Food: Responsibility for the Common Good and Our Common Home

Editorial - Newsletter 3 - March 2018

Betsan Martin, January 2018

Healthy nutritious food accessible to all is one of the most profound themes of human responsibility. Food security and food production are the very interface of humans with nature – our source of life comes from water and soil and air and oceans.

In the articles in this Alliance for Responsibility Newsletter we see citizenship and collective engagement as a key theme of responsibility. One of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Responsibility affirms the power of uniting with others, becoming informed and acting together. The concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) being taken up around the world crystalizes this collective approach. The Principles of Teikei in Ben Quiñones’s article refers to partnerships of mutual assistance for growing food by joining up producers, consumers and distributors. All aspects of food production are influenced by relationships, and extend to pricing and to the territorial scale – in that effective partnerships between those who can be directly involved in food production determine the scale of territorial involvement.

Citizen science brings this theme of sharing scientific research with experience and local knowledge. Such groups, when joining together to monitor waterways for example, find new and shared understanding of the impacts of industrial agriculture on waterways and fish and soils.

Through these articles we hear a chorus of acclaim for the wisdom of organic food production with diversity of crops as integral to biodiversity. One of the disasters of climate’s being destroyed by industrial development is the massive extinction of species and loss of biodiversity – marching on unabated despite the valiant endeavours of conservation activism and policies.

We present, in this issue, a proposal by the biologist Hélène Nivoix for an Organic Monetary Fund as a global level tool to account for the growth in biomass with an accounting system for ‘carbon-farming’. This, like the practices that Vandana Shiva has so long advocated for, is run on the co-operative principles of micro-farming – local production and consumption.

Sustainable farming and organic growing are counter-movements to the agro-industrial model of land use with its impacts of impoverishing land and rivers, as elaborated by Henri d’Orfeuil. Environmental degradation is compounded by the use of fossil-fuel derived chemical inputs into farms, and the use of toxic chemicals as herbicides and pesticides. The example of glyphosate in an article in this newsletter refers to research that shows the links between glyphosate and cancer. With glyphosate as an essential component of GM crops we can readily see how chemical technology can be allied with industrialized and mono-cultural forms of food production. RESOLIS in France, and RIPESS in the Philippines show the way for organizing local initiatives for ‘re-territorializing’ and building social and environmental wellbeing with food growing and distribution systems.

In the reality of land rendered unproductive by over-exploitation, war, and climate impacts and freshwater salinization, local production has to be complemented by systems of distribution that enable food to be distributed beyond the local scale. Global trade in food has always been part of the trading systems, and takes on a fresh imperative for equitable access to food.

Responsible production can be complex, and thinking that becomes reduced to “responsible versus irresponsible thinking” can over-simplify the efforts to curb the destructive use of resources. While the arguments for local solutions are profound, all solutions are open to being corrupted, as, for example, responsible and sustainable production becomes used as a marketing tool.

Thus, Codes and Polices at the level of regulation and enforcement are part of an integrated system for responsible food production. Government policies on procurement, for example are not only a significant component of the economy, they have an enormous influence on which food is purchased. The UN report, coordinated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, graphically spells out the food buying policies and decisions of hospitals, schools, prisons and restaurants and the influence of these policies in the supply and production of food.

On the other hand, high level tools such as Codes run the risk of excluding local engagement. In the example of fisheries interests and methods, these are often highly responsive to local conditions, which are not adequately included in the Codes. Local fishworkers work with their knowledge of seasons and of lunar influences on the oceans. Their harvesting practices in traditional fishing grounds are tied to knowledge of fish habitats and informed by cultural practices for fishing – which may include ways of communicating with fish with song and incantations. Local and artisan fishworkers have to contend with large-scale industrial fisheries such as gillnet users. The exploitative problems of industrial fishing are analogous to those of land-based production with ever stronger pressures to increase food production.

Local solutions therefore need to go hand in hand with high-level tools such as Codes of Responsible production. These need to account for environmental health and social wellbeing. The key elements of responsible food production are the sustainable use of resources, environmentally safe practices, the added value of food products and nutritional quality to consumers.

Education is a key component of any effort to implement sustainable agriculture and food practices and the value of responsibility lies at the heart of education for the environment and sustainable development. How do environmental education stakeholders perceive and assume their own responsibilities facing the questions of ethics, governance, and development model? Yolanda Ziaka explores this question pointing out that the answer forms, in itself, a political choice, given the economic and political challenges which often condition the action of people and institutions involved in education and training.

I take a moment to consider food production and climate change. When we look into climate induced migration, it is clear that food security is central to people having to leave their homelands. Bangladesh and many other countries face relocation for vast numbers of people. Relocation may be within country borders and beyond.

In the Pacific Islands rising seas, ocean acidification and extreme weather events mean fish resources are scarcer, fresh water is becoming salty, crops are destroyed, and there is less land for cultivation. There is little scope for relocation within borders, and though policy to support climate-induced migration has been considered through the Nansen Initiative, it has scarcely been brought to an implementation stage.

Food security is woven into every aspect of human life, and draws together humans and nature at a level of survival. How we grow food and ensure its availability draws us to the bottom line of responsible stewardship – it joins us at levels of friendship, co-operation, commerce and climate change.

Good reading !

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