NADAWG discussion – Technofixes & Toxics
Hosted in collaboration with NADAWG members PANNA and CREPPA1/16/24

What we learned from CREPPA and PANNA’s research:

Pesticide use is already a major environmental justice, climate and health issue. 400 million farmers and farmworkers are poisoned by pesticides every year. Pesticides are found in our drinking water, pee and soils. Pesticides and other agrochemicals have significantly contributed to Earth having already passed 6 out of 9 planetary tipping points, with pesticides pushing tipping points in mass extinction and synthetic fertilizers disrupting tipping points in biogeochemical flows.

Pesticides are not a stand-alone issue. They are a key component of a corporate-controlled industrial agriculture system that depends on large-scale monocultures of genetically modified seeds. Pesticide use has increased 81% since the introduction of GMOs.

This farming system takes away farmers autonomy, and puts it in the hands of pesticide and seed companies. For example, one of the presenters shared that farmers in their area are buying Dicamba-ready (pesticide resistant) soybeans even if they are not spraying Dicamba because they assume there will be pesticide drift from surrounding farms. Even though farmers are now forced to buy a particular seed, many farmers are not registering this as a lack of choice – rather it is seen as an inevitable environmental factor, like the weather.

While digital agriculture is sold as the 4th agricultural “revolution,” CREPPA and PANNA’s research suggests that it is just the next step on an existing pathway of corporate control via seeds and agroechmicals. The same actors who sell pesticides and GMO seeds are now pushing for digital agriculture. Legal tools like “regulatory equivalency” that were once used to bypass safety regulations on pesticides are now being repurposed to bypass safety regulations for drones. The same justification used for pesticides and GMOs (we need to feed the world) is now applied to digital agriculture, with the added urgency of a climate crisis which pesticides and GMOs helped create.

What does this mean for North American farmers and social movements?

We discussed how environmental and food sovereignty advocates should respond to digital agriculture technologies that are supposedly made to reduce pesticide exposure and use. For example “variable rate technology” is meant to help farmers apply only the exact amount of pesticide that is needed in a location. However CREPPA’s literature review on digital and precision agriculture found no demonstration of an overall economic benefit or a benefit for decreasing pesticides. PANNA asserted that what we need to focus on is reducing reliance, rather than just reducing use. While reducing use perpetuates the same industrial agriculture system, reducing reliance means a different way of farming that upholds farmers’ autonomy.

So what can growers and food sovereignty advocates do to prevent increasing corporate control via digital technologies? While the industry presents digital agriculture as the inevitable future, the on-the-ground reality shows there is still space for intervention and alternatives. For example, CREPPA shared that in Quebec very few digital agriculture technologies are even available from dealers, and if they were farmers wouldn’t be able to afford them. So far there are little to no policies in North America addressing digital agriculture, meaning that civil society has the opportunity to intervene in creating these policies. We also discussed the need to tell our own stories which show that digital agriculture is not inevitable – growers have a choice. As we look back on decades of increasing pesticide use despite ample research demonstrating the dangers, it is clear we need to move beyond critiquing pesticides to paving the way for sustainable alternatives like agroecology.