Thursday, January 26, 2012

From hunter and gatherers to global capitalism and thereafter

Fossil fuel allowed us to expand beyond the boundaries of location, but it doesn’t and will not allow us to expand beyond the boundaries of the planet. Capitalism and global markets force us to compete with everyone, to constantly produce more, to constantly grow. Fossil fuel and capitalism has formed a very strong couple, fortified by human values expressed as individualism and consumerism. “Capitalism” as a socio-economic system is harmful and does more bad than good.

There is no more natural capital to freely exploit, and the returns on extracting resources from nature are dwindling. Also social capital is decreasing as a result of the values of capitalism. The path ahead is to only use what can constantly be generated and regenerated from nature. We need to strengthen those institutions and values that build social coherence. Those are community action, civil society and cooperation instead of competition. We will have markets and we will need a state also in the future, but the relative importance of those institutions need to be radically tilted.

I believe those two paragraphs in the most succinct way explain what my book  
Garden Earth, from hunter and gatherers to global capitalism and thereafter,
is about. I sent the manuscript to proof-reading today.

Friday, January 20, 2012

No to rubber?

I wonder when international NGOs will launch a boycott against condoms or rubber boots.....When you see the large scale land grabbing taking place for rubber plantations in the forest areas of Laos, you wonder a bit why oil palm and soya are bad and not rubber. There is apparently a global rubber boom that I wasn't aware of.
A recently established rubber plantation along the road between Vientiane and Vang Vieng
" Rubber production generates income for the Laotian state in the form of lease fees and taxes, albeit not as much as possible. For the rural population, it brings roads and thus better access to markets, but frequently costs them their land and thus their livelihood, and causes damage to the environment".read more

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Organic agriculture: time to look ahead

In a recent posting I explained that for a company, the added value of having a certified product is much less if certification is ‘normal’. And the same is true for consumers; we are more likely to buy a product based on a label if it is exclusive to the product rather than being the norm. The more products in the same category that carries the mark, the less interesting the mark becomes as a differentiating tool, and it will move from the front to the back of the product, before it ultimately disappears.   

What does all this matter? It matters a lot to the future of the model of a separate organic market, based on premium prices and a set of standards, conformity assessment and a label, which is the main development model for the organic sector. The sector spends a great deal of energy discussing minute details in the standards and control system, often with the illusion that there is one standard or one certain control measure that is “right”. But what is “right” must be seen in relationship to what the system is supposed to accomplish, who it serves, what are the parameters for success? Very few organisations engaged in the Organic Guarantee System have a clear vision of where they want to be ten years ahead: many are just stewards of a system developed thirty years ago with little reflection of where it is heading.

‘Development’ is mainly viewed in terms of increasing service delivery in certification. For instance, development might be considered to be offering other certifications or using a web based interface for certification bodies; making more standards for standard setters and addressing loopholes or sharpening enforcement for regulator. Nothing wrong with any of that, but what does this really accomplish? Those that feel alienated in the system have been more innovative, for instance, the development of the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) is a good example. Others just stand aside criticising, but often have neither a consistent alternative development model nor a consistent vision.

Through government regulations harmonisation has been forced onto the sector. Though, this harmonisation has had short-term benefits, by lowering costs, for all involved, it could, in the longer term, be a straight-jacket. Organic regulations have become the final ruler of what is right, instead of letting the consumers and markets chose what is right. The latter is a more evolutionary and less fundamentalist approach. Today already, some consumers and activist have left the organic fold, not – I believe – because the sector has betrayed its roots, but rather because it has no expressed vision to be enthused by.

The main point of this discussion is to stimulate a debate on what path the organic movement should take in the future. Initially, it needs to be decoupled from the daily discussions about regulations and requirements. Instead it should be based on the four principles of organic farming: the principle of health, care,ecology and fairness. Then, sometime in the future, this needs to result in practical tools for development, tools that will serve us as well, or better, than the certified organic model that has worked so well for thirty years.