SPEAK Soundcheck 2013
Christian Ecology Link was invited to take part in a panel discussion at SPEAK Soundcheck 2013, 22nd to 24th February 2013, which took place at the Rag Factory, just off Brick Lane in London’s East End. Here are the notes for the presentation, written originally by Jo Abbess, and reviewed for edit by CEL colleagues.
Panel Question : “What would justice in the global food system look like to you ?”
Christian Ecology Link have been running the LOAF project for several years. Our Members that take part make choices to base their food retail choices and family or community meals on four food principles – Local, Organic, Animal-friendly and Fairly Traded. First of all, food is to be sourced as locally (and seasonally) as possibly, as authentically as possible, without chemical or genetic treatments. Then, where people eat animal products and meat, they are asked to consider animal welfare; and where buying from the global food markets, to choose Fair Trade.
We have produced several printed resources on the LOAF project. The project materials include a table placemat, so that the core principles can be laid out in front of people when our Members host a LOAF meal, and trigger valuable discussions.
Food justice has several interlocking elements, such as food sovereignty, the right of peoples to grow and farm their own food, the security of food supply, and the integrity of the food we produce and eat. The international food trade shows a tendency to compromise all these values, as the recent “horseburger” scandal demonstrates – the meat was sourced through a global trade system which demonstrates dependency on imports and poor accountability. The net result is that the poorest in society, even in the developed world, cannot afford decent food.
Christian Ecology Link is proposing that we take individual responsibility for our food, and the food of others. We suggest that people where possible should try to grow some of their own food, and to participate in their local food economy – such as taking part in their local organic vegetable box scheme. We encourage our Members to purchase food through co-operatives and community schemes for fairer farming, both in the UK and in international trade. We recognise that in energy and emissions terms, eating meat is detrimental to the climate, but we don’t counsel against it. Instead we suggest that people consider eating less red meat, and to be sure about where their meat is coming from. Only a small number of people can raise their own animals to eat, so we suggest for those taking part in the LOAF project who are meat eaters to support animal welfare schemes, and to buy organically reared and free range. Centralisation of the meat and dairy industry, and the control of the supply chain by the supermarkets, has caused a collapse in food quality and has finished off many farmers – so we recommend buying from small concerns, farmers’ markets and food co-operatives where possible, for Fair Trade in the UK. There will always be some things we enjoy in our diets that we cannot grow in our own country, so the UK will always trade for food. We recommend that LOAF project participants make Fair Trade purchases of foreign food, and where appropriate purchase finished products that give added value to the source country, rather than raw commodities.
Food justice for us means putting into practice the song of praise of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the “Magnificat” – that the hungry should be fed, and those of humble lifestyles acknowledged. There is a reciprocal truth that if those in developed countries live a simple life, the world’s resources can be spread more widely, shared with (or rather, not stolen from) those in developing regions. Live simply, so that others may simply live. The central problem of human civilisation is this incredible imbalance between those who are well-fed and those who starve. This is not something that can be rectified simply by increasing incomes for the poor – both hunger and thirst are things that need to be addressed with a holistic, systems approach. Half a billion people worldwide are smallholder farmers, and in future, with curbs on carbon emissions and problems of energy security, and diminishing access to fresh water, more of the rest of the world will need to take up community scale agriculture. The landmark International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report in 2008/2009 said that a radical shift towards ecological food provision is needed in order to secure future food for the world’s predicted nine billion people.
The future of agriculture has key problems, in the form of changes in rainfall and rising ambient temperatures from climate change. Access to fossil fuels could well become more precarious (and maybe more expensive, too), and limit the amount of energy that can be used to grow food, and also affect the production of fertilisers, pesticides, and weed control chemicals. Using cropland to grow biofuels is perverse. Fresh water resources are already stressed, and countries have resorted to mining aquifers, which is unsustainable. The paradigm of industrial, intensive farming is at risk – land grabbing for huge monoculture plantations could actually destroy productivity. Agricultural systems that rely on high technology may not be sustainable, although there is a place for modern gadgets. For example, mobile phones and the Internet are proving useful to small developing world farmers researching long range weather forecasts and practical adaptations. Modern communications also enables access to such things as microcredit for small food businesses. Energy, water and climate problems are not only going to affect poor regions with subsistence farming – these are future problems for us all.
The justice in this is that solutions that work for the poor smallholder in the developing world can also work for the breadline allotment keeper in the developed world. Appropriate technologies include : mixed and layered planting, the recycling of manure and urine, crop rotation, (rain)water harvesting and terrace drainage, nursery or greenhouse early plant (seedling) nurture, reduction in tillage, co-planting of insect and forager repellants, and the use of treatments for soil improvement. Of great importance is seed banking and swapping – preserving and improving heritage seed stocks – something not possible with proprietary genetically modified crop models. In a very real sense, the intellectual property rights for the plant kingdom belong to the Creator and his children, and not to Monsanto, Syngenta or Bayer.