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Reconnecting Agriculture to our Cultural Base: An Interview with Ana Felicien

Reconnecting Agriculture to our Cultural Base: An Interview with Ana Felicien

Campesino holds bean seeds. (Archive)

In the course of Venezuela’s economic crisis, we have seen changes in people’s consumption patterns. People are eating more plantain, cassava and whole-grain corn, among other things, and fewer processed carbohydrates. Do you think this is just a temporary change (a return to the “traditional Venezuela,” which the romantically-minded might delight in because of its picturesque qualities), or is it a real step toward greater food sovereignty? How can we work to assure that these changes in consumption and production patterns become lasting ones and thus steps toward sovereignty and socialism?

The changes in consumption patterns during these difficult times are due, firstly, to the crisis of the whole agroindustrial system, which connects production, processing and highly concentrated, homogeneous and commodified consumption.

In Venezuela’s case, that system is also highly dependent on imports of raw materials and technology, which makes the system highly vulnerable and unable to meet the food needs of the population (as we have seen in recent years).

On the other hand, the new consumption pattern is possible thanks to the availability of food harvested in campesino production systems. With far fewer resources, these systems have proven capable of sustaining production, even in the face of all the problems of infrastructure (for both production and distribution) that peasant agriculture confronts.

These changes occurred as a spontaneous and almost immediate response in the majority of the population.

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Community Development and the Commons

Community Development and the Commons

The commons offers a framework and a process for effectively and equitably stewarding the resources communities need to live in dignity.

Last August, 200 people from across Oakland, California came together to envision and design a development plan for a small parcel of public land. For months leading up to that day, community members and neighborhood coalitions had been organizing against a controversial – and possibly illegal – plan to develop a luxury high-rise apartment complex on land owned by the City of Oakland, in a neighborhood where 75% of residents are low or very-low income and 75% are renters. Having succeeded in pressuring the City to back out of the initially proposed deal with UrbanCore Development through creative direct action and sophisticated community organizing, organizers with the E12th St Coalition wanted to create a visionary community-driven alternative – and the E12th WishList People’s Planning Forum was convened. On a sunny Sunday afternoon near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, hundreds of people shared their visions for what could be done with this public land – and not a single person envisioned a market-rate housing complex on that site.

The result of this community planning process: The E12th St. People’s Proposal. This visionary plan, compiled by the E12 St. Coalition in partnership with nonprofit developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, includes a 100% affordable housing complex, a public park, commercial space for local businesses, and more. (The grassroots coalition has formally submitted the People’s Proposal to the City of Oakland for consideration and is currently competing against two other proposals, neither of which include anything close to 100% affordable housing.) All of this has been motivated by the radical idea that public land should be used for public good. Radical indeed in a region with one of the fastest increasing land values in the country.

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Making, adapting, sharing: fabricating open-source agricultural tools

This is a story about people who build their own machines. It’s a story about people who, due to necessity and/or conscious choice, do not buy commercial equipment to work their lands or animals, but who invent, create and adapt machines to their specific needs: for harvesting legumes, for hammering poles, for hitching tools onto tractors.

The machines are just one part of our story, and this article will talk about encounters between people, tools and knowledge and it will take us to various places: Paris and Renage in France, Pyrgos and Kalentzi in Greece, and Tallinn in Estonia.

Let us begin our journey in Greece. In Pyrgos (southern Crete), there is a small group of people called Melitakes (the Cretan word for ants) interested in seed sovereignty and agroecology. It is a group that cares about organic farming and that tries to form a small cooperative. One of the things the group does is to plant legumes in between olive-trees or grapes. While olive trees are abundant in Greece, the land in between individual trees is usually not cultivated due to the distance necessary to avoid shading and foster the growth of the trees. So the idea was quite simple: use the unused land. However, the members of the group soon faced a specific problem: it’s hard to harvest legumes by hand and there are no available tools to do this arduous job in a narrow line between olive trees. On the market, there are only big tractor accessories, suitable for such a job, and only for large crops. That is why the group sought the help of a friend in a nearby village, a machinist, to help them out. He liked the idea. He saw it as a challenge and started to develop a tool (see picture 1).

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Our Economy is a Degenerative System

Impacts of resource hungry exploitative economies

“What is 120 times the size of London? The answer: the land or ecological footprint required to supply London’s needs.” — Herbert Giradet

Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. A number of useful indicators and frameworks have been developed to measure the ecological impact that humanity and its dominant economic system with its patterns of production, consumption and waste-disposal are having on the planet and its ecosystems. The measure and methodology for ecological footprinting translates the resource use and the generation of waste of a given population (eg: community, city, or nation) into the common denominator of bio-productive land per person, measured in Global Hectares (Gha), that are needed to provide these resources and absorb those wastes.

Much of the educational power of this tool is its capacity to compare between how much bio-productive land exists on the planet with how much bio-productive land would be needed to sustain current levels of consumption. In addition it also helps us to highlight the stark inequalities in ecological impact that exists between different countries.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Ecological Footprinting is basically an accounting tool that compares how much nature we have and how much nature we use. He are currently using about 50% more ecological resources than nature is regenerating naturally every year.

This point of spending more than is coming in every year — or living of the capital rather than the interest — was reached by humanity in the late-1960s. It is called Ecological Overshoot and every year since Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity as a whole has already used up the bio-productivity of Earth in that year — is a little earlier. Here is a little video (3:30 min.) to explain the concepts of ecological overshoot and footprint.

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Book of the Day: Integral Ecology: Toward a Perma-Circular Society

Christian Arnsperger: My colleague Dominique Bourg (also from the University of Lausanne) and myself have just released a new book in French, entitled Ecologie intégrale: Pour une société permacirculaire(translation: Integral Ecology: Toward a Perma-Circular Society), published in Paris by Presses Universitaires de France. It’s the culmination of a two-year effort we engaged in between mid-2014 (when I arrived at Lausanne) and mid-2016 to spell out (a) what sustainability really means and (b) what the social, cultural and political conditions for the emergence of a genuinely sustainable society are. It’s during this period that we published our article, Vers une économie authentiquement circulaire: Réflexions sur les fondements d’un indicateur de circularité”(“Toward a Genuinely Circular Economy: Reflections on the Foundations of a Circularity Indicator”), in which we first coined the word permacircularité. (In French, we don’t hyphenate it. I’m thinking of soon going over to that spelling convention in English as well – since the related word “permaculture” has no hyphen either.)

Our basic intuition, which we started out by developing in a series of articles, was that a genuinely sustainable society requires a circular and regenerative economy which, as a result, needs to give up growth as it guiding and regulating principle. We adopted the insights discovered by the French engineer François Grosse, who has posted previously on this blog and who contributed a short text to our book. You can see the book’s webpage and order it at https://www.puf.com/content/Ecologie_intégrale.

For English-speaking audiences, I need to add immediately that the way in which we use the word “integral” in our book’s title is rather different from the meaning that word has acquired, in the USA in particular, over the past decade.

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There’s only one way to avoid climate catastrophe: ‘de-growing’ our economy

What’s most disturbing about this litany of pain is that it’s only going to get worse. A recent paper in the journal Nature estimates that our chances of keeping global warming below the danger threshold of 2 degrees is now vanishingly small: only about 5 per cent. It’s more likely that we’re headed for around 3.2 degrees of warming, and possibly as much as 4.9 degrees. If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, there’s a good chance that it would render large-scale civilization impossible.

If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic

Why are our prospects so bleak? According to the paper’s authors, it’s because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of GDP) of the global economy by about 1.9 per cent per year, they say, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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