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G-8 leaders back practices to fight hunger urged by Rodale Institute in Maxatawny Township

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By Darrin Youker

Last week at the Group of Eight summit in Italy, world leaders pledged to change the way they approach global hunger.

In doing so, they endorsed sustainable farming practices the Maxatawny Township-based Rodale Institute has been preaching and teaching for decades.

At the meeting, leaders of the world's richest nations said that, rather than continue to donate food for famine relief, they pledged $20 billion to help famine-prone nations improve food production and teach farmers to fed themselves.

"We will aim at substantially increasing aid to agriculture and food security," the 27 donor nations said in a statement.

For years, the staff at the Rodale Institute has worked with farmers in drought- and famine-plagued Third World nations teaching techniques that help them grow their own food and improve their land.

They've pushed a sustainable system in which farmers use organic matter to improve the soil and save seeds to grow crops, all in an effort to end hunger in emerging nations.

Dr. Tim LaSalle, chief executive officer of Rodale Institute, said he's heartened by the effort of world leaders to adopt sustainable farming practices.

And he hopes they follow through because the current approach does more harm than good.

"When you drop off food in nations where farmers are struggling, you have destroyed their market," he said. "It is important to move away from food giveaway to sustainable."

Using chemical fertilizers does not improve the health of the soil, LaSalle said. Instead, it makes farmers reliant on chemicals they cannot afford and contributes to the problems of global warming, he said.

A better approach is to encourage organic practices, which improve the soil and its ability to hold water, LaSalle said.

Instead of sending genetically modified seeds to struggling farmers, they should get heirloom varieties of vegetables and grains and learn how to store seeds, LaSalle said. Genetically modified crops produce seeds that cannot be saved for future use, he said.

"This is hopefully what the G-8 will begin to do," he said. "This method is sustainable and regenerative."

Before he died in 1990, Rodale founder Robert Rodale toured the globe to show farmers how to adopt organic practices, LaSalle said.

The institute has carried on that tradition, most recently working in Senegal and Malawi in Africa and Guatemala in Central America.

Institute staff members encourage farmers to use traditional techniques, like farming with animals - for a ready source of manure - and growing crops that they are accustomed to working with, LaSalle said.

Farmers then learn how to use compost in their operations. Over time, the organic mater will help the soil retain water, something that is essential for African nations struggling with drought, he said.

In turn, farmers learn a system that does not require outside help.

"When you aim for a low- or no-impact agriculture, you bring in nothing from off-site," he said. "By default, it becomes organic."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

Contact Darrin Youker: 610-371-5032 or [email protected].


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