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Terra Madre: A Celebration Of Living Economies


In a world dominated by fear and fragmentation, dispensability and despair a magical gathering of food communities ? Terra Madre ? took place in Turin, Italy, from 20-22 October 2004. Slow Food, the movement that has put the culture of growing and eating of good, healthy, diverse food at the heart of social, political, and economic transformation had brought together 5000 members from 1,200 food communities from 130 countries under one roof. And in spite of their diversity and differences, everyone was connected ? connected through the earth, our mother, Terra Madre ? connected through food, the very web of life ? connected through one common humanity, which makes a peasant equal to a prince.

From corporate globalization to earth democracy

Over the past few decades, food production, processing, and distribution has shifted out of the hands of women, small farmers and small producers and is being monopolized by global corporate giants like Cargill, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, Nestle. Small producers everywhere are being displaced and uprooted by the unfair competition from heavily subsidized agribusiness.

The anti-globalization movement has focused on the unfairness of global trade rules that are pushing farmers into debt and suicide. At Terra Madre, small producers had gathered not just to curse the darkness of corporate globalization but also to keep alive or light the lamp of small decentralized biodiversity production that does not put a burden on the earth to provide the food needs of human communities.

The vibrant energy of Terra Madre came from the resilience of producers who had continued to save and share their diverse seeds, live their diverse cultures, speak their diverse languages, and celebrate their diverse food traditions.

There was a community of dried mango producers and entomophagous women (women?s associations who harvest, process and sell edible insects) of Ouagadougou, the Baobab community of Atacora, basil growers and pesto genovese, makers of Liguria, nomadic shepherds from India and Kirgbity, sheep breeders from the Central Asia, jasmine rice producers of Thailand and Basmati rice producers of India (both of whom had been victims of Biopiracy by Texas, U.S. based Ricetec corporation which sells Jasmine rice as Jasmati and Basmati Rice as Texmati).

The world of Terra Madre reflected the real world of people ? with diversity so dazzling that the eyes and ears were having a feast, while communities communicated with pride, joy and dignity about their agricultural and food traditions.

This was not the world of W.T.O. where only agribusiness exists, only 5 commodities (soya, corn, rice, wheat, canola) account for most agricultural trade, only one company (Monsanto) accounts for 94% of all GMO seeds planted anywhere in the world, and most food grown is not eaten by humans but by billions of captive animals in factory farms.

In Terra Madre?s world small farms produce more than industrial farms, using fewer resources, biodiversity protects the health of the soil and the health of people, quality, taste, nutrition are the criteria for production and processing, not toxic quantity and super profits of agribusiness.

Terre Madre was a gathering of small producers who refuse to disappear in a world where globalization has written off diversity of species and cultures, small producers, local economies, indigenous knowledge. Not only are small farmers and local food communities refusing to go away, they are determined to shape a future beyond globalization. As Granny Almanac, the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry stated in his introduction to `Terra Madre?:

What is original and truly revolutionary about Terra Madre is that by selecting the Food Communities least susceptible to industrial process ? hence distinctive for the authenticity and quality of their produce ? it attempts to place small-scale food producers at center stage.

Diversity is the ground for the turn around of our food systems ? diversity of crops, diversity of foods, diversity of cultures. Diversity is both the resistance to monocultures and the creative alternative. Building on our uniqueness and variety is our strength, a strength that can be eroded only when we give up on it ourselves.

Another paradigm of food.

Terra Madre provided an opportunity and platform to articulate another paradigm of food. During the opening ceremony, Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food gave a call to everyone to defend the rights, knowledge and creativity of small producers all over the world. ?Let us become co-producers?, he said. To consume means to destroy. ?Consumption? was earlier the name given to Tuberculosis.

In the act of eating, we have already participated in production. By eating organic, we have said ?no? to toxics, and supported the organic farmer. By rejecting GMOs, we vote for the rights of small farmers and people?s right to information and health. By eating local, we have taken power and profits away from global agribusiness, and strengthened our local food community.

Eaters are therefore also co-producers, both because their relationship with small producers is a critical link in creating sustainable, just, healthy food system, and also because we are what we eat, and in making food choices, we make choices about who we are.

The industrialization and globalization of our food systems dividing us, North-South, producer-consumer, rich-poor. The most significant source of our separation and division is the myths that industrial food systems produce more food and hence are necessary for removing hunger. With the myth of ?cheap? food. However, small biodiverse, organic farms have higher output than large industrial monocultures.

As Prince Charles reminded the gathering in his remarks during the closing ceremony:

One of the arguments used by the ?agricultural industrialists? is that it is only through intensification that we will be able to feed an expanded world population. But even without significant investment, and often in the face of official disapproval, improved organic practices have increased yields and outputs dramatically.

A recent UN-FAO study revealed that in Bolivia potato yield went up from four to fifteen tones per hectare. In Cuba, the vegetable yields of organic urban gardens almost doubled. In Ethiopia, which twenty years ago suffered appalling famine, sweet potato yields went up from six to thirty tones per hectare. In Kenya, maize yields increased from two-and-a quarter to nine tones per hectare. And in Pakistan, mango yields have gone up from seven-and-half to twenty-two-tonnes per hectare.

In the inaugural ceremony I had drawn attention to the fact that globalized industrialized food is not cheap, it is too costly for the earth, for the farmers, for our health. The earth can no longer carry the burden of ground water mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species, destabilization of the climate.

Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. The 25,000 farmer suicides in India in a short span of 6 years is a symptom of the deep crisis in the dominant model of farming and food production. This system is denying the right of food and health both to the 1 billion who are hungry and the 1 billion who suffer from obesity. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land water and energy.

It uses ten times more energy than it produces, ten times more water then ecological agriculture. It is thus ten times less efficient. Even the labor efficiency is a myth since all the researchers, pesticide producers, genetic engineers, truck drivers, soldiers engaged in wars over oil, are part of the industrial food production system.

If all the people involved in non-sustainable food production were counted, including those engaged in production of destructive toxic inputs, the ?labor? efficiency of industrial food world also be lower than ecological food. When agriculture becomes like war, and weapons of Mass Destruction ? the fertilizers and pesticides that have their origins in wars, replace internal farm inputs, food becomes non-food. Trade based on false prices, and unfair exchange is not trade, it is exploitation. That is why I proposed at Terra Madre that along with the language of non-paper and non-group, in the W.T.O., the Agreement on Agriculture should be renamed as Agreement on non-trade in non-food.

The fact that industrial food is cheap is not because it is efficient, either in terms of resource or energy efficiency. It is ?cheap? because it externalizes all costs ? the wars, the diseases, the environmental destruction, the cultural decay the social disintegration, and it is supported by subsidies – $400 billion subsidies in rich countries that led to the collapse of the W.T.O. Ministerial in Cancun, it is supported by transport subsidies, by environmental subsidies and the largest subsidy of all, that paid through people?s lives.

For us Terra Madre was a celebration of an honest agriculture in which prices do not lie, which does not exploit the earth and the earth?s caretakers, Terra Madre was a celebration of our practice of living economies in which we co-produce with the earthworm and the spider, with the mychorizzae and the fungi. We are all connected in the web of life, and its food that spins that web. As the ancient Taitreya Upanishad has stated:

From food, all creatures are produced???

Beings are born from food, when born they live by food, on being deceased, they enter into food.

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