Leaders at Summit of Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture Highlight Progress, Identify Future Needs
GOESAN, South Korea – Lush green mountains, farmed valleys, high standards of organic farming, hi-tech energy-efficient housing developments, decentralized renewables, solar roofed cycling paths, zero-waste food policies and strict closed-loop waste management schemes.
This is Goesan county, South Korea, home to Hansalim, one of the largest organic farming cooperatives in the world.
Hansalim nourishes 1.6 million people and employs over five thousand farmers. A multi-million-dollar organic hub managed entirely by women, Hansalim is a buzzing social enterprise that has inspired the organic movement worldwide.
It’s here that Regeneration International took part in the 5th Summit of the Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture +4 (continents), the first intercontinental summit on organic policy, organized in September by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) Asia.
The summit drew more than 200 local, regional and national policymakers from five continents who strive to address multiple crises in today’s food production systems, such as the widespread use of toxics and their impacts on public health.
The scene was set by His Excellency, Lee Cha Yong, mayor of Goesan County, the president of Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA) and Louise Luttikholt, executive eirector of IFOAM, who told the Summit: “We are facing changes so big that we can’t even imagine what the future holds for us.”
Outgoing IFOAM Vice President Frank Eyhorn, spoke to the Summit about “the coherent policies driving sustainability in agriculture.”
Eyhorn stressed the importance of agricultural policies and how they can do one of two things: perpetuate unsustainable practices and systems, or support the building of sustainability.
Eyhorn recommended focusing on policies that lift up mainstream systems by raising the bar of what is acceptable—in other words, by raising the minimum standard.
Andre Leu, international director of Regeneration International, IFOAM-ALGOA ambassador and former president of IFOAM Organic International, addressed the summit on why policy change is urgently needed.
Andre gave a reality check: Stopping emissions won’t be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. He reminded the audience of all the major cities in the world that will be affected by sea level rise: New York, Beijing, Lagos, Kolkata, London, Bangkok and many other megacities. This could, Andre said, cause mass forced migrations of unimaginable proportions that would result in full a breakdown of the rule of law.
Andre said we need to draw down and capture carbon fast. How? By implementing regenerative organic agricultural practices, which as the potential to draw down enough CO2 to prevent severe climate change.
Andre concluded that policy change is urgently needed to support a widespread transition to regenerative systems so that we don’t merely stop climate change, but instead reverse it.
Andre gave a second keynote address in which he explained that to implement policies aimed at regenerative development, consumers need to be fully on board, and they need to demand political action that scales up regenerative farming practices that restore the environment.
Andre said product labeling research shows the greatest pull for consumers is health. It is health that drives 95 percent of consumers to invest in buying organic. And this brings us to the need to focus on better communicating the health impacts of synthetic agrichemicals, food additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Andre went on to make a number of points, including:
- We have found no scientific evidence showing there is any safe level of pesticide use.
- Regulatory bodies test the main ingredients of agrichemicals but never perform tests on the petro-chemical additives that make agrichemicals more efficient—and more toxic.
- Independent studies have shown that these additives are hundreds of times more toxic than the chemicals’ original active ingredients. This is how big ag gets away with the use of these agrichemicals.
- The World Health Organisation has declared a global epidemic in non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease, all of which have become main causes of mortality in humans. And the increase in these diseases parallels increases in pesticide use.
- Independent studies have shown that lifetime exposure to the herbicide Roundup causes tumours, memory disorders, kidney damage, liver damage and hormonal dysfunctions in rats.
- There is no evidence whatsoever of any safe level of pesticide exposure for children. Out-testing on young rats shows they are vulnerable to the smallest amounts of exposure. In the U.S., babies are being born with as many as 232 chemicals in their placental cord. “Our children are being poisoned before they are even born. To me this is a crime,” Andre said. “The harm inflicted by pesticides is passed down through generations and everybody is concerned.”
To support these declarations, Nakhyun Choi, director of Environmentally Friendly Agriculture Department of the Ministry of Agriculture of South Korea gave a presentation that acknowledged the build-up of harmful agrichemicals in the human body and how babies that breast feed are particularly vulnerable, as these poisons find their way out of women’s bodies through breast milk.
In an interview after his presentation Choi said we know about bio-enrichment of the body—what goes in stays in. Therefore, by eating food sourced from conventional farming methods we all have an accumulation of harmful chemicals in our bodies. Toxic agrichemical accumulation can cause infertility, cancer and depression, Choi added.
Choi said research in Korea has shown that farmers who practice conventional farming using pesticides are 2.4 times more likely to have dementia as farmers who practice eco-friendly farming. Everything we eat in our lifetimes accumulates in our systems, Choi said, and it is important to protect consumers.
Choi went on to make a number of other points, including:
- The more contaminated food you eat, the more it will accumulate with the potential of creating serious health issues.
- Infertility and dementia are on the increase in Korea and represent serious issues for an aging Korean society.
- To solve some of these problems it is important to promote widespread eco-friendly agriculture and sound management of natural resources such as soil and water, and to increase biodiversity and sequester carbon.
- In Korea, only 4.9 percent of agriculture is eco-friendly and this is a big problem. The biggest demand for organics comes from school meals but we need for this to become more mainstream.
- The eco-friendly market in South Korea is worth about USD$1.1 billion, but this could significantly increase with the right policy measures in place.
- South Korea provides health food packages for pregnant women and is currently working hard to protect all citizens and future generations.
- Eco-friendly agriculture strategies and policies are needed and will be implemented in Korea.
This historic summit of local leaders also gave a worldview on some groundbreaking policies currently being developed at regional levels in developing nations where the so-called Green Revolution has wreaked havoc on soils and farmers’ well-being for decades.
Progress in the Mekong region of Vietnam includes:
- In 2019, Vietnam enacted its first organic agriculture law, which is supported by a farmer union of 10 million members.
- Neighboring Laos is working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to develop regional agroecological conversion programs for small-scale farmers, and Cambodia has become a leading example in Asia for scaling up agroecological policies and farming practices.
- Pierre Ferrand, FAO Agroecology Officer for the Asia Pacific, said FAO is developing an analytical framework, a tool to assess the multidimensional performance of agroecology at the farm level in the Mekong region that can be used to shape future local, regional and national policies.
On progress in Africa:
- David Amudavi, IFOAM world board member, explained the work of BIOVISION Africa Trust, of which he is director. BIOVISION Africa Trust is a branch of the Swiss organisation BIOVISION, whose founding father is the well-known Dr. Hans Herren, who is also cofounder of Regeneration International.
- Recently Biovision Africa Trust, in partnership with Regeneration International, organised the first conference of Agroecology for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a huge success, with more than 400 participants from all over the world.
- The Green Innovation centres that Biovision Africa Trust has been setting up with support from GIZ Germany, a German development aid agency, have given new life to agriculture extension in Africa. One of the great successes in 2019 was Uganda becoming the first country in Africa with an organic agriculture policy—a huge step for Africa, and it shows what is possible.
In an interview, Amudavi pointed out that policies are severely needed in Africa to protect human, animal and environmental health. He explained that most of the soils in Africa are dying due to the combined effects of chemically intensive agriculture and the climate emergency.
Amudavi hopes that Kenya, his homeland, might be the next African country to put forth an organic policy. A draft policy on organics is currently awaiting approval by parliament.
Other efforts in Africa are being made through the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative, which was created by African heads of state to gather knowledge from international organizations on improving agricultural systems.
The International Network of Eco-Regions (INNER) also participated in the IFOAM summit. Led by Salvatore Basile, INNER works with regions all over Europe where farmers, consumers and local governments have an agreement on the sustainable management of their lands by having organic agroecological farming practices at the heart of their decisions. This includes 49 regions in Italy, 14 in Portugal, and many more in France, Tunisia, Germany, Slovenia and other countries.
One of the main highlights of the IFOAM summit was the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities, Cities and Provinces of the Philippines (LOAMCP). LOAMCP represents close to 200 local governments and is rapidly expanding. LOAMCP was a driving force in the creation of ALGOA. Regeneration International is currently working with LOAMCP to advise the organization on climate strategy and education around regenerative agriculture, and to promote LOAMCP’s initiatives around the globe. By the year 2022, LOAMCP hopes to certify 1.2 million hectares of organic agriculture.
Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. (With thanks to the cooperation of IFOAM Asia). To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.