Thursday, August 30, 2012

Will there be farmers?

I visited the beautiful village of Jatiluwih in Java some years ago. The women were harvesting rice, with the girls assisting. The boys were swimming in a nearby stream, while the men were idling in the shadow of a huge tree - assumingly pondering over important matters....The place has been named a world heritage. The grow organic red rice with traditional methods. They get good yields, some five tons per hectare, and as they take two crops per year, it is a lot. The certified organic rice fetch a nice price. The system is certainly ecologically sustainable and also economically. But it is not socially sustainable because the children prefer to work in the Balinese tourist industry. A more glamorous job, where you can be clean, indoors and comfortable.

A year ago my colleague in Thailand told me that they had to change their strategies for farm development. Before they had propagated composting and other labour intensive methods to increase crop yields and income. But the population is now aging and the old peoples' bodies are tired.

Fred Pearce  has written an interesting post about this:
"Making firm predictions is difficult.  But I suggest that agriculture may face a new food security issue in coming decades.  Never mind the land and water, will there be enough people to work on the farms?" Forget future land and water scarcity, will there be enough farmers?

Aditi Mukherji, a water professional from India just awarded the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application 
notes in an interesting post from Bihar that of 5006 households in three villages 40% do not report any income from agriculture at all. Of the rest 60% of villagers who reported some income from agriculture, only 25% reported it as their most important source of income. Another 35% households said that daily wage earning was their main income source.  "it looks like these villages are indeed ‘villages without agriculture’ or more like, ‘villages without much of agriculture’." she says. 

It would be ironic if we would run out of people to work the land, while we are worrying that land or water will run out...

Friday, August 17, 2012

To respect nature is to respect ourselves

Spider web at Torfolk Gård 2007

Nothing human beings do can compete with a piece of nature in complexity. A square metre of land contains so many organisms with so complicated and complex relationships that one can’t understand them. A gramme of forest soil may contain over a million bacteria colonies. It is estimated that several million individual animals and over a thousand different species may reside beneath a square metre of soil surface (Perry 1994); all of them are constituted by many, many cells and there is interaction between them, an exchange of energy and nutrients. Most likely, a square metre of nature is more complex and contains more information than the whole Internet.

Apart from the direct and indirect services obtained from nature, nature also has great aesthetical and cultural value. It gives another perspective, many reference points; it is an unprecedented piece of art. Natural environments have, for centuries, been known for their healing properties for people in spiritual need or mental stress. It is good to have respect for nature. The respect should be based on what it is; for its beauty and for its value, both apparent values and those not discovered. This respect should of course also include ourselves. A level of development has been reached where we are already managing most of the terrestrial ecosystems. This gives human beings unique powers among the creatures on the planet and unique responsibility too. We can’t pretend that we don’t have that power or that responsibility; both have to be exercised with due diligence, humbly realizing that there are so many things we don’t know.

Whose nature?
It should be kept in mind that exploitation of nature is also a question of whose nature. Different groups are affected by destruction of nature in different ways, and normally the nature of the weaker group is destroyed while the nature of the rich is preserved. This leads some to believe that the rich ‘care more’ for the environment or that only when there is a certain wealth that human beings ‘can afford’ to care about nature, but this mixes up cause and effect to a large extent. The rich can exploit the nature of the poor and even export their waste to the nature of the poor, whereas the poor has no other option than the exploitation of nature, be it in the form or natural resources or in the form of their own labour. To some extent, the whole trick of modern civilization is about exploitation of nature; exploitation of historical production, of which fossil fuel is the primary example; exploitation of the future nature, by dumping waste. But it is also the history of a few people exploiting many other people. At the centre, apart from nature and energy, are technology and society.

Society has four big challenges regarding the use of natural resources; well perhaps using the term ‘challenges’ is an understatement, ‘system errors’ is perhaps a more suitable term. First, humankind uses already too much of the planet’s resources; the capital is being consumed and it is not a question of whether society will go bankrupt[1] but when it will do so. Second, the distribution of these resources is extremely inequitable, between countries and within countries; rich countries and rich people use a totally disproportionate share of the resources (and rich people in rich countries are apparently the worst). Third, economic growth is continuing and seems to be hard-wired into society, which means that resource use will also continue to grow. Fourth, the world’s population is primed to grow for at least 40 more years, perhaps longer. We can’t negotiate with nature and no less can we expect that the poor will, or should, accept that common assets are wasted.

[1] The term is a bit unfortunate, the repercussions of an exhaustion of the natural capital is a lot more dramatic than a financial bankruptcy, which in essence only means a redistribution of money. The terms for bankruptcy with nature can’t be negotiated. There is no bailout.

The text is an extract from Garden Earth

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Paticipatory Guarantee Systems - a nice governance model

In 2004, when I was the President of the International Organic Agriculture Movement, IFOAM, I had the pleasure to be instrumental in the first global meeting for the furthering of what is called Participatory Guarantee Systems for organic markets. Those systems developed primarily in Latin America as alternatives to the third party certification model, which has dominated the organic market place since the mid eighties. I have myself been very active in building up this third party certification model, e.g. as the founder of KRAV in Sweden and founding president of the International Organic Accreditation Services, IOAS. Because of that, I also knew its weaknesses and shortcomings....

The workshop was hosted by one of the pioneers, Ecovida.

Presently Ecovida encompasses 180 municipalities and approximately 2,400 families of farmers (around 12,000 persons) organized in 270 groups, associations and cooperatives. They also include 30 NGOs and 10 ecological consumers’ cooperatives as well as several professionals’ partnerships and supporting organizations. All kinds of agriculture products are cultivated and sold by the Ecovida members, for example vegetables, cereals, fruits, juice, fruit-jelly, honey, milk, eggs and meat. In 2003 the sales amount was 13 750 000 USD; 27 % of the sales was to free markets, 20 % for export, 19 % to the institutional market and 34 % for other markets like supermarkets, shops, agro industries etc.You can access more information (in Portuguese) about the Ecovida network on
I was sick in malaria and spend all the time in a hospital in Porto Alegre instead of participating in the workshop. Nevertheless, or perhaps as a result of my absence(!), the workshop was a great success. And from then on PGS has developed a lot.
IFOAM defines PGS like this:
Participatory Guarantee Systems are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange
PGS has got a lot of positive attention lately, and it has been recognised as a relevant and legal method for guaranteeing organic products in several Latin American countries as well as in India.There are several reasons for this: one is cost and bureaucracy involved in the traditional certification. But even more important is the ownership of the process and the results. To undergo impartial third party certification with its increasingly bureaucratic procedures, standardized globally, is a rather alienating process. The first organic certification bodies where either farmer organizations or established by associations working closely with farmers, also taking on a promotional and educational role. With the introduction of adherence to the ISO 65 norm, government regulation and internal professionalization of the service, the distance between the certification body and the "subject of certification" has grown tremendously. Organic farmers today always refer to certifers as "them", never as "us".

While there are some strong sides in a third party certification system it also has a lot of weaknesses. The PGS system also has it strong and weak sides. As things stand now, third party certification is the model preferred for the anonymous mass-market, especially when distance between producers and consumers are big and PGS is the choice for direct marketing situations.

For me the thing that makes PGS most interesting is that it is based on a different paradigm and a participatory model of governance. As such it merits attention not only as a method of guarantee of organic quality. The notion that we create credibility by having supposedly "independent" organizations doing "objective" and "impartial" assessment is at best just one way of creating credibility or at worst an illusion.

The PGS models certainly are not perfect. Also, it lies in their nature that they are different and not globally standardized. Some of them may be defunct, some of them may be inefficient or ineffective. But the idea behind them is sound and could be a building block also for strengthening local democracy and building new types of institutions.

P.S. IFOAM has a lot of valuable resources for Participatory Guarantee Systems.