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Reviving agroecology and solidarity in building a new normal

22 July 2020

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Raiza Javier

How do we build back from a global health crisis that exposed deeply rooted sufferings long endured by the poor? How do we get out of a pandemic that bared a chronic disease in the prevailing economic system? The answer, according to environmentalists, lies in the way we cultivate the earth, our source of health.

These key questions were tackled in the first episode of a new ecology webinar series titled Protecting Earth-Our Common Home: Reviving Agroecology, held 4 July and organized and hosted by the Jesuit Resource and Response Hub in collaboration with the Ecojesuit network of South Asia.

Ecojesuit Global Coordinator Dr Pedro Walpole SJ and Navdanya Director Dr Vandana Shiva explained how agroecology can be a critical point of change in building a new normal that prioritizes the common good. Dr George Pattery SJ, President of Jesuit Conference of South Asia, introduced the webinar and shared that “Laudato Si’ speaks of the Earth as ‘our Common Home’. But for lots of people, it is neither common, nor is it a home.”

“People are suffering, and it’s the same people who are suffering,” Dr Walpole said, explaining the need for a shift in the whole economic process to be “inclusive of the poor, so they will be no longer poor.” Unfortunately, this is exactly where we are. In recent decades, farmers who nurture the land are reduced to laborers who “mechanically plant and harvest” instead of professionals. The value of soil is degraded to a mere substrate infused by different chemicals, and local food diversity is shifting to raw material production for the global market. As a result, farmers are left with no opportunity to make an economic advance.

Because of this, community life has become fragmented, Dr Walpole said. Rural families cannot help each other anymore, while urbanization presents them with more possible opportunities that come with several hidden vulnerabilities. Young people migrate to the cities in search for better fortune but are faced with the harsh realities of poverty in the urban setting with no place to belong to.

Meanwhile, Indigenous Peoples are faced with multiple threats of mining explorations, dams, and other extractive development projects. Lives are lost in environmental activism and community protection with no accountability. These are realities and losses we need to acknowledge if we want to find change, according to Dr Walpole.

“Poor leadership blames others in times of crisis. Economic vulnerability, misuse of technology, failures of global governance; these are evident everywhere and are being felt down to the local level. The nature of the global emergency that we’re now in has called for a reevaluating of all systems,” he added.

What we have been lacking, and the key to shifting our systems, is focusing on the public good instead of the economy, Dr Walpole said. There is a need to remind ourselves that the economy “is not a world unto itself,” but shares the same household with ecology.

Agroecology plays a central role in this shift, Dr Shiva said. There is a need to go back to the ancient system of farming that actually knows the science of growth, instead of the chemical-driven industrial agriculture we know today. “Ecological systems use only one unit of energy to produce 10 units of food. Industrial agriculture uses 10 units of energy to produce one unit of bad toxic food that causes cancer and all the other chronic diseases that are impacting us,” she said. By nourishing the earth, Dr Shiva said we are able to give back to our common home and share the wealth in community instead of just a privileged few. “Just taking,” she said, is a recipe for ecological and social disaster. (For more of Dr Shiva’s inputs on this webinar, please see the Ecojesuit article Taking care of our common home through ecological agriculture)

What should be done?

According to Dr Walpole, our biggest hope is in action at the local level – which includes reviving agroecology – and communicating this at the societal level to push for change.

“The youth have been very good at this in the area of climate action. Agriculture needs to tie into climate action movement, because it has a contribution there. It has a voice,” he said.

He added that we must lobby for economic institutions to prioritize investments on green ventures such as alternative energy, and local stories can back the importance of these initiatives. In the academe, more community-based research must be strengthened to better accompany communities.

“Ecological awareness and ecospirituality go hand in hand in this development,” he said. “[The youth] need to experience the human spirit and creativity with hope. We need to nurture children’s participation in a hopeful and positive way with real experiences of change,” highlighting that this kind of learning must be lifelong.

He also added that new policies must focus on the public good, reduce vulnerability and strengthen community capacities by providing financial alternatives, and investments that ensures inclusion and economic participation of the poor.

Above all of these, the Ecojesuit coordinator said, what it all boils down to is solidarity; calling on our institutions and communities to work with farmers who are professionals at caring for and growing from the earth.

“Solidarity is essential,” he said. “This new normal needs a new strategy, and we need a huge amount of collaboration around the world to keep this moving.”

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