Living Off the Fat of the Land—Not the Fat of the Lab

All of my life I have heard, and used, the expression “Living off of the Fat of the Land.”

To me, that expression means doing well from the excesses that come from what you have. It is kind of like living on the interest that is paid on your savings account.

The definition of the idiomatic phrase supports that meaning:

To live off the fat of the land means to live well, to live off the surrounding abundance. The term live off the fat of the land was first used in the King James Version of the Bible, translated 1611, Genesis 45:18: “And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.”

An ecosystem that is operating optimally results in an abundance, which is true wealth. This abundance occurs only when the carbon cycle, water cycle, mineral cycle, energy cycle, microbial cycle, and all of the myriad of other cycles are operating properly.

Food that is produced naturally in a good working ecosystem is good for you. It is what nature produces, and what we evolved to eat. It is the true Fat of the Land.

Sadly, industrial, centralized, commodity farming practices are very effective at breaking these natural cycles. Much of the food that we now eat is manufactured in a laboratory. I think of it as the Fat of the Lab.

We now make meat in laboratories through methods that come from reductionist science. We are told that this fat [and protein] of the lab are better for us than the fat [and protein] of the land.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown expressed how he thinks the meat market will be obsolete in 20 years.

“From a nutritional standpoint our products match the protein quality and content of the animal products that they replace” and “ours is a clear winner from a health and nutrition standpoint,” [Brown] said in a “Mad Money” interview.

“This is why I think people are increasingly aware plant-based products are going to completely replace the animal-based products in the food world within the next 15 years. That’s our mission. That transformation is inevitable,” he told host Jim Cramer.

What could possibly go wrong in these laboratories? Many scientific processes and technologies are invented through reductionist science. These scientific methods almost always have unintended consequences that go unnoticed, often, for decades.

Of course, there can be good consequences (like penicillin for example). But more often than not, what we may call a “scientific breakthrough” at the time can later be recognized and recalled for dangerous unintended consequences.

Think about the number of modifications that we tried to impose on natural cycles, only to find out the unintended consequences later: using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a refrigerant or in aerosol sprays that depleted the ozone, adding antibiotics in poultry and livestock feed that are growing antibiotic-resistant diseases, eliminating wolves from national parks that led to overpopulation and starvation.

Brown says that the transformation from meat to to plant-based products made in a lab is “inevitable”. To that I say:

• There is no natural cycle that creates fake meat.

• There is no regeneration of land when meat is made in a lab.

• Nor is there any reversal of the impoverishment of rural America that was caused by industrialized agriculture.

• There is nothing inevitable or permanent about creating a new manufacturing process, unknown to nature.

The Fat of the Lab is very new. The Fat of the Land has been under testing for a really long time. In our family, we’ve been living and eating The Fat of our Land since 1866. I trust cows and hogs a Helluva lot more than I trust chemists and marketers.

Wall Street and Silicon Valley will lie to you. Livestock don’t lie. CEO’S are self-serving. Cows are sincere.

Will Harris, owner of White Oaks Pastures Farm in Bluffton, Georgia, is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher. Harris is a co-chair of the national coalition of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

Perspectives from Chad, Africa: COVID-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge

REPUBLIC OF CHAD, Africa – While COVID-19 has forced most of the world into lockdown, we are fortunate to report that our “Trails of Regeneration” video series is alive and well. Over the last few months we’ve focused on reporting the effects of the pandemic on farmers and ranchers and indigenous peoples from around the world. 

In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, “Perspectives from Chad, Africa: Covid-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge,” we proudly feature Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an award-winning environmental activist and indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad, which practices nomadic cattle herding.

Ibrahim is an expert in adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples and women in relation to climate change, traditional knowledge and the adaptation of pastoralists in Africa. She is founder and coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which works to empower indigenous voices and improve quality of life by creating economic opportunities and protecting the natural resources to which pastoralist communities depend on.

Ibrahim was recently named Emerging Explorer 2017 by National Geographic. She has worked on the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment through the three Rio Conventions—on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification—which originated out of the 1992 Earth Summit. 

The Mbororo pastoralist community reside near Lake Chad, located in the far west of Chad and the northeast of Nigeria. It was once Africa’s largest water reservoir in the Sahel region, spanning 26,000 kilometers. However, the lake has continued to shrink over time and is now thought to be one-fifth of its original size. 

Experts say climate change, population growth and inefficient damming and irrigation systems are to blame. The loss of water in Lake Chad is having serious adverse effects on communities, such as the Mbororo people, who are forced to migrate greater distances in search of water and green pastures. 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Ibrahim explained that in one year, the Mbororo people can travel up to a thousand kilometers and beyond, relying solely on nature and rainfall. Ibrahim told us:

“Nature is our main health, food and education system. It represents everything for us. In our culture, men and women depend equally on nature in their daily activities. The men herd the cattle towards water and pastures, while the women collect firewood, food and drinking water for the community. This provides a socially strong gender balance to our community.”

However, the degradation of natural resources is threatening these traditions, leading to human conflicts, particularly between farmers and pastoralists whose cattle sometimes roam onto nearby cropland and cause damage. These conflicts have forced Mbororo men to urban areas in search of a new line of work. Sometimes they don’t return, and the women, children and elderly are left behind to fend for themselves, Ibrahim told us.

In an effort to preserve the Mbororo’s nomadic way of life, and to help resolve conflicts between farmers and herders, Ibrahim established a project in 2012 with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The project uses indigenous knowledge and 3D mapping technology to map Chad’s Sagel region, home to 250,000 Mbororo people. 

Through its 3D maps, the project brings together rival farmers and pastoralists to collaboratively draw lines of land ownership and reach agreements on grazing pathways and corridors. The work has helped farmers and pastoralists agree on land boundaries, as well as established a calendaring system to coordinate grazing patterns with the harvesting of crops. 

The result is a win-win solution where cattle fertilize and enrich the land through purposeful grazing. This prevents crop damage and helps to mitigate climate change. According to Ibrahim:

“When we experience climate change, we use our nomadic way of life as a solution. When we go from one place to another, resting two or three days per location, the dung from our cattle fertilizes the land and helps the ecosystem regenerate naturally.

“Our traditional knowledge is based on the observation of nature which is the common denominator of all the traditional indigenous knowledge around the world. We live in harmony with biodiversity because we observe insects that give us information on the health of an ecosystem.

“We look at bird migration patterns to predict the weather and we learn from the behavior of our animals who communicate a lot of information. We look at the wind. When the wind transports a lot of particulates from nature during the dry season, we know that we are going to have a good rainy season. This is free information we use to help balance community and ecosystem health and adapt to climate change.”

Ibrahim believes that events such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, are nature’s way of letting us know she is mad because we are mistreating her. In order to heal the planet, we must listen to our wisdom and respect nature, she says.

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

‘Carbon Farming’ Could Make US Agriculture Truly Green

ON A FARM in north-central Indiana, Brent Bible raises 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans that go into producing ethanol fuel, food additives and seeds. In Napa Valley, California, Kristin Belair picks the best grapes from 50 acres of vineyards to create high-end cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc wines. Both are part of a growing number of “carbon farmers” who are reducing planet-warming greenhouse gases by taking better care of the soil that sustains their farms. That means making changes like plowing fields less often, covering soil with composted mulch and year-round cover crops, and turning drainage ditches into rows of trees.

Now Congress is considering legislation that would make these green practices eligible for a growing international carbon trading marketplace that would also reward farmers with cash.

This morning, Bible is scheduled to testify at a Capitol Hill hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee that is considering the carbon farming legislation.

KEEP READING ON WIRED

Regenerative Products Just Might Save the Planet – and the Economy

With the help of science, we’ve come to understand our impact on the planet that is our home. With each item we produce, building we construct, forest we cut down, acre we plow, and journey we make — enabled by resources we derive from our planet’s prehistoric past — we do small amounts of harm to the fragile balance of nature that sustains life. As we’ve replicated our capabilities and developed our ability to scale, those tiny harms have multiplied to the point that the cumulative damage now threatens our planetary life-support system.

Efforts to address this situation have so far consisted of denial, modest efficiency improvements, recycling, and, in some cases, the substitution of products less harmful than their predecessors. But these well-intentioned actions are not nearly enough to stop, let alone reverse, the effects of global climate change. What we need is a way to rewind the ecological tape — a regenerative approach — and the leadership to make it happen.

KEEP READING ON STRATEGY – BUSINESS

Carbon Cowboys Versus CAFOs

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many fragile industries to the breaking point and highlighted systemic problems in others, including the industrialized, centralized food system in the U.S. Major meat processing plants have emerged as hotspots for transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Prior to the Defense Production Act, which compels meat plants to stay open in order to protect the functioning of the U.S. meat and poultry supply chain, being invoked in April 2020, many were forced to shut down. As threats of meat shortages emerged, farmers were faced with the grim prospect of killing thousands of food animals just because they had nowhere to send them to be processed.

The system created to serve concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has cracked during the pandemic, putting U.S. food supplies in jeopardy. Meanwhile, so-called “carbon cowboys” — those who have embraced an alternative method of food production that works with nature instead of against it — not only are surviving the upheaval but thriving, all while providing nutritious food to their communities.

‘Carbon Cowboys’ Persevere, Thrive During Pandemic

The dichotomy between CAFOs and carbon cowboys could not be more stark, with CAFOs that control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry largely reliant on a limited number of large processing plants. “The coronavirus is showing how food supply has become too centralized, especially for meat processing,” Peter Byck, an Arizona State University professor, told Fox News.

Byck directed a 10-part documentary titled “Carbon Cowboys,” following farmers who use regenerative grazing techniques, allowing them to largely avoid chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other pitfalls of industrial farming while building carbon-rich soil that increases crop health and livestock yields.

“We could use a lot more mid-level meat processing plants, all around the country. So, if one plant went down, there would be others to pick up the slack. It’s one of the reasons the farmers in the film are often making so much more money — because they’ve created their own supply chain and selling direct to customers,” Byck said.

Indeed, regenerative farmers who sell their products directly to consumers and rely on small processing plants are not facing the hardships that CAFOs are seeing. While meat from small, custom slaughterhouses is not permitted to be sold to grocery stores, schools or restaurants, it can be sold directly to customers who have purchased an entire animal prior to slaughter through a share program, as well as via local farmers markets.

Allen Williams, a sixth-generation farmer and chief ranching officer for Joyce Farms, is one of the carbon cowboys featured in the film. He cited a 400% to 1,200% increase in demand for regenerative producers, and though the film has been in the works for six years, the farmers it features stated they’re seeing a three- to 10fold increase in demand compared to last year, thanks to their ability to market directly to consumers.

Will Harris III, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, also cited the need for smaller, decentralized processing facilities to free up the bottleneck that’s placing a hardship on so many farmers. By creating “at least one medium-sized plant in every state,” food that currently travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers would only need to travel 100 or 200 miles. This, he says, is key to transforming the U.S. food system:

“We have to build out additional capacity. We need processing of the middle. We don’t need a lot more mom-and-pop processors. We need processing facilities with 100-500 per day capacity to start …

With more processors, more farms can transform and thus grow small businesses and the rural economy. These communities that are dead and boarded up will come to life and rural economies will surge. The country’s economy surges when small businesses and communities thrive.”


Meat Prices May Rise as Plants’ Poor Conditions Spread Virus

Tyson, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Cargill Inc. control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry, processing it in a handful of centralized mega-processing plants. The plants are notorious for their poor working conditions even under ordinary circumstances, but in the midst of a pandemic, the elbow-to-elbow spacing and fast line speeds have made the low-paying job even more hazardous.

It’s unknown just how many COVID-19 infections have occurred among the more than 500,000 workers employed by the approximately 7,600 slaughter and processing facilities in North America, but internationally it’s suggested that more than 10,000 meat workers have been infected while at least 30 have died as a result. The cases aren’t confined to inside the processing plants but, rather, are spreading to the community.

An analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that counties with meatpacking plants, or within a 15-mile radius, reported 373 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, which is close to double the U.S. average of 199 cases per 100,000.

To slow the spread of infection, some plants have slowed production to adhere to social distancing measures, while others have installed barriers between workers and in common areas. Other processing plants are ramping up efforts to automate the process, accelerating plans that have been in the works since long before the pandemic.

“You are going to see a bifurcation where the larger, more profitable facilities are going to move toward a vastly more automated meat processing facility,” Decker Walker, an agribusiness expert at Boston Consulting Group, told the Longview News-Journal. “Incentives for automation have never been higher.” Ultimately, consumers will pay for the changes being implemented throughout the industry.

Sanchoy Das, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, predicted that reduced capacity at processing plants, along with the distribution of protective equipment, could drive up conventional chicken prices by 25% to 30%, adding, “The 99-cents per pound chicken could be in short supply very quickly.”

Is Big Meat Really Cheap?

The increase in meat prices, as well as the increased demand for higher priced niche meats like heritage pork and grass fed beef, is also highlighting a socioeconomic divide in the U.S. While some grocery outlets are running out of supplies of low-priced CAFO meat, demand has ramped up for specialty meat products, for those who have the income to support it.

However, as the processing facilities spread disease and necessitate shutdowns, we’re now seeing the high price that is ultimately paid for the convenience of cheap meat, whereas regenerative farming, while often producing a higher-priced product, remains able to supply food to local communities, without the environmental destruction and disease outbreaks caused by industrial agriculture. As Bloomberg reported:

“The virus has had limited impact on the output of specialty meats for some of the same reasons those products are more expensive. The plants aren’t run on huge economies-of-scale, where hundreds of workers are jammed into elbow-to-elbow working conditions processing thousands of animals each day.

Instead, livestock are raised on organic feed and pastures and then processed in relatively tiny plants or local butcher shops. It’s small-scale production, which means social distancing is easier and companies can more readily enforce sanitary precautions. Even if one plant goes down, it only accounts for a small fraction of supply, and the larger chain isn’t broken.”

Meanwhile, prices for specialty meat are holding steady while conventional meat prices have risen sharply in recent months. The price for conventional ground chuck, for instance, increased by 57% compared to a year ago, according to USDA data.

Ultimately, if demand for grass fed meat increases, and processing facilities are available to distribute it, it can become more accessible for all. And, it’s important to remember that real costs come with Big Ag’s “cheap meat.” The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), in fact, has sued pork giant Smithfield Foods for claiming its products are the safest U.S. pork products.

“Consumers are unlikely to know that the USDA has notified Smithfield slaughter plants on multiple occasions that their pork was more likely to be contaminated with salmonella than similar products in slaughter plants of the same size,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA co-founder and director.

“Failure to report these notifications to consumers is one thing. But claiming that its products are the ‘safest’ possible pork products in the U.S. is a blatant misrepresentation of the brand’s actual safety record,” Cummins said. “The current heightened consumer concern about safety in the meat industry is all the more reason to hold Smithfield accountable for false safety claims.”

The conditions in which cheap meat is raised and processed are the same that have been found to contribute to antibiotic-resistant disease as well as the emergence of diseases that may be transmitted from animals to humans, a high cost for all of humanity.

Food System Is Changing, Is Reform Coming?

The pandemic started with Americans hoarding food and has triggered a newfound, or perhaps old-fashioned, trend to cook more meals at home. The return to home-cooked meals has been a boon to meal kit companies, which have cashed in on Americans’ desire to eat at home and have their groceries delivered while they’re at it.

Meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron noted a 27% increase in demand in late March and early April 2020, while online food retailer Thrive Market cited two distinct waves of increased demand — the first for certain products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer and the second from those seeking to replicate their normal grocery shopping online. Many of these changes are likely to remain even post-pandemic.

“People are more confident in the kitchen than they used to be before, and more than half of them intend to cook at home more than they did before Covid-19, even as things start to settle down,” Blue Apron’s chief executive Linda Findley Kozlowski told The New York Times. Still, as Americans’ desire for fresh, safe and readily accessible food has peaked, many small farmers are struggling.

With restaurants and farmers markets closed, small farmers have lost steady customers. Many have pivoted and have begun supplying produce boxes directly to consumers, but such changes are labor intensive and farmers may not be able to keep up with the demand. In a survey of small farmers, between 30% and 40% predicted they could be bankrupt by the end of 2020.

Representative Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is among those calling for reform and suggesting that the pandemic is providing a unique opportunity for change:

“As the owner of a small farm, I’m frequently amazed at how little Washington understands the work that goes into putting food on our plates, but coronavirus has made it impossible to ignore the labor of grocery store employees, farmers, processors and food producers. Our nation is collectively acknowledging what’s always been true: Those who grow, sell and serve our food are essential workers, and we should treat them as such.”

In addition to calling for an essential workers’ bill of rights that would provide benefits to essential workers in the food system, and expanding access to locally produced food for food banks and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries, a key part of the change should be making locally raised livestock processing more widely available.

Under current government regulations, the USDA, not individual states, has control over how meat is processed, and small farmers must send animals to be processed at a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, which may be hundreds of miles away. The state of Maine, for instance, has only one USDA poultry plant in the state.

The PRIME Act Is More Important Than Ever

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act would allow farmers to sell meat processed at smaller slaughtering facilities and allow states to set their own meat processing standards. Because small slaughterhouses do not have an inspector on staff — a requirement that only large facilities can easily fulfill — they’re banned from selling their meat. The PRIME Act would lift this regulation without sacrificing safety.

“The PRIME Act would change federal regulations to make it easier to process meat locally, helping small farmers stay afloat during this economic crisis while simultaneously keeping food on our plates,” Pingree said. “This bill would shift more safety oversight to states, some of which already have equally rigorous inspection practices, and break down barriers for small farms looking to sell their product.”

The solution to food reform is not, as some lab-grown meat companies would like you to believe, to create a fake meat industry without animals — that is big technology’s ultraprocessed dream.

Replacing farms and livestock with chemistry labs is not the “environmentally friendly” alternative envisioned by biotech startups and its chemists. The long-term answer actually lies in the transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, and making the sustainably-grown foods produced by small farmers accessible to all.

Reposted with permission from Mercola

Native Plants Sequester Carbon in the Soil for Longer

Exotic plant species release 150 percent more carbon dioxide from the soil than native New Zealand plants, according to a new study from the Bio-Protection Research Centre published in Science.

The research is the latest development in an extended scientific debate over whether to prioritise planting native or exotic species to increase biodiversity and fight climate change.

While it doesn’t upset the longstanding scientific consensus that faster-growing plants sequester more carbon – and that exotic species planted outside their usual range will grow faster – the study does complicate the picture of the carbon cycle.

Carbon cycling and the soil

So what is the carbon cycle and how does CO2 get into the soil in the first place?

“It’s really important to think of it as a cycle,” the study’s lead author Dr Lauren Waller told Newsroom. Waller is a researcher at Lincoln University and a postdoctoral fellow at the Bio-Protection Research Centre.

While most people understand that plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they don’t always realise what happens next.

KEEP READING ON NEWSROOM

A Vision for the Social and Ecological Regeneration of Mexico City’s Xochimilco Wetlands

By Mayra Rubio Lozano

MEXICO CITY – Xochimilco is a city south of Mexico City best known for its canals. The area’s wetlands,  recognized for their important biological and cultural value, are why Xochimilco is named as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO) and Site of Agricultural Importance (FAO). 

Humedalia is a Mexican organization that works for the conservation and restoration of the Mexican wetlands. It is part of the Regeneration International partner network and as such, has applied for the Scientific and Technical committee evaluation program of the 4 per 1000 initiative

Humedalia’s work focuses on the chinampas of Xochimilco. (Chinampas refers to a system of growing crops in floating gardens created in shallow lake beds, using farming techniques developed by the Aztecs).

Agricultural production in chinampas, or islands of arable land, started over 800 years ago.  When the first tribes that settled in the Mexico basin, they were able to produce 4t/ha of crops. These high yields allowed the development of big urban settlements, such as what we have today in Mexico City. These cities generated a big demand for water resources, and ultimately led to the transfer of agriculture to urban soil.

Today, Xochimilco’s wetland and its landscape of chinampas retain only 2 percent of the fresh water that was originally in the basin. This agricultural landscape is highly threatened by processes linked to urbanization and the devaluation of the farmers’ labor. About  80 percent of the chinampas are abandoned, and water pollution has deteriorated the soil’s fertility. The few agricultural producers that remain face steep competition and low profits, because the intensive agricultural model, mostly subsidized, has forced these producers to lower the prices.

Despite the negative impact of urbanization, Xochimilco’s wetlands remain vital for Mexico City. They provide multiple environmental benefits, such as microclimate regulation, water catchment and recharge of the groundwater reserves, oxygen and food production, nutrient recycling and carbon sequestration. In a city where air pollution levels usually exceed healthy standards, carbon sequestration is fundamental for the city’s resilience. Wetlands sequester large amounts of carbon (0.4-32 Mg ha-1 year-1) in their sediments because of their anaerobic conditions, which slow the rate of decay of organic matter, facilitating carbon accumulation. In turn, carbon sequestration can be optimized by using traditional farming techniques (sustainable) in the chinampas in combination with new organic farming techniques, such as the biointensive method. 

This project seeks to increase carbon sequestration through a water-soil systemic approach. By restoring canals and rehabilitating hectares of idle land, the quality of the water available for watering will improve, and the chinampas’ soil will be regenerated, leading to an increase in the amount of the ecosystem’s carbon sequestration.

The project also will contribute to the local endemic flora and fauna’s habitat protection, such as the axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum, a type of salamander known as the Mexican walking fish. Protecting local flora and fauna will help restore the cultural identity linked to ancestral agriculture that survives in the hands of traditional farmers.

This project for regenerating the chinampas soil (rehabilitation, growing and maintenance) will provide the local community opportunities to increase family income and engage multiple generations, creating a space for the exchange of knowledge and experiences about ancestral farming techniques. Women and children who typically don’t participate directly in food production can become involved in marketing, sales and processing. 

In turn, regenerated chinampas will produce healthier foods. 

As part of the Regeneration International partner network, and applying for the 4 per 1000 initiative, Humedalia project helps improve socio-ecological conditions of Xochimilco’s wetland. Carbon sequestration will have a positive direct impact on the air quality of one of the most polluted cities in the world. But the project will also focus on the social aspect, improving the wellbeing of the community by generating self-employment at the chinampas, and creating the right conditions for social participation through collaborative networks that strengthen the community. 

Mayra Rubio Lozano is director of scientific research and sustainable development for Humedalia A.C. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

 

How Colombia’s Small Farmers Contribute to Resilience and Food Sovereignty in Post-Conflict and COVID-19 Pandemic Times

By Ana Prada

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – In his book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed“, Jared Diamond analyzes why certain societies prevail and others collapse, and explains how the decline of some, such as the Mayan and the Easter Island civilizations, resulted from the  mismanagement of nature. 

Indeed, the way societies manage their natural resources largely defines their future, according to Diamond.  The abundance of resources and successful adaptation to climate change, together with the correct decision-making by a society’s leaders, are some of the factors that determine a society’s ability to survive over time.

Conversely, the abuse of environmental resources and exploitative agricultural production systems can lead a society to collapse.

Socio-environmental conflicts are not foreign to the Colombian reality. The unequal distribution of land and territory has given rise to Colombian armed conflict. The socio-environmental confrontations in Colombia date back to the time of the Spanish conquest.  However, the trigger for the armed conflict occurred in 1948, with the assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. 

In 1948, the country was ruled by conservatives and landowners, and was totally polarized between extreme poverty and wealth. Thus, one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent world history was born. It was not until 2016 that the Peace Agreements were signed between the National Government and the extinct guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Initially, the guerrillas were driven by political ideals. But later, toward the end of the 1970s, with the arrival and subsequent consolidation of drug trafficking, the conflict became a business matter. The search for concentration of land by the various sides left the Colombian small farmers in the middle, and on the losing end. 

Yet despite being politically marginalized, culturally undervalued and economically excluded, and despite experiencing greater difficulty accessing land than any other social group in the country, small farmers, who represent 30 percent of the country’s total population, produce 70 percent of the food consumed in the country. 

In addition, this disadvantaged but industrious population reminds those of us who live in cities of the value of having roots in our land and territory, and cherishing our identity.

Small-scale agriculture has taught Colombians about resilience and innovation. On less than one hectare, small farmers manage to feed themselves, create surpluses to sell and learn about the diverse Colombian soils and ecosystems through trial and error.  And despite being displaced because of the armed conflict, it has been small farmers who have opened the agricultural border in the country, and started their lives from scratch, in the country with the greatest internal displacement in the world—worse even than Syria.

In the value chains of the drug trafficking industry, small farmers have become the first link. Indeed, it is the most vulnerable link in a chain characterized by the predominance of activities that leave Colombia with nothing but social burdens: land concentration, idle lands ownership, diminished productivity and at-risk national food sovereignty and autonomy.

In the Peace Agreements, small farmers are recognized as victims of the armed conflict. A political framework to reduce the gaps between the countryside and the city was designed, guaranteeing the small farmers the right to political and economic participation and decision-making regarding the future of their territories. 

In points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreements, Comprehensive Rural Reform and Comprehensive Solution to the Drug Problem respectively, multiple political and legal instruments were created. These include the land fund for Comprehensive Rural Reform, the multipurpose cadaster; Development Plans with a Territorial Approach; and Comprehensive Nations Plans for Substitution, among others. 

Although the implementation of these political and legal instruments has been slow, they have become novel tools to rethink small farmers as a strategic actor in the territorial planning to restore peace, the conservation of the territories and the guarantee of security, sovereignty and food autonomy.

In 2013, there was a national agrarian strike in Colombia, supported by the main farmers’ organizations, as well as workers from other areas, which over time managed to get the recognition of the citizens. Since then, Colombians who live in cities have shown growing empathy towards the small farmers’ movement, appreciating the producers of the food they have on their plates daily, as well as the need to rethink and re-territorialize cities to stop the growing trend of food deserts, which put at risk the right to food, especially for the most vulnerable. These transformations have become more necessary than ever in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a country whose rulers have lacked the gallantry to guarantee its citizens the right to food, and to preserve the country’s rich biocultural diversity. They have succumbed to globalization and progress in the short term, at the expense of resources that give us life. 

In these days of covid-19, we ​​have witnessed two trends that are two sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, we see citizens who increasingly demand healthy, local and sustainable food, and who are more willing to consume food from small farmers, family and community agriculture. 

On the other hand, small farmers continue to face the traditional challenges of the agricultural Colombia: the appalling road and telecommunications infrastructure, the persistence of the armed conflict, the murder of social leaders, insufficient healthcare system that increases the risk of infection and death due to the epidemic, price speculation and misinformation, among many other challenges.

Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, the creation and strengthening of collaborative networks between the territories, the building of close relationships between producers and consumers, the possibility of resuming peace dialogues between the National Government and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate food distribution and the consolidation of small farmers and/or agro-ecological markets as viable and secure supply alternatives, even in times of epidemic.

The reader may be wondering, how can I put my grain of sand? It is very simple, buy local! Buy from small farmers, family and community agriculture! Go back to the farmers markets, go to meet the producer so you give him your vote of confidence to stay in the territory feeding hope to the country.

In Colombia, The National Network of Family Farming (RENAF) leads the national campaign “Yo llevo el campo Colombiano (I carry the Colombian countryside) that seeks to make visible the farmers markets that exist throughout the country.

By eating local and seasonal food lime the uchuva or the curuba, and supporting the small farmers, Colombians can put their grain of sand in the construction of peace in Colombia.

About 3Colibrís

We are an organization that contributes to the strengthening of marketing and logistics of products from small farmers, family and community and/or agroecological agriculture in Latin America. We work for the construction of sustainable farming that’s connected to the cities in Colombia and Latin America. We seek out and involve producers of healthy food and agro-ecological products so consumers have easier access to these foods. We visit and guide food producers to improve their marketing channels and ensure that we work with ethical and responsible organizations.

Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís and a business administrator and sociologist from the Javeriana University of Bogotá, apprentice for the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at the University of Uppsala and the International Course on Food Systems at the University of Wageningen. She has worked for Colombian Caritas in the implementation of “Article One” of the Peace Agreements, and on projects for UNDP, UNFAO, EU and the Suyusama Foundation. 

To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.

KEEP READING ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NEWS

Regenerative Agriculture Could Save the Planet. Why Doesn’t Everyone Know About It?

Food giant General Mills recently announced that the company is set to partner with farmers to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. The company committed to the idea after researching information about Will Harris’ cattle ranch in Georgia. His ranch, White Oak Pastures, uses targeted agricultural methods that have turned the land into a carbon sink, absorbing the majority of emissions caused by the beef production.

The Climate Reality Project explains that “regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.”

In North Dakota, rancher and farmer Gabe Brown has helped lead this agricultural movement.

KEEP READING ON THE ORGANIZATION FOR WORLD PEACE