Wiki-Solutions for a Hungry World

7 Apr

Sculpture: Natalia Porter

This month AlertNet, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s news site for humanitarian issues, is posting submissions from the general public for its multi-media special report on  solutions to global hunger. This is my “silver bullet” idea:

A tragic paradox envelops the lives of small holding farmers throughout the Global South. They want to make a living from the land, but the economics of small scale farming force them to migrate to constantly expanding urban slums. Food prices rise as millions of peasant farmers lack the means — from enough land to sound eco-agricultural advice — to produce enough of a surplus to sell to the hungry. The world needs farmers while at the same time they make up the majority of its poor.

Yet the answer to the dilemma rests with peasant farmers themselves, and in ever increasing numbers, they know this. They are organizing themselves in democratic grassroots movements throughout the developing world, not only demanding but also working for change. From Indonesia to Senegal, and from Haiti to Brazil, the landless and the land poor are finding solutions to the contradictions of today’s macro-economic imperatives.

Here are just a few examples: The Serikat Petani Indonesia is not only working with their 700,000 members to reclaim land stolen during the Suharto dictatorship, but encouraging increased yields using organic techniques that cost nothing. In Senegal, regional farmers organizations, like the Union of Peasant Groups of Mehknes, ask all members to surround their plots with trees and to grow the drought-resistant crops their forefathers planted. Participation in Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement, or MST, has permitted more than 350,000 families to own land and to run cooperatives, schools and small enterprises. Even in Haiti, where land is at a premium and instability a seeming fact of life, peasant organizations working with La Via Campesina and Partenaires de Developement Locale are taking the initiative and breaking free from both top-down solutions to improve and manage better production methods. The government of Brazil, for example, is basing all of its agricultural foreign aid to Haiti on advice from the La Via Campesina and the MST.

These are just a few of the many organizations flowering throughout regions we typically associate with poverty and helplessness. Other developing world nations with national peasant organizations include the Philippines, Thailand and Mozambique.  While their members don’t lack ideas, a sense of initiative or  a determination to succeed, finding the funding to expand their outreach is always a challenge.

Meanwhile, little of the billions of dollars affluent nations spend on foreign aid is going to support farmers and their families.  Rather, too many First-World development policies comprise a vision of letting giant agri-business conglomerates take care food production and leaving farming families no choice but to join an already vast labour force that will struggle to survive on cut-rate wages in modern factories and sweatshops. No wonder donors are asking themselves why so much poverty still exists in the countries to which they have been sending their money for decades.

At the same time the effectiveness and purpose of so many aid projects are being questioned, simple solutions are at hand — and have been for quite some time.

Just imagine if those of us in the rich countries could help the millions of small farmers in the developing world achieve land justice and plentiful crops.

Try and picture the results in farming villages when agriculturalists embrace their knowledge and abilities to produce healthy crops to sustain themselves and their urban counterparts.

Ask the average person who donates money to charity, and they are likely to react with enthusiasm at the idea, at the image of productive land, life-giving clusters of woods, decent schools and clinics, and vibrant markets filled with the fruits of the peasant farmer’s labour rather than wasted aid dollars, pounds and euros.

It is time to change the picture of rural poverty to one of rural power. Along with our donations to those NGOs that concentrate on empowering farmers, we can also pressure our governments to switch from foreign aid conditionalities that impoverish Third World economies to ones that insist on meaningful re-distribution of fertile land. In the United States, Canada and Britain, average people can tell their governments that we no longer want our tax money to spent on food dumping but on buying locally produced food for feeding programs and on practical help for farmers. How? Using a number of methods, from social media and the Internet to Amnesty International-style letter-writing campaigns, average people can influence government policies.

Aside from alleviating rural poverty, two immeasurably valuable consequences will come with this. First of all, we will find peasant farmers themselves taking on the task of conserving and protecting local forests and other fragile habitats. Environmental protection is already a hallmark of most if not all peasant movements.

Secondly, as their livelihoods improve, rural populations will feel empowered to demand accountability from their governments, insisting on honest and wise use of their nation’s financial resources.

The rural poor don’t want handouts and they don’t want banishment to dysfunctional lives in a slum. They want to land to till, fair markets in which to sell the fruits of their labour, and respect.  We can and must make it clear to our leaders and policy-makers that we want the same.

What do you think can be done to alleviate global hunger? I would love to hear your comments and your own ideas.


One Response to “Wiki-Solutions for a Hungry World”

  1. poor children April 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    You can, but most charities aren’t doing this anymore, because they realized that it takes away income from local people in Africa trying to make and sell clothes and toys. In short, it hurts more than it helps. Also, transporting donated clothes and toys is much more expensive than buying them and distributing them locally in Africa. . . It’s much better to donate locally to charity shops. The money raised from selling those items from places like Oxfam is used to help people in Africa and elsewhere sustain themselves so that, some day, they don’t need charity.

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