Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Biodiversity Crisis

Wired has a disturbing article entitled Australia Pistachio Disaster Hints at Agricultural Breakdown. It's an interesting read about how the development of a crop monoculture opened up the entire production to devastating disease vulnerability. In this case, the fungal infestation of anthracnose wiped out over half of Australia's pistachio crop. Although fungicides are helping in containing the problem, it is only a matter of time until a resistant strain of anthracnose develops.

The risks of crop monoculture are well known. Even before the pistachio crisis, the big worry was in regards to wheat rusts, a similar fungal disease that threatens a vital grain staple. If a pistachio crop fails, that is a sad but limited economic crisis. If a wheat crop fails, that can result in widespread starvation.

Moreover, history provides dramatic examples of catastrophic crop failures resulting from monocultural farming. The Gros Michel banana was once the dominant cultivar in the world's banana supply, but a fungal infestation wiped it out. Its successor, the Cavendish, faces a similar threat.

I understand that the efficiencies of production are wildly increased by crop monocultures. But that's focusing on the short-term benefits. Yes, there is greater profit to be immediately gained, but at some point the crop will fail and somebody will be left with economic ruin. A polycultural system may be less efficient, but over the long term it will prove more enduring. So, isn't that the more ethical path?

Here's a link to the Wired article Australia Pistachio Disaster Hints at Agricultural Breakdown.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia page on Monoculture.

And here's the Banana Wikipedia page.


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