‘If you will keep the earth, you will live…nobody will never take it away from you’ the American writer Pearl Buck wrote in ‘The good earth’. The book presents, ahead of its time, some very actual issues related to the world of small farmers. Set in the rural China of the first half of the XX century, on one hand the book depicts the anthropological and emotional aspect of the link among the natural element and man, on the other hand it casts a worrying light on social inequality between wealthy and not wealthy people, who mostly coincide with the enormous mass of families depending on agriculture and substantially exposed to its risks; it also highlights the importance of education, the imbalance between resources, products and their distribution, the danger of an excessive monetization and the role of woman, the hard worker to whom nothing is granted. Literature has the great value of depicting humanity with a predictive look: today the World is being called up to face these problems raised by all States, and all States are asked to provide adequate solutions.
2014 has been proclaimed the International Year of Family Farming. The exceptional technological progress has resulted in an irregular increase both of production and exploitation of resources, raising the urgent need of a reorganization through actions focused on small-scale agriculture and on the recovery of tradition and sustainability in order to reduce the gap between availability and use of resources. Due to the inadequacy of dated system of production, as in the case of USA for the international post-cold war system, small farmers are gaining attention: they are the first to suffer from the devastating effects of unbalanced production policies and meantime the first that could play an essential role in the process of resolution, since they are the heirs of a traditional knowledge that should be urgently reconsidered and adopted.
Sustainability appears to be the juncture between developed and developing countries. Research activities and raw material keep costs of production high – that means – affordable for multi-national corporations while small farmers are left in a vulnerable position on market but also in terms of self-sustainability; hence the solution seems to be that of harmonizing the two systems focusing on the re-discovery of natural, traditional systems that today threaten to disappear. In this sense, education is crucial since it should provide technical competence and knowledge of the territory, recovering and preserving traditional techniques, stimulating environmental awareness. The solution seems to be the combination between modern techniques and ancient knowledge.
Among the case studies, two interesting ones are that dealing with techniques of Aquaponic, a system created by the Aztecs, currently adopted as a successful experimentation in Egypt, and the Indian case, where chemical pesticides are replaced by natural repellents, a project endorsing women for the improvement and diffusion of techniques.
This connection could be reached through the theory of ‘act locally’ In fact, this theory would bring great benefits in urban and cosmopolitan context, starting from a development of rural agricolture.
The position of the International Society for Ecology & Culture (ISEC) goes in this direction, it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to the strengthen communities and local economies throughout the world. The objective of ISEC is “training for the action” at the base of the project “Global to Local” through debates and conferences intended to reach the location of resources and “The Ladakh Project” followed by the ISEC since 1975 that allows to Tibetan plateau, Ladakh, or “Little Tibet” farmers to use sustainable forms of development based on the use of local knowledge and local resources , and support them in resisting the pressures of industrialized agriculture that, in 1970, has contributed to family breakdown, unemployment, construction of urban slums and the increased of pollution.
Founder and director of ISEC is Helena Norberg- Hodge, winner of the “Goi Peace Award” in 2012. She’s the founder of the movement ‘new economy’ whose purpose is to help to create a more sustainable and equitable world. Spearhead of her work is the writing and the directing of the documentary-film ‘The Economics of Happiness’ focuses on the lacalization as the key to global happiness. Investing in local agriculture can lead to a turnaround in what is now one of the threats of humanity or rather climate change and the end of resources.
The spread of know-how: an alternative solution
There could be another way of favouring the combination of modern technology and traditional techniques. We live in a world dominated by communications technologies, a world in which barriers no longer exist, because they are overcome by the Internet, mobile phones and radios. These means of communication, which are used on a daily basis, could help to spread knowledge on sustainable agriculture techniques and some organizations seem to be aware of this. For instance, Farm Radio International, a Canadian non-profit organization based in Ottawa, has realized the power of the radio over African countries, where it is the most widespread communications technology and the only one capable of reaching remote regions and villages, and makes use of it to improve production in a sustainable way.
To reach its goal, this organization cooperates with a large number of African radio broadcasters by providing them with scripts which are to be used in radio programmes addressed to small-scale farmers. (So, it values local realities and their rural techniques by improving them thanks to the spread via radio of pieces of advice on sustainable agriculture, which derive from research and studies.)
One of the initiatives in which Farm Radio International takes part is the World Food Programme’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) in Ghana, which gives the possibility to small-scale farmers of selling a part of their harvests to the World food programme, a UN agency whose main objective is that of fighting hunger. In this initiative, Farm Radio International focuses on giving instructions to Ghanaian farmers through radio programmes on how to produce quality crops in the right quantity for WFP.
Women have always played a crucial role in growing food, mainly in small vegetable gardens and orchards: although it is women who work and farm the land, they are not allowed to access the private property and the agricultural credit. A greater paradox is the fact that now – especially down South – women work accounts for 70% of food production and yet it is women who starve.
Nevertheless, it seems to be absurd that women cannot benefit from what they produce despite the predominantly female workforce. Local economy, mainly in some African countries, still makes women small producers also dealing with micro-commercialization, responsible for the family food supply and “artists” able to transform natural elements into pleasant-looking and pleasant-tasting food.
The serious issue afflicting the food sector stems from a broader general problem, which is the lack of a real equality between men and women. The UN has tried to find proper solutions since the absolute human values and dignity represent constitutional and international goods; it did this by instituting the Five World Conferences on Women, the last of which took place in New York in 2000. It seems that women represent a great potential resource for the sector indeed, however they are underexploited for the economic growth and the creation of new jobs in Europe.
Nevertheless, they are less inclined to work as independent workers, since on one hand they encounter funding, networking and training difficulties, on the other hand it is difficult to find the right balance between initiative at work and family.
Actually, it is important to underline that there are rare and emblematic examples of women who are playing a crucial and innovative role. It is Vandana Shiva’s case. She is an Indian environmental activist and anti-globalization author, inspired by Gandhi’s ideals. Moreover, Shiva plays a major role in the global Ecofeminist movement, suggesting that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centered on engaging women. She advocates against the prevalent “patriarchal logic of exclusion,” claiming that a woman-focused system would change the current system in an extremely positive manner.
So, how could we enhance the key role played by women within the food production system?
Eve Crowley, senior office for Rural Livelihood Strategies and Poverty Alleviation with the FAO of the UN in Rome (Italy), answered this question during the last RomeMUN edition declaring that “gender inequality is one of the greatest causes for food insecurity and hunger, today. I believe we should all blow the whistle and end gender inequality and its impact on hunger, so I’ going to blow the whistle and I call upon all youth in the world to stop gender inequality and particularly in access to land.”
These are global issues that cannot be neglected. For an efficient promotion of women entrepreneurship it is necessary to implement a holistic approach, ensuring a series of support instruments such as a better access to funding, education and training in the field of entrepreneurship and networking; a more favorable environment may also be created fighting against stereotypes and ensuring a proper balance between professional and private life.
Great steps have been made but more can be done: countries and international institutions should deal with these issues more in depth, translating words into action and formulating concrete proposals for social policies regarding agriculture. We should channel new and adequate direct and indirect funding to be used in any areas in which women play an essential role: this would be the only way to ensure the right functioning of their empowerment within the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
Approaching 2015: the importance of agricolture and the Millennium Development Goals
To sum up, industrial agriculture is not suitable for the world in which we live, a world where this kind of agriculture contributes to reduce the finite resources of the planet and to cause environmental problems. As a result, it is necessary to take action and replace or, better to say, merge it (industrial agriculture) with traditional techniques that are environment-friendly in order to produce sustainable agriculture. This kind of farming the land is relevant and preferable, also because it is the key to solve problems such as hunger, malnutrition and gender inequality, which tend to be ignored by industrial agriculture. In other words, sustainable agriculture would let it make possible to reach 3 of the Millennium Development goals, which are objectives established by the United Nations in 2000: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to promote gender equality and empowering women, to ensure environmental sustinability. Thus, having so many advantages, sustainable agriculture should not only be promoted and financially supported by small or big organizations but also by governments, which are interested in improving society. It should become the only way of conceiving agriculture.
By Letizia Foglietti, Ina Macina, Emiliana Russo, Eloisa Zerilli
Paper for the RomeMUN 2014, Rome.