On Golden Ground: Regeneration International Partners with Myanmar Project to Help Farmers Go Chemical-Free

SHAN STATE, Myanmar – In 2018, I went to Myanmar on a public relations assignment to document a test project for a drone prototype that shoots out mangrove seed pods. Little did know then that this assignment would lead me to discover heart-wrenching stories of farmers being exposed daily, without any protective clothing, to highly toxic unregulated chemicals—a trend that is being documented all across Asia, particularly in countries bordering China, where most of these chemicals originate.

The story began while I was working on my assignment’s communication campaign at my partner’s office in Yangon, Myanmar. There I picked up a book titled “Organic Farmers Handbook.” Written in Burmese, this farmer’s manual is rich in photos and even cartoons that explain how to avert the risks of conventional farming by using free, readily available inputs found in organic materials, how to implement different composting techniques and how to design cropping combinations.

The “Organic Farmers Handbook” of Myanmar has published five editions and sold 5,000 copies through Golden Ground, one of the country’s few organic training centers. Golden Ground, founded in 2014, is led by Hlay Myint, who wrote and published the comprehensive guide.

As I was leafing through the pages with avid interest, a voice from the back of the office said: “It is because of these dangerous chemicals.”

The voice belonged to a local woman working for the NGO involved with the drone project.

“What dangerous chemicals,” I asked?

“They come from Thailand, I think.”

“So, there are farmers now converting to organic because of health risks?” I asked.

Yes, she said.

“Would you like to be introduced to Mr. Hla Myint, the founder of Golden Ground?” she asked.

“Yes” I said, “I would be very interested to meet him.”

“He will be here tomorrow,” the woman said. “We supported his training center a while ago.”

The next day, a humble gentleman arrived wearing a Loungyi, a traditional Myanmar male dress, and chewing betel nut, a kind of palm nut many people consume like chewing tobacco in some parts of Asia.

I introduced myself as working with Regeneration International and the Organic Consumers Association and expressed my interest in his work helping farmers.

He seemed in a hurry, on a swift visit to pick up some papers. Yes, you must come, he said. He gave me his phone number. “I must go now or I will miss my bus to go to Taunggyi Shan State, where the Golden Ground is.”

“Before you leave,” I said, “I hear that you are helping farmers move away from toxic agrochemicals.” He laughed. “Yes,” he said, “hundreds! Across ten villages already!”

“You must come, you must come,” he said, while swiftly moving on to catch his 10-hour bus.

I was intrigued. My guts were urging to go meet the people in the 10 villages and create media about farmers transitioning away from harmful practices in a remote region most of the world never hears about.

Shan State is known for being a conflict zone and is the largest opium- and methamphetamine-producing region in the world. The kind of place that invalidates insurance coverage, I thought to myself. But luckily those stories only happen up in the northern territories, quite a distance away from Golden Ground. Most of Shan State actually represents a breadbasket for the country, with hectares upon hectares of agricultural land producing, among other things, corn, coffee, tea, pulses, ginger and vineyards—yes, they have good wine.

So, I decided to visit Shan State and meet with Mr. Hla Myint. But I was not alone—my Burmese partner, Hsu Zin, was with me. I met Hsu in Yangon, thanks to a social media thread on my work. Hsu was coordinating the British Council’s social enterprise program for Myanmar and had lived and studied in London. We had naturally clicked, first becoming best friends then soon afterward, to my great fortune, partners. We had discovered a common passion for education, organic farming and quite a few other things.

Hsu was delighted when I asked if she would be interested in visiting Golden Ground and helping to translate discussions with rural community members.

So we both headed up to Shan State to meet Hla Myint and visit the Golden Ground training center.

We were greeted first at the training center by one of Hla Myint’s colleagues, who drove us to meet Hla Myint in one of their potato, pulses and ginger fields.

Hla Myint is a busy man. He teaches week-long courses to dozens of farmers and also provides follow-ups on the land of his newly qualified trainees, to ensure their transition periods happen smoothly. So we didn’t waste any time. We asked if we could interview him about what he does, and why.

“Farmers here get duped,” Hla Myint said. “First they are promised high productivity, but instead they become sick and fall into debt. We are just a few miles from China, where unregulated chemicals that are very detrimental to farmers’ health are smuggled across the border from China. We have seen cancers, miscarriages and birth defects in children—all believed to have been caused by use of the unregulated chemicals.”

Many farmers buy these products because they are 10 times cheaper than chemicals regulated by the Myanmar government. And the farmers don’t follow any of the dosage directions. We have even seen people use their bare arms to mix dangerous cocktails of highly toxic herbicides and pesticides. So, we promote organic farming practices to help change some of these practices.

Can we meet some of the farmers you work with, I asked?

Hla made a few phone calls and within a few minutes he said yes, there is a village nearby where we can meet people that have suffered from the effects of these poisons.

As we made our way from the potato field to Hla’s vehicle, Hla noticed some empty containers that had been dumped close to his land. His face became sad and confused. “Look at these,” he said. “Here are two plastic bottles with labels marked in Thai and Chinese. This is what we are dealing with. It’s everywhere. I am very worried that our fields have become contaminated without us knowing.”

When we arrived at the village we were greeted by a family of farmers. They invited us to have tea in their home, a humble wooden house with no windows, void of furniture and with just a few pictures on the walls.

The family kindly offered to cook rice for everyone, a form of hospitality that went straight to the heart. Having traveled to many remote places, I can’t help but notice how the biggest hearts and unconditional hospitality are always to be found with the poorest of people. They will always share the little they have (tea, rice, their unique piece of meat for that special day of the week) and never ask anything in return. It is their pleasure to welcome a stranger, especially if visitors have travelled far to honor them with their presence.

Here we met with Ma Mya, a 35-year-old farmer who had been working since the age of 11. Her smile was generous. It made us feel right at home. We sat down and she talked of her in-depth experience as a farmer. We never used to use chemicals, she said, but one day we were employed by rich landowners and they told us to use them. I instantly felt sick using them. They affected my vision, and I became very disoriented. I was unable to make the difference between men and women.

We then interviewed Maung Hla, her brother. The chemicals made him ill for three months. “At the beginning I worked normally,” Maung said, “but over time I started to feel dizzy until I experienced partial paralysis and was unable to work.”

Ma May and Maung Hla then brought us to meet their farmer trainer in a neighboring village who was working with her team on a large pulse plantation. They were busy harvesting, but she agreed to speak with us.

“Chemicals make the soil hard and degraded,” she said. “At the time of my father, we never needed to use chemicals. The day we started (using the chemicals), work became expensive, and when applied, these chemicals would burn our eyes and skin.”

Not wanting to take away any of the farmers’ precious harvest time, we thanked them for speaking to us and moved on with Hla Myint. “I want to take you to our offices and meet our team,” he said.

His office team were all young dynamic advocates for organics. They gave us a full presentation of their activities at the Golden Ground training center and the 10 villages. They then asked about regenerative agriculture. “We want to learn more. We are ready to train many more farmers!”

I then gave them a few examples of regenerative farming practices that would be of use to them, such as those of David Johnson Bioreactors and the Main Street Project. They asked whether Regeneration International could organize a workshop here one day. That was possible, I said.

Back in Yangon, I made a phone call to Andre Leu, international director of Regeneration International. Andre has a love affair with Shan State, as he was there in 1976 with Julia his wife. They met in northern Thailand in 1976 and went on an adventure to discover local varieties of fruit in Shan State. Andre and Julia then continued a lifelong journey and developed a prosperous tropical organic fruit farm and business in Australia.

Andre was very enthusiastic when I told him the whole story. I would be happy to return to Shan State and meet the farmers there, he said. A few months of coordination later, Andre, Julia, Hsu Zin and I returned to the Golden Ground training center. Golden Ground mobilized hundreds of farmers to attend a workshop led by Andre, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation also attended with dozens of students and some of their best agronomists.

Andre gave a one-day workshop on regenerative pest and weed management, and we produced this short video for Trails of Regeneration:

 

More on this story will come soon, along with a video release of the entire Golden Ground – Regeneration International workshop on regenerative pest and weed control.

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.

A Young Farmer’s Plea for a Green New Deal

We have come into farming at a terrible time. As I have written about before – very few people in farming make a living. But it is not just a bad year, or that sustainable farming is hard. It is that farming is not working in the US, as shown in the two graphs below.

And so, we are huge supporters of the “Green New Deal.” If you have not yet seen the “Letter from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers to Congress” about it, you should go check it out. And if you are a farmer or rancher – organic, conventional or somewhere in between – you should think about signing. I recorded my own two cents about it in a video (below). I think it is high time we made farming a viable career option in the US.

Listen to the Farmers

“If you want to know what creativity and courage look like in America, talk to a farmer . . . it is time we listen to them when they tell us that now is the time for creativity and courage and action.” – Rep. Jim McGovern, speaking at the launch of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal press conference, September 18, 2019

Last month, a United Nations report prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries warned of a looming global food crisis if we don’t hurry up and address global warming by ending the exploitation of the world’s land and water resources.

The solution, according to the experts? Change the way we produce food and manage land.

But how do we do that? When the biggest exploiters of our resources—the agribusiness and chemical giants—have access to a bottomless pit of money they can use to influence the people who write our food and farming policies?

We do it by building a grassroots lobbying force too powerful to be ignored.

And we do it by putting the farmers and ranchers who are ready to produce food and manage land regeneratively in the driver’s seat.

Help us keep up the momentum. Your donation today will help power a national coalition of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers who will fight for a healthier food and farming system.

Last week, five members of Congress, along with several farmers, and members of Regeneration International, the Sunrise Movement, Organic Consumers Association and other farmer-rancher organizations stood in front of the U.S. Capitol to announce the formation of the national coalition of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

Earlier that day, we delivered a letter, signed by more than 525 individual farmers and ranchers, and about 50 organizations representing more than 10,000 farmers and ranchers, asking Congress to support a Green New Deal for farmers and ranchers. 

The press conference in Washington, D.C. was just the start. Now the hard work begins.

Help us keep up the momentum. Your donation today will help power a national coalition of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers who will fight for a healthier food and farming system.

Call these farmers regenerative, organic, biodynamic, agroecological . . . whatever specific practices they’re using to restore soil health, keep your water clean, build strong local food systems, and produce pesticide-free nutrient-rich food, these are the farmers who care about the land and water and animals they manage.

These farmers and ranchers aren’t looking for handouts.

They just want Congress to stop spending billions of dollars to subsidize corporate polluters who produce contaminated food.

They want a level playing field.

In the coming months and year, the farmers and ranchers in this coalition will form a speakers bureau. They will fan out into their local communities, where they’ll talk to consumers, to other farmers, to local and state lawmakers.

They will build powerful alliances with environmental and social and economic justice organizations.

They will invite members of Congress out to their farms and ranches, to see for themselves how regenerative farming and grazing restores wildlife habitats and builds healthy soils that store carbon and capture and hold precious rainfall.

And they will travel to Washington to hold hearings on Capitol Hill, to personally meet with members of Congress, to lobby for laws that will empower them to be good stewards of the land, while also allowing them to make a decent living.

And every law these farmers and ranchers will lobby for, will be a law that benefits you.

If you value clean air, clean water and healthy food, if you care about the environment, if you care about social and economic justice, these farmers and ranchers will be working for you.

But they’ll need your help.

Help us keep up the momentum. Your donation today will help power a national coalition of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers who will fight for a healthier food and farming system.

The Inga Foundation: Changing Lives in a Revolutionary Way

Mike Hands of the Inga Foundation, a Regeneration International (RI) partner, works in Honduras with slash-and-burn farmers who average 20 acres (eight hectares) of land holdings. That’s considerably larger than most slash-and-burn farms, which Mike estimates are no bigger than five acres (two hectares). 

If you use that two-hectare figure as a benchmark, and multiply it by the 300 million slash-and-burn farms worldwide, you’ve got 1.5 billion acres. That’s a lot of slash-and-burn acreage—acreage that with better farming practices, could be turned into carbon-sequestering farms.

According to Hands, converting from slash and burn to the Inga Foundation’s Guama (Spanish for inga tree) farming method sequesters about 35 tons of carbon per acre per year over a 12-year period.

Multiply that by 1.5 billion acres, and if every slash-and-burn farm worldwide were to convert to the Inga Foundation’s Guama model, it could sequester as much as 52.5 billion tons (gigatons) of CO2 over a 12-year period.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one gigaton of carbon sequestration lowers atmospheric carbon levels by almost .5 parts per million. 

So, if all slash-and-burn farmers worldwide were to switch to the Inga Foundation’s Guama model, it would be enough to lower the world’s perilously high carbon level of 400 parts-per-million (ppm) by about 25 ppm, to about 375 ppm, bringing us that much closer to the level of 350 ppm that 350.org is calling for in order to stabilize the world’s climate. 

Clearly, the Inga Foundation is on to something.

The Guardian newspaper seems to think so. It ranked Mike Hands #44 on a list of the 100 most important people for saving the world—ahead of such luminaries as Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin and the Dalai Lama. That’s pretty heady company.

The Inga Foundation is active in Costa Rica, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and the U.K.. But the foundation’s biggest project is in Honduras, where it’s working with 300 family farmers. That’s a far cry from 250 million. But it’s a start. And it’s growing. 

When I spoke with Mike from his base in the U.K., he said Honduran farmers who have seen the crop yields of their Guama-employing neighbors are lining up to learn Guama techniques and to get Inga Foundation help with getting started—especially in the wake of a major 2016 storm that caused widespread flooding and literally washed away the farms of many non-Guama slash-and-burn farmers. 

Slash-and-burn farms tend to be on hillsides, often steep hillsides, where rough terrain, difficult access and vulnerability to washout makes the land less desirable and lessens competition for the land. All of these factors combine to offer at least some degree of protection from the large and expanding palm oil biofuel plantations that often use violence and even murder to displace farmers on the coastal plains of Honduras.

But those advantages come at a cost, and when Guama-employing farmers bounced back from the 2016 storm and a devastating drought that followed the storm, their neighbors took notice, and interest in the Inga Foundation’s methods spiked.

The Guama basics are not hugely complicated. You plant rows of Inga trees—which have extensive, shallow and fast-growing roots systems—between rows of crops, in a method known as alley cropping. This increases soil retention, especially in the face of challenges such as intense rain, droughts and hurricanes. Then you supplement soil nutrition with decomposing foliage of the Inga trees and with mineral supplements, most importantly rock phosphate—not regular, standard phosphate, which washes away much more quickly.

Slash-and-burn is hard on farmers because the land it clears loses soil nutrition so fast that farmers have to clear new lands every 5-7 years. That’s hard work. It disrupts families and family life. And the endless search for new lands to clear and cultivate brings farmers into sometimes violent conflict with other farmers, landowners and indigenous peoples.

Plus every time farmers slash and burn an hectare of land (2.5 acres), at least 100 tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere, according to Mike Hands. And right now the world is watching in horror as this process is being played out—and accelerating—in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia, particularly in Brazil, where the new far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro is turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, what is often land theft and subsequent illegal burning.

It’s a long way from the Inga Foundation’s 300 families to the global figure of 250 million slash-and-burn farmers. Not surprisingly, Hands says the biggest challenge to the Inga Foundation’s growth is funding. And government bureaucracies aren’t helping either. In Honduras, a Foundation shipment of 18,800 kilos of rock phosphate has been held up in customs since 2017. And the customs and storage fees keep rising, making eventual release of the rock phosphate less and less likely and further and further out of reach.

Despite all the challenges facing the Inga Foundation, Mike Hands is optimistic. “The Guama Model is changing lives and livelihoods in a revolutionary way,”Mike told me. “We estimate that families in our Land for Life Program have planted over 3 million trees since 2012.” 

That sounds like a pretty good start.

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal is a Game-Changer for Food & Farming

The scope of the challenge ahead of us shares similarities with the crisis faced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940s. Battling a world war on two fronts—both in the East and the West—the United States came together, and within three short years restructured the entire economy in order to win the war and defeat fascism. As president, Bernie Sanders will boldly embrace the moral imperative of addressing the climate crisis and act immediately to mobilize millions of people across the country in support of the Green New Deal… a wholesale transformation of our society, with support for frontline and vulnerable communities and massive investments in sustainable energy, energy efficiency, and a transformation of our transportation system… [and] our agricultural system to fight climate change, provide sustainable, local foods, and break the corporate stranglehold on farmers and ranchers… providing $200 billion to the Green Climate Fund, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and reasserting the United States’ leadership in the global fight against climate change… reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030—the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161 percent… [and] Investing in conservation and public lands to heal our soils, forests, and prairie lands…”. – from “The Green New Deal,” Bernie Sanders Campaign, August 22, 2019

Beyond the cesspool of the Trump administration and his fascist allies across the globe, powerful winds of rebellion and regeneration are gathering momentum.

This year will likely be remembered as the time when the U.S. and global grassroots finally began to acknowledge the terminal crisis posed by global warming. With the global scientific community finally dropping their customary caution and pointing out that the “end is near” in terms of irreversible climate change, the mass media, a significant number of global policymakers and hundreds of millions of ordinary people simultaneously began to wake up across the world.

Activist youth in America, led by the Sunrise Movement, supported by a group of radical insurgents in the U.S. Congress, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are leading the new resistance and calling for an end to business as usual—and a Green New Deal.

Ever since the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced in Congress in February, supported by more than100 members of Congress, millions of us have been waiting for a concrete plan of action. Contrary to the standard “go slow/small change” establishment message perpetuated by the mass media, a Yale University poll in April found that an overwhelming 93 percent of Democratic voters (and even a minority of Republicans) support an aggressive plan like the Green New Deal.

Finally, we have a true Declaration of War against fossil fuel pollution and global warming, a radical legislative program that can head off climate catastrophe and supercharge a just transition to a 21st Century Green Commonwealth—thanks to the Green New Deal plan laid out by Vermont Senator and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders.

Released on August 22, 2019, Bernie’s 67-page GND lays out a comprehensive $16.3-trillion package of policies and government-funded programs, as well as realistic projections on how these new programs will actually pay for themselves over the next 15 years.

The Green New Deal will pay for itself over time by creating massive new revenue streams through increasing employment and income tax revenue ($2.3 trillion) and through selling trillions of kilowatt hours of renewable solar and wind energy every year from new, expanded Federal Power Marketing Administrations ($6.4 trillion), patterned after our current federal hydropower program.

Meanwhile the GND will reduce federal government expenditures by slashing military spending ($1.2 trillion) and reducing government energy costs, among other benefits. Sanders’ plan also calls for “making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies… [reducing the] need for federal and state safety-net spending due to the creation of millions of good-paying, unionized jobs… [and] making the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share.” 

Bernie’s multi-trillion-dollar GND lays out a 10-year strategy to transform the U.S. energy and utilities sector, transitioning from our current levels of 17 percent renewables to 100 percent renewable energy between 2030-2050; creating 20 million well-paid green jobs; forging new foreign relations and cutting back military spending as part of a global cooperation with Russia, China, India, the EU and other nations; and implementing a trillion-dollar program of organic and regenerative (carbon-sequestering) food, farming and land use practices.

Sanders’ manifesto far exceeds what any of the other leading presidential candidates have so far dared to propose. Because Sanders’ GND is essentially a radical plan designed to address a radical societal and global emergency, it has, of course, already generated terabytes of criticism and ridicule from proponents of fossil fuels and “middle of the road, don’t go too fast” politicians and corporations.

Of course as Bernie constantly reminds us, we’ll never be able to implement a system-changing GND without a grassroots-powered ballot-box “political revolution,” starting with the 2020 election cycle and beyond, whereby we elect a pro-GND president and inspire, co-opt or cajole a majority in both the House and the Senate to get behind a GND.

Earlier this year, David Roberts, writing for Vox magazine pointed out the political realities of implementing a Green New Deal:

Here’s the only way any of this works: You develop a vision of politics that puts ordinary people at the center and gives them a tangible stake in the country’s future, a share in its enormous wealth and a role to play in its greater purpose. Then organize people around that vision and demand it from elected representatives. If elected representatives don’t push for it, make sure they get primaried or defeated. If you want bipartisanship, get it because politicians in purple districts and states are scared to cross you, not because you led them to the sweet light of reason.

Four major game-changers in Bernie’s GND

I could write a whole book on this topic, and in fact I have, “Grassroots Rising,” which will be published in January 2020 by Chelsea Green Publishing.

But for now, let’s look at four aspects of Bernie’s GND that make it different—and revolutionary.

No. 1: The GND is a U.S. and global Renewal and Regeneration plan on the scale of a World War II mobilization. The Sanders GND is the only plan in the industrialized world that sets a goal high enough to actually reverse global warming (with significant net negative emissions projected by 2030) and eliminate economic injustice, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health and global poverty and conflict at the same time.

The primary drivers of the plan include a green, high-wage, full-employment renewable energy economy complemented by an agricultural and land-management system with little or no use of fossil fuels and massive natural carbon drawdown and sequestration of excess atmospheric CO2 in our soils, forests and wetlands. This Great Transition will be financed by a multi-trillion-dollar infusion of public funds ($15.3 billion over 10 years) that can actually “net zero out” fossil fuel emissions in the short timeframe we have left (2019-2030) before our current climate crisis morphs into runaway global warming and climate catastrophe.

While Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbert, Marianne Williamson, and others have spoken out on the urgent need to solve the climate crisis, none have offered a comparable high-bar plan, nor dared to propose more than a few trillion dollars over the next decade to fix our Climate Emergency and societal breakdown.

No. 2: Bernie’s GND offers the first realistic assessment and timeline for what needs to be done in the limited timeframe we have left to avoid climate catastrophe, both nationally and internationally. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said shortly after she won her Congressional primary election in New York in 2018: “The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan… Half measures will not work… The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past.”  

Most politicians who acknowledge that there is indeed a climate crisis are still talking in rather vague terms about moving to domestic net-zero emissions by 2050, advocating domestic private and public funding in the billions of dollars, whereas Bernie is talking about trillions in public funds, including $200 billion to help the Global South decarbonize their economies and naturally sequester billions of tons of atmospheric carbon through reforestation and regenerative agriculture.

By allocating massive resources both nationally and internationally, the GND will reduce the U.S. carbon footprint (which includes both the emissions released within our borders and the emissions released overseas to supply us with resources, imports and consumer products) by “the total equivalent of… 161 percent” within a decade. As the Sanders GND emphasizes, we need drastic changes in our foreign policy as well as our domestic policy:

As president, Bernie will provide strong, inclusive American leadership to not only transform our own energy system, but to reach out to countries all over the world and cooperate on the global crisis of climate change. We must recognize that people from every country in the world — Russia, India, China, Japan, Brazil — are all in this together. Instead of accepting that the world’s countries will spend $1.5 trillion annually on weapons of destruction, Bernie will convene global leaders to redirect our priorities to confront our shared enemy: climate change.

No. 3: Focusing on, and providing $841 billion in program money to transform our climate-destructive, corporate/monopoly-controlled, factory-farm food and farming system into an equitable family farm-based, regenerative system of farming and ranching. Bernie’s GND will provide the funding and resources to revitalize rural America and draw down billions of tons of excess CO2 and store it in our soils and pastures, while simultaneously improving food quality, public health, rural livelihoods and quality of life.

Among the unprecedented food, farming and land use components of the GND are:

• $410 billion for farmers and ranchers, including first-time, indigenous, minority and disadvantaged farmers, to avoid or make the transition from chemical, energy-intensive, factory farm methods to “ecologically regenerative,” climate-friendly practices

• $160 billion in payments to farmers and ranchers to sequester and increase soil carbon

• $25 billion for farmland conservation

• $1.25 billion for tribal land access and acquisition

• $1.4 billion in new research and development

• $1.4 billion for renewable energy on farms

• $36 billion to establish a “victory lawns and gardens initiative” to help urban, rural and suburban Americans “transform their lawns into food-producing or reforested spaces that sequester carbon and save water”

• $14 billion to increase the number of co-op grocery stores

• $31 billion to strengthen the infrastructure for on-farm and local food processing

• $160 billion to help states to eliminate food waste and compost organic materials

• $500 million to help farmers get certified as organic, as well as funds to incentivize schools to procure locally produced foods.

Beyond financial subsidies and grants, the GND promises to:

• Use government resources and legal power to enforce anti-trust laws

• Break up big agribusinesses that have a stranglehold on farmers and rural communities

• Ensure farmers are paid a fair price for their products with tools like supply management and grain reserves

• Re-establish and strengthen the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration

• Ensure farmers have the right to repair their own equipment

• Reform patent laws to prevent predatory lawsuits from massive agribusinesses like Bayer/Monsanto

• Reform the agricultural subsidy system so more money goes to small and medium-sized farms

• Strengthen organic standards

• Enforce country-of-origin labeling and allow meat slaughtered at state inspected facilities to be sold across state lines

• Create a pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers and improve wages and working conditions and end exclusions for agricultural workers in labor laws

• Invest in historically underserved communities to grow the number of farmers of color.

No. 4: Bernie’s GND doesn’t shy away from the fact that we must fight the power of the fossil fuel corporations, the military-industrial complex, and the economic elite that maintain our degenerate and climate-destructive business as usual. As the Sanders GND states in its introduction:

We need a president who has the courage, the vision and the record to face down the greed of fossil fuel executives and the billionaire class who stand in the way of climate action. We need a president who welcomes their hatred. Bernie will lead our country to enact the Green New Deal and bring the world together to defeat the existential threat of climate change.

The hour is late, but we still have time to turn things around. Our job in 2019 and beyond is to reach out and educate our fellow Americans about the GND and the political revolution that must take place, beginning now. Don’t mourn, organize.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International steering committee. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal Policy Goals

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OVERVIEW

The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal national coalition views the Green New Deal not as a partisan political initiative, but as a framework for transformational policy reform, across all sectors of the U.S. food and farming system. 

The coalition supports policy reforms that expand economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers whose practices and businesses:

  • combat climate change by reducing emissions and drawing down and sequestering carbon
  • contribute to a clean environment and restore natural habitats
  • provide access to locally produced, contaminant-free, nutrient-dense food
  • help build and support resilient local and regional food systems and economies
  • provide safe working conditions and living wages for farm workers

The coalition is committed to working with Congress to ensure that farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table when it comes to defining and finalizing the specific policies and programs that will form the basis for achieving the goals outlined in the Green New Deal Resolution. The coalition is also committed to ensuring that the next administration appoint a USDA Secretary of Agriculture who supports the coalition’s policy platform.

GENERAL POLICY GOALS

Fair Prices for Farmers/Ranchers

The coalition supports policy tools—similar to those under FDR’s New Deal—which are intended to keep surpluses low and prices high by paying farmers to cut back production of some crops, especially soil-degrading, fossil fuel-intensive crops, and/or by buying and storing excess production for future sale, when adverse weather or other conditions result in food/crop shortages. Policy examples include:

Reward Farmers for Eco-Services and Hold Corporate Polluters Accountable 

The coalition supports policies that reward farmers/ranchers for restoring soil health and natural habitats, mitigating water and air pollution and sequestering carbon by employing practices such as cover crops, no-till, rotational grazing, silvopasture and agroforestry that enhance the soil’s capacity to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere and retain rainfall. 

The coalition also supports policies that penalize corporate agribusiness polluters that degrade soil quality and strip the soil of its capacity to store carbon, and that release toxic chemicals and drugs, including synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics, into the air and water.

Break Up Corporate Agribusiness Monopolies/Level the Playing Field 

The coalition supports enforcement and expansion of antitrust laws and other policies to prevent industry consolidation that allows large-scale corporations to manipulate markets and use high-paid lobbyists to influence Congress on everything from food safety regulations to international trade agreements in ways that benefit a few big corporations at the expense of consumers and independent farmers, and that leaves family farmers and ranchers with fewer choices, thinner profit margins, and less independence. Examples of policies the coalition supports:

  • a moratorium on new factory farms
  • reinstatement of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to provide basic protections for farmers
  • reform of the agricultural subsidy system so that more money goes to small and medium-sized farmers
  • enforcement of the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws so that the “Product of USA” label can be applied only to meat from livestock both raised and processed in the U.S.
  • patent law reforms to prevent predatory lawsuits by big corporations intent on monopolizing the seed market
  • a national right-to-repair law that give farmers the right to repair their own equipment and retain full rights over the machinery they buy

Support Transition to Organic Agroecological/Regenerative Practices

The coalition supports policies and programs that fund technical assistance, equipment purchases, infrastructure installation and site remediation for farmers/ranchers who want to transition to regenerative production practices. Examples of such policies include:

  • expansion of programs that help farmers make conservation improvements on their farms, including the Conservation Stewardship, Agricultural Conservation Easement and Regional Conservation programs
  • expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program to help farmers transition to organic farming practices
  • funding to help factory farm contract growers regain their independence and transition to climate-friendly, soil carbon-enhancing practices, including 100% grazing for herbivores as a goal, and pasture-based animal husbandry for poultry and pigs with animal feed grains produced in a regenerative, climate-friendly manner.

Support Beginning and Diverse Farmers/Ranchers

The coalition supports policies to correct and repair the historic and ongoing racism and violence that has driven Native Americans, then African Americans, from their land and has blocked access to USDA and Farm Credit System resources. The coalition also supports policies to help beginning farmers, especially young people, women and people of color, secure land to farm and achieve and sustain financial success. Some policy/program examples include:

  • transforming the civil rights offices at the USDA, as Justice for Black Farmers has recommended, into agencies that addresses discrimination rather than cover it up 
  • reparations for the dispossession of Native American and African American land
  • no interest loans for beginning farmers and a land trust that buys land from retiring farmers and sets it aside for beginning farmers, with specific benchmarks for Native Americans, African Americans and other socially disadvantaged groups
  • programs to help heirs’ property owners retain access to their land and to USDA programs legal and technical assistance, through funding of the relending program, to help farmers hold onto their land 
  • expanded funding for the Indian Tribal Land Acquisition Loan Program and the Highly Fractionated Indian Land Loan Program, USDA programs that help tribal governments acquire land and preserve it for future generations 
  • incentives for community ownership of farmland 
  • expansion of Disadvantaged and Beginning Farmer State Coordinator program 
  • more funding for the Farmer Opportunity Training and Outreach program helps coordinate USDA training and education for beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers 
  • pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers and end exclusions for agricultural workers in labor laws 
  • Reform H-2A agricultural work visas to substantially raise prevailing wages, allow workers to move between employers, increase enforcement and hold employers who mistreat workers accountable

Strengthen and/or enforce USDA National Organic Program standards

The coalition supports enforcement of existing USDA National Organic Program regulations and standards in order to prevent large-scale farm operations from claiming organic without meeting the requirements, putting the smaller organic producers who do adhere to standards at an economic disadvantage in the marketplace. The coalition also supports strengthening existing organic standards rather than allowing large-scale producers to weaken and corrupt them. Examples of policies the coalition supports are:

  • Clarification, implementation and enforcement of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule 
  • require USDA organically certified produce to be grown in soil
  • strengthen USDA import inspection, review, and testing protocols to ensure organic label integrity
  • the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act to implement enhanced procedures to track organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards. 
  • require independent five-year sunset review by the NOSB to remain on the National List
  • the PRIME ACT, which permits state-inspected meat to be sold within that state, thus eliminating the intrastate marketing barriers placed on livestock farmers by the requirement for USDA inspected livestock slaughter and processing facilities which are few and far between

Support for Local/Regional Infrastructure

The coalition supports policies that allow farmers and ranchers access to local and regional supply chain infrastructure. Examples of such policies are:

  • expansion of the USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) for local infrastructure-building projects
  • investments in co-op grocery stores
  • incentives for schools, hospitals, prisons and other institutions to procure locally produced foods Institutional purchasing can be a huge boost to local producers and build local farm economies
  • investments in local food processing facilities, including slaughter and dairy processing
  • support for farmers to process their products on-farm
  • state and local food sovereignty laws that exempt local food producers from state licensing and inspections governing food sales for transactions between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers

Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal is a bipartisan national coalition of rural and urban farmers and ranchers, and organizations that represent farmers and ranchers. Coalition members share a commitment and work together to advance food and agriculture policies that support organic, regenerative, agroecological and biodynamic food production and land-management practices. Learn more here.

Regeneration International, Filipino League of Organic Municipalities Cities and Provinces Sign ‘Regeneration Philippines’ Pact

BISLIG, PHILIPPINES – If anyone knows first-hand what the global climate crisis is all about, it’s the people who live in the Philippines. In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the second-strongest tropical cyclone to hit the Eastern Hemisphere, slammed the island nation with winds of 195 miles/hour, leaving 6,300 dead. 

It was a devastating event. But the nation of islands is fighting back.

Inspired by the country’s high level of local autonomy, 200 municipalities in the Philippines are taking the extraordinary step of signing an agreement among themselves, and with Regeneration International (RI), to create new policies that both recognize soil health as a powerful tool in addressing the climate crisis and reward farmers for drawing down greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering them in their soil.

When fully implemented in 2022, the agreement will cover 1.2 million hectares of land—almost 3 million acres. As a representative of RI, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in this unprecedented endeavour almost from its beginning.

The plans for this project culminated June 14, at the 11th General Assembly of the Filipino League of Organic Municipalities Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP), where I gave a presentation on agricultural climate mitigation and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between LOAMCP and RI, dubbed the “Regeneration Philippines (RP)” Memorandum.

This story really began back in 2017, in my London office when I received a call from a business contact in the Philippines who was working with LOAMCP (at the time it was LOAMC). He said, “Oliver, I think I have something newsworthy for you.” Then he passed me on to a contact who asked whether I could help generate press on an event that was happening during the 2017 AGRILINK trade fair, one of Asia’s biggest agricultural trade fairs.

Assuming he was going to pitch me on the latest industrial chicken feeding unit, I said, “Okay, great, who do you represent and what’s the event?”

“My name is Patrick Belisario of the Organic Producer and Trade Association of the Philippines,” he said.  “We work with a group of 200 mayors who are going to sign an agreement to implement new laws in their constituencies that would ban the use of toxic agrichemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”

I paused a second and said, “Really? How would that work?”

He then explained that local governments in the Philippines could write their own laws without going through the central government (a bit like in the U.S., but very different from other Asian countries).

As it happened, it turned out to be both an interesting, and an exclusive, news tip.

Three months later I flew to the event to produce video coverage of the signing ceremony, which took place at the home of one of the most influential senators in the Philippines, Senator Cynthia Villar.

It was there that I met with the Hon. Rommel C. Arnado, mayor of the city of Kauswagan Lanao Del Norte on the Island of Mindanao and president of the League of Organic Municipalities and Cities (which has since expanded to Provinces). During an interview with Mayor Arnado I quickly learned that these policymakers were deadly serious. The use of toxic agrichemicals and GMOs is not allowed, he told me, and we have sanctions in place that could lead to imprisonment for those who break the laws.

Mayor Arnado’s community had suffered decades of heavily armed conflict, and through tough politics of care for his people, he put in place an award-winning conflict resolution and insertion program, “From Arms To Farms,” that brought Christian and Islamic rebel fighters to surrender  a part of their arsenal in exchange for education around organic food and farming, made available to all.

Mayor Arnado has since become a world leader for the organic movement, one who doesn’t mince his words and who puts radical action in place for the highest benefit of his citizens’ health and wealth.

Our coverage of the event was a success—we produced a three-minute video that reached more than 1 million people worldwide.

In 2019, I headed back to the Philippines to visit the Arms To Farms program and produce coverage for ‘Trails of Regeneration,’ an ongoing RI series produced in collaboration with Kiss the Ground.

During my trip I met up with LAOMCP Executive Director, agronomist and farmer Victoriano Tagupa, whom I had met in 2018 through the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)[LR2]  Asia at a summit of the Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture.

Victoriano—nicknamed Vic 1.0, as there are two other Vics in his family—is a true soil advocate. On his farm on the Filipino island of Mindanao, Tagupa combines biodynamics and natural agriculture within a fully integrated system using indigenous seeds, cover crops and holistic livestock management. In an interview, Tagupa said LOAMCP had a plan to convert 1.2 Million hectares of land to completely organic production by 2022. Tagupa discussed the significance this would have in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and about the possible needs and opportunities to implement new policies to train and reward farmers.

One month later Tagupa and I met again, but this time it was in Japan with Andre Leu, RI’s international director, for “Agriculture is the Solution to Climate Change,” an event organised by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the 4 per 1000 Initiative. Before the event, Tagupa, Leu and I worked together on a joint presentation promoting rice intensification systems.

At that event we quickly identified how LOAMCP could be instrumental in contributing to new policies on agricultural climate mitigation and could help inspire the international community through the 4 per 1000 Initiative.

Things progressed further when LOAMCP invited RI to give a presentation at the next LOAMCP General Assembly, and Tagupa and I suggested we sign an MoU that would contain all the elements we had been discussing. So, I got onto my laptop and drafted the “Regeneration Philippines” Memorandum, which was then sent to the RI board of directors, where it received swift approval.

I then flew to Bislig City for the LOAMCP General Assembly and met with LOAMCP’s officers before the day of the event to present to them the freshly minted “Regeneration Philippines” Memorandum. The memorandum content was adopted by the entire assembly. Many LOAMCP members were very supportive of LOAMCP moving beyond protecting the public from dangerous agrochemicals and into directly confronting the dangers of climate change. 

At the General Assembly I was able to point out the pressing issues we face with the climate crisis, its threat to human civilization and the need to act fast. I then showcased how by using regenerative agriculture to switch back on the soil microbiome, we can turn conventional farms into carbon sinks. I also spoke of the great hope that farmers represent in mitigating climate change through soil health. I also presented the 4 per 1000 Initiative—its purpose, its background and RI’s involvement—followed by the 4p1000 video “Farmers for Climate,” and an account of our[LR1]  recent LOAMCP RI trip to Japan with 4p1000.

I discussed the great potential LOAMCP could have in helping shape new policies on agricultural climate mitigation by using the 4p1000 framework, and then the LOAMCP officers and I presented the MoU. I it read aloud and asked the audience whether anyone had any objections, comments or suggestions. Hearing no objections from the audience, we launched the signing ceremony with LOAMCP President, Mayor Rommel Arnado.

LOAMCP has become a powerful organization in the Philippines, and this year it has expanded from the island nation’s cities and municipalities to its provinces. LOAMCP is an important organization that brings lawmakers together to protect human health and the environment from corporate greed in the agricultural sector.

There is an organic agriculture law in the Philippines that requires 5 percent of all the country’s farmland to be organic, and many in LOAMCP are fighting to push that figure to 100 percent. In a very encouraging move, the Department of the Interior for Local Governments (DILG) has officially asked every municipality in the Philippines become a LOAMCP member.

This development is particularly interesting, as it came just a few weeks after the Filipino government announced $614 million USD in subsidies for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides originating from Qatar—and Mayor Librado Navarro of Bislig City opened his address to the LOAMP 11th General Assembly by stating that under his mandate, Bislig will never accept these subsidies. Navarro’s comments were welcomed with an uproar of cheers and applause from the General Assembly.

In more good news, RI and LOAMCP are now collaborating to create “Regeneration Philippines,” a branch within LOAMCP designed to help steer LOAMCP’s efforts toward concepts of, and implementation of, regenerative agricultural development. LOAMCP’s next general meeting will be in November 2019 in Cebu, Philippines. RI plans at that meeting to officially launch Regeneration Philippines and set up a Regeneration Philippines office alongside those of LOAMCP and IFOAM Asia.

With the climate crisis bearing down on the Philippines, the country is taking bold steps to confront the crisis. The future looks good for these efforts to forge a national consensus around regenerative agriculture as a key factor in climate mitigation.

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Regeneration International, Regenerativa Chile and Other Groups Convene in Lead-Up to COP 25 Climate Summit

SANTIAGO, Chile – To measure Chile’s growing interest in regenerative agriculture one need look no further than a one-day conference held in the Chilean capital of Santiago, where an unexpectedly high turnout filled the venue to capacity—some would-be participants were even turned away.

The overarching message to emerge from the July 1 conference held in the Santiago office of Regenerativa Chile? This: Regenerative agriculture is gaining ground in Chile and throughout South America, but there’s still much work to be done. What’s needed to take the regeneration movement to the next level is greater coordination and cooperation among those involved in this work in these regions.

The event was part of Regenerativa Chile’s IPA—Ideas Para la Accion (Ideas for Action)—sessions. Organizers included Regenerativa Chile; Carnes Manada, a Chilean company that promotes regenerative meat production; the Agronomy Department of the Catholic University of Chile; local regeneration ally El Manzano, an ecological and educational research center for sustainability in Bio Bio, Chile; and Efecto Manada, the Savory Institute’s Global Hub in Chile.

The conference was the first of many events being organized by Regeneration International and local allies in the lead-up to the COP 25 Climate Summit, to be held in Santiago December 2-13.

Conference speakers included Javiera Carrión, co-founder and co-director of El Manzano, a farm of more than 400 acres committed to land stewardship. El Manzano is a GAIA university-Latin America leader and one of the pioneer organizations in Chile offering workshops on permaculture, eco-village design, sustainable land management and human development. Carrión reflected on the many years of her regenerative agriculture work in Chile and the need for larger, more coordinated efforts to make the regenerative agriculture movement stronger and more cohesive.

Conference speaker Cristóbal Gatica, co-founder of Carnes Manada, emphasized the need to create a closer connection between producers and consumers. The movement for regenerative meat in Chile is gaining traction, Gatica said, and Chilean consumers are starting to recognize the importance of eating regenerative meat.

Other speakers included Isidora Molina, founder of Efecto Manada, a Savory Network organization that promotes regenerative meat production (unrelated to Carnes Manada). Molina spoke of the changes she has seen in the past few years and of how Efecto Manada has worked to gain the trust and confidence of its neighbors and nearby farm owners who were initially skeptical of Efecto Manada’s holistic management approach to regenerative meat production.

Ercilia Sahores, Latin American director of Regeneration International, discussed the importance of building a regenerative movement by integrating local regenerators with the support of an international umbrella such as Regeneration International. Sahores also examined recent changes in the international discussion around regeneration. 

Dr Rafael Larraín, professor in the Animal Science, Agronomy and Forestry Department of the Catholic University of Chile, stressed the importance of the collaboration between academic researchers and hands-on practitioners. Larraín also suggested closer collaboration between Regeneration International, the 4 per 1000 initiative, the Catholic University of Chile and the entire regenerative movement.

Finally, the conference’s discussions around the rapidly approaching COP 25 summit made clear the importance of having a robust presence at the official COP 25, and the importance of organizing other, parallel activities to help nourish and strengthen the worldwide Regenerative Agriculture movement.

The conference was moderated by Mauricio Ramos of Regenerativa Chile, who stressed the urgency and commitment of being part of global change—every day.  Ramos also spoke on the importance of reflecting on what we do and how we can all contribute to being part of that change.

Ercilia Sahores is a member of the Regeneration International steering committee and Latin America Director. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Japan’s Ministry of Ag Acknowledges Role of Regenerative Farming in Climate Solution

A breakthrough conference on agriculture and climate change took place May 13-15 in Japan, and Regeneration International was there.

While the content and interaction of the “Agriculture Is the Solution to Climate Change” conference in Otsu, Japan, was dynamic and important, perhaps the most important takeaway from the conference was who organized the event in the first place.

The conference was co-sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in what could be interpreted as a tacit recognition by the world’s third largest economy that agriculture must play a key role in climate-change mitigation.  

The conference was also sponsored by the 4 per 1000 Initiative, and was supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), the World Bank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Rothamsted Research, and the governments of France and Germany, among others – and it took place just one day after IPCC wrapped up its 49th session in Kyoto, just 13 kilometers from Otsu.

Key speakers from 4 per 1000 and the major supporting organizations and governments all upheld the importance of building soil heath to fight climate change. It was the first-ever international conference in Asia about changing agriculture by adopting management systems that increase soil organic matter as a drawdown and adaptation solution to the climate crisis.

Rice is the most important staple crop in Asia, and RI’s international director Andre Leu gave a keynote presentation on Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI).

SRI can double rice yields, and massively reduce methane emissions, thanks to its lower water usage – and when combined with cover crops, SRI can result in significant soil sequestration of carbon. SRI is a powerful solution for rice farmers all around the world faced with increasing threats of drought, typhoon and coastal storm surge.

A number of RI partners, such as the Biodynamic Association of India and the League of Organic Municipalities and Cities of the Philippines, also took part in the conference, and gave presentations on best practices for mitigating the natural carbon increase in farmland soils.

During an interview with Regeneration International, Paul Luu, Executive Secretary of 4 per 1000, said policymakers and farmers are putting more and more emphasis on agroecology.  Luu spoke about the strong need for more research to be carried out on agroecology, biodynamic farming and regenerative agriculture – for it to be useful in advising transitioning conventional farmers in accordance to their requirements.

Despite there being no mention of climate change in the G7 meeting of agriculture ministers held a few days earlier in nearby Tokyo (because of abstention by the United States government), the Japanese government is working with 4 per 1000 Initiative to include 4 per 1000’s framework in the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA). KJWA is a decision reached at the UN Climate Conference (COP23) in November 2017, to officially acknowledge the significance of the agriculture sectors in adapting to and mitigating climate change.

The implementation of KJWA is supported by the UNFAO in partnership with other actors at national and international levels. Under this decision the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) supports countries providing technical support to adapt to and mitigate climate change, working in close collaboration with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other partners.

Regeneration International will showcase the progress made by the 4 per 1000 Initiative to encourage countries to come on board with a Soil Health Revolution in agriculture (dubbed the Brown Revolution) at its next General Assembly in Chile in December 2019, to be held in conjunction with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change COP 25 summit in Santiago de Chile December 2-13.

Oliver Gardiner is the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International’s roving reporter.To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

RI’s Mexico Team Takes Part in First Mexican Congress of Agroecology Conference

On January 1, 1994, Mexico’s Zapatista revolution exploded onto the world stage and instantly grabbed the attention and imagination of progressives and activists around the world.  Among those caught up in the Zapatista revolution were activists and academics pushing back against an almost global corporate takeover of agriculture.  Suddenly a new, different world was possible.

It was only fitting then that the First Mexican Congress of Agroecology was held May 12 to 17 this year in San Cristobal de las Casas, capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, and ground zero for the vision of a new Mexico launched by the Zapatista revolution. The Congress brought together more than a thousand people from peasant, academic, student and activist communities, and organizations from all over Mexico and around the world—including Regeneration International.

The cross-cutting premise of the Congress was to bring academia and existing grassroots agroecological processes together in a social and collaborative way, while creating the opportunity for rural communities themselves determine their real needs and implement actions to address those needs.

The Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH) and the College of the Southern Border (ECOSUR) were the prime movers and organizers of the Congress.  Since 2018, UNICH and ECOSUR have worked closely together to strengthen the exchange of traditional knowledge and experience between rural communities and academia.

From the very beginning and throughout the Congress, during discussions on the origin and history of agroecology in Mexico, peasant communities were spoken of as guardians of agrobiodiversity and as the driving force behind the survival of many of the seeds and plants that have existed in the Americas from pre-Hispanic times until today.

The Congress grappled with the history of agroecology, with an emphasis on the need to build a common future based on the great potential that Mexico has in implementing agroecological techniques.

Participants also worked on organizing a common front to present proposals that feed state and national public policies beneficial to the community at large—policies that create resilience and can reverse the harmful effects that the agro-industrial model has on food quality, food sovereignty, soil, water, air and ecosystems as a whole.  There was also much discussion of agro-industry’s substantial contribution to climate change, and resultant forced migration, an issue that has dominated the news and galvanized public opinion in Mexico, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.  

The wide variety of program topics and the heterogeneity of Congress participants underlined the need to reconcile the multiple perspectives that exist on agroecology in Mexico, in particular the Mayan vision, which from generation to generation has opted for a construction of knowledge and resistance, as well as the academic vision, in Mexico represented by the figure of the well-known late Mexican ethnobotany teacher Efraim Hernández Xocolotzi .

With this goal in mind, of integrating and weaving together Mexico’s many rich and diverse perspectives, Congress roundtables discussed these principal topics: food sovereignty, international experiences in agroecology and good living, farmers’ markets, agroecological production strategies, agroforestry systems, silvopasture and wildlife management, milpa systems, family gardens, pest management, public policy and governance, soils and seeds, women, agroecology and feminism, maize under siege, water and soil, seeds and resilience, and peasant schools, among other topics.

The closing ceremony was held at the historic Teatro Zebadúa in the center of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Speakers at the closing roundtable included Dr. Víctor Suárez Carrera, Mexican Undersecretary of Food Self-Sufficiency of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Dr. Crispim Moreira, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative to Mexico; and Dr. Luis García Barrios, director of the southeast region of the National Commission of Science and Technology.

In a packed auditorium, the public peppered authorities with questions on the real capacity for change posed by the Fourth Transformation, a broad proposal put forth by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to solve the problems that the Mexican Revolution—the Third Transformation—left unresolved. It became clear that agroecology must be part of the real transformation of the Mexican Republic, and that this will occur to the extent that a strong and organized society demands the necessary changes so that the public policies that the government implements integrate agroecology as a substantial part of that change.

Ercilia Sahores is a member of the Regeneration International steering committee and Latin America Director. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.