Small Farmers, You Are The Future

We are currently organizing the Mother Earth – World Meeting of Food Communities event to be held next October in Turin. It will involve mainly ordinary people who work the land and produce food, about five thousand in all from around the world representing a vast range of different communities. I think that the principles for shifting to an ecologically and socially sustainable agroindustrial system have to consider the humble work performed by these people. I am sure their contributions will be revealing and instructive.

What does Vandana Shiva think about it?

“This meeting will see a social expression of all those theories of sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture that are demanding economic rules for a fairer world. This social perspective is a new type of approach to food and agriculture issues, different from a merely political approach. The participants in this meeting are the sort of people who best represent small agricultural production around the world: the moment has arrived to recognize the pivotal importance of this sector in a global context. Small-scale ‘bottom-up’ economic activity is more essential than ever. If small-scale agricultural production plays a central role and is supported by a shared philosophy focusing on biodiversity, sustainable development and agroecology, we would at last be in a position to take concrete measures with a completely new view of agriculture.”

The idea of the meeting is to highlight the knowledge and cultural backgrounds of these people, in an attempt to consolidate and conserve their crucial diversity. We will do this by starting from their experience: how they grow their crops, farm their animals and process and conserve their raw materials in traditional ways. We will focus on their small-scale economic activity, trying to encourage comparisons with other similar types of work occurring in various parts of the world.

“I feel that political and union organizations representing these people have already achieved a great deal by voicing the needs of small farming communities. Now is the moment to capitalize on the political progress made, but it’s hard to push forward: the next move will have to be at local level. This involves a cultural reappraisal of the work, dignity and self-esteem of producers. It has to be motivated by positive and constructive attitudes and not just a rejection of the existing system. For this reason, I think that it has enormous cultural value for discussions in the meeting to focus on comparative working methods. For example, presenting the experience of small farmers who have been subjected to maize biopiracy in Mexico and comparing it with the situation facing producers of the same product in Italy or the US seems to be a much more effective way of making people aware of issues than speeches containing nothing but political statements”.

And this is in line with what the underlying theories of agroecology propose. The discipline is not based on specific rules that are valid for everyone but on the complexity of different agricultural systems. It is an approach that embodies the specific diversity of local cultures, takes account of the knowledge possessed by these communities and the natural biodiversity they are part of. It is a matter of taking delicate steps within different cultures. ‘Mother Earth’ should communicate this idea, highlighting the meeting of diversity.

“It’s an approach that considers the important lessons we can learn from biodiversity: how, for example, growing food does not necessarily have to be a loss-making activity, but can create profits and wealth in poor countries as well as rich ones. Or that the world is not in the state of perpetual cultural conflict which the media presents to us. Their reports only bring out the negative aspects of different peoples, what human beings are not and should not be. We are the identity of a planet, our cultures and our biodiversities bring us together. In fact, I think that biodiversity can even teach us how to maintain living democracies which could function well at local level and be integrated into a single world community capable of recognizing the value of mutual differences and celebrating the diversity which each of us carries as part of ourselves”.

The exceptional feature of ‘Mother Earth’ is that it will illustrate the complexity and wealth of the food heritage of our planet. All in complete harmony with the Salone del Gusto, which is being held in Turin during the same few days at the end of October.

“The global food system has persuaded us that the important products are just those four or five which represent the main commodities of world trade. It’s necessary to demonstrate the huge variety of food products which support and could support agricultural and food-producing communities. It’s an issue which should be emphasized—the myth needs to be exploded. In November last year in India we organized a national event in Delhi, where communities involved in conserving biodiversity brought their products. We saw hundreds of varieties of rice, cereals, pulses, millet, cucumbers, tea, and many natural sweeteners. Did you know for example that sugar cane has been domesticated in India and that we have non-industrial sweeteners that do not cause diabetes or create problems for diabetics?”.

First printed in La Stampa on Feb 1 2004

(To be continued)

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