Famine Walk 2012: Corporations, Crops and Control – Seeds of Life or Seeds of Strife

Joe Murray, who was present at the first Famine Walk in Doolough in 1988, reflected, in his opening remarks, on the past twenty five years and how the Famine Walk remains relevant today.

Anita & Tommy Hayes from the Irish Seeds Savers Association planting a variety of potatoes called ‘Butes’, which were unaffected by blight during the 1845-1849 famine, as part of the 25th anniversary Afri Famine Walk. Photo: Derek Speirs

It’s hard to believe that the Doolough-Louisburgh Famine Walk has been on the road for 25 years! When Afri initiated this walk of remembrance and solidarity in 1988 the Great Famine was hardly commemorated at all and, if it was, the link with contemporary famine and hunger throughout the world was rarely made. Afri set out to ensure that the Great Famine would be commemorated because of its singular importance in our history. We also wanted to ensure, however, that it would be commemorated not in a self-indulgent or self-pitying way but rather in a way that links it to contemporary issues of hunger and famine throughout the world. We sought to ensure that the lessons learned from the Great Famine in Ireland would be applied to today’s world.

It is encouraging to see that the Great Famine is now being commemorated in Ireland and that the contemporary dimension is almost always included. However, in the ensuing 25 years the situation for the world’s poor has not improved, in fact things have gotten worse. The numbers now experiencing hunger in our world has increased to a staggering one billion. One billion people who experience hunger in our world of plenty! The Famine Walk focuses on the causes of hunger such as unjust economic structures; unfair trade; the war industry (costing in excess of $1600 billion in 2010); climate change and a relatively new cause of famine – the issue of genetic engineering. This year’s walk is in solidarity with those affected by the genetic engineering of food crops. This is not an academic argument as its impact is felt by millions of people throughout the world.

There are many dangers associated with genetic modification including the handing over of control of food to corporations whose only interest is in the maximisation of profits. Other dangers include the patenting of seeds and the loss of biodiversity.

But there is yet another dimension which is the consequence for farmers who become enslaved by debts to the corporations who provide GM seeds. I recently re-read the shocking statistic that a quarter of a million farmers in India have committed suicide as a result of using GM seeds. I read, for example, about the death by suicide of a respected Indian farmer called Shankara after his GM crop had failed – twice. His death has been attributed directly to his use of genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiraling debts – and no income. So Shankara became one of an estimated quarter of a million farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops, in a crisis that has been branded the ‘GM Genocide’.

Similar things are happening throughout other parts of Asia and Africa…

But not only in Asia, Africa and Latin America, GM is now coming to Ireland as Teagasc has announced that it has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for a licence to grow GM POTATOES (of all things)! One cause of the Famine in Ireland was the lack of biodiversity of potatoes being grown, with most dependent on the ‘Lumper’. When blight struck this variety, almost the entire crop was wiped out. But there was another variety known as ‘Butes’ which grew successfully in parts of Kerry throughout the Famine period. This variety which has been shown to be highly blight-resistant is now available from Irish Seed Savers Association in County Clare. We need to be supporting groups like the ISSA rather than going down the risky road of genetic modification. We are calling on the Minister to initiate a country-wide consultation on the issue of GM. This is a subject that needs to be discussed and debated rather than being slipped through when people are preoccupied by the economic collapse and the consequences of other such bad governmental decisions.

Read the article published in the Irish Times about the Famine Walk: click here

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