groups tells a stark story: The great bulk of the yield increase (measured by nationwide average kilograms per hectare) of the commodity cotton era in India occurred from the 2000-01 to the 2004-05 seasons, at which point only 5.6% of cotton acreage was planted to Bt varieties. During the Bt acreage surge from 2005-06 (18% of cotton acreage) to 2008-09 (84%) yield increased only a slight amount, then stagnated and declined. In the ensuing years as Bt acreage crept up above 90%, yields have declined. Overall, yield increased 70% from 00-01 to 04-05 when Bt acreage was negligible, and increased only 2% from 05-06 to 2011-12, with a decline since the 2007-08 peak.
This proves that the entire increase was from other causes and had nothing to do with the GMO. The real yield surge came from the switch from polyculture Desi-based cotton growing to hybrid monoculture deploying massive, expensive inputs – irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides. (That’s only monocultural yield, not food for people or farmer income. As a rule “yield” by itself is a crackpot measure with no meaning except within some socioeconomic, political, or environmental context.) Almost all the yield increase in fact came from improvements in conventional hybrids and expanded irrigation. As for pesticides, Kehsav Kranthi of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) scoffs at the notion that Bt crops can hold their own. On the contrary, he attributes the viability of any kind of hybrid cotton, Bt or conventional, vs. a wide range of what from the Bt point of view are secondary pests (Bt cotton’s target pest is the bollworm; secondary pests include jassids/leafhoppers, mealy bugs, mirid bugs, thrips, stink bugs, and many others), to the standard seed treatment with the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. Of course this too is a deadly poison we need to abolish (and jassids are increasingly resistant to it), but the point is that to the extent poisons contribute to yield at all, this non-GM poison is far more important than genetically engineered Bt. The great increase in the years of low Bt acreage and stagnation of the years of Bt domination prove that this GMO offers no yield benefit whatsoever and is actually inferior to conventional cotton hybrids.
These numbers, damning as they are, actually exaggerate GMO performance, as they’re skewed by the relatively better results from Gujarat state. Gujarat is an outlier in that its agriculture is dominated by fewer, bigger, richer farmers than is typical in other states. Gujarat is far better served by irrigation projects and fertilizer subsidies. Its more capital-rich farmers can better afford the expensive inputs Bt cotton requires. The better Bt cotton production in this state therefore confirms the thesis that GMOs work only for rich growers who can afford lavish outlays for irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. Take Gujarat out of the equation and Bt’s performance for small farmers across the cotton belt has been dismal and worsening.
Besides its poor overall yield, Bt cotton (and Bt crops in general, everywhere on earth) has performed in an extremely variable way. There have been several regional crop failures, most recently in Karnataka in 2014. In general the national and state averages obscure extreme local/regional variability. As a rule, how the GM crop will perform is a crapshoot and will vary from farmer to farmer. Whether on account of the poor quality of seed or variable Bt expression in the crop (caused by the chaotically modified genetics, by agronomic factors like watering levels or soil quality, by environmental factors like temperature? Who knows? No one has ever studied this. Not Monsanto, not the US government, not the Indian government, no one), whatever the cause, at any given time the meager overall numbers conceal a vast number of individual tragedies.
At the farm level, Bt intrinsically yields less than conventional hybrids. Given high inputs it may have better operational yield for the first few years until the bollworms develop resistance. Given the low inputs which comprise the limit for indebted small farmers, Bt always yields much less, along with many acute failures. Yields have always been far less, often by more than half, than what Monsanto’s advertising promised.
For the individual farmer, growing Bt cotton is like “playing Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty”, as Nassim Taleb recently put it regarding civilization and GMOs as a whole.
[There’s a good place to add a critical point. While the individual small farmer crushed by commodity agriculture is often impoverished, the opposite is true of agriculture as a whole. Here we’re talking about cotton, which isn’t directly a food although the seeds are pressed into oil which is used in processed foods. Nevertheless in any discussion of GMO yields we must always stress the fact that industrial agriculture produces far more than enough food for everyone on earth today, and more than enough even for the highest future population projections. The fact is that there’s zero problem with the quantity of food produced, today or at any time in the future for as long as industrial ag persists. (It won’t for much longer, and humanity must transform to decentralized agroecology and food sovereignty if we want to continue eating, but that’s a different matter for another day.) Therefore there’s zero need to increase yields in order to “feed the world”. Feed the World is a classical Big Lie. The world currently produces enough food for 10 billion people, yet of the 7 billion here, one billion go hungry (and another 2 billion suffer from dietary diseases such as malnutrition or obesity, often both at the same time). This is 100% caused by pathological economic and political systems for distributing the cornucopia we have. For example, India has vast food stocks, indeed it allows vast amounts of stockpiled food to rot, yet 250 million go hungry. The problem, today and tomorrow, is 100% from corporate maldistribution, 0% from insufficient production. It’ll be a great leap forward for civilization when we can completely purge the “Feed the World” notion from rational and moral discussion as the criminal Big Lie it is.]
2. Probably the core lie Monsanto-Mahyco and the Indian government told cotton farmers is that Bt cotton is suitable for rainfed cultivation. In fact Bt cotton requires as much as twice the water needed by conventional hybrids and cannot be effectively grown without expensive artificial irrigation. The vast majority (70%) of India’s farmers depend completely upon rainfall. In Karnataka state where yields collapsed in 2014, most cotton cultivation is rainfed. Gujarat is the exception again, reversing the proportions of irrigated (65%) and rainfed (35%) farms. Here the irrigated area has accounted for 84% of the state’s cotton production, 689 lint kg/ha, while the rainfed area produces only 247 kg/ha. That’s a typical yield difference between Bt cotton grown with irrigation vs. rainfall.
To try to sell Bt cotton, or any GMO, to a rain-dependent farmer is criminal fraud plain and simple. Investigative journalist PJ Sainath went further – “promoting [Bt cotton] in a dry and unirrigated area like Vidarbha [ground zero for the mass farmer suicide epidemic] was murderous. It was stupid. It was killing.”
3. Another core lie is that the Bt technology can be a permanent panacea vs. insect pests. In fact Monsanto knew from the start the obvious fact from Evolution 101 that pests would develop resistance to any Bt toxin just as they do with any other pesticide. Monsanto built the planned obsolescence of each GMO variety, and its supercession by stacked and then more stacked varieties (they called it “expanded trait penetration”, referring to market penetration), into its business strategy. But in the early 00s Monsanto was promising the opposite, that single trait Bt cotton would maintain its potency vs. the bollworm indefinitely.
Farmers who believed the lies were quickly disabused. The official data is garbled and contradictory, but the basic outlines are clear. Overall, there was never a real decline in pesticide use in Indian cotton farming. Indeed, nationally pesticide use went up 10% during the peak years of Bt expansion. This was despite the increased use of lower-volume, higher-toxicity poisons during these years. In some regions Bt may have used less pesticide than conventional hybrids for the first few years, with a difference range from miniscule to significant. It’s a function of how much water and fertilizer the crop gets. (As always, every possible agronomic benefit of a GMO is dependent upon lavish and expensive artificial inputs. To spend less on pesticides you need to spend more on water and fertilizer, for example.) Any temporary relief also depends upon high-quality trait expression. But many varieties are inconsistent, shoddy, or just fraudulent. There’s never a lasting decline. After four years at most the pesticide use and cost equals out. A few more years and Bt needs more applied pesticides than non-GM conventional. Also, in terms of aggregate poison use and environmental and health hazards all the numbers comprise a false accounting because they don’t accoiunt for the Bt endotoxins themselves. But these too are pesticides and must be counted as such in all relevant ways.
Meanwhile all commodity cotton, even Bt cotton, always needs sprayed and/or seed-treated pesticide since cotton is attacked by the widest array of insect types. In the case of anti-bollworm Bt cotton, secondary pests quickly move in to fill any temporary void left where the Bt toxin has temporarily killed the target pest. As I mentioned above, according the the CICR’s Kranthi without neonic seed treatments Bt cotton would be routed by jassids, mirids, aphids, thrips, and many others. As Monsanto’s own propaganda often emphasized, Bt adoption has to be put in the context of the failure of earlier pesticides. Since the same companies propagate both kinds of poisons, applied and GMO endemic, it’s obviously likely that the poison treadmill culminating in stacked Bt poisons is planned obsolescence, disaster capitalism.
In some cases the Bt cotton never worked against the target bollworms at all. In every case, bollworms developed resistance within a few years. In 2006 Monsanto introduced Bollgard II containing two Bt toxins, the original Cry1AC plus Cry2AB, thus admitting that the original Bollgard no longer worked. Bollworms have since developed resistance to Cry2AB. This is standard for the GMO pesticide treadmill. The result of all this has been that farmers found any reduced-pesticide dividend to be minimal and temporary at best. While pesticide use and cost may have declined by a small amount at first, within a few years they were back to pre-Bt levels. Today Bt cotton farmers have to spend more on pesticides than farmers growing non-GM conventional hybrids. And to correct the false accounting again, the great expense of Bt seeds has to be entered as a pesticide cost, since farmers are purchasing the Bt endotoxins the crops will allegedly produce.
As is standard in these superbug cases, Monsanto, government, and the corporate media try to scapegoat the farmers by claiming they didn’t plant sufficient non-Bt “refuges” where non-resistant insects could survive and mate with resistant ones. The refuge concept is a propaganda scam, not a serious policy. Here’s not the place to dissect it, but I wrote more about it here. For the purposes of this post, which emphasizes how Bt cotton is a fraud on small farmers, I’ll point out that the refuge policy, if seriously meant, could be deployed only on large plantations, not on thousands of farms of a few acres each. So there’s another example of how even in principle GMOs could “work” only on vast industrial farms but can never work for small farmers.
4. Small farmers didn’t count on the fact that GMO cotton requires considerably more synthetic fertilizer than non-GM conventional cotton. Pro-GMO activist CD Mayee (an ISAAA board member and former co-chair of the aptly named Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)) admits that a doubling of the small amount of Indian acreage planted to GMOs (Bt cotton is the only GMO currently being grown commercially in India and makes up c. 5% of overall agricultural acreage) would double the whole country’s fertilizer use. That’s how ravenous Bt cotton is. A university study found that Bt cotton requires 15% more fertilizer than conventional. Bt cotton’s inherent gluttony for synthetic fertilization is aggravated by the way it denudes the soil and destroys soil microbial communities. This soil destruction in turn requires even greater fertilizer application as well as more irrigation, as the soil becomes unable to hold water. Needless to say this combination generates an awful nitrate runoff problem.
5. As Monsanto flooded the market with its seeds, it pressured seed growers and sellers to stop producing and offering non-GM seeds. Monsanto calls this tactic “seed replacement”. Once enough farmers had adopted Bt cotton and GM seeds had attained a dominant market position, Monsanto jacked up the price to astronomical levels. Here too there has been great variation over time and across regions, but distilling from many sources tells us that seed prices soared to 2-10 times as much as the price of non-GM hybrids. Prices have run from 700-2000 rupees per packet. For the greatest contrast, the original Desi varieties would cost 5-10 rupees a packet. The bulk of this price explosion is Monsanto’s technology tax. By one estimate, by spring 2014 Monsanto had extracted 5000 crore in taxes (50 billion rupees; c. $810 million) from Indian cotton farmers. Imagine what this wealth could have accomplished if Indian society had invested it in polyculture food production instead of letting it drain down a corporate commodification rathole.
This extremely high priced seed input and accompanying tax is unique to the GMO varieties, and is therefore a new burden on already beleaguered farmers.
6. The result of all these escalating input costs has been that Bt cotton is considerably more expensive to grow than non-GM hybrids. At the same time cotton prices have been forcibly depressed and kept low by US dumping of heavily subsidized cotton. The result is that even for the best-equipped farms, Bt’s profit margin is razor-thin, certainly worse than for non-GM conventional. For small farmers, it’s a wipeout. It’s near impossible for them to do anything but lose even more and sink deeper into debt each year.
7. As all this has been going on, India’s conventional agricultural credit structure, based on nationalized banks and lenient payment terms (obviously the right way for society to handle its food producers, if it’s to force them to incur debt at all, which of course it should not), has been gutted by the same neoliberal process which has driven first monoculture hybrid commodification and then Bt commercialization. As a result farmers have increasingly been forced to turn to usurious “microlenders” and the seed and poison dealers themselves who often double as loansharks. This sinks them even deeper in the quicksand.
It’s clear that Bt cotton is a product which, where it works at all, works only for a brief period and only where supplemented by an expensive, cumbersome apparatus of artificial inputs. Like all other GMOs, it’s an extremely high maintenance hothouse flower. Industrial agriculture as such is highly destructive, wasteful, and unsustainable. GMOs represent an escalation of all the worst aspects of industrial ag while conferring no benefits. As a whole GMOs are the extreme manifestation of a backward, economically cramping, agronomically destructive, retrograde technology and mindset. They’re collectively a hoax and a fraud, and most of all where touted for small farmers. The goal of marketing GMOs to small farmers is in fact to economically destroy them and drive them off the land so that large-scale corporate industrial plantations can more “efficiently” enclose and monopolize agriculture. In First the Seed Jack Kloppenburg discusses how the corporations faced barriers to the full commodification of farming itself (as opposed to the system of agricultural inputs and processing). Here we see the answer: One of the basic purposes of GMOs is to drive up the costs of farming to the point that it becomes economically impossible for small independent farmers to exist. Bt cotton provides one of the best case studies.
In Part Three we’ll survey Bt cotton around the world and confirm that the Indian experience, while extreme, is typical.



  1. […] the debt and monopoly trap they were in, it was too late. . The result has been a disaster. In part two we’ll survey the performance of Bt cotton in […]

    Pingback by The Bt Cotton Fraud | Volatility — February 9, 2015 @ 6:46 am

  2. The blog has no information on the author — no “About” page or anything. You’re using my work, which is fine (in fact I’ve written some other things you’d be interested in) but there is no information whatsoever on who you are, other than someone named Russ.

    Comment by Glenn Stone — February 9, 2015 @ 7:40 am

    • Hi Glenn,

      I’m an abolitionist writer and a gardener/quasi-farmer. I guess the Internet would just call me a blogger so far. I’m afraid my personal biography’s not very exciting.

      I find your stuff very interesting, the blog and especially the paper on deskilling in Warangal, which has applications far beyond Indian cotton farming. I’m meaning to read more at the blog.

      Comment by Russ — February 9, 2015 @ 9:59 am

  3. Russ,
    Very informative piece, but I don’t agree with your statement, “The goal of marketing GMOs to small farmers is in fact to economically destroy them and drive them off the land so that large-scale corporate industrial plantations can more “efficiently” enclose and monopolize agriculture.”
    If I correctly understand, you’re saying that agbiotech corporations have an agenda to put small farmers out of business so that the corporations can take the land and grow food.
    It’s my understanding that corporations have no interest in growing food because the risks are too high and the returns are too low. The large number of unpredictable variables in food production discourage corporations from growing food.
    Corporations are happy to leave the risky business of food production to farmers. I know there are some cases in which corporations grow food, such as pineapple and banana plantations, but Monsanto has no interest in actually farming. Similarly, Perdue doesn’t directly grow the chickens that it sells. Rather, it contracts farmers to grow the chickens. Kraft doesn’t want to raise hogs or dairy cows or grow animal feed.
    One of the contradictions of capitalist agriculture is that input manufacturers like Monsanto bankrupt their customers (farmers). Bankrupting the farmers is not Monsanto’s intention; it is just a consequence of their complete misunderstanding of agriculture. Monsanto, like all other proponents of conventional agriculture, see agriculture as a physical and chemical business from which to maximize profit. They fail to recognize it as a biological process. By treating agriculture as a dead mechanism, their approach to food production kills the living systems that create fertility and productivity.
    This is what I learned when I worked for Jack Kloppenburg as a research assistant and took his classes while I was a graduate student at the UW-Madison. Although Jack often speaks about primitive accumulation, I do not recall Jack ever saying that corporations have an agenda to own land and grow food. Corporations are happy to leave the high risks and low returns to farmers. I regret that I no longer have the copy of First the Seed that he gave me when we first met. I gave away most of my books when I moved to India to live on and co-manage an organic farm twenty years ago. When I return to the US this summer, I will buy a copy of First the Seed because I’d like to read it again.
    As far as I understand, Jack’s message is that the goal of seed companies like Monsanto is to enclose (privatize) the genetic commons. They want to own and monopolize control over the genetic material that is the oil of the information age. They used a variety of methods to dispossess farmers of control over seeds. One method is through intellectual property rights. A new method that the companies are using is licensing agreements by which farmers no longer even “buy” seeds from the companies. Rather, farmers purchase a license for the right to use the company’s seeds for a single season. Corporations realize that it is far more profitable and powerful to control the genes than the land.

    Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 10, 2015 @ 12:22 am

    • Hi Brooks,

      Most of all I go by consistent results. If someone who has the ability to do something different keeps doing the same thing and always gets the same results, for example forcing cash cropping upon farmers which leads to their being driven from the land, that means they effectively want that result, that the result is the goal.

      I’m not necessarily saying the GMO cartel has this as a generally conscious goal, though Robert Fraley has openly said the goal is total domination of the world food supply. But conscious intentions mean zip. What matters is consistent actions leading to consistent results. The biotech corporations are ensconced in the corporate globalization system which clearly has the agenda of dominating the land and agriculture. The land-grabbing onslaught proves that.

      Click to access mali-report-2012-en1.pdf

      One of the explicitly stated core goals of the G8 “New Alliance” colonization plan for Africa is to replace the many still extant tribal and communal land arrangements with modernized property law so that foreign “investors” can buy the land, drive out the traditional inhabitants, and replace them with industrial plantations.

      Kloppenburg wrote about how farming has presented some barriers to this process (the commodification of farms themselves), but how the process was proceeding nonetheless. Last year GRAIN put out a report about this.


      You’re right, the corporations increasingly prefer to just control the factory farms and industrial plantations, dictating all the procedures and sucking up all the profit, while leaving legal ownership and risk to contract “farmers” who are effectively employees. But that’s still a corporate-dominated system, so I call it what it is. The corporations are the controlling hand and are 100% responsible. (That’s not just in agriculture. Across many manufacturing sectors the controlling corporation just slaps on the brand name, runs the lobbying and publicity, owns the intellectual property, and collects all the profits, but farms out all the actual work to contractors. For the life of me I can’t figure out what Monsanto has ever done except rip off and patent GE work done by other technicians.)

      As far as a conscious plan, I think you describe Monsanto’s plan well. De jure ownership is of secondary importance, and even profit won’t matter much in the end. What matters is power and control, whatever form it takes. The goal of the GMO cartel is total control of agriculture and food. The mass liquidation of small farmers is part of the plan, even though the most powerful corporations don’t actually want to own the food production.

      Studying with Kloppenburg must’ve been interesting. First the Seed is the best book I’ve read on agriculture. Managing an organic farm in India also sounds fascinating.

      Comment by Russ — February 10, 2015 @ 5:55 am

      • Russ,

        Marty Strange’s book Family Farming is very good.

        It was one of the books on the syllabus when I was an intern at the Land Institute in 1989.

        I just came across a post by the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food on Facebook. It’s a biotech industry PR front. I hadn’t heard of it before. Such Orwellian names would be funny if they weren’t so nefarious.

        One of the several reasons that I left the US 20 years ago was my anger over Monsanto’s contamination of the milk supply with Posilac, their recombinant bovine growth hormone, and their vicious determination to deny consumers the right to choose uncontaminated milk.

        Did you read about Monsanto’s recent effort to sponsor “reporting” on GM food in Conde Nast publications? Conde Nast owns the New Yorker, in which Michael Specter publishes promotional pieces on GM food and attacks GM critics. He’s a major mouthpiece for the ag biotech industry.


        Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 10, 2015 @ 9:51 pm

      • Brooks,

        Yeah, those front groups with the Orwellian names are everywhere. They especially spring up like mushrooms everywhere the people are trying to establish even such modest reforms as GMO labeling, let alone county-level bans and such. I read some stuff about the Conde Nast propaganda gambit. According to what I read they couldn’t get any well-known food writers to participate, and the thing was a bust. But I didn’t follow it closely. Specter’s a hack who poses as a legitimate food writer. Evidently the New Yorker is now a Monsanto shill, as part of its general reorientation as a corporate tabloid.

        BGH in milk is one of the most absurd GM products of all. They wanted to increase milk production per cow at the same time the federal government was paying farmers NOT to overproduce, that’s how much of a milk glut there was. Obviously there too the plan was to gut any policy geared to stabilizing the price the farmer would receive and replace that with Production Uber Alles. Get Big or Get Out. And of course in the process artificially generating a profit gravy train for a favored corporation.

        Monsanto sold off the Posilac business at some point, I’d have to refresh my memory on when. I don’t know offhand how much of it is still used. It also exacerbates the hideous level of animal cruelty involved in factory farming.

        What did you work on at the Land Institute? Were they embarked upon the perennial wheat project at that point? I haven’t extensively researched their projects yet but mean to.

        Thanks for the book recommendation. I haven’t heard of that one, but I’ll check it out.

        Comment by Russ — February 11, 2015 @ 1:34 am

      • Hi Russ,

        I spent my year at the Land crossing Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) and Sorghum bicolor to breed perennial sorghum. I smiled when I recently read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. She wrote that the perennial sorghum trial plots were the only green thing she saw in Kansas when she visited the Land Institute during a severe drought while writing her book. Interesting book, by the way.

        Marty Strange wrote about the practice of self-exploitation, which farmers do to delay bankruptcy. They discount the value of their own labor and of their family’s labor. This is something that corporate execs. will never do. I think you’d enjoy reading Strange’s Family Farming. He founded and directed the Center for Rural Affairs.

        Lisa Weasel wrote an interesting chapter on rBHG in her 2009 book Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food.

        Glad to see Part III of your series on BT cotton. Great research.

        Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 11, 2015 @ 5:24 am

      • Hi Brooks,

        How has the perennial sorghum breeding worked out? Have you followed it since you left there? I’ve been meaning to read up on what the Land Institute theories are, because in principle it seems like there’s a necessary tradeoff between perenniality and a large, edible seed head. That’s a great anecdote from Klein’s book, and not surprising. (I’ve been told by several people it’s a good book, but I don’t know when if ever I’ll get to it.)

        Farmers who care about what they do are far more tenacious in the face of adversity than any profit-driven corporation would be. That’s one of the advantages we have, as long as there’s enough such farmers. I’ve put Strange’s book on the list.

        Thanks for the good words on the post. Now I start over again with my India material, researching the suicide epidemic.

        Comment by Russ — February 11, 2015 @ 11:47 am

      • Hi Russ,

        I haven’t closely followed the Land’s progress with perennial sorghum since I left. I know they’re working on perennial rice now. They wanted me to try it on the farm where I worked in India, but I doubt India would permit the material to enter the country. The Land is working on perennial rice with some breeders in China.

        The Land’s research agenda was centered on four questions. The questions were

        Can perennialism and high yield go together?
        If so, can a polyculture of perennials out yield a monoculture of perennials?
        Can such an ecosystem sponsor its own fertility?
        Is it realistic to think we can manage such complexity adequately to avoid the problem of pests out competing us?

        There’s a lot of great info on the Internet about the Land’s work. Here’s a link to an article by Jon Piper, who was an ecologist at the Land when I was there:


        Jon had a wonderful sense of humor.

        Here’s a link to a paper by Wes:

        Click to access NSA-Jackson-2002.pdf

        I found Klein’s book very informative, especially the part about what some people, like Bill Gates, are doing in terms of technologies to cool the planet, which Klein finds frightening. I really knew nothing about that. And I think Klein is very right to be worried.

        I also recently read Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide. It was much more informative and thought provoking than I expected. Another great book is George Packer’s The Great Unwinding. It helped to fill me in on what’s happened in America since I left (ca 1994).

        I’ve just started reading Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It’s great, and I’m eager to read more of it.

        Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 11, 2015 @ 10:10 pm

      • Thanks for the links, Brooks. I just logged them and look forward to reading them when I get a chance. Those four questions sure sum up the challenges of such an approach. Everything I’ve read would tend to say No to the first, if “high yield” is taken in its usual commodification sense. “Sufficient yield” in a food sovereignty context might be a different story. I look forward to reading what the papers say on that. In the second question, did you mean to say “monoculture of annuals”?

        Gates is into geoengineering as well? I hadn’t heard that but am not surprised. It’s bizarre how Gates, once one of the kingpins himself, has demoted himself to the rank of Monsanto flack and shill for the shadiest con men, like the purveyors of the geoengineering scam, which is nothing but an attempt to pump up worthless stocks and grab some corporate welfare.

        Haven’t read those other books. I’ve heard alot about Piketty. My reading these days focuses on the GMO abolition project. I’m rereading Dan Charles’ Lords of the Harvest, which is an account of Monsanto’s inner and outer development as biotech corporation. Charles’ MSM-style triangulating between alleged extremes is wrong and tiresome, but the book’s loaded with good information.

        Comment by Russ — February 12, 2015 @ 6:33 am

      • Hi Russ,

        I copied and pasted the four questions from a Land Institute website or paper, so that’s how they word the questions. I don’t think anyone expects a perennial polyculture that fixes its own nitrogen biologically to out-yield a fossil-fuel fertilized monoculture.

        I definitely learned a lot from Klein’s book. She did a huge amount of research over five years while writing that book. Klein points out that geoengineering is frightening because if a technique is used to cool the planet and then there’s something like a major volcanic eruption that cools the planet even more, we could be in huge trouble. Also, geoengineering techniques that cool North America or Europe are likely to cause environmental havoc in places like South Asia or North Africa.

        It is disturbing that Gates appears to be looking at geoengineering as an investment opportunity. It’s also seriously disturbing that anyone really believes we’re gonna be able to cool the overheated planet. That, to my mind, is hubris and folly on an unprecedented scale.

        Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 12, 2015 @ 6:54 am

    • Hi Brooks,

      As insane as the system is, I find it hard to believe that they’ll actually go to the expense of really trying to deploy large-scale geoengineering boondoggles which would never work anyway. Although I haven’t kept up with the state of the hype, everything I ever read in the past had “scam” written all over it. The effects would obviously be horrific if it ever were deployed. That’s definitely something the people would have to prevent at all costs and by whatever means.

      Gates is either a flat out crook or, if he has an ideology, it’s the corporate ideology that nothing can be done except by forcing it through as many corporate toll booths as possible, and that nothing is worth doing anyway unless its main effect is to maximize corporate profit and control. Much like Obama’s view of health care – if the main goal isn’t maximizing profits for private insurers and Big Drug, what’s the point of even having medicine and a health care system? That’s Gates’ view of agriculture and food, and the nightmare he wants to force upon Africa. This ideology is of course a complete lie, as is easily demonstrable from even the most cursory survey of history. But corporate ideologues depend upon a total blackout of all history prior to the neoliberal era, as well as a total blackout of common sense.

      Is nitrogen-fixing supposed to be the main means of perennials sustaining themselves without imported fertility, or are grazers involved as well?

      Comment by Russ — February 12, 2015 @ 9:52 am

      • Hi Russ,

        Illinois bundleflower was the plant that the Land was testing to fix nitrogen for the polyculture. Maximilian sunflower, which has allelopathic properties, was being tested for controlling weeds.

        Here’s a link to a Rolling Stone interview with Gates in which he says some zingers:


        For example, he thinks the US govt. isn’t corrupt.
        He thinks climate change isn’t our biggest problem.

        Not surprisingly, he doesn’t like Ed Snowden.

        I wonder what he thought of Aaron Swartz.

        Comment by Brooks Anderson — February 12, 2015 @ 11:05 am

      • Hi Brooks,

        Gates is like a synthetic distillation of everything that’s wrongheaded and evil in this world. The sycophantic hack, feeding him softballs like the “feed the world” Big Lie, isn’t much better. I’m sure Gates despises Swartz.

        Meanwhile the NYT piece, while good in pointing out the rationally inexplicable self-contradiction of climate change deniers touting geoengineering, is deceptive in pretending there’s any “good” supporters of the abominable idea. No sane person could think of it in terms of “buying time”, only of trumping up yet another pretext to not cut emissions, and in the process raking in obscene amounts of corporate welfare.

        There’s no way this system is ever going to stop short of extracting and burning every BTU of fossil fuel it’s economically possible to extract. That’s a done deal. Every “reform” plan to mitigate GHG emissions within the corporate framework is a scam. Nothing short of the kind of radical overthrow which would abolish industrial agriculture (the worst emitter of GHGs and by far the worst destroyer of carbon sinks) could ever mitigate anything. So it looks like we who are trying to build up community food sectors and agroecological practice are just going to have to do our best to adapt and hang on until the thing starts collapsing.

        I haven’t heard of those two plants but wrote them down to research. Imagine if all the research resources going down the GE rathole were instead invested in such agroecological solutions.

        Comment by Russ — February 12, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

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