Industrial agriculture focuses on only 12 species. A new biotech crop can cost $ 136 million. Peasant networks manage more than two million varieties and develop them without commercial costs.
The pressing problem of the food crisis in the world is outlined in many places as insufficient food as the population grows exponentially and "there will be no food to reach". According to experts, more than 800 million people suffer from hunger and more than half of humanity has problems related to food. Those who provide a solution to that crisis, who make up for the subsistence of the majority of humanity, are those peoples and peasant communities, accused of being backward and ineffective, the vernacular peoples of the world.
More than 90% of the world's farmers are peasant and indigenous, but have access to less than a quarter of the world's agricultural land, according to GRAIN data. And yet they produce 50 to 70 percent of the food that keeps people alive. Basic livelihoods (cereals, legumes, tubers) but also animals, fruits and green leaves that are distributed in local markets in significant quantities, totally or partially outside the market, and reach places inaccessible to the rolling containers that distribute food packages processed.
If we assume Adolfo Gilly's perspective on historians against the grain who reveal that almost all economic activity is carried out by an immense majority of human beings without prominent places in the official figures, nor in the minds of the right or left, nor in the opinion leaders, nor in debates between elites, it is easy to understand that most of the food that keeps us alive is provided by that myriad of peasant and urban subsistence networks, thus breaking the radical monopoly of thought that presupposes that only industry it can solve the problem of feeding an ever-growing global population.
These are peoples with varying degrees of autonomy, sovereignty in what remains of their vernacular worlds, but they are also - and this is very surprising - collectives that want to turn their lives around by buying everything: organizations in the countryside and in the city, people and groups that somehow want to be like the vernacular peoples.
The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) recently raised questions such as who feeds us today, how much food diversity we have and care for, what is the state of the forests, what is causing us the industrialization of food, how energy is used to produce food, how much food is wasted, what is the relationship between work, health and industrial or peasant production. And these are some of the answers:
Today, with a quarter of the agricultural land worldwide and with 30% of mechanical, water, fertilizer and fuel resources, subsistence networks (peasants, shepherds, artisanal fishermen, gatherers and their combinations), together with urban agriculture , produce greater quantity, diversity and quality of food than industrial agriculture chains.
Industrial agriculture focuses on only 12 species. Peasant networks manage more than two million varieties of plants and animals, and develop them without commercial costs. Industrial fishing captures 360 species and cultivates another 600 in captivity. Artisanal fishermen harvest 15,000 freshwater species and an unknown number of marine specimens. More than 1.5 billion inhabitants feed on non-commercial fishing.
The timber products market promotes plantations of 450 species while the forest dwellers take care of more than 80 thousand types of trees, shrubs, vines, and medicinal plants.
It is estimated that 1.6 billion people inhabit those "idle" spaces that capital does not stop attacking to put them on the land market. 80% of the populations of developing countries turn to plants grown in forests, jungles and wetlands or cultivated in backyards, balconies or rooftops to satisfy or supplement their therapeutic needs. These “underutilized” places are key to face climate chaos due to their capacity to absorb polluting gases.
Processed food has caused an infinity of nutrients to be lost from the soil since 1950; diets are standardized, diversity is reduced, and there is a dramatic increase in chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer related to food.
The emission of greenhouse gases from industrial food (with clearing for monocultures, the use of fertilizers - whose manufacture is the source of gases in itself - transportation, packaging, refrigeration and the resulting garbage) account for 50% of the gases that cause global warming.
Almost 80% of the fresh water available in a year is used in industrial agriculture and food processing. The water from this industrial food and beverage processing could cover the domestic needs of 9 billion people in one year.
Between 33 and 40% of the food produced with industrial agriculture is wasted each year by production standards, in transportation and storage, in production processes and in the homes where it arrives, it is not consumed.
More than two billion people on the planet have nutritional deficiencies and more than 400 million are overweight or obese. The consumption of meat in rich countries is more than twice the recommendations of the World Health Organization. For every dollar we pay on industrial food, planetary society pays another two dollars to remedy environmental disasters and disease.
How is it possible that with less than a quarter of all the agricultural land on the planet, peasant peoples and communities provide almost 70% of the food that keeps us alive as humanity?
Those towns, communities and collectives slandered as obstructing modernization, display a power that is not only focused on pulling food out of the soil. They are the ones who still maintain a web of practices and knowledge that despite the modernizing onslaught of governments, financing agencies and mega-corporations, sometimes persists as apparent inertia, with impressive reflexivity, in the flow of disaster, in middle of the maelstrom and uncertainty.
The web of care that sustains the world is not limited to sowing and reaping "things to be eaten." In Mexico, peasant peoples not only conserve corn (the future of which is the subject of global debates). Peasant peoples are the ones who protect the diversity of forests, and with them, the cycles of water and air, and in those territories whose axis is the milpa, the communities have the possibility of refusing extractivism and the imposition of megaprojects. So the vernacular peoples of Mexico don't just tear food from the land. With their pertinent relationships with their territories, which materialize in languages, manners, clothes, music, rituals, celebrations, organization, and struggles, the peoples of Mexico are the nucleus of national sovereignty.
We recently saw an “edible forest” in Holland: in two hectares of barren land, destroyed by industrial agriculture, someone removed the soil, built slopes and began to gather species from sister latitudes, from places separated by glaciations, due to the increase of the oceans, by desertification, by rearrangement of tectonic plates; but also separated by wars or peace treaties, or places with species extinct by green revolutions, by commercial agriculture and by mere urbanization. We started the walk through the forest eating Mongolian roses, straight from the rose bush. We continue with wild apples from Azerbaijan, quinces from Turkey, Japanese pears; we picked about 20 kinds of mushrooms for dinner; for breakfast, hazelnuts, red, black, large, small, sour, sweet berries; kiwis, walnuts, chestnuts, currants. There were wild beans of various types, almonds, figs, lentils ... This forest offers more than 400 edible species depending on the season. It has more species of insects and birds than the Dutch nature parks. What this place asks for, say its promoters, is to accompany the free processes that forests do to grow and maintain themselves. In 6 years, processes occurred that those who made this forest expected in 10 or more years. They are opening the understanding to feed on other crops in addition to the 12 "most famous" that the industrial food production system focuses on. They estimate that the total restoration cycle of forests can be shortened 50 years from what is now thought.
Here in Mexico, during the presentation of a book with recipes for dishes made with what is in the “standard” milpa, a Mixtec farmer from Oaxaca said that we are used to seeing the forest as something very grand and the peasant plot as something small. compared. He said that the cornfield is precisely a forest where everything coexists, full of nuances and denseness, where all beings can exist and be empowered.
Between 1992 and 2010, the Mexican State led a crusade against collective land ownership, a national campaign for farmland to be “regularized” into individual property titles, and for all that land to enter the market, along with the proletarianization of its inhabitants. At the turn of 20 years, much less than 30% of peasants registered their land individually in order to sell it, which has the World Bank frankly intrigued.
In Mexico, almost 22 million tons of corn are planted and harvested, of which 14 million tons are grown with seeds that come from the own harvest, on collective lands. More than 8 million tons are used for the subsistence of the communities without going through the market, says researcher Ana de Ita. That is extremely subversive.
Perhaps it is a moment in history when we no longer study peasant economic dynamics as part of an ethnography of "alternate" or "subaltern" economic systems, or in the record of what is about to become extinct. The process of reflections and actions from the depths of the vituperated communities, slandered as ineffective, torn apart by migrations, cornered in mega-cities is very visible, very evident.
The distinction that Iván Illich made about autonomous subsistence (with its limits and problems to be solved) and the misery into which we fall when development plans, technologies, modernization, and achieving that goal are still not fully understood. understanding is an urgent task.
Andrés Barreda said when summarizing a discussion of the Network in Defense of Maize in 2016:
“Peasant resistance has a clear universal meaning for all humanity because it defends and shows the sense of autonomous subsistence, of the possibility of being free, maintaining a relationship with the land, with the territory. But it has one more meaning, referring to the worst drama of our time, the worst drama that all humanity is experiencing at the present time, which is the rupture between nature and society. Rupture that has humanity not only on the brink of climate change, it has it on the brink of disappearing.
“The separation between society and nature, which has advanced for centuries, in the last 80 years has reached brutal levels that endanger the lives of all human beings. The peasants are the ones who hold live and direct what the relationship between society and nature means. It is very important to underline this point in order to perceive the situation of social war in which we are plunged in a different way. The peasants feel alone. The indigenous people feel alone in their territories. Imagine how 9 million indigenous comrades feel who have already gone to work as day laborers, far from their lands, on agro-export ranches. Especially those who fall on ranches in deserts, no one can escape from there. How will the workers feel, without the sense of community organization of the peasant communities; how women victims of mass murder feel. Or how young people feel who have neither in the country nor in the city - neither on earth nor in heaven - any chance of anything.
“We are all feeling alone, but the peasants have a fire in their hands. It is the relationship with nature. They have the compass of how the world is made up. If anything defines capitalism, it is that it separates society from nature. And this separation is reaching a level that implies the suicide of humanity. In this situation of civilizing suicide, peasant life has something that is significant for all humanity: the only possibility for the future. "
María Verónica Villa Arias (from Grupo ETC) presented a broader version of this text in Cuernavaca at the symposium “Iván Illich: the political in apocalyptic times”, August 2016.
Photo: María Antonieta González and José Ángel Martínez, migrants from Carranza, Chiapas, remove the stems and pack the onions in Lamont, California Photo: David Bacon
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