DUST#10: Green Revolution? Three conversations about the future of food. Interview with Ursula Hudson, the president of Slow Food Germany, “Agrimissionary” Sandra Pazzaglia (Madagascar) and German chemical giant BAYER.

With the takeover of Monsanto by Bayer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company took control of the largest player in industrial agriculture. To speak of a “cartel” would be reductive: a quarter of all the fertilizers in the world, a third of the seeds on Earth, and a quarter of the pesticides will now be produced by the bicephalous multinational Bayer-Monsanto. This is just the latest evolution of a long-lasting trend of corporate consolidation that, over the last decades, has seen the control of seeds and the production of agricultural chemicals maintained by fewer and fewer companies. One notable figure: in the 70s, 7000 different companies shared the market of seeds globally; today, the three largest ones – Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer e Syngenta – control 53% of seed production. The trend for the future of food and agriculture seems to be traced already: the worldwide production of food will be evermore in thrall of the decisions made by a few corporations behind closed doors.  We first asked Bayer what are the goals that the company hopes to achieve with this  expensive (66 billion dollars) and unprecedented acquisition in the world of agrobusiness. In particular, we discussed with the german chemistry giant why the company believes such a merge has the potential to create the innovation necessary to feed our overpopulated planet in the next decades. We subsequently listened to a radically different point of view: that of Ursula Hudson, the president of antagonist movement Slow Food Germany. We discussed with her the consequences, for farmers and consumers, of such a new order of power along the chain of food production. In particular, we were interested in understanding if the industrial agricultural model proposed by large corporations, which is based on genetically modified crops and a widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, is really necessary to meet the challenge of nourishing an overpopulated planet (as their slogans proudly promise).

We then move from Berlin to Antanafisaka, a small village in Madagascar, where we met Sandra Pazzaglia. Pazzaglia is a stubborn Italian “agri-missionary”, as she calls herself, that for the last ten years has devoted her life to teaching local farmers eco-agricultural techniques. Her brilliant results — higher yields, more land being cultivated, more biodiversity, greater income for the farmers, less starvation — show that eco-agriculture is a valid, efficient alternative to the unsustainable, polluting and impoverishing model proposed by the agrobusiness in the past.

 

 

Green revolution?

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH URSULA HUDSON

 

MF: According to the enthusiastic slogans of the 60s and 70s, the “green revolution” – that is, the substitution of traditional agricultural methods with high-throughput, pesticide- and chemical fertilizer-intensive agriculture – was meant to solve the problem of hunger in the world. It appears increasingly clear that such a model didn’t maintain its promises. What went wrong?

UH: A lot went wrong since. At first, the improved seeds and high-input production methods led indeed to a higher output and higher yields. Over time it became clear that the industrial mode of producing food intensively, with its focus on monocultures and a massively reduced genetic variety, and above all a high external input – i.e., chemical fertilizers and pesticides – had very negative effects on the health of our soils. This way of producing food contributes to climate change; it is a threat to biodiversity and more. On top of that, the yields started to decrease. The highly relevant factor of time had not then been considered: over time, agri-ecological and diverse production methods have much better results. Yes, yields are never as high as during the first years of high input systems, but they produce stable yields and do not destroy the foundation of our lives — natural resources, without which food production will not be possible.

MF: According to FAO, the World Food Organization, a change of paradigm in the way we produce food is necessary for agriculture – one of the most polluting and CO2-intensive human activities – to finally become sustainable. The organisation estimates that, if we continue exploiting the land with industrial techniques the way we are doing now, we have a maximum of 60 more yields. Then … ‘bye bye food’, the land dies. Is that an exaggeration?

UH: If one looks at the rate at which fertile soil is currently lost, this estimate does not seem an exaggeration: every minute we lose about 30 football pitches of it! In fact, this looks more like the ‘Fukushima of food production’, which should lead instantly to a radical turn in the way we produce food globally and to a substitution of the industrial system with sustainable practices – those that also look at the external impacts over time instead of focussing only on present yields. This is why it is indispensable to diversify food production, protect old plant and breed varieties, and focus on agri-ecological practices in agriculture. We have to realise that one third of the world’s soils suitable for crop production is already degraded, which is a result of the industrial food system. Importantly, soil is a non-renewable resource, meaning that its loss and degradation is not recoverable within a human lifespan. This becomes a very big problem: especially with the increasing effects of climate change in mind, it is ever more necessary to focus on the health of soils and food production methods that keep the worlds’ soils in a healthy state, thus enabling them to feed the world in the future.

MF: What was your reaction to the recent acquisition of Monsanto – the world leader company in genetically modified (GM) crops – by the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, what some have been calling a “marriage in hell”?

UH: We were rather shocked by the ease with which huge cartels like this can be formed without anyone interfering and representing the interests of the citizens, farmers, and civil society organisations. Of course we are also weary of the consequences of the massive increase in power concentration over seeds and pesticides that this new mega company will embrace, and see it as a threat towards mankind, animals and the environment.

MF: That is the crucial point, I agree. Bayer stated in one of their most recent press releases a list of goals for the acquisition, which included, “Obtaining a no.1 position worldwide in crop science” and “Creating a no. 1 position in genetic engineering of plants”. In other words, the creation of a monopoly. Such an enormous concentration of capital and power in a such a fundamental sector of the economy – that is, of agricultural products – has never been seen before.

UH: Absolutely right. The concentration of power on this scale is unheard of, and the fact that it is allowed shows that the interests of people are not represented. The result of the merger is a mega multinational that controls, to a great degree, what people eat. Bayer and Monsanto together are now the world’s biggest seed and pesticide producer. But even before the merger, the global market for agrarian goods has been in the hands of a few multinational firms. Back in 1985, the ten greatest producers of seeds had a market share of about 12.5%. In 2011, the market share was already 75.3%. This concentration of power in the seed market should have been averted and avoided. We as Slow Food Germany demand the EU commission’s anti-monopoly office to ?look into the effects of this merger. It is hideous to see that the merger of German retail chains such as Kaiser’s and Tengelmann with bigger players in the market was not permitted, while the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer, which monopolises the foundations of our food world (seeds!),  goes through without a squeak.

MF: Monsanto notoriously creates seeds that are genetically engineered to withstand heavy amounts of chemicals; Bayer is in turn one of the world’s biggest producers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Do you see new risks for farmers in this complimentary relationship? Would it not be natural for Bayer-Monsanto to push for an even more massive introduction into the market of “package” products – that is, GM crops that grow only together with specific chemicals produced by the same company, therefore making farmers even more dependent on the industry?

UH: We are indeed afraid that this is going to happen. Within a very short time, seeds have become an economical valuable good, while they are in fact a public good. Economic interests have tried to change the way we look at seeds: they have successfully put more and more restrictions on the fundamental right of farmers and market gardeners to select and breed seeds, to exchange seeds and pass them on. This has been one of the key rights of farmers for thousands of years: all of our knowledge of the interplay of plants, crops and environments of particular locations has come from an open exchange of seeds. For the seed multinationals and agrichemical companies, seeds are the access to a huge market that goes hand in hand with the control over our food. But what does it mean if a few multinationals are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the foundations of our nutrition? And the fact that they got there legitimately, with the approval of our politicians, highlights even more how distorted and serious the current situation is. It doesn’t seem to matter that it is going to be harder and harder for farmers to select, produce and breed their own seeds. Farmers rights are thereby undermined and traded in for the benefit of the industry. Another example of power shifting away from the farmers are the so-called research institutes  funded by the private sector. These issues are highly relevant and explosive; they are not about abstractions or goods that are far removed from our daily lives, but matters that concern all of us. Companies are given control over the people that work in agriculture, over the varieties that are planted and over how our food is produced. In contrast: the huge variety and diversity of agricultural crops, declining rapidly, is the result of breeding and selecting done by numerous people over many thousands of years – it is a public good and should be one in the future.

Having said this, Slow Food and many others – the civil society in many countries – don’t want this to happen and are prepared to fight against it.

MF: According to data recently disclosed by OpenSecrets.org, Monsanto and Bayer are not only the two largest agrichemical corporations in the world, they’re also two of the biggest spenders when it comes to lobbying. Together, according to OpenSecrets, Bayer and Monsanto have spent about $120 million on lobbying in the last decade. Monsanto’s spending has been largely focused on the agricultural industry, while Bayer has spent heavily in the pharmaceutical arena. What is implicated in this degree of lobbying power?

UH: It is to be feared that, particularly in countries with weak governance structures,  governments are likely ‘to fall’ for the lobbyists, which is a great danger to people and farmers. We already see this happening in many countries where the rights of small-scale farmers are not protected, where they suffer eviction from their lands so that cash crops – varieties offered by the multinationals together with the seemingly ‘care-free’ package of pesticides and fertilizers – can be grown. Small-scale farmers at best can become farm labourers and lose their food sovereignty. Land grabbing is a big problem in the global South and has to be taken seriously.

MF: What about Europe? How much lobbying power does this “marriage in hell” hold in Brussels, and what goals is Bayer-Monsanto trying to achieve?

UH: Currently, the well-known players (such as Monstanto, DuPont and Syngenta) are trying to push the expansion of genetically-modified maize in Europe. Instead of one variety, four varieties should get the permission to be grown within Europe. These multinationals are supported by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA), which is well known to be very friendly towards the industry. While the public is made to believe that GMOs are ‘safe’, the danger of super weeds – a result of cross-breeding of transgenic maize and local weeds – is completely controversial. The rather desperate attempts of the multinationals to prevent this kind of detrimental change within our food systems threatens food sovereignty and food democracies all over the world – not only in Latin America but also in Europe. Do not be fooled: abandoned countrysides – i.e., vast monocultures with no wildlife or farm animals – are a clear sign for what catastrophic consequences agri-genetic engineering can have. This is an aspect completely and willingly overlooked by European politicians. At the same time, the shift in European society towards reorganizing our food system is clearly visible: it is high time to wake up. We hope that European politicians and national governments will eventually also come to the same conclusion before it is too late to save the soils that produce our food and the biodiversity that defines our planet as unique.

MF: A very relevant topic in this regard is the attempt of agribusinesses to patent traditional plant species. Even tomatoes and broccoli, right?

UH: In 2015, the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich granted the patent EP 1515600 for tomatoes with a high content of so-called flavonoids, which are considered as beneficial to human health. The patent covers the plant, the seed and the fruit. The ‘invention’ behind the patent consisted in cross-breeding a tomato variety from its region of origin in Latin America with varieties that are commercially available in Europe. However, according to the regulation of the European Patent Office, granting patents on plant varieties and conventional breeding techniques is not permitted. Nevertheless, the EPO has received about 1,400 applications for patents that come under this conventional breeding category. Of those 1,400 applications, the EPO has granted already about 180. Among this, there is also a patent granted in 2013 to Monsanto for a variety of broccoli which is easier to harvest, and that has ben obtained with simple cross-breeding techniques. We really hope that citizens are going to participate in the legal challenges filed against the EPO, and hence call for a stop of selling off the foundations of our lives.

MF: Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer AG, and Hugh Grant, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto, declared during the press conference announcing the fusion, “We are fully committed to helping solve one of the biggest challenges of society – and that is how to feed (…) an additional 3 billion people in the world by 2050 in an environmentally sustainable way. This number represents about six times the population of Europe today”.  In another occasion, Grant mentioned that environmentalists drive him “a little bit nuts” with all their concern about GM crops; regarding activists, he’s said “they should be more worried about how to feed a fast-growing global population while using less water as global temperatures rise”. Are GM crops really the only answer to the big challenge of feeding two billion new citizens of a fast-warming planet? Do you think the model of “modern, traditional agriculture” – such as the one depicted in the case story that follows this interview – could be scaled up to meet the food production needs of entire countries, if not the whole planet?

UH: The world currently produces food for 12 billion people. There is no need to believe the narrative of increased production as a necessity for feeding the expected number of 10 billion by 2050. This narrative serves the purpose of all techno-fix solutions – an answer for a problem that does not exist. The problems we do have are of a very different kind: it is a problem of distribution and access, of wealth, of land, of rights, of food and much more. It is clearly shortsighted and not in the interest of the people and the environment to repetitively call for higher yields.

MF: The executive director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, explained me during a recent interview that the major bottleneck to solving the problem of starvation is not food production, but rather access to food. That is, farmers in rural areas are too poor to buy sufficiently diversified food for their diet that would be otherwise available at local markets. Do GM crops have at least the advantage, often well advertised by the agribusiness, of bringing wealth to farmers?

UH: Experience shows that farmers who have access to land, seeds (and the right to take care of the seeds) and water are normally very capable of feeding themselves in a diverse way, and of producing enough food. Yes, small scale farmers in many parts of the world could produce more with a greater degree of knowledge transfer and moderate technological improvement. But at the root of the problem are issues of access and distribution, as I said before. Agribusiness done in the manner described above usually turns independent and potentially sovereign farmers into farm labourers that are highly dependent. So no, agribusiness does not bring wealth to farmers, it brings wealth to a few at the top of the business.

MF: When you saymoderate technological improvement”, what do you have in mind?

UH: Moderate here means technology that serves a human being and keeps the individual in the centre of activities. Examples would include tractors rather than ploughing by manpower, water pumps and other tools that improve water use, hygiene and sanitation, and hence the health of humans. We also mean technologies around precision farming, particularly when it comes to water use. We mean using communication tools for helping farmers, information distribution via mobile phones. And much more. But we do reject technological approaches that devalue the contribution of human beings and take away their sovereignty.

MF: Do GMOs at least provide a useful solution for farmers interested in saving water in areas hit by water scarcity?

UH: A clear ‘no’ here as well. There are numerous drought-resistant plants that are the result of wisdom and knowledge of farmers having selected and bread them. The GM firms have solely worked with these plants (plants owned by farmers, mind you), tinkered a bit with their genetics, and are now proudly selling them back to countries where drought is a problem as the firm’s solution. And it comes at a very high price. We have to acknowledge the knowledge of farmers, work with them, support them, and keep seeds and breeds that are a result of farmers’ knowledge a commons for all.

MF: Do you think consumers can play a significant role in shaping the world of food for the future?

UH: Well, I wouldn’t be involved with Slow Food if I wasn’t convinced that civil society plays a huge role in just that. If we all were to go for enjoyment of food and taking responsibility for resources, the planet, and our fellow human beings – as Slow Food promotes –then we could shape a better, cleaner and fairer world of food for tomorrow.

We live at a time when it is evermore important that we form alliances for a better food system – I’m thinking of links between civil society, ecological farming associations, artisan food producers, and consumer protection organizations. Together we can stand up against the imbalances in the current system, such as the consequences of the Bayer-Monsanto merger, which we can see already at the horizon. If we do not stand up, if we do not bypass the industrial food system, we might have to face disasters, such as limited numbers of harvests. This is why we stand  for a holistic approach towards food along the whole value chain, which begins with the freedom for farmers to breed, exchange and trade their seeds. Here in Europe, we have to champion diverse and ecological farming systems and food production. It is up to us, three times a day: which food systems do we support, one that is going to do vast damage or one that leaves us, our children and grandchildren a planet earth worth living?

MF: I think it’s important to stress here that you don’t need to convince the majority of consumers to change their buying behaviors if you want to reshape the world of food. Experience teaches us that whenever a small, critical mass of consumers started making more sustainable, ethical choices in the aisles of the supermarkets, the industry followed, quickly adapting its practices to the new trends.

We certainly see that the food industry reacts swiftly and responsively to changing consumer demands, meaning, the industry is closely watching what is going on. For example: the growing demand from consumers for regional or local food has led to a massive increase in regional food ‘offers’ in supermarkets. All over we see signs that food industry and retailers are moving more towards more sustainable and more ethical practices. Some more honest, others less. We demand that the industry adopts more than a short-term change in practice: we need plans that span over a generation and demonstrate clearly that the changes in practice are not just a reaction to a heightened consumer awareness, but a real and honest contribution to a cleaner, fairer food system that is sustainable overall – i.e., in all five dimensions: ecological, economic, social, cultural, political.

In conclusion, let us summarize once more: it is up to us every day, what we eat and where we buy. With our daily consumer decisions and food choices, we support either a sustainable or a non-sustainable industrial food system.

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INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA PAZZAGLIA

 

MF: Since ten years you work as an “Agri-missionary” in this small, poor town in Madagascar with the support of an Italian philanthropist who prefers to remain incognito, and the italian associations Granello di Senape and Slow Food, teaching the farmers agroecological farming practices and techniques. How did the farmers in Antanafisaka react to your proposal to leave Monsanto’s seeds and chemicals and once again embrace more traditional cultivation methods?

SP: They initially reacted with great scepticism. You have to understand that Antanafisaka is a very poor village, without water and electricity. “Red rice” – an endemic, savory and nourishing variety of rice that grows only in this region – is not only the base of the diet of people living here, who consume it three times a day, but also the only currency they have to buy other food items and things they need for their survival at the nearby market. To experiment with different agricultural methods and strategies, in this part of the world, is a luxury. If things go wrong, if those little green plants don’t produce the seeds in sufficient quantity, there’s no plan B: you starve. Your children die. You die. Nevertheless, year after year, I managed to win the trust of the farmers here. After the initial doubts, more and more of them started attending my lessons on eco-agriculture. There, I teach them that a change of paradigm in their daily agricultural practice not only is possible but is necessary.

MF: What kind of responses did you get when you started talking about agroecological techniques, inviting the farmers to renounce to chemicals in favor of organic, sustainable cultivation methods?

SP: They looked at me as if I was an alien! Some were even reacting with sarcasm to my ideas. “We cultivated using traditional methods for centuries”, one farmer once told me, “and then you vasa came and told us that what we were doing was wrong. That we were supposed to buy and use your products if we wanted to produce more. Now you are basically telling us that you changed your mind, and that we were actually right?”.  This was, more or less, the reaction I got when, after decades of dogmatic trust in the “green revolution” and its chemicals, I proposed to them a return to organic farming.

MF: Is it true, what the agribusiness spokespeople say – that traditional agriculture is not enough to sustain the world’s increasing food demand?

SP: No, this is not true. The narrative of the agribusiness, that we need them to feed the world, is a lie. Meanwhile, everybody knows that small-scale organic agriculture, if practiced properly – in particular by exploiting the huge amount of research that has been carried out on this field over the last years – allows farmers not only not to stop polluting their land and their rivers, and their own food of course, but also to produce more.

MF: How much more ?

SP: The yields increase by at least 20%, and in some cases even 60%, starting from the second year. It may well sound like a modern fairy-tale, but it’s what I have witnessed with my own eyes in the fields of Antanafisaka.

MF: Can you explain to us on a more technical level how it’s possible get a higher yield without industrial seeds, fertilizers and pesticides?

SP: Together with the crops, you need to plant other things that nourish the land, such as the Stylosanthes. These legumes have the property of fixating the nitrogen in the ground, thus making chemical fertilizers unnecessary. They are also very handy to use: the Stylosanthes needs to be planted only once. When it’s grown, you can roll it easily like a green carpet, and use it as animal feed. The roots and the seeds remain in the land, thus saving the farmers the burden of planting them again, and continue to enrich the soil. On top of this, I have taught the farmers how to produce their own compost by using particularly “workaholic”  earthworms, which are very fast and efficient in regenerating the land. This has become an additional source of income: while the earthworms create fertile, new land, they also multiply themselves, and the farmers now sell them to other farmers. In 2012, they had never heard of such a technique; now they produce more than they need – 7 tons of compost per year! Pesticides are also not necessary: the extracts of other local plants, mixed with marseille soap and directly sprayed over the crops, do the job just fine. We also follow crop rotation schemes, a practice known for centuries, which consists of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons. This is done so that the soil is never deprived of only one type of nutrient. Such a practice helps in reducing soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield. As far as the vegetable gardens are concerned, we never plant the same vegetable twice in a row; first salad, then carrots, then tomatoes, and so on until a couple of years later a new cycle can be started. In the case of the red rice, we let the land “rest” 5 months out of the year.

MF: Are you still buying the seeds from the big seed companies?

SP: Over the years, we’ve managed to reduce the amount of purchased seeds to a minimum. We use local seeds and – the biggest difference from the previous farming techniques – we plant plants that produce seeds. The farmers keep the seeds for the following year, thus saving a lot of money. This adds to the savings made from having no need of the chemicals they used to buy in the past. Let me stress an important point: it’s not just the yield that increases by following eco-agricultural techniques, but also the quality of the produce. It tastes better, and, surprisingly, it lasts longer. Tomatoes that used to last three days now can be sold also a week after the harvest. In this part of the world, where storage and transport to the local markets are an issue, such a difference has led to a significative reduction of produce losses.

MF: Would you speak a little bit more to the practice of “microcredit” – that is, lending poor farmers small amounts of money, which is eventually reimbursed, in order to start their agriculture projects? It seems to be a crucial component of your strategy to assist these people out of poverty and starvation.

SP: We wouldn’t have gotten these successful results without the “rotation fund”, a microcredit system I have created for this village. We are talking of very, very low sums. With just a few euros, a farmer can buy an agricultural implement, a new tool, new seeds; with a slightly larger sum, a couple of animals, for example. Just the possibility of buying a dog, a pot, or a cow can be a life-changing event in their lives: it gives farmers the opportunity to become agricultural “entrepreneurs”. One of the main goals of the rotation fund is to convince local farmers to cultivate more land. Not everybody knows that, in many poor countries, farmers self-limit the amount of land they cultivate – not because they are lazy, but because they don’t have liquid money to buy the seeds commercialized by the big companies, not to mention the accompanying fertilizers and phytopharmaceuticals. For decades, these people have been slaves of industrial agriculture. It’s time that they free themselves from this yoke.

MF: So you are basically telling me that the same industrial agriculture techniques that promised higher yields have become for many farmers in the world a deterrent to cultivating more land? Even when the land is available, people can’t afford the ever-increasing costs associated with it?

SP: Look at those beautiful red hills around the village. ‘A lovely chromatic contrast to the green rice fields of the valley’, you might think. Well, they are red because they are not cultivated. That land has been washed out by the rains, deprived of its nutrients. It’s sterile. Among our projects here, one was to start cultivating this land again. We first needed to teach the village residents about “terrace farming”, a technique diffused in other areas of Madagascar but not here. Subsequently, we needed to fertilize the soil again by planting nitrogen-fixating, leguminous plants such alfalfa, clover, peas, lentils and lupin bean. Cultivating these lands would allow the inhabitants of Antanafisaka to produce rice in excess. With surplus, they could store enough for the difficult years. Or the hard weeks before the new harvest, during which it can happen that people here, especially children, do not get enough food. Sometimes with tragic consequences. So I am particularly proud to say that, after having convinced the farmers of Antanafisaka of the power of eco-agriculture, they have started cultivating the land on the hills too. And they’ve done it successfully, in spite of the soil’s terrible condition after years of abandon. As a result, the “difficult” months when food is scarce have decreased from five to two months a year. This is a change that has saved lives.

MF: It seems like restoring the lost biodiversity, more than then buying miraculous products of the Green Revolution, is the key to address the tragedy of malnutrition in Africa.

SP: Absolutely. You fight malnutrition by diversifying the production, and by using modern eco-agricultural techniques to maximize the yield while respecting the land. In Antanafisaka, for example, we have started planting manioca (or cassava), a nourishing root that becomes an essential component of the diet during the months when rice is no longer available. By using the so-called “basket technique”, which consists of creating an ideal habitat for the plant by means of old leaves and other plant rests, we have passed from the traditional 3-5 kg of produce per plant to 20. This is a real miracle I’ve been witnessing: real because it’s based on a sustainable cultivation technique and not one that impoverishes the land, year after year. Recently we also started the cultivation of moringa, known also as an “anti-hunger” plant, due to the high levels of nutrients that it contains. My dream is that these farmers start producing enough moringa for export, and start earning money from this activity, too. We are talking of a “superfood” that, among others, has proven to be effective in reducing the weight of obese people while keeping the level of nutrients in their body at correct levels. It’s also a precious ingredient for skin cremes. Since the water used for growing rice is now no longer polluted with pesticides, we have started farming fish there as well. This adds precious animal protein to the farmers’ diet, as well as further nitrogen-rich nutrients for the land.

MF: Are the farmers in the nearby villages still following the recipes of big corporations?

SP: With my astonishment, the good news – that in Antanafisaka we produce more than in the past and pay less – is spreading in the nearby area as well. The farmers from other villages come here and ask us how we cultivate, and take note of all the techniques. This is happening spontaneously. It gives me the hope that, once you start a pilot project like in Antanafisaka, over the years you might convert to eco-agriculture a greater number of farmers than you had expected. Unfortunately I cannot do a quantitative assessment of this, but I see it happen more and more often. I think it’s important for all these NGOs active in fighting against malnutrition and poverty to realize that agroecology is the winning strategy. They should start financing more of these projects wherever famers are put in chains and starved by corporations.

MF: It seems also that instilling self-esteem in the farmers, faith that a different future is possible, plays a central role in your mission here.

SP: My mission here is exactly this: making these people dream again, instilling faith in more sustainable forms of agriculture. I still remember the first time a local farmer came to me and proposed his idea of building a barn to store rice. I was on cloud nine that day: sustainable farming techniques were being generated in the community, not just from me. That meant that I had succeeded in lighting up in the farmers’ hearts a spark of hope – it didn’t matter how dim it was. That was hope, faith, what I saw in his eyes. That even here in Antanafisaka, a change is, after all, still possible.

 

INTERVIEW WITH BAYER

 

What exactly are the advantages of a merger between the pharmaceutical industry and botanical genetic engineering?

Bayer is a Life Science company. All the science we do and the resulting innovative products are designed to provide a better life for people across the world. The transaction represents a major step forward for our Crop Science business and will reinforce Bayer as a global innovation-driven Life Science company with leadership positions in its core business segments.

Please name your three most important objectives of the acquisition for the next five years.

It is too early to go into any detail or speculate. This is a strategic acquisition for Bayer, in line with our stated goal to establish leadership positions in all our business segments. Our goal is to rapidly expand further and develop a superior crop protection digital farming system.

Do you see any effects of such an acquisition that may particularly interest the young generations? If so, what would they be?

We are facing a fundamental challenge: how to feed an additional three billion people in the world by 2050. This number represents about six times the population of Europe today. Both companies would bring two highly complementary businesses together and would allow us to accelerate the creation of new and innovative solutions in agriculture.

As the world’s population is projected to increase at this rate, we need a global step-change in agriculture and a more holistic approach to innovation and sustainability to produce the food the world needs without compromising limited natural resources.

Many people think that the earth produces already enough food for 12 billion people and that we don’t need GM crops in order to feed our fast growing population. Access to food, rather than an increase of the world’s food production, is the real challenge of the next decades, these critical voices say. What’s your opinion about this?

At any rate, it would be dangerously wrong to conclude from the sum of food theoretically available in the world that there is no need to increase production worldwide in order to feed the future world population. In fact, the FAO arrives at the conclusion that an increase of 60 percent will be necessary between 2005 and 2050.

Providing enough food for the growing world population is an immense political and societal challenge when it comes to fair distribution of food and new solutions against food losses and waste; but it is also a daunting task for agriculture from which we expect the production of sufficient, high quality food in a sustainable manner. At Bayer, we cannot solve this alone. Collaboration and innovation will be key in tackling this huge challenge.

Are there concrete examples of how Bayer is planning to work on changing the controversial procedures of Monsanto in the next five years? Is it possible for Bayer to improve Monsanto’s image, which has been extremely criticized – especially in Europe? Particularly because some practices and methods of the company are prohibited by law.

It is too early to go into any detail or speculate, but let us assure you, as much as we are excited about the opportunities that will be created as these two organizations combine, we are taking any reputational concerns very seriously and are absolutely dedicated to continue our culture of open dialogue and transparency.

Will your future GM crops will grow only with your lines of chemicals? Will they produce seeds or not?

Bayer currently offers  seeds and traits in agricultural crops like cotton (GM), oilseed-rape (GM and non-GM), soybean (GM), rice (non-GM), wheat (non-GM) and vegetables (non-GM).

For the development of new seeds and traits we use the full spectrum of possibilities that science offers. This includes the development of high-yielding hybrid varieties and a technique known as smart breeding, which makes breeding faster and more targeted. It also includes genetic modification, in which genes are selective transposed and which has become an important breeding tool.

Our scientists are working to increase the yield potential and the quality of crops (e.g. by improving the profile of rapeseed oil or enhancing the properties of cotton fibers). We are also targeting the development of plants that deliver higher yields under occasionally adverse climatic conditions. Further areas of focus include developing new herbicide tolerance and insect resistant traits based on novel modes of action, and improving disease tolerance.

Thank you, but you didn’t answer to neither of my questions, which makes me think that Bayer will continue to put on the market crops that don’t produce seeds, and work only with Bayer’s chemical. Considering the huge seeds- and phytochemicals market share that Bayer-Monsanto will have after this merge, many see this a potential threat to farmer’s and consumers independence. The trend is clear: the food chain will be more and more  in the ends of one single private company, that will set the conditions.  Let’s change topic: GM Crops are linked to the risk of the creation of superweeds. How are you going to tackle this issue?

At Bayer we engage since many years in tackling weed resistances and fostering an integrated weed management approach that involves diversity in the use of herbicide modes of action, diversity in non-chemical weed control measures, such as soil mangement, post-harverst weed seed control etc. and diversity of cultural practices such as crop rotations. Integrated weed management helps to sustain cropping systems and reduce the environmental impact of certain weed management practices.

As a company we are developing integrated weed control solutions, including high-quality seeds, traits, innovative crop protection products, and tailored services such as agronomic support, weed indentification systems, field demonstration trials, diagnostics, prediction tools and documentation aids.We are also strongly engaging with farmers, consultants and distributors to share knowledge on weed control. And we are constantly striving for innovation – alone or in partnerships – and invest into R&D.

It’s a fact recognized also by FAO that the land cultivated intensively with GM crops and high input of chemicals loses year after year it’s fertility. In other words, the agricultural model proposed by Monsanto is not sustainable. Is something going to change here? I have read one of your goals is to feed more people in a “sustainable” way, and I was curious to hear what you exactly mean when using this adjective.

Within the Crop Science division, sustainable agriculture is a cornerstone of our strategy. Sustainable agriculture relies on integrated solutions that help farmers protect their crops, optimize their return on investment (ROI) and preserve the quality of their land.  This includes the use of improved seeds and traits, innovative chemical and biological products protecting harvests, and best management practices to secure yields, optimize inputs and protect the environment.

Wind, rain and inefficient farming practices can erode the soil on which farmers depend.  Bayer is working with farmers to help them take actions that will protect against soil erosion and nutrient depletion. The adoption of best management practices, such as the use of conservation tillage in combination with improved seeds and integrated weed management, can help reduce energy and labour costs, preserve soil quality, secure carbon and water and minimize erosion.

On example: At our Forward Farm Hof ten Bosch, soil fertility is maintained by a four-year crop rotation, including potatoes, wheat, sugar beet, and wheat again. Spring canola is used as a green manure crop to add and fix nutrients to the rooting zone and protect the soil from erosion in winter.

To what extent is Bayer going to change after this merge? Will there be an enhanced focus on the US market?

Both companies’ core businesses have a major impact on societal development. As a combined company, we will continue to contribute to society’s future viability and create value in diverse ways.

It is our stated strategy to develop leadership positions in all our Life Science businesses. The acquisition of Monsanto would be a compelling opportunity to establish a leadership position in the agricultural industry, which has attractive long-term growth prospects. As part of its strategy, Bayer will continue to develop all of its businesses in Pharmaceuticals, Consumer Health and Animal Health.

What are the benefits of this acquisition for customers?

The proposed combination of Bayer and Monsanto is about growth and bringing new innovative solutions to our customers. The market is and will remain highly competitive.

Growers will benefit from a broad set of solutions to meet their current and future needs, including enhanced solutions in seeds and traits, digital agriculture, and crop protection.

Over the mid to long-term, the combined business will be able to accelerate innovation and  provide customers with enhanced solutions and an optimized product suite based on analytical agronomic insight and supported by Digital Farming applications.

These are expected to result in significant and lasting benefits for farmers: from improved sourcing and increased convenience to higher yield, better environmental protection a and sustainability.

Is it possible for Bayer to improve Monsanto’s image, which has been extremely criticized – especially in Europe? Particularly because some practices and methods of the company are prohibited by law.

At Bayer we are proud of our strong heritage of transparency, sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Our commitment to these values will remain as strong as it is – now and in the future.

What kind of new synergies would be created that can justify the immense purchase price of $66 billion?

The agreed upon price is the result of our negotiations with Monsanto and represents attractive value propositions to both Bayer’s shareholders and Monsanto’s shareholders.

Bayer has confirmed sales and cost synergies assumptions in due diligence and expects annual EBITDA contributions from total synergies of approximately USD 1.5 billion after year three, plus additional synergies from integrated solutions in future years. Of the USD 1.5 billion, we expect 80% to stem from costs and 20% coming from sales. Cost synergies: significant synergies are expected in-line with industry benchmarks from optimizing product supply chains, marketing & sales, as well as overhead reduction. Sales synergies: top-line acceleration expected to result from more customized product combinations and improved solutions across geographies (primarily in the Americas) and indications.

How much of the budget will remain after the investment to ensure the continued performance in this challenging and rapidly evolving market of the pharmaceutical industry?

The transaction represents a major step forward for our Crop Science business and will reinforce Bayer as a global innovation-driven Life Science company with leadership positions in its core business segments. It is our stated strategy to develop leadership positions in all our Life Science businesses. The acquisition of Monsanto would be a compelling opportunity to establish a leadership position in the agricultural industry, which has attractive long-term growth prospects. As part of its strategy, Bayer will continue to develop all of its businesses in Pharmaceuticals, Consumer Health and Animal Health.

What are the benefits of this takeover for shareholders?

This transaction represents a major step forward to strengthening Bayer’s Crop Science business.

The combined company will be well positioned to capitalize on an industry with significant long-term growth potential.

Beyond the attractive long term value creation potential of the combination, Bayer expects the transaction to provide Bayer’s shareholders with accretion to core EPS (earnings per share) in the first full year after closing and a double-digit percentage accretion in the third full year.

Why do benefits of the shareholder not go at the expense of the customer?

This is not the way we see it. There are benefits for both, for our customers and our shareholders. The proposed combination of Bayer and Monsanto is about growth and bringing new innovative solutions to our customers.

Where do the synergies in field research on either side lie? Please describe these, particularly focusing on them from a future perspective.

It is too early to discuss the impact on R&D efforts after close. As the rational for our combination is driven by growth and innovation, it is of paramount importance to combine both R&D organizations and the existing programs efficiently for optimal output.

Are there concrete examples of how Bayer is planning to work on changing the controversial procedures of Monsanto in the next five years?

It is too early to go into any detail or speculate, but let us assure you, as much as we are excited about the opportunities that will be created as these two organizations combine, we are taking any reputational concerns very seriously and are absolutely dedicated to continue our culture of open dialogue and transparency.

 

Published on DUST#10, November 2016

 

 

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