Agricultural biodiversity is in danger of being plowed under as corporations continue to take a greater share, columnist suggests. (Stock photo)

Agricultural biodiversity is in danger of being plowed under as corporations continue to take a greater share, columnist suggests. (Stock photo)

Column: Biodiversity being lost as big data causes blight

Accumulated wisdom of peasant farmers will be forgotten, says columnist


During the interval between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I experienced both distaste for the culture of high-tech manipulations and contentment with the simplicity of life at home.

The dissonance is captured in an unexpected tale from the ETC Group, which started in the Prairies with a global campaign against control of intellectual property rights over the world’s food supply and continues to advocate internationally on global issues such as the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and the impact of new technologies on the rural poor.

I suspect I am not alone in having often found ETC’s publications too dense and abstract for easy unpacking because they have just published a tale entitled Jack and the Cloud (based on Jack and the Beanstalk) as a metaphor for the unseemly infiltration of high-tech data mining for control of agriculture.

Jack’s beanstalk is a proliferation of data tendrils snaking up to a cloud with a giant served by a data harp describing a complexity of details. There is a robotic AI goose which lays golden eggs of pandemic and climate change as fodder for disaster capital accumulation. Jack escapes, takes up an ax to cut through the tendrils and with his mother plans to raise their neighbours in opposition to the blight.

I read the tale shortly after listening in horror to the CBC tech program, Spark, which I usually enjoy. A retail consultant was chattering confidently about how the pandemic will accelerate the universal spread of online retail with apps that even boomers will begin to use to manage the minutiae of their lives. Good grief, will eight billion people become geeks in thrall to quintillionaires? How many will profit and how many will be plowed under?

ETC suggests: “Those accessing the data control who profits from its use to whose disadvantage. What we have shown here is that, so far, it is the big companies that have access to the Big Data, and it is therefore they who decide what data is produced. Even if technologies are developed by startups and publicly funded institutions, they are soon incorporated by the same few big companies.”

All this with no thought for destroying the accumulated wisdom of peasant farmers who have fed us until shunted aside by the fossil fuel slaves moving stuff around with no other motive than profit for a few.

COLUMN: Addressing over-consumption needs to be a priority

A quiet family Christmas and New Year’s Eve relieved the unease created by thoughtless minions of high-tech proliferation.

My own food breakthrough over the last few years has been to make a recipe for vegan mince tarts to accommodate non-omnivore friends. The last of our own Siegelinde potatoes went into our Christmas dinner, rescuing us from the soggy, nameless blobs perpetrated by long-distance food retail. Our Christmas pudding was steamed in a deep basket pasta pot and flamed with the traditional blue rum flame as birthday cake for our child born on a Christmas Day five decades ago. Canada Post delivered a box packed with handmade treats to enjoy each day.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at


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