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15 January 2021

The Corporates’ Accomplice

Colin Tudge casts a jaundiced eye over the British government’s latest plan to unleash the neonics

Britain’s present government, in common with most British governments of the past 40 years, and most of the world’s most powerful governments the world over, can properly be seen as an extension of the corporate boardroom.

Not all corporates are all bad, but the biggest and most bullish ones at least are geared primarily to the doctrine of neoliberalism: an entirely materialistic pursuit, dedicated not to human (social, personal, spiritual) values but to the maximization of wealth, for the benefit of their shareholders, achieved by competing as ruthlessly as necessary (or as ruthlessly as they can get away with) in the allegedly “free” but in practice manipulated, global market.

Often the enterprises that are most profitable in the short term are also the most damaging – to society, to the individual wellbeing of most people, and certainly to the biosphere. For all their rhetoric and greenwash, governments like ours, which hardly even aspire to be anything other than the corporates’ accomplice, can reasonably be seen as the enemies of the people and of the natural world.

Our own government’s latest anti-social, anti-ecological, and anti-commonsensical wheeze is to relax restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides to control pests in sugar beet in England – specifically Syngenta’s Cruiser SB.

It is a triple whammy:

Firstly, if agriculture was truly designed to provide good food for everyone without wrecking the natural world, then it is doubtful whether sugar beet and rape would play more than a marginal role. They are not really necessary at all.

Secondly, neonics are cost-effective primarily in very large, industrial, minimum-to-zero labour monocultures – and it seems fairly obvious to anyone who takes a serious interest in food, farming, conservation, and global politics that large-scale industrial monocultures, in general, are the very opposite of what the world needs. As farmer after farmer from all parts of the world emphasised at ORFC Global this week, we need low-input, maximally diverse units that are necessarily complex, and therefore skills-intensive (plenty of farmers and growers) and generally, are small to medium-sized. There is no serious role for neonics and their ilk in such systems.

Thirdly, as emphasized on a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, neonics work best in the context of a scorched earth policy: that is, the land must be cleared of all life before they are applied. No government that claims to be green, or even halfway sensible, could entertain such a policy.

All in all the government’s approach to agriculture, and its understanding of it, is crude in the extreme. In the short term farmers suffer, and of course their livestock and the biosphere. But at one step removed we all suffer, and as present follies unfold we will suffer more and more.

Agriculture after all is the most important thing that human beings do even if, for today’s narrowly-educated, ideology-bound party politicians, it is just an unwelcome irritation. We can’t treat it as just another way to make rich people richer and powerful people more powerful.

We need the Agrarian Renaissance: a strategy based on agroecology and food sovereignty – that is, on the bedrock principles of ecology and morality. This strategy must be led and driven by us, people at large, spear-headed by farmers and growers, and indeed by cooks, who know what to do with the food once it’s grown.

The job of governments is to the smooth the path for people who know what they are doing and that give a damn. That, emphatically, is not the kind of government we have, and is not what they do.

The way to achieve the Renaissance is not to launch a Trump-style raid on the centres of government. The method of Renaissance, agrarian or otherwise, is simply to build the alternative(s) in situ, and leave the status quo to wither on the vine.

The 5000-plus delegates who tuned in to ORFC Global — many of them farmers or growers – are among the many millions the world over who are showing the way.

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