Monoculture Agriculture Creates Risks

Human beings on this planet may not have a choice about the dominant form of agriculture that feeds us. 6 billion people are difficult to feed with anything other than industrial style, monoculture agricultural processes.

But one of the weaknesses of planting acres of the same plant is that a single pathogen can wipe out large fields of crops in a very short time. The weakness of spraying with chemicals to suppress pathogens is too obvious to discuss. The natural and low cost solution is multiple crop plantings, but you don’t see much of that from industrial agriculture.

We face several threats to the world’s food supply. One is a push to turn a food supply into a fuel supply in the form of biofuels, another is the possibility of monoculture crop failure from new resistant forms of crop pathogens. This report from Kenya covers a resurgence of an old threat to wheat crops: stem rust.  For more information on stem rust, try this site.

There is strength in diversity. This is a biological truth.

clipped from

In the Wheat Fields of Kenya, a Budding Epidemic

Stem Rust, Vanquished by Science Five Decades Ago, Has Returned in a Destructive New Form

By Sharon Schmickle

Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 18, 2009;
Page A08

GREAT RIFT VALLEY, Kenya — A virulent new version of a deadly fungus is ravaging wheat in Kenya’s most fertile fields and spreading beyond Africa to threaten one of the world’s principal food crops, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Geoff Nightingale, who farms 1,350 acres with his son in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, was able to afford fungicides to spray on his crops. Still, he said, the yields were

“This is a dangerous problem because a good share of the world’s area sown to wheat is susceptible to it,” Borlaug said. “It has immense destructive potential.”

Coming on the heels of grain scarcity and food riots last year, the budding epidemic exposes the fragility of the food supply in poor countries. It is also a reminder of how vulnerable the ever-growing global population is to the pathogens that inevitably surface somewhere on the planet.

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