Prince Charles invites Berkeley prof to present views on agriculture

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs


professor and prince

Berkeley ecologist Miguel Altieri (left) and participants from a conference on sustainable agriculture discuss issues with Prince Charles. Altieri was invited by the prince to be a panelist at the meeting.

04 April 2001 | They don’t share a common heritage, profession or hobby. But they find themselves on common ground when it comes to sustainable agriculture.

His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, and Berkeley ecologist Miguel Altieri believe there are ways to feed everyone on the planet without damaging the land, polluting the environment or poisoning the food. And as the movement to safeguard Earth’s natural resources while maximizing food production spreads to the developing world, both think those ideas will take root.

“Many experts are proposing biotechnology as a new magic bullet, a way to increase food production without depleting the soil, introducing noxious pesticides or otherwise harming the environment,” said Altieri, who, at the invitation of Prince Charles, spoke to an international panel of experts in sustainable agriculture. “But many anticipate that this approach will bypass poor farmers, about 370 million who farm marginal rural areas.

“Consequently, many donor and development agencies are interested in examining the potential of alternative approaches to increased mechanization, chemical and pesticide use and crop specialization so that any farmer, especially those in rural poor areas, can continue to grow crops, increase their yields and do that without expensive, high-tech equipment, ” he said in summarizing the January gathering.

The symposium, held at Prince Charles’ residence at St. James Palace, was steeped in the pomp and circumstance of British royalty.

“The event was very formal and the palace was full of incredible paintings and rooms of British arms and weapons,” Altieri said. “Prince Charles was very cordial and very warm, but very outspoken about his views on organic agriculture, which sometimes didn’t go over that well with some of the British policymakers.

“Britain is in the middle of a huge agricultural crisis right now, so the prince was telling everyone he didn’t want the British preaching about how to solve things, but that they should look to other experts.”

A trained scientist who has helped introduce inexpensive, low-tech methods of tilling the soil without harming the environment in many poor countries, Altieri has worked with farmers in Latin and Central America.

Prince Charles, who was particularly interested in Altieri’s work in Cuba, pursues his mastery of agriculture in a somewhat different fashion. Without the academic training, he learns by farming 1,100 acres of his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire, England, organically.

“He supports this approach to farming and he is particularly interested in Cuba because that island has undergone a national conversion to organic farming,” Altieri said.

An entomologist and associate professor in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, Altieri believes progress in the adoption of sustainable agriculture worldwide has been impressive.

“The most important finding from our symposium, which was based on an analysis of 208 sustainable agriculture projects in the developing world, was that food production can clearly increase in rural, poor areas without a lot of high-tech modifications,” he said. “The analysis, in fact, showed that food production increased over about 29 million hectares, and nearly 9 million households benefited.”


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