Monday, December 7, 2009

Taking care of the garden

Acceptance speech for the honorary doctorate in Science at Uganda Martyrs University 20th November 2009

Your Lordship Chancellor, ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured and humbled by this award. I have visited Uganda many times over the last fifteen years and I am happy to have contributed in making Uganda a leading country for organic in Africa. I am also happy to have assisted the Uganda Martyrs University in becoming a leading institution for organic agriculture in Africa. It is a special pleasure to congratulate the first Bachelors of Science in Organic Agriculture. Of course there are many more than me that have contributed. I think of my life companion over 33 years, Kari Örjavik and our friends and partners at the Torfolk farm in Sweden, but also of people in Uganda such as Moses Mwanga, Alan Tulip, Charles Walaga and Alastair Taylor.

Organic Agriculture has come a long way. Many people have understood organic as being pesticide free and free from synthetic inputs. And it is that, but it is a lot more. The origin of the word organic is the perception of the soil as a living organism, but organic is more than just the soil, it is about the plans, animals and people. During my presidency of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement we developed a widened understanding of organic agriculture by stating the four principles of organic farming.
The principle of Health – that organic farming is about health of the plants and the eco-system and ultimately of the human beings. Our health and the health of nature are forever connected.
The principle of Ecology – that we in organic farming work in accordance with the same principles as most eco-systems, circulation of nutrients, diversity, balance.
The principle of Fairness – that our responsibility extends to how we treat animals in the farm, surrounding eco-systems and our fellow human beings.
The principle of Care – that we take a precautionary attitude and see ourselves as stewards of the parts of the planet under our responsibility

Organic agriculture is presently recognised for
- that it is environmentally friendly
- contributing to bio-diversity
- providing eco-systems services, such as soil-building, water purification and climate regulation
- being less energy demanding
- being well adapted to the conditions for African small-holders
- being culturally appropriate, building on long traditions
- providing food security

Ultimately, the agriculture system is linked to our human social and economic systems and to ecology. In my current study, Garden Earth, I take this discussion further. It is due for publication in Swedish in April and in English towards the end of the year. In that study I look at the big picture developments.
We can look at agriculture productivity per area; per unit water; per invested dollar; per man – or woman – hour or food per energy unity. For some reason most agriculture studies and statistics focus productivity per area unit, but in the same time we know that the most competitive farmers are not the one having the highest yields, on contrary we find that the cheapest wheat is from Argentina, Australia and USA where yields often are less than half of those in Europe. As a matter of fact Bangladesh is the country in the world that produces most food per area unit and not the industrial countries. The reason is mainly that land is scarce in Bangladesh. In the same way capital productivity is often very high in poor countries, as capital is so limited. The most productive agriculture in arid areas is often not farming at all but pastoralism. By grazing, e.g. goats, we can utilise nature areas which would be too dry for any cultivation. In that sense the water productivity is very high under those conditions. Taking into account the increased prices of oil and a energy-scarce future, we certainly have to look a lot more into the energy productivity of farming. Through the use of external energy we have increased productivity tremendously, first by using animals for draught and wind for pumping and milling, but the real revolution was the introduction of fossil fuel. If we “translate” the energy content in oil into the man-power of a human, each person in the world has now some 30-40 energy slaves working for her, in the rich countries this amounts to some two hundred. So there is really nothing magic with how much we can produce.

The fundamental food equation was always that a farmer had to produce enough food to feed him or herself and a number of dependants, children, elderly and sick as well as number of people living on the back of the farmers, priests, soldiers, lords and governments. So each farmer need to keep perhaps 3-5 other people alive. And it goes without saying that a farmer has to produce enough food energy to sustain these people and herself. An energy deficient food production system was simply impossible before fossil fuel. With ample supply of fossil fuels this all changed and modern food systems actually consume some ten to twenty times as much energy than they produce. Some will now object and say we can’t compare energy in oil with energy in food. Of course they are not the same, we can’t eat oil, at least not yet, but all over the world there is a discussion about bio-fuels, that we should grow crops for fuel. And suddenly we see that there is a strong relationship between energy in food and energy in oil. The highest energy productivity is found in improved, intensive traditional systems. It is on those systems we need to build the agriculture for the future.

My discussion about productivity has so far been mainly about the production of food and energy. We all know, however, that farming produces many other things such as eco-system services; culture; meaning and connectedness to nature and we need to look at productivity also for those public goods.

Sir, let me expand my discussion beyond agriculture. The industrial capitalist production system has created unprecedented productivity and wealth. It has also contributed to the increase of human rights and liberation of women and other oppressed groups compared to the preceding feudal societies. But it has also come with a price. The price is depletion of natural resources; squeezing out other organisms and ecosystems to such an extent that we are endangering our own survival; causing climate change and chemical and medical contamination, to mention just a few. Further, there is no evidence that this growth has delivered more human well-being. Is not well-being that we should be striving for rather then GDP figures? Our society has also failed in creating wealth for the many. Big parts of humanity are as poor today as they were fifty years ago, despite unprecedented growth worldwide markets. We have failed to create an equitable society. In addition, the economic system,

The capitalist economy and its associated values – such as the vision of constant growth, risk-taking and competition – were perhaps appropriate for a world bent on expansion and colonization. But we have now colonized what there is to colonize and spread ourselves over all parts of the globe. Economic growth is still possible (we can always create new ‘virtual’ globes on the internet, can’t we? Biological, physical and geographic growth isn’t possible. Therefore, we need new values and paradigms. Most likely we also need a new economy and new forms of social capital. Population growth also needs to be checked.

We have changed the globe so much that Nature can’t make it without us anymore and more and more wild life is dependent on us for its survival. There is no point in looking back to the time when we were equal to the giraffe, the carrot or the sheep. Today, whether we like it or not, we must act as gardeners for the whole Garden Earth. In that garden we have to look after the other parts of nature, not as resources to exploit or sinks were we can dump our waste, but as integral parts of the web of life,
of our Garden


  1. Thank you for the interesting presentation of good agricultural practices in Uganda. I was fascinated by the facts about food yields, and the viability of pastoralism. I now live in Greece where the grazing of sheep and goats is regarded as valuable farming. However, recent reports from Transparency International render all developments in Uganda, as well as Kenya, as suspect. Their findings indicate that bribery and corruption in Uganda public services is among the highest in the world.A society riddled with corruption is not one which is open, democratic, and honest. Unfortunately such corruption is widespread in Greece. In these countries if you want a service delivered efficiently, you have to put extra money in the envelope.In these countries the civil servants and politicians get richer while the rest of the population get poorer.

    J.Kelvyn Richards

  2. A very good start in the Land of Needs. You have done a great job indeed! May the Land of Uganda develops for the people wellbeing and for the Mother Earth. Thanks.

  3. Congratulations Dr. Rundgren!

    We are all so proud of you!