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    Why Farmer Autonomy Matters: Part Two

    By Max Darcey, Navitas Organics Manager of Quality & Sustainability | May 9, 2018

    Why Farmer Autonomy Matters: Part TwoIn part one, I introduced Loren Cardelli, president and co-founder of A Growing Culture (AGC), to provide some background and education on what his amazing organization does to support our farmers. In the conclusion of this interview, I ask some hard-hitting questions about what potential their work has for our food system and how we can make a difference as consumers.

    MD: Given that a majority of your work is in rural areas internationally, what challenges do you face in spreading the knowledge about effective farming techniques? How does a farmer in Kenya learn from a farmer in Peru when they’re so disconnected from any form of technology?

    LC: That’s one of the reasons why we share information both digitally and analogue. We are building one of the largest networks of participatory agricultural organizations that put farmers first. By doing this, we can reach out to these organizations and they become the arms that extend out of the digital community to the analogue. So, there is a digital connection there, but there’s also face-to-face knowledge sharing that we organize and support. This project isn’t just digitally focused – it’s not a technical solution for low tech, it’s a network and community that uses digital connection as just one of their tools. So, when a farmer in Kenya wants to share a technique with a farmer in Vietnam or Bolivia, that technique is not exactly replicated, but rather, it’s adapted, modified and built upon by the farmers in these other countries. This is the constant evolution of ideas and innovation that we’re trying to create.

    MD: Do you see changes, systems or procedures internationally that you think could work for the United States’ food system?

    LC: Absolutely. We received funding this past Fall for a project in Vietnam regarding pig farming. It’s an innovation in which the pig farmer creates a living, fermented bedding for the hogs (“living” means that it’s populated by indigenous microorganisms and bacteria that are thriving). It’s not a sterile, bleached environment, but rather a bedding material of carbon materials including rice, husks, wood chips and straw, which is then inoculated and alive. The urine and feces of the pigs are immediately broken down and digested by this community, so there’s no runoff or waste. This technique can be adapted and used even in industrial systems in North Carolina, Iowa, Canada, Switzerland or China, as well as by smallholder systems in Vietnam and other countries worldwide. We’re so excited about the scalability of this specific technique and its application in other areas.

    Imagine if North Carolina, one of the biggest pig producers in the country, adopted this technique. This would produce multiple dynamic advantages, as this would eliminate pollution from pig production, and create carbon and natural compost materials that could go into the fields to produce vegetables. This could be really important for our industry – and this model comes from smallholder farmers.

    MD: How can organizations like AGC and companies like Navitas Organics work together to support the agenda of your organization and make a real difference?

    LC: When organizations like natural food companies want to make a difference, they tend to pursue certifications like Fair Trade and non-GMO, which are important in creating fair and more just supply chains. One of the original reasons we were interested in collaborating with Navitas was because we felt that there was an authentic desire to make an impact. So, once this desire is cultivated by a company, we then have to start thinking about how these certifications support farmers and mold farmers into a framework or a system. Ultimately, we experience a just and environmental system that is also designed by the certificate and the organization behind that process. It’s also important to give farmers the ability to shape their own models and systems, which is why we are launching a “1% for Farmers” campaign, where we will take 1% of profits and put it back into these communities to fund their shaping of a food system, their research and their innovation. By doing this, we will support these communities in shaping the food system for us, rather than us shaping the food system for them. I think that’s the ultimate stage in evolution, which is to return power back to the communities.

    MD: Let’s think about the larger picture here beyond AGC and Navitas, and look at consumers. How do we drive this change with consumers? How can consumers make a difference on a large scale?

    LC: This is a great question and I’d be lying if I told you we had this completely figured out. We believe that consumers can make a big difference, but we have to be careful of consumer privilege. This movement can’t just be shaped by the affluent that can afford local and organic food. Those individuals can’t be the only ones in power to make the change, because not everyone can afford it, and our system isn’t balanced and fair. So, we have to work beyond consumer privilege to organize movements that will create change. Food justice and food sovereignty is a right for everyone – producers and consumers should have the right to shape their own food systems, and to have a say in that process. So, we’re working on creating social media campaigns, manifestos and company pledges that we can work with to shape our food system and make sure that access is just as important as production models. We’re hoping to work with urban and rural communities across the country to create incentives and initiatives that everyone can get behind.

    MD: I think I can safely speak for all of us at Navitas in saying that we fully support what you are doing at AGC, and really look forward to future projects. We are excited to continue working together to create this change and build awareness for our consumers, as it helps them understand the impact that the agricultural systems have on our environment and social structures. We certainly look to your organization for that inspiration, but who are some of your heroes in this work?

    LC: There are individuals that have shaped my model of thinking like Paolo Friere or Frantz Fanon, but Thomas Sankara was perhaps the most impactful. As the president of Burkina Faso, he was the first leader in Africa to promote gender equality and food sovereignty, and he resisted all aide saying that his country would produce all the food, fabric and cloth material they needed. He was sadly assassinated, but his work was incredibly influential for me in the way that I think about localized models and their empowerment. These are some of the thinkers that have really shaped me, but then you have individuals that are farmers that I work with every day that inspire me with their amazing innovations and ingenuity, and these individuals have their backs against the wall with social oppression and economic disempowerment, as well as a changing climate. They’re facing all of these issues, but they continue to innovate and create solutions that I believe have the power to transform the world. So, these farmers, like Debal Deb in India, truly are my heroes and the reason that we do the work we do every day to shape the food system and ensure they have a seat at the table.