Archive for Food politics & farming

Blogging on MIT site

I’m currently pursuing an MBA at MIT with a focus in sustainability and agriculture.  For Mama Shayna’s latest musings, please check out: http://mitsloanblog.typepad.com/shayna/

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Could local food make West Texas sexier?

Although West Texas isn’t as sexy a subject to blog about as sunny, tropical northeastern Brazil (echeeem, see lack of comments on my two most recent posts, readers!), I’m finding more similarities in the regions, this time related to the local economy and agriculture. Yesterday’s New York Times reports the worst drought that 75% of Texas has experienced in over a century; “Farmers say the soil is too dry for seeds to germinate and are considering not planting. ” I’m currently blogging from this largest contiguous cotton-growing region in the world, with a semi-arid climate in which cotton is suited to grow.  Curiously, I’ve  just moved to West Texas from the largest contiguous semi-arid region in the world, also a strong cotton growing region, in Brazil’s northeastern sertão.

So, two questions arise.  Why in the heck does that matter?   And, would the availability of local fruits & vegetables in make West Texas a sexier blogging topic for you readers? (everyone seemed to like the tropical fruit photos from Brazil).

In relation to the rain, while I haven’t talked to local farmers in West Texas, I did conduct in-depth interviews with farmers Brazil’s sertão as a part of my Fulbright research project on local market access and agroecology.  During my interviews, local Brazilian farmer Dona Elinite told me that, “The challenge of being a family farmer is that it’s like you’re playing the lottery.  Because if the winter was good, you’ll have good production [crop yield].  If the winter was reasonable your production as well will be reasonable, it won’t be at 100% production.  And the great challenge to us is the question of the rain,” (Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, 3 Nov 09).

Referring to the lack of rainfall in Texas this year:

“We make the joke we can’t even grow weeds this winter,” Mr. Abrameit said.

As a result, farmers have found themselves playing a guessing game. Does one plant corn now and hope for rain, or wait for rain, hoping it comes in time to plant sorghum? Or wait still later and plant cotton, which can be grown until later in the summer? Some admit privately that they will plant knowing the crop will fail in hopes of collecting insurance. Others say they may not plant at all.

Source: New York Times, “Texas Ranchers and Farmers Struggle in Drought,” 11 Feb 09.

Compounding the crisis for US and Brazilian farmers alike, falling crop and beef prices are effecting the financial viability of the already difficult farm sector.  A surprising 94% of US farmers are still considered small-scale (gross sales of $250,000 or less).  Just 7% of those farmers make the US average household income.  Falling prices and drought no doubt mean further hardships for farmers in the US farming sector.

In contrast, Brazilians still get 70% of their food supply from their own small farmers, meaning those families who farm on plots of 10 acres or less . In the supermarkets of Recife you’ll be hard pressed to find kiwis from New Zealand and french green beans from Kenya.  By and large, Brazilians still buy local, and there are plenty of passion fruits, mangos, guavas, and pineapples from the region to suit their appetites. Additionally, a very small but growing number of farmers in Brazil’s sertão are moving away from mono-crops (growing just soy, sugarcane, cotton, corn or beans, for example) towards holistic, diversified farming systems via agroecology, organic, perma-farming, etc. Dona Elinite, who talked about the Brazilian farming ‘lottery’ above,  is  one such example.

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Dona Elinite admires her diverse crop production on a small piece of land in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region.  Her agrecological farm is lush & green and boasted 33 varieties of produce when I visited in November — a starck contrast to the dry, yellowing plots of her neighbors, who primarily harvest just corn & beans.

The struggle in Brazil is to keep its food supply healthy and local, supporting rural farming families & culture and Brazilian consumers, as well.  The United States lost a lot of ground over the past century due to a farm policy via the Farm Bill which is skewed towards corporate interests and very large farms who can afford to play the DC lobby game.  (For a great overview of these issues, check out Oxfam’s agriculture campaign)

But I wonder what life in West Texas might be like for local residents and farmers alike if we could all visit the local Amigos or United supermarket and find locally grown crops with multiple varieties of food, proudly labeled ‘West Texas.’  Local farmers would find themselves with a year-round market in this temperate climate, and by altering their farming techniques, may be able to insert some new life into the rural economy here.

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Driving across West Texas, the view is vast and treeless and the land dry dry dry.

It’s working in Indiana; according to the produce industry journal Fresh Plaza, over the last five years, as the demand for local, organic food has grown, small farms have grown by a whole 80%!

Just some early morning farming musings. I look forward to your comments on the farm economy of sexy West Texas.  Or sexier Brazil. Yeeeehaw.

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and the cup is half full! half down, half to go.

I’m taking off from Afogados to Umarizal today (map here).  I’m happily exhausted from 10 days of research, interviews, and traipsing through back country dirt roads and out to the incredible farms of local families.  So far I’ve been able to interview 8 farming families and visit their homes and land, as well as interview the Local Secretary of Agriculture as he shopped at the local agroecological fair, 8 other consumers at the same fair, and an NGO representative that works with the families.  Not to mention all of the informal learning bia observation, conversations during car rides, and dinners shared with colleagues here.

Most recently I visited the area of the 29 year old Ivan. He’s been involved with agroecology for just 8 years, and has completely transformed his family’s small plot of land (under 10 acres) from a desert-like condition, without even water to drink, to this tropical beauty:

Banana and mango trees, a greenhouse with medicinal plants, and a garden full of cherry tomato’s, cilantro, green onions, lettuce, and over 3 dozen more varieties of healthy, pesticide-free foods for his family to eat.  These are some of the little beneficiaries of the family’s new form of production via agroecology (posing in Ivan’s flower garden):

Outside of the scientific aspects of the research, the work has been so fulfilling due to the daily interaction with farming families.  They are so proud of their work, and excited to share what they know with the visiting ‘americana’ (me).  The twinkle in their eye as they demonstrate their variety of fruits and vegetables, as we visit the newborn calf of a milking cow, as they share a guava or mango from their garden… it gives a feeling of hope in the midst of what many categorize this region of Brazil- as developmentally challenged.  I actually think it’s developmentally rich and full or potential, given the situations of these families and the other 50+ members of their local association that I didn’t have the opportunity to interview.

And now I’m off to capture the second part of this data in Umarizal, 5 hours north of Afogados… I’ll do these 16+ interviews in just 6 days.  Wish me luck!

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Sem agua: A water-less afternoon

I guess passing a water-less afternoon in Brazil’s semi-arid region during its ‘summer’ season isn’t so strange, considering that the region has just two seasons: ‘sem agua,’ or the water-less summer which lasts from June to January, and ‘agua,’ the water-full winter, lasting from January to June.  Seeing as it’s October, the unique caatinga brush vegetation of the region has lost all of its leaves in an attempt to conserve water, and the countryside looks like one long softly lolling cushion of beige cbrush-grass.

My colleague Sandra is out of town and was kind enough to lend me her apartment for the weekend ; it’s a cozy, tidy, and simple apartment in central Afogados, complete with the requisite hammock and ‘veranda,’ which I was looking forward to relaxing in this afternoon.  I had woken up at 4.30am this morning to head to the weekly agroecological fair in São José do Egito, and after a long day of interviewing shoppers at the fair in the strong morning sun, I was immensely looking forward to a refreshing shower, a long, cold drink of water, and a long afternoon nap upon my return.  Luckily Sandra left some bottles of water in the fridge, so I was satiated upon arriving home; however I didn’t have the same luck with the shower or the nap.

Not only was the shower faucet dry, but the bathroom sink trickled to a drip, the toilet wouldn’t flush after-the-fact, and the kitchen sink ran for a few minutes until that, too, was out of water.  I checked the building to see if there was a water meter, or a pipe that had been shut off, but all of that hardware is with the landlord downstairs and they were, of course, gone for the day.  I called Mario, the manager of the family agriculture program at Diaconia in Afogados, and he ran over, swiftly climbed up onto the roof, and reported that the ‘baude,’ or water reserve on top of the building, was dry, too.  He then climbed down into the landlord’s first floor outdoor hallway and read the water meter, which said all was okay. We also discovered one outdoor faucet with clean treated water and I was able to fill up two 16 kilogram buckets so that I could at least take a bucket bath and wash my dishes later that day.

So the water-less apartment and missing landlord predicament cause me to change my evening options- I could eat out, since there was no water in the kitchen, or cook in the kitchen of our office here.  I could take a bucket bath, or shower at the office, too.  I needed to go buy more bottled water for brushing my teeth.  And given the effort for all of this, my afternoon nap was out of the picture.  I’d gone without running water for a month at a time in rural areas of Mexico and Brazil, but this was the last thing I was expecting this afternoon!

I then started realizing just how much water I go through in a day, much of it unnecessarily.  I leave the water running as I wash the dishes, instead of latherning them all up and then rinsing ’em all off.  I do the same when I brush my teeth, and althogh I’m pretty quick in the shower, I sometimes linger a little longer when neccesary (especially these days when I get treated to a hot shower, something we don’t have at home here!)

With the nap out of the picture and a bunch of water-full decisions to make, I avoided it all and went for a walk around the neighborhood square. After an hour of living life in the soundtrack of an ipod shuffle, I returned home to a steady, strong trickling sound; the baude on the roof was being filled again treated water that was being pumped up to the roof of the house from the city water supply.  I was able to use all 32 kilograms of water for my bucket shower (as water pressure still hasn’t returned to the shower), but I didn’t have to conserve that water for washing dishes or anything else tonight.

After a cold bucket bath and a good, appreciative teeth brush, I’m off to my belated nap, which is now turning into an early bed-time.  With a fresh perspective on the challenges of water in the Brazilian sertão – and only after my relatively privileged afternoon with 32 kgs of water as a personal back-up supply – I definitely have some new research questions for next week.  But more importantly, I’ve deepened my respect for challenges of family farming here, and am simply amazed at the wide variety of products that these family farmers are able to produce, given the dry, ‘sem-agua’ conditions of Brazil’s semi-arid region.

These delicious goodies were bought at today’s agroecological fair in São José do Egito.  Complete with locally harvested eggs (ovos de capoeira), sweet oranges, cherry tomatoes in a variety of colors, mini-papayas, pear-guava, carrots, home-made cheese, and greens, we’re set for the week!  And this was all harvested over the past week despite the region’s limited water supply — but the very innovative small-farm irrigation systems — in the ‘sem agua’ season of Brazil’s northeast.

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Inserting the culture back into agriculture

To complement yesterday’s post on creating a solidarity economy and corresponding responsible consumer culture here in Recife, I really enjoyed the reflections from fellow Fulbrighter Gustavo on his blog, Dinner-Bell.

It’s amazing and in some ways puzzling to me to watch how food markets are developing in the U.S. It seems like more and more energy is being put into reconstructing the diversity, quality, and geography of traditional food systems and that there is more and more interest in consuming local produce and learning (or relearning) to consume in post-industrial (pre-industrial?) ways… I’ve often thought that, in addition to ecological ways of producing food–i.e. farming methods that mimic ecological processes so that food production is environmentally sound and sustainable–there are also ecological ways of consuming food that mirror or parallel the process of growing food. After all, food is made up of living things, which are limited by their nature and their relationship to the seasons, the soil, the weather, and their relationship to other living things. I think one of the reasons that I love cooking and that am so fascinated by the world’s different cuisines is because of all of the almost ecological knowledge encoded into traditional cooking.

As I become more familar with agroecological farming systems in this part of Brazil, ie those that take into account natural, diverse ecological growing systems along with the people that sustain them (that’s a shoddy, quick definition), I too have been thinking about the way that farmers are re-capturning ‘pre-industrial’ knowledge of farming systems, the farming systems of their ancestors, and correspondingly developing their own local sales outlets via farmers markets and direct farm-to-consumer sales, in a new iteration of traditional trade systems.  It’s like they’re forming ‘novo-traditional’ market outlets- that’s not an academic term, but my own way of trying to coin what I am seeing.  It’s particularly fascinating in an era of rapid supply chain consolidation, where large chains own just about everything (supermarkets, sales outlets, transportation mechanisms, and sometimes even the farms themselves.  Chiquita is a prime example.)  Gustavo captures this:

From Monsanto’s patenting of plant genetic material and the legal system’s support for the privatization of life to Walmart’s tremendous share in the supermarket industry, private companies have never had so much power to impose their values and profit motive on the way we eat and the way we produce our food. This has led to an illusion of diversity and a reality of stark agricultural and gastronomic monotony.

The northeastern region of Brazil could be poised to defy these global market trends… given the proximity to the land, social technologies which make an adequate water supply avaliable all year round, farmer-led seed diversity banks, close relationships (sometimes even family ties) between farmer and consumers in small and medium sized cities.  And, as Gustavo mentions in his blog, “knowledge and this infrastructure exists (however precariously) in developing countries…” Challenges are of course financing, access to knowledge & technology, will power, climate change & effects on soil, water, production cycles.  But despite the challenges, farmers in Afogados and Umarizal seem committed to trying it out, to making agroecology and direct local sales a viable way to support their families’ livelihoods.

Jumping from concepts of ecology/agroecology to a larger vision of our earth as a living, breathing system… just yesterday a German friend living in Brazil passed along a link to the work of Joanna Macy.  Macy is a self-described eco-philosopher living in northern California, who has pioneered “The Work that Reconnects.” On the homepage of Macy’s sight, she says that The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world—we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

So I guess this is my moment to share with you the continuation of thoughts that have been running through different currents of my life. Food, nature, farming, spirituality, my roots: Grandma Gussie’s dill pickles and Jewish food heritage and Grandpa Joe’s young life on a Gernam farm, exploring yoga, learning to breath.  With the hectic and endless life of an organizer over the past 5 years I had no time to really stop.  To think & reflect on what this all means.  How trade, poverty, the earth, and our relationships to one another are really interconnected, my role within it, where I am most ‘strategically’ placed to support the ‘great awakening’ and work towards some semblance of sanity in this world.  I’m still not sure.

For your own exploration.  Joanna Macy’s site //  Gustavo’s food and food politics blog // More on agroecology here and here.

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Another Market is Possible; perspectives from Brazil’s northeast

Versão em português aqui: Outro Mercado é Possível

I’m psyched!  In a country with enormous potential for the solidarity economy & a responsibile consumer movement, Brazil is a huge, sleeping giant. I feel like Recife (the city that I live in) really seems uniquely positioned to lead such a movement; we’re in a region that houses half of Brazil’s family farmers (over 2 million!), and so many people have intimate family ties back to the land.  Even city people here know what a farm looks like, they can identify tons of fruit trees & medicinal plants in the local parks here, and they know that the city favelas are overcrowding in part because of the exodus from Brazil’s countryside.

Related to this, we gave a talk last night called “Sustainable Trade and Conscious Consumerism: Another Market is Possible”  (taken from the popular line of the World Social Forum, Another World is Possible).   This event was part of Brazil’s National Business Day, in which business students chose which lectures they’d like to attend instead of their regularly scheduled classes (we’re last on the list below, and all other events were entirely business-driven).

I’ve met some great characters here in Recife, and my co-presenters are two of my favorites; Eder Leão, a quirky & smart Recife-native who coordinates the solidarity economy work at the Federal University in Pernambuco, and Omar Rocha, an anthropologist and inquisitive social activist who recently got money from Recife’s City Hall to launch Recife´s first responsible consumer campaign, slated to launch in 2009.

I learned a lot from my co-presenters last night.  It’s fascinating is that Brazil does not have an active consumer rights culture like we do in the US; something that we in the US really take for granted.  Outside of the current, hip trend of ‘thinking green’ when thinking of responsible consumerism, think back to Ralph Nader’s advocacy work to get seatbelts in cars, or to how you chose your ideal dishwasher via ratings on The Consumer Reports… all of these came from a movement of active, organized consumers in the US.

But beyond consumer advocacy, during last night´s talk we looked at rethinking, deconstructing, and reconstructing notions and actions of consumerism.  Omar presented two iterations of consumerism which I want to share because I think that these are insightful in understanding how to think of re-constructing truly effective, healthy ideas of ‘consumerism”.

Responsible Consumerism: The capacity of each person or institution (public or private) to choose, to producer services and products that contribute, in an ethical manner, to improve the livelihoods of individuals, of society, and the environment (Kairos Institute)

However, beyond being responsible consumer, to contribute to real sustainability we need to be

CRITICAL consumers: “the deconstruction and reconstruction of patterns and habits of consumption…creating new and alternative forms of consumption and production values that respect social, cultural and environmental… in the ideal of another world is possible.”  The argument is that citizens have ceased to been treated as citizens, with all of the rights afforded to a human being (safety, food, water, etc), and have come to be seen as mere consumers by states and corporations.  How many votes can we buy, how many chemically processes & packaged foods can we sell.  It is our responsibility, as citizens of this world, to reclaim the word ‘consumer’ and the space that it occupies.


A poignant example:

While 1.7 billion people can be classified in a “global consumer class” (people who have access to television, Internet and cellular), 2.8 billion survive on less than two dollars a day and more than a billion people do not has access to drinking water….It is possible to provide adequate food, drinking water and basic education for the poorest people in the world with less than is spent annually on cosmetics, ice cream and food for pets.
Source – Brazil SócioAmbiental Almanac 2008

ie.: There are more citizens of this world who lack access to clean water and adequate resources to eat and clothe themselves than there are people who can afford luxury consumer goods, and we could provide food, water, and education for the price of fancy pet food and beauty products… This is absurd.  Shouldn’t our reality as human beings be the exact reverse?  Isn’t that our responsibility, to take care of each other first?  A kindergarten lesson.

I’m not trying to be simplistic; it’s not as if the policy solution is to ban chocolate ice cream from rich countries and use the money to send food abroad.  (Besides, shipping subsidized corn abroad has casued enough detriment via misguided US Food Aid policy).  But Omar’s articulate conceptualizaion of the reality of consumer behavior struck me as a very effective portrait of what’s actually going on.

Eder and I had the role of showing that ‘Another Market is Possible.’ Eder began by giving an overview of global trade and its inequities (which you can read all about at www.maketradefair.com), and explained what the concept of the solidarity economy means- an economy based on self-management, cooperation, solidarity, and economic action- one in which people & the earth are not seen as commodities, but as living, breathing parts of an integrated ecosystem, and the basic format of trade or exchange can support the very health of that ecosystem, instead of acting to its detriment (that’s my take it).

The race for the perfect tomato

I then jumped in and talked about the consolidation of the modern foodsystem and how this is creating all sorts of negative, downward pressure on small family farmers to produce with new safety, beauty, and heatlh standards and stringent delivery schedules.  I described this as the race to create the ‘perfect tomato’- you know, when you’re in the produce aisle and reach for the most ‘gorgeous’ red, round, juicy tomato… and when you get home, you cut it open, and- alas!- it doesn’t smell like a tomato, let alone taste like one.  It has more of a spongy, watery texture.  Not to mention that its likely full of agrochemicals ’cause it was grown in the dead of a frozen northern winter, probably in a greenhouse.

… yet despite the plethora of market challenges, I’ve found farmers in the interior of Brazil are creating their own forms of market access through agroecological fairs and direct sales to consumers (read more about this on my blog here), and this is the exciting part about this movement for a more ethical trading system here in Brazil’s northeast.

So, how are Recifans poised to take the lead in Brazil’s movement for conscious consumerism?  As one participant noted, “We all know this reality.  It’s our parents and grandparents that come from Brazil’s interior, farming families that lived without water in the semi-arid and/or had to migrate and abandon their land because agriculture didn’t provide for the family.”  Recifans are much closer than us in the US to rural farming realities & traditions, evidenced in the popular ´forro´ music which comes from the countryside, or in the daily consumption of traditional foods like tapioca which uses mandioca flour, the sweet rapadura which comes from sugarcane, or their corn-based couscous.

Most US small farmers were forced to abandon their land earlier in the century due to very similar market consolidation trends and impossible demands being placed on them.  But Recife has a chance to act as a positive catalyst in the preservation of the small farmer by learning from the experience of the US, recognizing the trends in market consolidation and their potentially devastating effects- and then by taking action to support these small farmers.  And it´s easy to do so!  Recifans lives physically close to farming areas, and there are over 50 agroecological farmers markets that take place every week throughout the state, throughout the year (thanks to a tropical climate & innovations to farm in the semi-arid regions).  To sum up, the emotional ties and physical access to products produced outside of the modern food system exist here, and it is realistic to find products that are coming from small farmers who are stewards of the land and produce in organic or agroecological farming systems linked to the solidarity economy.  It’s possible!

Well, this seems like a lot of information to cram into one blog entry- and it was a LOT of information for an introductory workshop on solidarity trade & responsible consumerism.  To sum it all up at the end of the evening, I asked participants what one action would be that they would take today to be a more responsible consumer.  And responses varied-
  • use re-usable cups instead of the infamous small plastic cup which is everywhere in Brazil
  • bring a canvas bag to the supermarket
  • check out the local agroecological fair this weekend to buy directly from farmers
  • learn more about the social technologies of water preservation in Pernambuco’s semi-arid region

I was impressed. We packed a LOT into a two and a half hour presentation, and the participants responded with tangiable outcomes reinforcing our central theme- Another Market is Possible.

Well, I’ll wrap it up for now, but please share your questions & comments on this post!  Let’s get a dialogue going.  And the Portuguese version of this post will come soon, so that we can get some local perspectives, too.

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Trade talks collapse; hope abounds in camouflaged corners

WTO, Doha, green box, sanctions, subsidies, what???

While the news on global trade talks is full of garbled jargon, the lack of action and leadership on behalf of ‘rich’ country governments (US, Europe, and Japan) on family farmers and millions of people living in rural areas is astounding, and the effects far-reaching. Our countryside is in crisis, and it’s the small, family farmers, those who could have benefited most from a positive Doha round, that continue to feed the mouths of many of the poorest people in the world. Inaction is an embarrassment for the US and other ‘rich’ country governments.

The Doha round of global trade crashed today, after 7 years of in-fighting and stalled talks. Major issues include subsidies (money) that ‘rich’ country governments (US, Europe, and Japan) give to their (mainly large-scale) farmers, artifically pushing down world commodity prices and enabling rich countries to ‘dump’ their cheaper commodities (the basics, ie rice, corn, sugar, etc) on ‘poor’ countries in Latin America, Africa, and southeast Asia.

Surprisingly China tapped the nail into the coffin of the talks… according to the New York Times, “In an editorial Wednesday, the official newspaper China Daily denounced the draft text that had been under negotiation. “This proposal would put the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers of the developing world in danger due to cheap farms imports from the rich world,” the editorial said.” (see article here)

In another article earlier today, the Times explains that, “After nine consecutive days of high-level talks, discussions reached an impasse when the United States, India and China refused to compromise over measures to protect farmers in developing countries from greater liberalization of trade. Supporters of the so-called Doha round of talks, which began in 2001, say a deal would have been a bulwark against protectionist sentiments that are likely to spread as economic growth falters in much of the world.”

Brazil has played a leading role in attempting to ensure that rich countries play to the tune of their own rules. The country won a historic case over cotton subsidies in 2005 (which was reinforced in another ruling just last year) when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the millions of dollars in subsidies that the US gives its own cotton farmers were trade-distorting, and would be classified as so according to WTO rules. The US Congress subsequently failed to reform these subsidies, and then went on to reinforce trade-distorting cotton subsidies in the 2007 Farm Bill- even after the illegal ruling by the WTO, an organization of which the US is a founding member.

According to international organization Oxfam, “what reforming U.S. cotton subsidies would increase world cotton prices by 6-14%, resulting in additional income that could feed an additional million children for a year or pay school fees for at least two million children living in extremely poor West African cotton growing households. A typical cotton-producing household in West Africa has about 10 family members, an average life expectancy of about 48 years and an adult literacy rate of less than 25 percent. Cotton is often the only source of cash income for these families who live on less than $1 a day per person.”

I understand the positions of China, India, and Brazil in the face of a stubborn US; the story of cotton in West Africa is the story of commodity and subsistence farmers around the world, and family farmers feel these pressures daily. I constantly see it here in my field work. Youth migration, an abandoned countryside, farmers throwing up their hands and packing up the little ones for other prospects in the favelas of Brazil. The need for Brazil to protect its own domestic networks of food production is clear; Brazil relies on its 4.8+million family farmers to feed its country. In my research in northeastern Brazil I always hear that ‘while large farms are dominating the export economy, Brazil’s small-scale farmers are feeding the country.’

Back to the collapsed trade talks, the New York Times further reports today that, “The Indian trade minister, Kamal Nath, in a briefing with reporters, said he was “very disappointed” but that developing countries were “deeply concerned about issues which affected poor and subsistence farmers.”… But it is a big setback, particularly to the hopes of smaller and poorer developing countries, which were counting on gaining greater access to consumers in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Access to international markets is increasingly challenging for family farmers as global trade consolidates and an increasingly small number of international retailers come to dominate the food industry. My research is looking at the creative, innovative alternatives that family farmers are creating in light of such a tough market; instead of migrating, they’re forming agroecological fairs, or accessing global, ethical markets, and as a result, increasing the incomes of their families and creating jobs in rural Brazil.

Instead of wasting time mourning the loss of a round of trade talks long gone, it’s these stories that need to be told. I’m finding hope, tucked into camouflaged corners of rural towns, and through writing I’m trying to expose this hope to the sunlight so that it can be nurtured, provide inspiration, and spread. Looking forward to sharing more with you over the next few months. Until then, just scroll down on this blog, and you’ll discover some of these stories for yourself.

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