Prosperity: A Balance of Nature
By Alan Imai

 

 

In May 2008, during the heat of the Global Food Crisis, my organization, Shumei International, participated in a special Civil Society Forum on the food crisis organized by the NGO section of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. As co-director of Shumei’s International Natural Agriculture programs, I presented our experience working with rural farming communities in Zambia to implement Natural Agriculture that involved an integrated approach to hunger and poverty eradication.

In 1994 Mr. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute reported, “After decades of steady growth, the world’s food supply is no longer keeping up with population increases. Production of fish and grain per person has slowed to the point where feeding the 90 million being added to the world’s population each year, is possible only by reducing consumption among those already here.” This is a shocking statement when we stop to think about it.

The Food Crisis did not happen overnight. There were many causes and conditions that came together to bring about rising food prices and food shortages around the world. Some point to financial markets, recent droughts and climate change as a cause; others to the growing use of farmland for bio fuels, the high cost of fuel and fertilizer, and a growing global population. However, the bottom line is acknowledging that millions of people around the world are suffering from hunger and this is creating an even greater global imbalance.

When we look at Africa; we quickly realize we cannot address this huge continent with one, simple view. Every region and country has it own unique situation. At the same time, we see land degradation, deforestation and desertification expanding almost everywhere. Sadly, many African nations are not beneficiaries of economic globalization, but rather are the victims of it.

The most fertile areas of the countries have been cultivated for “cash crops” such as coffee, sugar cane, bananas and cotton. Often
these cash crops are grown and exported to pay the country’s debt. When drought situations arise, the people do not have sufficient food supplies to feed themselves. What is happening across the ocean in Africa is happening on our coasts as well. America has seen soaring food and oil prices like never before.

What does this mean for us? We must look at what kinds of choices we make and who makes them. In addition to immediate food relief, we must also to find an integrated approach to create long-term solutions that will lead to sustainable food production and economic development. Are we looking to new agricultural technologies, such as GMO’s? What are the repercussions of promoting biofuels? Can we find an alternative based on a local model of self-sufficiency and sustainable development?  

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) released a report, which is backed by the United Nations, the World Bank and 60 governments worldwide. This report states “Higher yields and lower costs for large-scale farmers have failed to solve the social and economic problems of the poor in developing countries.” IAASTD warns that opening national agricultural markets to international competition can hurt food security and the environment as well as creating obstacles to efforts in cutting poverty rates.

The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, such as halving poverty or reducing hunger, is very much linked to this current food crisis and highlights the importance of taking a holistic and balanced approach to development.

And in all of this work to promote material development, we cannot underestimate the value of development of the human spirit and mind. If people are developed materially, but are suffering in mind and spirit, this is not going to lead us to a more prosperous world.
The way forward depends on our recognition of the interconnectedness of the world we live in and that the actions we take today can and will have serious impacts on the livelihood and food security of future generations. Whatever action we take must include an integration of all components — health, education, food security, economic development, gender equality, environmental sustainability etc, in order to yield positive results on the ground.

The underlying element to achieve real change is through empowering local communities and involving them in the decision-making. One way to address the global food crisis is through the support of the agriculture sector, by working together with farmers toward self-sufficiency and away from unsustainable patterns of food production.

Our project with the Mbabala Women Farmers’ Cooperative Union focused on encouraging members to work in harmony with the environment in a way that was both cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. This approach helped communities to revive their traditional knowledge of the land and reconnect with nature that led to decreased reliance on costly agrochemicals, increased the use and saving of natural native seeds, the sharing of best practices, increased financial security, and the empowerment of women farmers.

The values of Natural Agriculture embraced by the farmers were ones of an overriding respect for nature, that nature can teach us everything, and the importance of balance in all aspects of life. As the farmers began to acknowledge their interconnectedness with their environment and the rest of the world, they stopped relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and gradually their native seeds produced hardier vegetables and maize each harvest.

They also saw improvements in their natural environment and were able to save the money they would spend on the next season of artificial supplies and spend it on feeding, clothing and educating their children.
This Natural Agriculture project in Zambia can be a model for other communities. Each country should focus on efforts for self-sufficiency, with the international community supporting these efforts. Growing cash crops and biofuels is not the answer to the hunger and poverty eradication in Africa. As German Agro Action recommended — “Energy plants should not compete with food plants in view of empty grain stores and rising food prices.”  

We must support sustainable agricultural methods without the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are further damaging an environment already ravaged by drought and other shortsighted agricultural methods. These agro-business products are largely unaffordable to those populations that are starving.

At the same time a more integrated approach is needed when addressing food security that includes education, health, gender, instead of just focusing on food and agriculture. Natural Agriculture offers a viable alternative that provides local communities with a holistic way to sustainable agriculture that can help to alleviate economic stresses and the environmental impact that threatens their food security.

This approach also encourages:
•    Fostering local culture and tradition — encouraging pride as Africans and confidence in their own abilities
•    Encouraging the sharing of information — between farmers
•    Empowering women — women are the key in rural development.
•    Investing in the rural infrastructure such as roads and wells.
•    Promoting education and health programs
•    Supporting children and youth programs to give hope and teach them to work together.

Although conditions sometimes dictate emergency aid, when possible, programs should be based on principals of self-help and self sufficiency, programs that seek long-term solutions. When we create or support any program, the farmers should be included in the decision-making process as the ultimate stakeholders. Local people should have a sense of ownership and thus responsibility for projects and programs.

Talking about the world food crisis at the U.N. headquarters was very important, but much more needs to be done. To address the food crisis, instead of depending on a few scientists and companies, whose motives and perspective can not be the same as those who are running out of food, why not support a system of sustainable food production globally?  

Advocates and supporters of Slow Food Nation, 100-Mile Diets, Community-supported Agriculture and Eating Local, Seasonal and Organic foods are growing across the United States. We are seeing communities pay more respect to local farmers as the intermediaries to our relationship with nature and helping to improve relationships between consumers and the food we eat and where it comes from. We are all interconnected, so let’s rethink our approach to this current food crisis and look to find balance in nature.

Alan Imai is the Co-Director, Shumei International Natural Agriculture Programs. Shumei is an NGO with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council that promotes environmental sustainability and the appreciation of beauty and art through Natural Agriculture. Shumei has Natural Agriculture farms around the world including farms in Santa Cruz, California. For more info, visit www.shumei-na.org.


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