I had the pleasure to attend the fourth agriculture day. This was a high end event with the heads of FAO, IFAD, CIFOR, WFP, business and NGOs. There were some learning events and I chose to attend one which was chaired by Dr. Vandana Shiva and organized by IFOAM and BIOVISION. The problem which brought these smart people together as Huub Spiertz (2011) put it, is: “can we produce enough food, feed, fiber and fuel to meet the needs of a 50% larger global population in 2050 in a sustainable manner without high-tech agriculture and biotech?”. These are agricultural systems which in many regions are already collapsing. Systems which are failing to sustain livelihoods. Systems which are failing to nourish people. Not least systems, which produce 20-40% of greenhouse gas emissions (depending on the borders of the LCA). Market fixes, efficiency in the up and down stream will only address certain issues, in the end what is needed is radical change in agricultural systems. As Roberston stated (2000): “Producing food while maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function is one of the greatest challenges facing the Earth’s human population today”.
It seems to me, that while the problem and goals are clear, everyone at this event and at large have a different approach to how to get there. Private businesses are working hard to produce products and posit them as the only solution; their goal being capital profit. Politicians are working to gain political capital from what will be a reorganization of resources and social relations; their goal being their career. Research centers and researchers are also trying to get more funding; their goal being to continue doing science/developing their career. Sadly however, the only real way to solve this issue the way I see and Dr. Vandana confirmed, is through agroecological, community supported agriculture and labor intensive techniques. This approach is not good for business because it makes farmers independent from production inputs, it is not good for politicians because it makes communities independent of the state/market and strong against political influence, and it is not good for research center because it doesn’t require genetic modifications and farmers become their own researchers.
So I wonder if this great crisis we face will be a repeat of what has happened in Egypt, where it was clear that the easiest, fastest, and best way to deal with draught/food insecurity would have been to support small scale farmers. Instead of doing this or even addressing the reforestation of the Ethiopian highlands which feed the Nile, the Mubarak regime decided to get billions of dollars in loans from the IMF and World bank to develop huge industrial agriculture projects south of Cairo. This project was good for business, it was good for researchers and it was good for Mubarak and his cronies… at least in the short term… Since in a couple of years Egypt saw a series of environmental, then food crises, which set the stage for the regime change last year. So it comes to no surprise that “if food was ever a soft policy issue before, it now rivals oil as a basis of power and economic security.”(THE FINANCIAL TIMES, Foreign Policy in Focus 2009)
Thinking about this, sitting next to the bodyguards of the head of IFAD who sits on billions of dollars directed to solve this issue, I started remembering what brought me here in the first place. It was in fact, when I was only 8 years old, that I first remember this issue of food insecurity. My family was living in Mexico City then, a country which under the presidency of Salinas (ex-World Bank President) –now a symbol of corruption vis-à-vis the PRI- had gone through a series of structural adjustment programs (SAP’s or austerity measures) like those Greece and Spain will be subjected to. My family was upper class and I attended the best schools in the city. Therefore, I grew up in one of the most resource rich countries in the world, in the most densely populated City in the world, in the middle of its worst the economic crisis, right between these two interlocked worlds of bodyguards and hunger, of mansions and homelessness. The economic collapses in Mexico were so severe that it eventually reached people like ‘us’, so it was common to realize for example that the taxi driver used to be a Lawyer or Professor.
Oddly enough, it was not until I was older that I realized just how hard my Father and Mother struggled to keep food on the table and me in the best schools. For example I now realize why my Father often would not eat dinner after working 16 hours a day, and why my Mother would get upset to hear me complain that I didn’t like the food. It is also clear to me why we had to live in house surrounded by barbwire.
I will be a father in two months, and it is becoming extremely clear to me why I was there in Brazil, why I am here studying sustainable development and heading ICASSA.org. It is what some call the solitary but powerful logic history, hard pressed against the brutal reality, notwithstanding ethics, that until every family in this planet has a marginal and sustainable level of security none of us will be safe. It is that space that I frame my choices, sometimes realizing that I have none: I am accountable to my (human) tribe and to the breath of my planet.
I think that the best thing that happened to me was to see then and carry now those faces that brought me here. Faces full of pain, fear, anguish and shame because they cannot feed and care for the people they love no matter how hard they try. Faces asking for help. Faces which are not just symptoms of so-called underdeveloped countries, but a reality in the USA and Europe. These faces, are mothers and fathers who cannot give their kids a good education, clean clothes, enough time, a warm bed, in fact it is mothers and fathers who are forced to see their babies die slowly of hunger-related diseases or see them subjected to all kinds of abuse. This happens 25000 times every single day, and it will get much worse everywhere in the world. The only escape from this reality is if enough people start behaving differently than how leaders in corporations, politics and science have been doing; to understand that the common good is the personal good, to have enough empathy and self-esteem to not eat everything in the table while others go hungry, maybe even to realize that you get more from giving than taking.
So this why I am here, knowing that if I am to ever to look in the mirror and see a face which I can live with, if I am to ever look in my daughters eyes and give her a story with a happy endings without guilt, it is because I have done something to change these systems. In this regard, I couldn’t care less if I like the initiatives at the UNCSD might fail, we owe it to each other and ourselves to have the courage to try.
“This is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass,
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree where the fruit would grow to laugh.
This is for the man who showed me the hardest thing about having nothing is having nothing to give.
Who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away.
This is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn’t have to
For the dime you gave away when you didn’t have a penny.
For the many beautiful things we do” – Andrea Gibson :Say Yes!