If there is someone who is personally affected by agriculture, it’s farmers. It is them who decide what will be grown, what will be used as fertilisers, where seeds come from. While other actors – activists, producers or governments – have highly-developed public relations, the voice of farmers is rarely heard. The greatest challenge to today’s farmers is thus not to be afraid to speak up and claim their licence to farm.

License to Farm, director: Alexei & Garry Berteig (Canada)

License to Farm, director: Alexei & Garry Berteig (Canada)

We can view GMO, pesticides and industrial agriculture as challenges with a huge potential, or as a Pandora’s box full of unknown dangers. There are few things that set off as many controversies as innovation in agriculture. When scientists get higher yields due to gene manipulation, activists warn of unresearched risks of artificially created entities. If scientists claim that traces of pesticides have no effect on our health, activists speak of the dangers of their reactions when they combine into a “chemical cocktail” in our organism.

Canadian film Licence to Farm focuses on three popular issues: GM crops, pesticides and the myth of romantic farming. It lets farmers as well as scientists from universities, economic chamber members, journalists and activists speak about these topics. They see innovation in agriculture in mostly optimistic light, including genetically modified foods. Humanity has been modifying crops since time immemorial; the difference in manipulation as it is done by today’s science, is only in the effectiveness, not the substance. According to the authors of the film, the worry that in time pests will become resistant to the manipulated gene is just about as justified as banning the use of antibiotics because there is a risk that they will stop being effective in the future. The effort to ban the development of crops such as the vitamin enhanced “golden rice” is said to lead directly to the rise in deaths in poorer parts of the world.

In Canada 97% of farms are family-owned. Farmers care about keeping their soil fertile, they do not want to destroy the environment they themselves inhabit and work in. They use chemical substances like pesticides purposefully and selectively. The trend of the recent years is also to move towards organic and sustainable solutions. Nevertheless we cannot ask the farmers to give up all new technology. It is thanks to innovations that it is 2% of the population who work in Canadian agriculture today, and not 70% as was the case 80 years ago. Thanks to better technology soil is used more effectively, so no primeval forests need to be cut down to make space for farming.

However, the makers of this film claim that this type of “positive” information is much harder to spread than catastrophic, negative commentaries. That is why modern farmers should tell their own stories, otherwise someone else will speak for them.

“License to Farm” takes place on Monday 17th October at 3 pm in the “Velká Aula” hall.

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