One Man, One Cow, One Planet

one man

One Man, One Cow, One Planet

by Thomas Burstyn (2007)

Film Review

Contrary to constant corporate media propaganda, it isn’t food scarcity that causes world hunger. As Thomas Burstyn so ably demonstrates in this documentary, the four main causes of world hunger are trade liberalization, industrial agriculture, military dominance and genetic engineering.

Nowhere is this more painfully evident than in India. Industrial agriculture, cleverly branded as the Green Revolution, first hit India in the 1960s. Thanks to intense pressure from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and western lenders, the Indian government sought to enter the global economic market by pressuring farmers to switch to chemically maintained monoculture crops for export.

Farmers were promised that investing in chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides – as well as flood irrigation – would substantially increase their yields. It never happened. After three decades, the Green Revolution’s primary accomplishments were to render India’s soils infertile by killing off essential soil organisms, deplete their water resources and leave hundreds of thousands of rural farmers virtually destitute.

In the late 1990s, the giant multinational corporation Monsanto rode to the rescue by saturating the Indian countryside with their GMO seeds, which they guaranteed would restore yields and reduce hunger. Sadly, the yields they promised never materialized. Their supposedly pest resistant Bt cotton was supposed to reduce farmers’ need for pesticide. However owing to its failure to control India’s main cotton pest, the pink boll worm, it required even more pesticide than natural cotton.

Yields were never enough to cover the purchase of new seed every year, along with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Farmers merely sank deeper and deeper into debt and hundreds of thousands committed suicide.

Enter Peter Proctor

Over the past five decades, New Zealander Peter Proctor, has been instrumental in reversing this trend, by helping to establish an Indian food sovereignty network based on biodynamic agriculture. The basic principle of food sovereignty is that people, rather than corporations and governments, have a natural right to control what they grow and what they eat.

Proctor is considered the modern father of biodynamic farming. The latter is an approach to organic farming first started a hundred years ago by Rudolph Steiner, and Austrian philosopher, social reformer and architect. It shares many features in common with permaculture (see Roadmap to Redesigning Civilization) and biointensive agriculture (see Farming Without Machines).

Cow dung and compost, which form the humus essential to soil fertility, are cornerstones of biodynamic agriculture. In general, Indian farmers are more receptive than westerners to biodynamic methods, as they share the same reverence for cow dung as Steiner, Proctor and other biodynamic practitioners.

Proctor and his followers rely on Steiner’s original ritualistic practices (based on planetary forces) in preparing the dung, which inoculates the soil with essential soil organisms. They also religiously follow the moon planting cycles advocated by Steiner.

Pest Control in Biodynamic Agriculture

Pest control is far easier with biodynamic methods. Healthy soil is the most important pest deterrent, as pests are far less likely to attack healthy plants. Replacing monoculture crops with diversified and companion planting also greatly reduces pest infestation. Other pest control methods include liquid manure, ground quartz (silica)*, and biological deterrents (eg ladybugs).

Environmental and Economic Sustainability

In addition to strengthening the social fabric of India’s rural communities, the food sovereignty network Proctor helped to start has improved their economic sustainability. By saving and sharing seed, cow dung and compost, they reduce the cost of their inputs to zero and cut their water requirement by 50% (humus increases the water retention capacity of soil).

In addition to substantially higher yields, organic produce sells for a slightly higher price in India due to its health benefits.

With their improved economic standing, many of India’s biodynamic farmers can afford school fees and are sending their children to school for the first time.

My favorite part of the film is where Proctor’s wife blames the horrible decisions politicians make on the crap food they eat.

The film has been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons but can be rented from Amazon for $1.99 at this link: One Man, One Cow, One Planet

The stunning Indian scenery alone is well worth the price.

*Also known as diatomaceous earth, silica destroys pests by cutting them up with its microscopic razor sharp edges.