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“Internationalism between Peoples”: Dessalines Brigade Wins the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance Award

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Interview by Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

 

Jose Luis Patrola is a history professor, farmer, and member of the Brazilian land reform group, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement, or MST. He lived in Haiti for three years as part of the Dessalines Brigade, an exchange of agricultural and technical cooperation between Haitians and Brazilians. In a departure from many international programs of “teaching” and “aiding” Haitians, Patrola speaks here about mutual learning and respect.

 

 

We are here in Haiti in an educational solidarity exchange program. We’re not here to teach. We’re here to learn.

 

In our work, there’s great respect for Haitian farmers and movements. That’s something that has been greatly lacking: respect. Not only from foreigners, but from Haitian elites who don’t acknowledge their own people.

 

The MST and the Via Campesina [a coalition of farmers and landless people’s organizations from around the world] in Brazil have had contact with small farmers in Haiti for many years now. Since 2004, we’d been thinking about a solidarity exchange program between campesino movements in Brazil and Haiti. We were finally able to make this possible starting in January 2009, when the MST and other small farmers’ organizations from Brazil sent a brigade of four people to identify what the solidarity exchange would look like. The exchange now works to achieve horizontal solidarity between these farmers.

 

With the earthquake in January [2010], things changed a little, and movements in Haiti suggested to us the possibility of strengthening the brigade with more Brazilians. We organized a brigade

of 31 people, who sleep and eat in the Haitian farmers’ homes.

 

There are different farmer movements from Brazil that are participating. The MST is the biggest group, but there’s also the Movement of Small-scale Agriculturalists, the Movement of Women Campesinas, the Movement of Dam-Affected People, the Pastoral Commission of the Earth that’s part of the Catholic Church, and a representative of the Movement of Unemployed Workers.

 

The brigade consists of people with different skills. We have farmers. We have technical agronomists that are also children of farmers. We have veterinarians, professors, construction specialists, and two medics. We’re doing a little bit of everything; the diversity is very important. A doctor, for example, helped install a cistern for water catchment, and professors are also working the land.

 

The program works at two levels: an organizational level to strengthen peasant organization and autonomy, and a technical level with programs of cooperation, including agricultural production and training schools.

 

This exchange is organized in four fundamental components. First is the exchange, a big opportunity for cultural and intellectual training. We have 30 Brazilians here, which is like a training school in itself, because the starting point of their time here is learning.

 

And we sent Haitians to Brazil as a form of horizontal solidarity. The people spent one month in a school in Brazil where they had history, geography, and Portuguese classes. Then Haitians went to different parts of Brazil to get to know about the different things we’re doing. We want Haitians to have the opportunity to understand what’s happening in Brazil so when they come back home, they can contribute to their organizations.

 

The second phase of the work is producing seeds, which is fundamental to food sovereignty. We started strengthening the national production of seeds so people can save, maintain, and produce their own seeds. We’re establishing six centers of seed production of legumes and other seeds like corn. We’d like to grow stronger in the area of legume production based on our experiences in Brazil, because in Haiti all the seeds for legumes come from other places; they aren’t produced here. We don’t just want to build a program to produce seeds, we want it to be controlled by the farmers.

 

Third, we started a program of reforestation. It’s true that Haiti has serious issues with deforestation that’s not easy to work on. A lot of trees are cut to make charcoal to assure the farmers a steady income. We’ve worked on reforestation by planting avocados and mangos, other things, so the farmers can [have other sources of income].

 

The fourth area is the construction of intermediate-level technical schools to train young farmers in agricultural technologies. Like in other sectors of society, the investigative and technical side of agriculture has been abandoned. Five or six technical schools have been closed. We have plans to open one. We have many examples in Brazil to work with; it’s a dream of peasant movements.

 

[One piece of technical support] is water catchment. People here are dying of cholera. What’s the solution? Potable water to live. We’re installing 1,200 cisterns.

 

So these programs – the exchanges, the seeds, reforestation, and technical schools – have a fundamental objective: to help them strengthen their autonomy and their organizational capacity, the base of social movements. That’s the principal philosophy of the cooperation.

 

All the work we’ve done has been voluntary. All the resources we’ve gotten are from a foundation in Boston called Grassroots International and from two Brazilians who’ve supported the brigade. There are movements back in Brazil that are assuming responsibility for supporting the families, providing monthly contributions, because some [Brazilians here] left children [back home]. There are also the volunteer hosts [for the Haitians] there in Brazil.

 

Social movements all over the world have forgotten the concept of internationalism. Small farmers’ movements through Via Campesina have revitalized this, and the example of Haiti has proven it. The exchange proves that a solidarity exchange is possible between peoples, not just between governments. Not that that isn’t important, but social organizations can also articulate their exchange programs of alliances.

 

What we are doing doesn’t consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.

Bringing the Food Home: Local Food and Agriculture Systems

7:57 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 16 of the Harvesting Justice series

Indoor farmer's market

An indoor farmer's market.

In Western Massachusetts on a sunny winter day, a farmers’ market was taking place in the entryway of an elementary school. The smell was a mix of apple cider, homemade donuts, and gymnasium. Long rows of tables were heavy with piles of root vegetables, hardy apples, fresh pies, pasture-raised lamb, honey wine, and handmade brooms. There was enough diversity that, if determined and creative, one could make it through an admirable portion of a long northern winter.

In the last few years, winter farmers’ markets have been turning up everywhere, tucked into corners of community centers, churches, and school auditoriums. Farmers in cold climes are pushing the limits of their seasons, growing vegetables in greenhouses and building root cellars to make their harvests last. And communities are aligning their appetites with their climates, relinquishing mealy winter tomatoes in favor of the joys of parsnips and cabbage.

In today’s globalized system, the number of miles a typical piece of food travels before it gets to its final point of sale averages 1,000 to 1,500, depending on which of the many studies one is reading. A small bag of trail mix we recently purchased listed 11 countries as far-flung as Greece, Chile, India, Vietnam, and Tanzania as possible sources for its three ingredients of almonds, cashews, and raisins.

Food literally transverses the globe, creating a major disconnect between us and our source of survival, and creating plenty of opportunities for middle-people to make a profit along the way. For every dollar spent on food in the US, about 84 cents go to middle-people, while only 16 cents go to farmers.[i]

Nearly one-fifth of oil and gas consumption in the US is used to power our industrialized food system.[ii] This doesn’t just include fuel for shipping food, but also for growing it (tractors, pesticides, and fertilizers), processing it (factories, refrigeration, packaging materials), and distributing it (warehouses, stores, and restaurants). When we stand in front of our open refrigerators peering in for a snack, the cold air streaming out the door is the last hurrah on the long, energy-intensive journey our food has made. Between 7.3 and 10 units of fossil-fuel energy are required for each unit of food energy that we consume.[iii] In our current food system, far more energy is used up getting that small bag of trail mix into our hands than we gain from eating it.

Some advocates are strict in their commitment to local sourcing, envisioning an entirely local diet. Others believe that if something can’t be grown in a region and is imported, the price should more closely reflect the true costs, including the environmental impacts of transporting the far-flung food.

Taken alone, “local” or “organic” doesn’t necessarily equate “sustainable.” Local foods can be grown with heavy pesticides or without respecting workers’ rights. And today we have the Walmart-ization of organics, which replicates some of the same destructive practices of industrial agriculture. An increasing amount of organic produce is grown on industrial-sized farms, utilizing harmful practices like monocropping and poor water and soil management, and more of it is being shipped around the globe. As organic food has become a lucrative market, big companies like Kellogg, M&M Mars, and Cargill have gotten in on the gold rush, buying up smaller organic companies and starting organic lines. A deluge of “green-washing,” marketing with intentionally vague labels such as “natural” or “naturally raised” and drawings of idyllic country scenes, is further manipulating and misinforming consumers.

As with everything else related to food and agricultural systems, change toward the local and the sustainable is underway. Below are a few ways that you can contribute:

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We Have a Dream: Farmworkers Organize for Justice

10:47 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 13 of the Harvesting Justice series

Farmworkers on a decorated stage protest for better wages and working conditions.

A "Fair Food" Rally in Lakeline, Florida.

For decades, farmworkers – the more than one million men and women who work in fields and orchards around the country – have been leading a struggle for justice in our food system. They have been building awareness and mobilizing the public, successfully securing some rights, higher wages, and better working conditions. Today, a recent string of victories by the farmworker group Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), together with the steadfast work of other groups, have taken the movement to a whole new level.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), founded in 1966 by Dolores Huerta, César Chávez, and others, launched the modern-day farmworker movement. They brought their struggles to national attention by leading boycotts against grape and lettuce growers. Consumers around the country banished grapes and lettuce from their grocery lists, forcing growers to raise wages and to improve labor conditions. Since then, farmworkers have used work stoppages, hunger strikes, marches, union negotiations, and boycotts to win substantial improvements. No longer is it commonplace for crew leaders – those who round up workers and manage the crew – to beat workers, for example, or for farms to aerially spray pesticides in fields while people are working in them.

Exploitation in the Field

Despite these significant advances, farmworkers are still afforded inadequate rights, both on the books and in practice. They perform strenuous physical labor without the protections of sick leave, overtime pay, or health insurance. They are exempt from the National Labor Relations Act that protects workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. If farmworkers try to organize or if they anger their bosses, they can be fired with absolutely no legal recourse. More than half are estimated to be undocumented, and live under the constant threat of deportation if they try to stand up for better conditions.[i] They may also be unable to demand their rights because they don’t speak English, or are unaware of what rights they do have.[ii] Racism and xenophobia play out in many ways, compounding the exploitation.

The minimum wage didn’t even apply to farmworkers until 1966, long after most professions were covered. And today, despite the law, many don’t in actuality make minimum wage. Farmworkers are twice as likely as other workers to live below the poverty line, and most earn an average of $10,000 to $12,000 per year.

These low wages are the result of cost-saving endeavors of corporate players along the food supply chain. The monumental profits of the fast-food industry, for example, come in part from companies’ ability to buy their ingredients cheaply. In an industry with estimated sales of $167.7 billion, company buyers use their power to pay the lowest prices possible to growers and food processors. Growers and processors, in turn, pay the lowest wages they can for field and factory work. Those suppressed wages go hand in hand with suppressing rights, so that workers don’t have the power to organize for better pay.

Farmworkers are also subject to inhumane working and living conditions. In the worst instances, they have been victims of slavery. Workers have been kept under armed guard, locked up at night, forced to work, denied the right to speak to people off the farm, and beaten if they attempt to escape. Since 1997 in Florida alone, the federal government has won seven criminal prosecutions for farmworker slavery, involving more than 1,000 workers. Since 2010, Florida has initiated two more prosecutions.

Most farmworkers come from villages in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. They are living the boomerang of globalization, often forced to emigrate in search of work because agriculture in their home countries has been weakened by US and global trade policies. One farm advocacy group noted, “US agriculture policy has thus created a de facto immigration policy.”[iii]

Rights and Power

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Weeding Corporate Power Out of Agricultural Policies: Communities Mobilize for Food and Farm Justice

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Tomatoes at Waterpenny Farm

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

From the school cafeteria to rural tomato farms, and all the way to pickets at the White House, people are challenging the ways in which government programs benefit big agribusiness to the detriment of small- and mid-sized farmers. Urban gardeners, PTA parents, ranchers, food coops, and a host of others are organizing to make the policies that govern our food and agricultural systems more just, accountable, and transparent. They are spearheading alternative policies on the local, state, national, and international levels. Some advances include the following:

* The National Family Farm Coalition is educating and lobbying to restructure the subsidy system so that it benefits small farmers instead of agribusiness. Together with other groups like Food and Water Watch, Food First, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, they are engaging in research, education, and strategies to help turn us all into effective policy-change advocates.

* People from all walks are becoming more involved in the US Farm Bill. Up for renewal every five to seven years, this hugely influential legislation lays out the framework for national food and farming policy. It regulates agricultural subsidies, food stamps, school lunch programs, rural conservation, and much more. Given the heavy impact this set of laws has on our daily lives, more and more people are asserting the need for public participation in crafting the legislation.

In preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill, for example, the Community Food Security Coalition, a group of nearly 300 organizations, helped the public learn about and lobby for the issues, and drafted a platform of top priorities. This built on coalition’s history of successful grassroots lobbying for Community Food Projects in the 1996 Farm Bill, wherein government grants go to food projects supporting lower-income communities. During the lead-up to the Farm Bill vote in 2008, community food, family farm, and farm-to-school organizations helped secure vital policy changes. These included placing a moratorium on land foreclosures under certain conditions, prioritizing socially disadvantaged farmers for federal loans and grants, and promoting locally grown produce in food stamp and school-lunch programs.

Despite the activism on the most recent Farm Bill, it was allowed to expire at the end of 2012 due to a stalemate in Congress around payments to farmers and broader budget issues. Congress implemented a nine-month extension, but several important programs were de-funded, including support for new farmers and farmers of color, conservation efforts, research into organic farming, and other progressive initiatives. Organizations of farmers and activists are now pushing for these to be reinstated in the next Farm Bill, which is slated for action in summer 2013. Groups such as the Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition have been developing citizen-driven advocacy to ensure that priority programs addressing equity and access issues are not left behind.

* People are becoming wise to the ways of industrial meat, dairy, and egg production, and demanding an end to abuse of animals by industry. In 2008, California residents organized a ballot initiative mandating better conditions for livestock and poultry. More Californians voted for it than for any other citizen initiative in state history. Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Maine have passed similar laws.

* The 2009 “Country of Origin Labeling” (COOL) federal law mandates that retailers label certain meats, produce, and nuts with their country of origin. In 2011, the WTO ruled against COOL labeling for meat products, claiming that it interfered with international trade law. However, due to pressure from the grassroots and groups like Food and Water Watch, the USDA is working to amend the COOL regulations in a way that upholds the labeling while complying with the WTO ruling. Some states such as Vermont, Minnesota, Montana and Maine have their own state-labeling policies and programs to help residents choose foods produced closer to home.

* For nearly 60 years, US law has required that all food aid distributed globally be grown in the US and shipped abroad. This system is inefficient, involving tremendous costs and time. More significantly, imported food aid undercuts farmers in recipient countries, who are often unable to sell their own food when competing with cheap US products. While short-term needs for emergency food may be met, aid imports undermine the local food production that can address hunger in the long-term. Instead, US food processors and transporters benefit. In April 2013, the Obama Administration proposed a policy change that would allow the US government to purchase food aid from within recipient countries, as most other donor countries already do. Organizations like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, American Jewish World Service, and others have been organizing petitions and press releases to gain support for the new legislation.

* Groups at the town, city, and state level are putting together food policy councils to create food systems that better serve their communities. The councils work on projects such as increasing the amount of local food purchased by public institutions like schools, hospitals, and prisons; preserving farmland; and drafting sweeping charters to guide future food policy. These councils aim to democratize food systems by encouraging broad public participation in policy-making. Some 200 such councils now exist in the US, with new ones forming all the time.
To become an active and effective citizen-advocate:

• Support a shift in US aid policy to source food aid locally from within recipient countries. Take action to support Obama’s current proposal, and learn more about food aid policies, here: http://ajws.org/reversehunger/take_action.html.

• Plug into advocacy on the Farm Bill. The next few months will be crucial as policymakers determine which aspects of the legislation will be extended. Stay tuned through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (http://sustainableagriculture.net/), the Rural Coalition (http://www.ruralco.org/) and the Farm Bill Primer website (http://farmbillprimer.org/).

• Consider joining a food policy council, or starting one if there is none in your area. Learn more here: www.foodsecurity.org/FPC/council.html.

* Join up with organizations listed in the last article in the Harvesting Justice series to get involved in their campaigns and movement-building.

Many thanks to Kathy Ozer and the National Family Farm Coalition for their generous help with information and analysis.

Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website.

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