Food Security: Nine principles that promote it
A very interesting article in Grist by Dr. Vandana Shiva about the food security of the world and the forces that control it was followed by a revealing exchange of comments between a big corporation executive and environmentalists and sustainable agriculture advocates.
I felt there were so many issues being thrown around (including a very disturbing suggestion that overpopulated poor countries should simply let a portion of their population starve out to restore the natural balance as per their food production/distribution capacity), that I thought of some broad principles (common sense stuff) that could help us think about where we actually want to go.
Granted, I’m not an expert in food security but I am passionate about it. Yes, so many nations don’t have it, and their policy makers seem barely aware of it. So, we the people, could start to move our efforts in these directions, just like we have on so many other issues. (Hurray for the 99%).
Food security – what is it? So many movies in the last decade show post-apocalyptic scenarios where food production has become scarce, or the means of re-supply are curtailed, due to dependency on fuel for transportation which has now become scarce. So, we get it, food security is actually insecurity – how sure are we that our community will have the food that it needs if it is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. I live in an island nation that is estimated to have about a two week supply of food. In case of disaster, war, any number of bad scenarios, we would starve in a short period. That’s how much we depend on imports and how badly we’ve let our agriculture fall.
A wise man, which I often quote in my blogs, said “agriculture is the foundation of human society.”1 Proceeding on this premise and the principle that we are all one human family, I would like to offer 9 principles that could guide our discussions, actions and policy making.
Food Security: 9 principles that promote it
1. Individuals (who are not farmers) should grow something.
This is good. For obvious reasons. Decreases the carbon footprint. Increases food security. But I mean it really. It’s not just for women in third world countries. Grow anything you can yourself! In a pot, on your roof, on a piece of land. It’s hard, you’ll make many mistakes, but stick with it till the end of your life. And start today. Each person who does this is helping their community become more self sufficient.
2. Promotion of self-sufficiency within spheres
Food should never go to waste. It’s a sin. Neighbors can exchange surplus fruit and vegetables. It’s easy, if you have a very generous mango tree for instance, and you’ve frozen, juiced and jellied all the mangoes your family can consume, then start giving them away. Just like that. Expecting nothing in return. Soon you’ll start getting something back. Whether its lemons or star fruit or bananas, karma will come back to you, and lower your food budget.
On the level of municipalities, why not grow fruit trees in public parks and let people supplement their food budget. Too much trouble dealing with the clean up of fallen fruit? I don’t think so. The very beneficiaries can be engaged in keeping the grounds clean. Kids picking apples off trees for their school snacks sound like utopia? What if they’re the ones who planted those trees? Would they be learning the value of agriculture?
Whether as a family, community, region or country, self-sufficiency in the basic staples should be the goal, even if things can be gotten cheaper somewhere else. Surplus production for export commerce is okay, so long as a country is not sacrificing its population’s needs in order to raise foreign capital.
After families and communities, the next level is that food security should be promoted within a region. That is, the region should become self-sufficient. This can take the form of laws to foment agriculture, programs to encourage it, training of children to appreciate its value (and dedicate their future to it instead of fleeing it), and definite goals and strategies that aim at sustainability. Also, to build roads and communication technology in the smaller cities will increase job creation in those sectors and decrease rural flight. In some societies, where agriculture has virtually died (due to reliance on foreign exports) one can no longer assume that there is a generation of farmers left who know how to farm. A whole new generation has to be brought up and trained.
3. Development and promotion of sustainable agricultural methods
Vertical agriculture, agricultural urbanism, non land-intensive production methods such as hydro and aeroponics, multiple cropping and multiculture should be promoted in order to decrease the spread of the urban shadow, decrease transportation and re-distribution distances and costs, and to integrate agriculture with urban life.
4. Promotion of the education of women and girls.
Women already carry the burden of farming in large portions of the world. And I’m not advocating that they should be given more to do. But it is clearly established now in development studies that the benefits of technology are more easily transferred to the community through educated mothers. Policies should be made to harness this capability and thus accelerate the development of whole societies.
5. Promotion of micro-credit
Why isn’t this a universal thing already, around the whole world? Oh, big banks aren’t interested, it’s too little money. But it’s the secret to the development of billions. The extreme poor should have a way to get out of poverty. Without the rich benefiting by it.
One idea I have is that this could be a means by which former colonial and imperial powers voluntarily indemnify the countries which they colonized or exploited. There is a lot of cleanup which still remains to be done from a damaging period of human history that is still responsible for massive human suffering. If these European and other countries would advance the capital to start non-profit microlending institutions in their former victim countries it would begin to address worldwide mistrust, tension, and turn the ship of humanity away from the cliff (of redistribution of wealth by force).
6. Free trade (truly)
To export surplus commodities and participate in a world market is the right of every country. But maybe it is time that we develop a certain set of ethical guidelines within which to do it. For instance, that the imported goods should not undersell farmers and drive the agricultural sector out of business in another country(I’ve seen it happen in whole island societies). Or, that all countries should stop imposing tariffs that block the entrance of certain goods.
Free. Everyone can have access to everyone. Anything less is just contributing to the tensions that exist between so many countries. Imagine if all your relatives were fighting over the dinner table because they each wanted to charge different amounts of money to pass the potatoes. The world suffers from the fact that we are living in a global society without the means to conduct the business that we need to conduct. The universal elimination of all tariffs and trade barriers is the only way to go forward in a truly globalized society.
7. A universal currency
In order for number 6 to take effect we should move toward the creation of a universal currency. This could take some work, but it is clearly the direction in which we must move. This universal currency system could be internet based, and flexible enough to accommodate local barter systems. Is not your sweat worth the same as that of another member of the human family? There must be a means of developing a universal currency or a universal system of compensation. That is because, in the ultimate analysis all we come into the world with is time, everything we buy and sell took a chunk of time out of somebody’s life to grow or to make.
8. A universal system of weights and measures
Obvious, we need it. Can’t be exchanging 30 bushels of potatoes for 200 kilos of carrots. Or can we? Let the geniuses figure out how to achieve it.
9. Development of community seed banks and promotion of community grain storage
On the level of neighborhoods and sectors, there should develop a whole system of saving seed varieties and of promoting their collection and preservation. As we lose rural lands, we lose local varieties that may be uniquely adapted to those conditions and our future is diminished. Seeds have living embryos and need to be grown out periodically or they are lost. Citizens can collaborate in this process.
On another topic, to address the possibility of food scarcity, the use of a community grain storage facility is an ancient, yet relevant concept that can be adapted to our modern world.
Well, these are some ideas. I hope I’ve contributed a bit to the food security discussion.