I’ll be honest – I was getting rather bored with writing this series on food production. I know it’s tremendously important – clearly, eating food is central to every person on the planet, so it’s one way we can all make a difference – but I was finding my own approach much too “left brain”, i.e. facts, figures and graphs, with some very sensible but not very emotionally compelling suggestions for how we can reduce our impact. And after half a century of environmental campaigning, if we know anything at all, it’s that facts and figures do not a difference make.

So I was about to can the whole series, and move onto something more interesting instead, when I remembered an email that was sent to me just after I started the series back in May, by Julie Abisgold.

Julie wrote:

I have just read with interest, as usual, your email, Eating Ourselves Out Of House, Home, And Planet and look forward to reading your blogs on food production.

I’m wondering if you intend to say something about the efforts that many of us are making to ensure food production is more sustainable, both in developed and developing countries? There has been much progress over the last 10 years in awareness of the limitations of monocultures and the reliance on chemical pesticides and there are real positive changes happening both in farming practice and the availability of affordable alternatives for pest and disease control. 

I appreciate that you are not an expert in this field (though you do an excellent job in presenting your information to a wide audience), but I would just like your readers to be aware that a lot of good things are happening in this space.”

And she included a couple of links which, I confess, I have only just clicked.

And Julie, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have given me hope.

What I was going to say, in signing off from the food production series, was that while we focus on individual problems, we simply seem to get more of the same. Change is, at best, incremental, rather than the dramatic turnarounds that we really need. What I believe we need is a fundamentally different story about the relationship between humans and the rest of nature (because we are part of nature, lest we forget).

We need to reconnect with the inescapable fact that we have one planet, on which everything is connected. There is neither an “away” for trash and toxins, nor is there any interplanetary supermarket from which we can miraculously import new topsoil or any of the other vital prerequisites that we are polluting and squandering as if there was, literally, no tomorrow.

So I was enormously encouraged to follow Julie’s link to the National Farmers Union of Canada, and to see this page about Agroecology: “a holistic approach to food production that uses—and creates—social, cultural, economic and environmental knowledge to promote food sovereignty, social justice, economic sustainability, and healthy agricultural ecosystems.”

It features a quote from Ayla Fenton, former NFU Youth Vice-President, saying: “Agroecology is much more than a set of technologies; it is a political and social system, a way of life, a form of resistance against corporate control of the food system, and quite simply the only means of achieving food sovereignty.

Now we’re talking!

I encourage you to read the whole page, and to follow the links to other agroecological resources. I particularly cheered when I read the last few “Pillars of Agroecology” (although in fact all the pillars are important and wonderful):

  • Direct, fair distribution chains, transparent relationships, and solidarity between producers and consumers are needed to displace corporate control of global markets and generate self-governance by communities.
  • Agroecology is political and requires us to transform the structures of power in society.
  • Youth and women are the principal social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Territorial and social dynamics must allow for leadership and control of land and resources by women and youth.

This is absolutely what we need. It is increasingly clear that corporate agribusiness is not serving the long term needs of people or planet. It is just another branch of capitalism, that sacrifices sustainability for short term profit.

I wholeheartedly applaud the work being done by NFU Canada to promote this sensible-yet-revolutionary approach. I would love to hear from anybody involved in Canadian farming – or anywhere else where agroecological principles are being adopted – about the real world impacts.

Julie’s other link took me to the Pesticide Action Network UK and Integrated Pest Management. Again, a radical outbreak of common sense. Hey, here’s a good idea: instead of blitzing the heck out of our arable land with pesticides, why don’t we adopt a “minimum effective response” approach using good husbandry, good field hygiene, and natural biological interventions. Saves money, saves the planet. What’s not to love about that?

Sure, it means the stewards of our land need to know more about the ecological systems that they’re working with, but isn’t that the point? When we know and appreciate the rhythms and behaviours of nature, we can work in harmony with them, rather than lazily carpet-bombing our natural world because we can’t be bothered to take a more subtle and nuanced approach.

Thanks again, Julie, for making my day/week/year. It’s inspiring to see these (literally) grassroots initiatives gaining national recognition and promotion. I hope and trust that they will go truly international and global.


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