WHY THIS MATTERS
Many of the 2 billion poor farmers around the world fertilize their crops with a nitrogen fertilizer called urea, which was produced originally for industrial agriculture. Urea was introduced to poor small-scale farmers as a way to easily boost productivity, and many farmers abandoned their centuries-old farming traditions for this new promise. Unfortunately, when urea gets into the soil, it upsets the balance of soil microorganisms, which are essential for providing vitamins and minerals to growing plants. Destroying the soil ecosystem in this way creates a chain of negative outcomes:
- Crops become more susceptible to disease because their immune systems are compromised—any body that’s weak attracts bugs—which prompts farmers to spend money on pesticides and herbicides;
- Crop productivity declines when essential soil nutrients are diminished—which prompts farmers to use more fertilizer;
- Crops that are sick or malnourished produce poor-quality seeds that cannot be planted the following season—which means farmers have to buy seed, some of which is GMO;
- Crops are less nutritious because the plants are starving for nutrients—which furthers the problem of human malnutrition, especially among children;
- Fields require more water because the water-holding capacity of the soil is significantly diminished when microbial life is destroyed—which prompts farmers to increase irrigation, resulting in depleted aquifers, increased run-off, and surface-level water pollution.
Many farmers that put their hope in urea now find themselves inescapably dependent on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO seeds, the combination of which degrades their soils, poisons their waters, harms their health, and diminishes their incomes. Because of these rising costs, farmers are making a mere 2% profit, which only intensifies their poverty and food insecurity.