|Original poster photo by Faris Ahmed/USC Canada (www.usc-canada.org). Photo of poster in The Wooden Monkey restaurant, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, by John Sidik.
By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener
Last spring my daughter’s wedding reception was held at The Wooden Monkey restaurant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – a warm and cozy place that uses local and organic foods as much as possible, all beautifully displayed and delicious. The wedding day went from perfect to pluperfect when I saw that the restaurant featured a poster reading, “Farmers have created and maintained the knowledge and biodiversity that is the basis for the planet’s food supply for thousands of years … and counting.”
The poster, by the Unitarian Service Committee (USC) of Canada (http://usc-canada.org/), says it all.
Agricultural doom often seems upon us as the ag biotech and monoculture industries jeopardize the biodiversity and security of our food supply and the health of our ecosystems. Yet almost daily more and more new studies, organic farmers, works of agricultural art, school garden programs and public relations efforts counter that doom.
Maybe the most powerful recent example is ETC Group’s new resource, “With Climate Change … Who Will Feed Us?” at http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/Food%20Poster_Design-Sept042013.pdf. This rich compilation of data and policy recommendations highlights the fact that the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30 percent of our global food supply, while the peasant food web provides 70 percent of the global food supply while using only 30 percent of agricultural resources.
ETC Group defines peasant farmers as smallholder producers – “all those who produce food mostly for themselves and their communities whether they are rural, urban, or peri-urban farmers, ocean or freshwater fishers, pastoralists, or hunters and gatherers.” That would seem to include all MOFGA farmers and gardeners. You are a powerful, productive and necessary bunch! As the USC poster notes, you are among those who are maintaining “the knowledge and biodiversity that is the basis for the planet’s food supply.”
As an example of biodiversity, ETC Group notes that peasants grow about 7,000 crops, while the industrial food system focuses on about 150.
Industrial food production accounts for more than 80 percent of fossil fuels and 70 percent of water used in agriculture, says ETC; peasant agriculture accounts for less than 20 percent of fossil fuel and 30 percent of water used in agriculture.
Industrial ag (which doesn’t deserve the “culture” in agri“culture”) causes 44 to 57 percent of greenhouse gases emitted annually; peasant agriculture cuts these by at least 60 percent.
Industrial ag ends seed saving; peasant agriculture restores “the right to exchange and breed seeds and livestock.”
“Who Will Feed Us?” continues with poster-page after poster-page of clearly and attractively displayed data and policy – contrasting bad with good – and concludes that “peasants have the capacity and the will to feed the hungry – they need only the means: Food Sovereignty.” Policies are recommended to counter industrial ag’s land grabs, trade agreements, patent monopolies, cartel practices and food safety problems and to promote the right to land and water, to save and breed seeds and livestock, to market locally, to promote research and development that benefits the people and our ecosystems. And more. Fully footnoted. This is an impressive and visionary piece of work, and the 70-30 divide is being noticed.
Even the mainest of mainstream media are taking about “less sexy interventions [than genetic engineering technology] which have worked to dramatically reduce hunger and malnutrition” (Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/10/15/thinking-outside-the-gmo-box/) and “other, better options” than “high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage” (The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/how-to-feed-the-world.html).
The Union of Concerned Scientists is urging a more diversified agricultural landscape that produces “less corn, more fruits and vegetables.” (www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/less-corn-more-fruits-and-vegetables-0378.html)
Your own Maine community likely has several programs supporting peasant agriculture and feeding local communities with nutritious foods. Forty-two percent of Maine school districts have edible school gardens, according to new USDA data. Maine has more than 130 farmers’ markets and about 200 CSA (community supported agriculture) farms.
While sustainable, local food production – and an appreciation for it – is flourishing, industrial ag is shooting itself in its gigantic-footprint-sized foot by, among other things, pouring tens of millions of dollars into preventing labeling of genetically engineered foods, galvanizing a consumer backlash. Monsanto garnered even more notoriety and worldwide bad press and further bad karma this fall by essentially awarding itself the World Food Prize.
Meanwhile, MOFGA’s farmers and gardeners, and our consumer-members who support local organic growers, are doing what it takes to feed the world and save the world by feeding local communities from ecological farms and gardens. Thanks to all of you!