Mayhem by monoculture
failures are an inevitable part of agricultural life.
Though blame is often
attributed to drought, excess rains, and other weather
discrepancies, the chosen method of farming itself is never
called into question.
Instead, massive pest
infestation is blamed, along with other plant diseases.
It is prudent to ask however, why this happens at all, and
the answer lies inside an unnatural state of nature:
Monoculture. Monoculture is the planting of a single crop
species to the exclusion of all others in a large area,
whether an acre or hundreds of thousands of acres.
But monoculture is alien to
nature. Some regions may have far more variety than others,
but plants and wildlife are interdependent, making diversity
essential to survival.
Monoculture was boosted greatly by colonization. Colonizers
introduced the plantation system; vast acreage devoted to
As with other legacies colonization has left us with, the
habits of big land owners remained the same well after the
demise of the British Raj.
‘Modern’ farmers are wrongly taught to uproot every unwanted
plant, because these are considered space-wasting weeds.
As a result of this ignorant farming practice, the FAO finds
that the world has lost 75% of its biodiversity already.
For centuries, traditional farmers understood that there is
no such things as weeds; that every plant serves its own
purpose, and contributes to the farmlands’ natural state.
Plants attract beneficial
insects; food sources for wildlife; medicine for animals or
humans. ‘Companion crops’ help maintain the balance of
dozens of nutrients in the soil which plants need in varying
ratios; or a brake on spread of diseases that are usually
The same plant can have hundreds or thousands of different
varieties, each adapted to a specific geographical region,
climate and other factor so people everywhere gain some
If one crop is infected or infested in a field of mixed
crops, its spread is blocked by a break of unrelated crops.
But in monoculture, the entire field is wiped out.
This was the reason why ancient peasants across all
continents grew between a dozen and several dozen different
crops on the same plot.
History records sudden collapses of civilization, some of
them attributed primarily to monoculture.
Today in the US, only three varieties are industrially
farmed. In Idaho, ‘the potato state,’ one can drive past
potato fields for hours of numbing monotony.
Just because some plants don’t serve a strictly human
purpose doesn’t mean they are redundant. It is a western
belief that nature was created to serve humans exclusively,
forgetting that nature when denied the conditions for its
own survival, can’t serve humans at all.
How dangerous monoculture can
be is best illustrated by the example of the potato. Perhaps
no other vegetable is as well travelled. It originated in
the Andes running the entire 5,500 mile length of the
Pacific Coast of South America.
fluctuate between heat and below-freezing within hours. In
this harsh environment, the potato successfully combated the
elements by growing safely underground – some 9,000
different varieties at different altitudes and locations!
Potatoes are more productive than grains, growing three
times as much in the same area. In 2008, a Lebanese farmer
dug up a 25-pound potato bigger than his head.
Best of all, it can also be
grown in fallow land, so it’s never idle. It’s hard to
believe that the humble potato was introduced as a delicacy
for European gentry, brought by Spaniards in the 1500s.
Ireland was once a British colony around the same time as
the Indian subcontinent.
But being on England’s
doorstep, the oppression the Irish faced was crushing.
Virtually growing itself, the potato took little care and
throve in large quantities even in poor soil.
Unsurprisingly, it became the
sole food for the poorest doing long, daily hours of
physical labour. One acre could support a family for a year.
Potato monoculture got a boost all over Europe and the Irish
poor planted over 2 million acres though they lived
exclusively on potatoes coming from a single variety.
In 1844, newspapers reported a disease destroying potato
crops in eastern America for two years running. Passenger
ships to Europe and Ireland probably carried the disease in
their potato supplies.
By 1845 it struck Belgium,
Holland, parts of France and England. Ireland was the worst
hit because of the extreme potato dependency of the 3
The fungus-like infection
caused rotting from the inside within days of being dug up.
The wind spread the disease rapidly, racing 50-60 miles a
Over the next decade, a million Irish died of hunger and the
rest were debilitated by malnutrition. 2 million migrated to
North America. Within five years, the Irish population was
reduced by a quarter. And all because of a bad potato.
Today profiteering corporations are primed to repeat
history, because all GM/Bt crops are monoculture crops.
They believe they can beat
nature by reassembling it, by tinkering with genes and
transferring chosen traits from various species where they
They refuse to accept that
living nature irrepressibly keeps evolving; pests develop
increased resistance, that crops needing fewer chemicals are
short-lived and end up needing more.
Chemicals have saturated the
world and spread disease. Disasters lurk silently, waiting
to happen. Nature is resilient, but it can take only so much
GM crops are superfluous;
designed for making money, not public purpose. Ironically,
for constant fresh supply of new genes, GM crops rely on
biodiversity which they simultaneously kill.
Corporations continue mopping
up world agriculture by whittling down to a few patented
varieties so that no peasant or agri-business can grow
anything without paying royalties or becoming chemically
There were once 30,000 varieties of rice grown in the
They are down to a thousand
today. 95% of the world’s food comes from just 30 plants
whereas earlier, people sourced 1500 plants for food.
Something has to change
before nature takes matters into its own hands. The Irish
didn’t have a choice. We do.