Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture

by Gregoire Lamoureux

(first published in Seeds of Diversity/Semences du Patrimoine January 2003; www.seeds.ca)

fraser common farm
Visit to Fraser Common Farm, Aldergrove, BC; photo by Abra Brynne

In the beautiful summer of 2002, a group of farmers from South Asia and Canada gathered in Vancouver and Victoria, BC to participate in a dialogue on the future of agriculture. The visiting farmers and the organizers came from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to meet with organic farmers from many parts of Canada. I had the opportunity to participate in the dialogue.
The dialogue included a tour of organic farms, a seed house, and a farmers' market. One day was spent on farms in the Fraser Valley, one day on Salt Spring Island, and one day on the Saanich Peninsula near Victoria. Following the tour, the participants met for two days in Victoria to write a vision statement: "Our Common Ground".

After that meeting, the group participated in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Conference in Victoria, where their statement was well received. The conference lasted three days and included a pre-conference tour to organic farms. It attracted more than 1,400 people from 94 countries, who participated in the many workshops and networking in the hallways. The South Asia-Canada Dialogue participants had a beautiful display at the Organic Trade Show in Victoria, which followed the IFOAM conference, where it attracted a lot of interest. This display is travelling across Canada; I will post the dates and details (when available) on my Web site: www3.telus.net/permaculture/spiralnews.html.

One interesting thing about the dialogue was that most farmers from Asia spoke no or very little English, and each country had its own translators, who were also leaders from organizations dedicated to support sustainable agriculture. We had at least seven languages (two from Canada), which added a lot of cultural diversity in the dialogue. During the visit, the Asian farmers shared their living space with their Canadian counterparts; we also shared all the meals together. Everyone found some very creative ways to communicate with each other when the translators were not around. My early observation was that we all shared a common ground through agriculture, soil, seeds, and plants. It didn't matter where we were from or what language we spoke; when we met on the land, I could see the same motions from all the farmers; observing the land, touching the soil, feeling and tasting the plants, collecting the seeds - we all shared a common language.

Some of the concerns that we all share are the importance of ecology- and biodiversity-based agriculture, food sovereignty, care of the earth, care of the people, preserving the knowledge and skills of the farmers, including seeds saving and maintaining soil fertility.
In the second part of the dialogue, the Canadian farmers will visit some organic farms in South Asia. The details of the tour are being finalized and will most likely include the participation in the Mobile Biodiversity Festival, an annual event in Southern India, and also the visit to farmers in Bangladesh involved in the Nayakrsihi Andolon (New Agricultural Movement), which involves 50,000 women farmers. These farmers have been able to cultivate 1,227 varieties of rice this year.

I feel these kinds of dialogue are very important to help us learn from each other and also share our common concerns. I look forward to the second part of the dialogue and to share some ideas with other growers from Canada and around the world.
Below is an excerpt from the statement.

A Common Stand

It is becoming clear to farming communities in different contexts around the world that we are experiencing many negative effects from corporate control of the food system and destruction of communities and agrarian knowledge. Many of our concerns are the same, and our different struggles to address them woven together in a single strand.

To reinforce this unity and common ground, we encourage more exchanges between farmers, more openness to understanding each others' experiences, and more sharing on how to develop a common stand on the world being created against our will.

We invite you to stand with us by indicating your agreement with the following positions:

We promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture in our struggle to defend and rebuild our local communities.

We value and acknowledge farmers' services to humanity and future generations and therefore demand they be rewarded.

We support our rights as communities to retain control and remain in command over the regenerative capacities of the natural and biological worlds, including seed and our own lives.

We oppose the destruction of our landscapes, cultures and communities for the benefit of transnational corporations.

We reject biopiracy and corporate control of seeds; no patents on life forms.

You can see Our Common Ground in full at: Common Ground (in Word).

La version francaise de la vision "Un Terrain d'Entente" (Our Common Ground) est disponible à:

Terrain d' Entente (in Word).