New Book Takes Aim At Global Food Issues: Current food crisis has deep roots, authors charge

Food Sovereignty
Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community

Edited by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe and Hannah Wittman  

The continuing exodus of rural peasants to urban centres is the result of “capitalist agriculture” and hampers the planet’s ability to fee itself, according to a new book published by the National Farmers Union. Rural depopulation is the legacy of Britain’s 18th century pursuit of mercantilist dominance of global trade which promoted urbanization as progress but was, in fact, a wrong-headed policy engineered by wealthy elites, according to the authors and editors of the book. Food Sovereignty, Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community is a collection of essays written by a wide range of international academics and agrarian activists, launched at the National Famers Union’s annual convention. At the book’s launch party, Nettie Wiebe, former president of the NFU and the book’s co-editor, noted the term “food sovereignty” was coined at the 1996 meeting in Mexico of La Via Campesina, an international group representing small farmers, as part of a campaign to combat corporate efforts to take over land, seed, and the global food supply. Then, a few months later at a major food security summit in Rome, mainstream politicians, scientists, and economists, turned that idea into the need to produce “more” food to feed the world’s population. They said to produce more we need higher inputs, and more chemicals to produce more bushels per acre. And furthermore, we’ll need GMO seeds,” said Wiebe. “We in the small-scale farmer/peasant movement said, “no, that’s precisely the wrong agenda.” Since then, the number of hungry people has grown from 800 million to over one billion, she added. Charging that the current food system “actively perpetrates destructive environmental, political and social dynamics,” Wiebe said serious discussions of food sovereignty are urgently needed before the struggle over land, resources and seed for food production heats up in the coming decades. Jim Handy, a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan, along with student Carla Fehr, penned a chapter on the origin of “the continued faith in industrial agriculture.” They found it in the “propaganda” developed in Britain’s 18th century enclosure movement, which sought to oust rural farmers from communally held lands in order to create large=scale sheep farms. The land-grab campaign, hatched by Britain’s elites, was needed to supply both wool and labour for the nation’s fledgling industrial, export-oriented textile industry, they said. “In order to justify this process, they had to make an argument that it was not only necessary, but that it would be beneficial for everybody, including the people driven from the countryside,” said Handy. The works of an “obscure” economist named Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations argues such hardships were necessary to secure humanity’s destiny of “universal opulence,” were mated with the dark visions of British scholar Thomas Malthus who argued that the poor must not be coddles lest they breed too prolifically and outpace the nation’s food supply. “The process of pushing people from the land would end, and I quotes, the “almost idiotic wretchedness” in which those people in the countryside were encased,” said Handy, who is currently working on a book entitled The Menace of Progress. Co-author Carla Fehr, who’s master’s thesis was based on the Economist magazine’s 1843-63 editorial stance, argues in the book that the respected periodical helped make this view “woven ” into modern agricultural thought. In order for backward rural areas to catch up with urban cultural advances, the Economist argues, they must adopt an agricultural model of a “business” undertaken by capitalists, occupying large estates, and guided by scientific principles. Any other form of farming was a waste of soil, it stated. “I found that the Economist was a very persuasive and sophisticated force in spreading belief in capitalist agriculture, ” said Fehr. “It did this by arguing that market forces would naturally bring about a capitalist mode of agriculture and migration to the cities. But we know in fact that this process was anything by natural and in fact, it required government intervention and force. Annette Desmarais, an associate professor of International Studies at the University of Regina, and co-editor of the book, introduced chapters on the myth of “agrofuel” sustainability. “We are in desperate need of alternatives like food sovereignty. If we care about the health of the planet and humanity,” said Desmarais. Other chapters discuss ways to dramatically increase yields using “agro-ecological practices,” and another addresses the need for “open-source biology” to avoid market dominance by corporate patented seed. Food Sovereignty is the first in a series, with a second book focused on food sovereignty in Canadian agriculture scheduled to be released next fall. - Daniel Winters, Manitoba Co-operator

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