Have you ever weeded a garden? I have. Many times. I recall as a child helping my grandmother weed her garden. Sometimes she used it as a form of punishment (yes, I had my moments). The garden wasn’t large but the task was onerous. Especially for a leggy, curious and impatient girl who’d rather be climbing trees, squashing pennies on the railway tracks or playing in the creek.
Whether you live in the city or the country, weeding is one of those little tasks that becomes part of the summer routine. If you want your backyard garden to thrive, you need to get rid of the competitive, unwanted plant material before it sucks the life out of a good crop of lettuce or beets.
But these are first world problems. Let’s move a bit further south. In an FAO study conducted in 2011, it was reported that 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries or emerging economies was comprised of women. Although time put toward ag-related activities by women varies by crop, production cycle, age, region and ethnic group – most activities appear to revolve around the task of weeding. In a recent AWB-hosted blog, Stuart Smyth (researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan) stated that conventional maize requires in excess of 250 hours of hand weeding per hectare.
Here’s the good news. Smallholder maize farmers in South Africa that adopted GM maize reduced their manual weeding (and other labour activities) by as much as 50%! (see Smyth 2013) Saving on field labour enables these hard-working women to spend more time on other activities (caring for their children, securing off-farm jobs to increase family income, maybe pursue educational opportunities, etc). These (direct and indirect) benefits of GM technologies are often overlooked, especially by those of us in the first world.
While women in developing countries are tackling weeds and taking care of their families, first world activists are declaring war on seeds. In June 2003, experimental research materials at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk UK were uprooted and destroyed by activists. More recently, in July 2011, Greenpeace protesters scaled a fence of the CSIRO experimental station at Canberra and destroyed approximately a half a hectare crop of genetically modified wheat.
As Professor Wayne Parrot says, these activists need to live for one day as impoverished peasants so they can experience first-hand what impact their actions are having on the lives of these people; what they are denying them in terms of technology.
In my opinion, it is so much easier (and cowardly) to pull full plants out of publicly-funded field trials than it is to hand-weed a hectare of corn. Perhaps a little weeding is in order?
I think that my grandmother would agree. :O)
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More information on Solving Africa’s Weeding Problem.
Here is a great post by Andrew Kniss on weed control in ‘first world’ agriculture: “Social Benefits of Biotech Crops” Excerpt: “Before you rail against the technology, or denounce the evil corporations for creating them. Before you argue on twitter or Facebook about how good or bad the technology is for society. Before you write your next post for the New York Times or Grist. Ask a farmer who uses the technology. And then think about what they say.“