The Conferences and Forums, gave a strong and impressive voice to alternative thinking. The program aims to encouraging us to widen our perspective and discover how, for better or for worse, food can change the planet. Speakers of international fame will confront the global economy, human and animal welfare, happiness, the environment, the kitchen, food in the arts, and more. Terra Madre Salone del Gusto events program
Can Agroecology Feed the World?
Miguel Altieri,a Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
Miguel commenced the forum by summarising the major problems with industrial agriculture and global food empires:
Agroecology applies ecological principles to food production, taking care of natural resources and values biodiversity.
Agroecology is not a farming practice as such but provides the principles or the ethos for food production. It links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
It is about:
Yacouba Sawadogo is a Burkinabe farmer Burkina Faso who has been successfully using a traditional farming technique called Zaï to restore soils damaged by desertification and drought.
Yacouba Sawadogo spoke next. He is an older man known as “the man who stopped the desert” He is responsible for developing or readapting a farming technique known as Zaï.
“Zaï or Tassa is a farming technique to dig pits (20-30 cm long and deep and 90 cm apart) in the soil during the pre-season to catch water and concentrate compost. The technique is used to restore degraded drylands and increase soil fertility.” Wikipedia
Yacouba talked about his life and how his interest in Zaï came about. He explained that he was a merchant with a small plot of land around his home. In the 80’s there was severe drought and his countrymen were hungry and sick. He knew that there were traditional medicines that came from the trees and bushes, but most of the the trees and bushes had died. He had small number of trees on his land and decided he should grow more and so this is what he did. He drew on old knowledge to get his trees to grow and they did.
“If we take care of our earth we can get anything from it….Each of us needs to live in our environment…Chemicals destroy the soil, where there is lack of truth there is destruction…”
10,000’s of hectares that were no longer productive had now been made productive using Yaciuba’s techniques. He shares his knowledge and conducts training programs.
Anuradha Mittal, founder of the Oakland Institute, is a considered an "expert on trade, development, human rights, democracy, and agriculture issues". It is headquartered in Oakland, California
The final guest speaker was Anuradha Mittal who explained the work of the Oakland Institute. “The Oakland Institute is a progressive think tank founded in 2004 (by Anuradha Mittal.) It’s ethos is Change Begins with Informed and Active Citizens.”
Anuradha talked primarily of the land grabbing taking place in Africa with the support of the World Bank. The Oakland Institute has been looking at this issue for a number of years and is deeply concerned by what is taking place. She stated that currently 40% of the landmass of Africa is owned by global companies. Anuradha further explained that governments are coerced into these arrangements.
…”Recent initiatives have focused on supporting industrial agriculture and large agribusiness companies at the expense of family farmers. The World Bank’s “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA), is one of these initiatives. The EBA is a benchmarking tool created in 2013 to foster “policies that facilitate doing business in agriculture and increase the investment attractiveness and competitiveness of countries…With the EBA, the World Bank is adapting its Doing Business index to agriculture, ranking countries according to“the ease of doing business.” In a series of reports, the Oakland institute has documented how the ranking system of the Doing Business index has created harmful competition among countries to reduce or remove economic, social, and environmental safeguards and regulations… https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/about
The last part of the forum was about considering change with the focus on consumers as being a major part of the agricultural system. Terminology was considered paramount in this discussion. Is the usage of the word consumers useful? Anuradha put forward the view point that consuming is a very negative term; to use fuel, time, resources; fire consumes, it is a term that implies a lack of control or powerlessness. We need to change the language so that we see ourselves as active positive enablers.
Slow Food has introduced the term co-producer. “A conscious consumer who goes beyond the passive role of consuming and takes an interest in those who produce our food, how they produce it and the problems they face in doing so. In actively supporting food producers, we become part of the production process. The term co-producer was coined by Slow Food to highlight how collectively our consumer choices can bring great change to how food is cultivated, produced and distributed.”
Food for Thought
When further considering the concerns raised about 40% of the landmass of Africa being owned by global companies, I decided to do some research on foreign land ownership in Australia. Successive Australian Governments have and are continuing to allow foreign countries to “invest” in our resources and land. According to the Guardian Newspaper the proportion of foreign ownership of Australian farmland in 2013 was as follows::
Totally foreign owned = 12.4%
50% or higher foreign ownership = 7%
Foreign ownership between 10% and 50% = 5.2%
This equates to a total of 24.6% of Australian farmland being in foreign hands along with 1.8 million megalitres agricultural water entitlements.
The countries in order of highest foreign investment in agriculture, forestry and fishing are UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, China. This however is somewhat insignificant compared to the mining sector which had an estimated $230bn in foreign investment at the end of 2013. The Reserve Bank Of Australia estimates that four fifths of Australian mining operations were effectively owned by foreign interests. 83% of mining profits were accrued to foreign interests in 2009-10. Looking at the three largest 'Australian' miners, foreign ownership accounts for three-quarters of BHP-Billiton, over 80% of Rio Tinto and 100% of Xstrata.
Combing the foreign ownership of Australian farmland along with foreign investment in mineral resources may well see Australia equal that of Africa’s 40% land mass owned by foreign or global companies. Definitely an issue of concern and worthy of further discussion.