Inspiration for a wonderful organic revolution … Cuba.

Urban organic agriculture in the centre of Havana.  All across the city the communities turned the bits of wasteland in small highly productive areas for food and medicines. The BBC made this beautiful documentary on this interesting, inspiring practice. The journalist gets lyrical, and rightly so… ‘To me this is a sort of a vision of heaven. Wonderful vegetables, grown organically.  It looks beautiful. People all working together,  from the community. Growing them, earning a living, eating them, caring about it. This is the key if you want to do it well, you have to mean it. ‘

 

Urban agriculture could provide food to the city dwelling  population. This with a minimum of transportation, a maximum of sustainability and joy of experiencing the growth of vegetables.

It’s all in the facade. Of het plan om een noord gerichte gevel te laten bloeien

Mijn  lijf tintelt en mijn maag gonst; er is iets in aantocht… de lente !

Tijd om te zaaien en te planten. Dit wordt de eerste voltijdse lente in  mijn nieuwe huis en buurt. Time to get real en die gevelplant waar ik al zo lang van spreek aan te planten, de koer op te kruiden en mijn toekomstige salaatjes en groetensoepen uit het volkstuintje alvast te laten ontkiemen.

First things first, planning is everything. Vandaag deel I: de gevel.

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Verbeter de wereld, begin op ons veld. Ecologische en sociale impact van industriële landbouw, agro-ecologie als alternatief

(Januari 2012: Frederic Ghys)

Indignez-vous ! schreef de 85 jarige oud-verzet strijder Hessel, het werd dé strijdkreet van 2011. Vanuit zijn jarenlange engagement zet hij ons aan om de onderwerpen te identificeren die onze verontwaardiging waard zijn.  Aan dit moreel appel valt moeilijk te weerstaan, want de problemen zijn urgent en dramatisch. Wij staan voor een ecologische, financiële en sociale crisis. Indien we als bezorgde burger kennis nemen van de stapels wetenschappelijke rapporten en de krantenberichten die de contouren schetsen van deze crisis, kan men al snel bevangen worden door een beklemmend gevoel van  overweldiging.  De tsunami van onheilsberichten kan zelf de meest geëngageerde humanist met wanhoop doen vervullen. Een kritische beschouwing van de aard van de problemen en haar oorzaken kan ons duidelijkheid geven over de richting van onze verontwaardiging. Een open blik naar de alternatieven kan ons de nodige zuurstof geven om de moed te voeden om de verandering mee in beweging zetten. In dit dossier wil ik jullie kort meenemen naar mijn zoektocht naar het onderwerp dat volgens mij verontwaardiging waard is, het thema van de landbouw.

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Under pressure: Environmental Impact of Agriculture

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Agriculture and food consumption are  identified as one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures, especially habitat change, climate change, water use and toxic emissions. (UNEP 2010, P.13)

One of the (many) reasons why I decided to focus on agriculture, was its significance from a sustainability point of view. We know that there is something seriously wrong with the way our industry and lifestyle is impacting nature. I believe that as a ‘knowing’ and ‘sentient’ human being somehow I have the duty to –at least try- to contribute to a more sustainable world. The first step is understanding what the nature of the impact is, and to identify the key drivers of change…in the next step one can focus on the points of leverage, policies that bring change.

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On Why it is more profitable to spill milk than to drink milk, or not?

Last Thursday I attended a conference in the Biotechnology department of the University of Ghent on fair milk. When hearing about ‘fair milk’, intuitively I would think about some sort of milk that would be imported from a developing country like Senegal or Burkina Faso. Indeed, milk sold at a fair price, while supporting community development of local farmers. In fact, Belgian and other European farmers also face severe problems of obtaining a fair price. Following a series of protests of milk farmers to scrutinise the dumping prices of the milk; the sector launched the idea of marketing ‘fair milk’. This milk would provide the farmer with a fixed price that would cover its production costs while also assuring him a decent wage to sustain his living. However, the FAIRTRADE Mark is a registered certification label for products sourced from producers in developing countries. Hence, the labeling organisation opposed to the idea that Belgian farmers would adopt the name. The use of the mark fairtrade by heterogenous actors would dillute the brand, would create confusion on the standards, principles and strategy behind the use of the name ‘Fair Trade’.

The birth of ‘fairtrade milk’
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Vandana Shiva on the future of food in 3 short videos

Dr. Vandana Shiva has been presented in the latest post. In a recent interview (July 2009) she explains in clear, lucid, straightforward manner why agribusiness is not the solution for the food problem. What is at stake is the right to food, food security and food sovereignity which boils down to the right to freedom.

In the first short part she explains that GM crops are not upholding the promises they proclaim. The two major GM varieties marketed today, herbicide tolerant GMs (HT) and insect resistant GMs (BT) are in fact not improving yields. What is more these varieties are impoverishing  the soil, leading to a degradation of micro-nutrients.She quotes a study that would show that BT cotton have led to 30% decline of soil micro organisms. And attacks the promises of the second-generation biotechnology with enhanced traits, like golden rice would help to improve the nutritional value of food. She believes that these corporations are taking over the power of the seed market, through the use of patents. Patents linked to biotechnology gives the corporation power over the seed market. It excludes farmers the possibility for making, using, saving, and developing the patented product.

This second excerpt starts with the question: ‘Considering the growing world population, how could we feed the world without using biotechnology’ The doctor replies that hunger is mainly a problem in rural areas, people who live in agricultural communities. Through governmental policies, farmers have become forced to concentrate on export products on large monocropping fields. The products are sold on the world market, where farmers depend on volatile prices. Furthermore, governments have invested to integrate as much as possible costly external inputs (fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, herbicides) in this industrial-type of farming, leaving a financial burden on the farmers. The industry proclaims that this type of farming have brought yield increases and higher incomes to the farmers. Vandana Shiva refutes these claims, and bluntly states that the studies of influential corporations are deceptive and are in fact frauds. On the contrary she presents figures that shows that this type of agriculture has led to an impoverishment of farmers. This leads her to the conclusion that knowledge has been contaminated.

‘For me Organic Farming is learning, once more, what nature can do for us’. She makes a methaphoric parallel between the financial crisis, where artificial instruments of  fictitous instruments have overriden the real economy till it crashes; and the industrial food system that makes agricultural dependent on external inputs that do not enhance soils or food quality but impoverishes. But soil is life, seed is life, and organic farmers relink to the soil. She explains why she has started to build an organic movement in India, and why an 18 year old could well start with organic farming. 1. Organic farmers are the best scientists of today. They have to understand how natures works, in order to produce. 2. They are the best health specialists of today, since they gives us the food that gives us the best health. It’s not hospitals that give us health, they are giving us increasingly more diseases. 3.Organic farmers are the best stewards of the land and the best ecologists. 4. An organic farmer is the best peace maker of today. Because there is more violence, more death, more destruction and more wars through a violent industrial agricultural system. Organic farming is a system of peace. It is important to recognise that our food is linked to the soil, seeds and the loving efforts of farmers. Food is sacred, it is the future of our bodies. As an individual we make sure we will still have a choice in what we eat, and force our governments to implement policies to saveguard (and restore) sustainable farming, sustainable food; to saveguard freedom and dignity.

Vandana Shiva on Deep Ecology

The first time I learned about Vandana Shiva, was in a memorial text on Arne Naess (later more). This Indian eco activist, philosopher and  feminist tries to be ‘the change she wants to see’.  She has set up a research organisation to ‘eliminate the injustices that causes hunger’. Through publications, seminars, protests and the setting up of farms she works to support smallholders, and upholds with passion, viguour and intellectual clarity the principles of agroecology.

In a nutshell you can find her ideas in the quote below:
‘Deep ecological solutions are the only viable solutions to ensuring that every person on this planet has enough food, has enough water, has adequate shelter, has dignity and has a cultural meaning in life. If we don’t follow the path of living in ways that we leave enough space for other species, that paradigm also ensures that most human beings will be denied their right to existence. A system that denies the intrinsic value of other species denies eighty percent of humanity, their right to a dignified survival and a dignified life. It only pretends that is solving the problems of poverty, it is actually at the root of poverty. And the only real solution to poverty is to embrace the right to life of all on this planet, all humans and all species.’

Agroecology: Olivier De Schutter. Learn more with the Powerpoint

There are many words to describe organic agriculture. Agro-ecology is the concept used by Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  Since 2008 the professor has taken up the mandate in the U.N. to promote the full realization of the right to food. With great interest I have followed the publications, that always provide insightful overviews on  topics such as seed policies, the role of agribusiness and agro-ecology. Throughout the  publications  Mister De Schutter seeks to find ways to ensure right to food and support smallholder farmers; the approach of agroecology is the guiding tool to reach the full goal of socio-economic and environmental sustainability.

How is it defined? ‘Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science,
agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management
of sustainable agroecosystems.” As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem. It provides the most favourable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity.’ (Source 08/03/2011: “Agroecology and the Right to Food”, Report presented at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council [A/HRC/16/49] p. 6 )

This year, with two other students I have prepared a power point presentation that includes the key points of his publication “Agroecology and the Right to Food” You can download the presentation here: Presentation Small is beautifulFinal

Needless to say that I admire the work of this man…