De Wereldraad van Kerken voor een ander agrobusiness model
AUTHOR: Juan Michel
SEEDS OF LIFE - LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES TO THE DOMINANT AGROBUSINESS MODEL
Juan Michel, WCC media relations officer, is a member of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Why have an alarming number of Indian farmers taken their lives over the last years? Why are people in the rural Jang Seong county near Kwangju, South Korea, getting involved in organic farming? Why are church-sponsored organizations in Brazil working to recover native seeds? The answer to these questions has a lot to do with the impact of economic globalization on agriculture, where two models are currently locked in a life-and-death contest.
In the case of India, the story starts with the introduction, some 15 years ago, of genetically modified cotton seeds. With the government subsidizing cotton production, high profits persuaded farmers to move into monoculture, eventually taking out loans to rent more land to cultivate. Along the way, they also gave up sowing food crops.
Everyone seemed to be happy until the market collapsed, prices dropped, the farmers were unable to pay back their loans, and the banks expropriated their land. And slowly first some, then many farmers started committing suicide. According to official figures, between 1993 and 2005 the number of those who took their lives hit the 100,000 mark.
"It has been a death trap", says William Stanley, a social activist from India who works with the Lutheran Church and civil society organizations. "Farmers went down from wealth to poverty within a decade. Many could not stand the loss of dignity."
Stanley was addressing participants in a workshop on "Life-giving agriculture" sponsored by a coalition of ecumenical organizations led by the World Council of Churches at the 20-25 January World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.
At the same workshop, Seong-Won Park, a theologian from South Korea, told participants about the growing number of people in his country who are moving towards an alternative lifestyle.
In a flamboyantly modern, urban, industrial and technologically advanced country which for many is a model of successful development, some people are returning to an ecological life style. "Not many, but a number of South Korean people feel exhausted by the dominant lifestyle and are ready to give up the privileges attached to it," Park reported.
He himself has become involved with organic farming at the Young Nam Theological Seminary, where he teaches and encourages students to see their future ministry from an ecological point of view. At home, Park grows vegetables for his family. For that to happen, he needed to learn from experienced farmers, and got involved in direct trade with them.
Park's personal experience resonates with a broader movement in South Korea. In rural Jang Seong county near Kwangju, a local church has played a central role in promoting organic farming and a producer-consumer direct trade system. After a 15-year struggle, the church, civil society organizations and the local government are finally working together within the framework of a "forum for an alternative vision" that promotes organic farming as well as traditional local farmers' markets.
More than just seeds
Whatever kind of agriculture you practise, you need to sow seeds. It seems simple at first sight: seeds are seeds, right? Well, no. The two models of agriculture - the organic, which Park and others would call "life-giving", as opposed to the currently dominant corporate- and market-driven model - need and use different kinds of seeds.
That is why in Brazil and elsewhere, people and organizations involved in practising and promoting organic farming are also struggling to recover and protect the huge variety of native seeds threatened by the imposition of hybrid and transgenic seeds sold by agrotech companies.
"Nowadays, seeds are being used as a means of power and domination," says Nancy Cardoso, a Brazilian theologian. According to her, "the technological manipulation, control, concentration and commercialization of seeds by a small group of gigantic capitalist companies is putting humankind and nature in danger".
For Cardoso, seeds are more than "just seeds" and their culture and handling is more than just an economic activity. In her view, seeds are material but also symbolic structures. "Code, information systems - seeds are living routes, pathways from ancient times and itineraries of the contemporary as well as keys to possibilities we still do not know," she argues.
Therefore, the way seeds are cultivated and used is not a simple mechanical activity, but an expression of social relations that link nature, economics but also politics and ecology. For Cardoso, all this lends a theological dimension to the struggle to recover and protect the diversity of native seeds - an urgent task aimed at preserving life by ensuring food autonomy and security.
Searching together for alternatives
The seeds struggle is only a part of a broader effort to promote life-giving agriculture. A growing number of organizations and people are rallying around this model, which they contrast with the dominant agriculture model. The concept has been crafted within the framework of the Ecumenical Coalition for Alternatives to Globalization (ECAG) which, in April 2005, held the first "life-giving agriculture forum" in Wonju, South Korea, and advocated this model as a necessary alternative to "life-killing" agriculture.
The forum criticized the current dominant model as capital-intensive, export-oriented, mono-cultural and predominantly profit-driven. This model, says Park, who participated at the forum, "compels farmers to use genetically modified seeds, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and automation, leading to the degradation of the soil, loss of biodiversity, and concentration of land in fewer hands".
Instead, the life-giving agriculture model centered around organic farming presents itself as "socially just, environmentally friendly and economically viable" - in the words of Lucy Ngatia, an ecology graduate from the Nairobi University. In Africa, organic farming actually increases farmers' production levels, thus alleviating poverty while increasing food security, Ngatia explained to participants at the life-giving agriculture workshop.
"A sower went out to sow his seed" says the old story (Luke 8,5). It seems simple but it isn't. It never has been. However, promoters of life-giving agriculture would say, experience proves that resistance against the dominant model is possible when all members of a community are united in the search for alternatives.
via GENET, Jan 29, 2007