By Gustavo Esteva and Brian Jay Snyder
Small farmers, mainly women, feed 70 percent of the people on Earth. 70 percent! That means that big agribusiness, which owns or occupies more than half of the food production resources in the world feed only the remaining 30 percent. What happened to the cutting-edge technology and scientific “efficiency,” “productivity,” and “yields” that the supporters of the industrialized food chain continually brag about within the mainstream media?
October 16, 2016, was decreed World Food Day by the United Nations. La Vía Campesina renamed this day: “International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty (and against transnational corporations).” This day celebrates peasant led food production and denounces the commodification of the food system and the exploitative practices of big agribusiness, thus giving real political meaning to the UN’s irrelevant corporate holiday. Simultaneously, hundreds of organizations and activists attended the International Monsanto Tribunal, in The Hague, Netherlands, where citizens offered truthful testimonies about the global destructiveness of the multinational biotech corporation. These are just two hopeful revolutionary acts within an ongoing global shift toward a world beyond capitalism and socialism.
La Vía Campesina is a movement of movements, composed of over 200 million farmers, peasants, landless people, indigenous peoples, and many others. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture, social justice, and dignity, as well as autonomy and pluralism.
“La Vía Campesina struggles against all forms of violence against women. It recognizes the vital importance of women in agriculture.” According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): “(Women) produce more than half of all the food that is grown on the planet, 80 percent of basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, and 50 to 90 percent of rice cultivation in Asia. Their home gardens in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America, constitute some of the most complex agricultural systems known.”
The creation of La Vía Campesina, in 1993, was seen as a kind of miracle. It seems even more miraculous how they reached a strong consensus in redefining food sovereignty and security. “We, ourselves, need to define what we eat,” says La Via Campesina; “it must not be the market, the media, the state, but us; and once we know what to eat, we need to produce it.” We can thus see that it is not a miracle, but the earnest expression of indigenous wisdom, compassion, and reason.
The members of La Vía Campesina, like many other people, have already realized that they cannot wait for the “masters of mankind,” big agribusiness, or the governments at their service to begin “breaking good” when they enjoy “breaking bad” so much. The farmers know that humanity’s survival depends on believing in our capabilities to enact change within ourselves, waking up to indigenous wisdom and life-sustaining traditions, and reaffirming a language founded upon nourishing life, autonomy, dignity, compassion, justice, truth, and freedom.
We are suffering the worst food crisis in human history. Despite the fact that the world has all the technical and economic means to adequately feed every person on Earth, almost a billion people will go to bed tonight with empty stomachs and according to UNICEF, five of every six children less than two years old are not getting enough nutrition for the proper development of their brain. Perhaps, Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan poet is right: “Whoever doesn’t fear hunger is afraid of eating”. But Arundhati Roy is also right: “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and on a quiet day if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.”
There is no room for optimism in the current conditions of our world. The proverbial glass half-full for the optimists, half-empty for the pessimists, is now just a glass full of shit. Many feel that the effects of climate change or endless war will end most life on Earth before capitalism will ever end because it is not clear how and when we will cease to be compulsive consumers, even though consumerism is clearly killing us! We are increasingly aware of the toxic quality of the food we buy at the supermarket, but still, the National Academy of Sciences and 109 Nobel laureates celebrate a culture that is poisoning us…
No room for optimism, but there is lots of room for hope. The social majorities, not only dissident vanguards, are reacting and adapting in immensely creative ways. They are coming to the conclusion that the only way to overcome the food crisis is to directly take the seeds and the soil into their own hands. The governments and the international institutions, guilty and responsible for both action and omission, will not fix it. We can’t expect that the CEOs of Walmart and Monsanto will have moral epiphanies over the weekend and enthusiastically change their destructive corporate behavior the first thing on Monday morning after a cup of Starbucks coffee.
“Survival of the human race depends on the rediscovery (of hope) as a social force”, warned Ivan Illich 50 years ago. It is happening now, and it is not too late. But hope, as Vaclav Havel once observed, “is not the conviction that something will happen, but the conviction that something makes sense, whatever happens”. Millions of people are doing things that make a lot of sense. That is why we can be full of hope.
The idea of stable arrangements between urban consumers and farmers, to provide reliable fresh food to the consumers and reliable alternative markets for the farmers, started in Japan, became popular in Germany and is today an epidemic in the US and Canada. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs and Community Shared Agriculture in Canada) is not only a smart arrangement between producers and consumers against the very visible hand of corporations. It is also an opportunity to create and regenerate the commons, a real unified community spirit and an enriching exchange of wisdom and truths. In visiting each other, strengthening friendships, sharing ideas, predicaments, and initiatives, in spontaneously constituting autonomous centers of critical thinking, many of the more than 12,000 CSAs in the U.S. are becoming tentative, timid cells of a new society.
Gustavo Esteva is a grassroots activist and public intellectual that resides in a small Zapotec village in Oaxaca, in the South of Mexico.
Brian Jay Snyder is a deprofessionalized poet, humorist, and organic gardener that lives within the Sierra Nevada of Central California. Follow him on Twitter @BrianJaySnyder.