Notebook Notes and Thoughts that Stuck

The Foro de Seguridad y Soberanía Alimentaria (Food Security and Sovereignty Forum) at the University of El Salvador in San Salvador included presentations on Climate Change, Water Contamination and Responsible Use, Trade Agreements and Economic Forces which Impact Food Prices (including product dumping by international businesses into El Salvador) and Minimum Wage Disparities for Agricultural Workers (and discrimination as one impacting factor).

The forum began with a brief address by the moderator.  I wrote down two things which he said:   "One goal of this forum is to help us to construct a culture of growing food for ourselves without chemicals and without genetically modified seeds."   Recognizing that without water, agriculture cannot happen, the moderator stated, "The next war in El Salvador will be over water.  Water in San Salvador and in our other cities is already rationed.  We need to recognize the crisis."

Over all the years in which I have walked with our brothers and sisters in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, these two issues:  food and water, have been central in our ministry together:  flood management on the Rio Paz and Rio Grande San Miguel, contamination of the Rio Lempa, droughts and increasing temperatures causing hunger crises, wells going dry, contaminated water making people sick and on and on.  Every community.  Thousands of families.  The speakers at the forum were speaking the language of the church, and the Lutheran Church is intimately connected with an impressive network of creation-caring agencies and people.

Kevin Carter, 1993
The first speaker, William Rondy (of CEICOM - Center of Investigation of Trade and Investment - a non-governmental organization)  has been very much connected to the organic agronomy program at the Salvadoran Lutheran University.  He started his talk by showing an iconic photo of a little girl being stared at by a vulture.  Next he showed a photo of important world leaders.  "It's time to cry out, 'Human development is not helping everyone.'"

Mr. Rondy spoke about El Salvador's poverty and hunger issues within the context of global distribution of wealth and world hunger.  Then he shared a couple of examples everyone could understand.  He asked for a show of hands of anyone who had eaten a type of bird (some little indigenous species I did not understand).  A couple of old people raised their hands.  Then he asked for a show of hands of anyone who had eaten chicken.  He asked about the beans Salvadorans eat - those famous little red ones...

Salvadorans used to eat little spotted black ones.  Why did we stop eating those? Who decides what is good to eat and what is not good to eat?  Take Coca Cola.  Do we drink it because it is delicious?  We used to drink delicious beverages made from seeds and fruits.  If I told you today, "Eat this fried cockroach head, it is really delicious" you would maybe not eat it, but if I keep telling you it is delicious then ten years from now the whole country would be eating fried cockroach heads.  

What does the tag in the back of your shirt say?  Made in China.  Who decided all of our clothes would be made in China?  Low prices?  If the Chinese shirt is cheaper than the Salvadoran one, which do we buy?  When all the Salvadoran shirt-makers are out of business, then how much will the Chinese shirt cost?  Similarly the world is being divided up into zones of production for agriculture.  When products are grown in one vast zone, all with the same seed, all with the same fertilizer and chemicals, what happens?  More plagues.  And what if there is a disaster in that food zone?  And what if we are not producing any of our own foods?  We all go hungry.  This is why it is important to buy from small farmers who produce diverse, local products. 

Food sovereignty means that a country like El Salvador has the right and ability to grow its own food at prices that are fair for farmers and for consumers without unfair competition from subsidized foreign food (like US corn) which is dumped into the Salvadoran market.  As church folk we often find ourselves working to provide aid to people in need, and we need to be aware of the roles which US trade policy plays in creating and mitigating need.  We need to learn about the impacts of foreign aid food shipments made by the US government and by charitable organizations - shipments which contain food grown in the US by farmers subsidized by the US government - on local markets.  We need to learn about and advocate for locally procured food aid programs.

Angela Rodriguez
Angela Rodriguez, of the Economics Department at the University of El Salvador, focused much of her presentation on labor:   Fifty percent of our population is employed in the informal economy.  We need to understand this within  the context of things like product dumping (when multi-national corporations sell their product in El Salvador at a lower price than what local farmers can charge for their products).  For poor people, cheaper prices are attractive and important... but this drives down the prices local farmers can charge for their food...

We need to start looking at the producers of our food as valuable members of society worthy of a dignified minimum wage.  We need to allocate quality land to food production.  All of our local food production is done on the worst land, in rocky soil, on steep hills.  This causes us to have to import basic grains, which uses up valuable capital that we could spend on our own development.   Without land to farm, without employment opportunities, our agricultural workers are forced to migrate to other countries to find work...

Oscar Alemán
The final speaker was Oscar Alemán, a student activist from the Lutheran University.  He shared a video about the causes of global warming which was designed in a popular education style.  He did a quick lesson on soil, photosynthesis, worms, natural fertilizer and drew out a timeline of agricultural practices from the time before the Spanish conquest to the Green revolution.

The Green Revolution of the 20th century marks the time when governments and businesses cooperated to transition from smaller farms to industrial farming... We were told this would help us to feed the planet.  That this was the only way we could feed the planet - to farm using monoculture (one crop planted close together in vast fields - this type of farming is highly dependent on the use of pesticides, weed killers, fungicides, and chemical fertilizer, as well as the development of modified seeds which depend on the use of these products).  "To feed the planet" was an excuse - who really benefited from the Green Revolution?  Poor people on our planet are still hungry.  

We need to go back to the agricultural practices of our ancestors.  We need to honor women and men together in the field.  We need to focus on product diversity, and forest agriculture - planting trees to shade the little crops and to hold moisture in the soil.  

A bit of my container garden
We hear the word "plagues" but we know that every insect and every fungus was created by God or evolved (whatever you want to say) for a reason.  Each organism has its purpose.  In organic agriculture we use preventive medicine for our plants, natural repellents planting one plant near another so they grow together and feed the soil.  We focus on water harvesting and community water project development so that we can grow plants cyclically and have continual harvest in local gardens.  

There is earth below the cement.  Plant your food!

This was the last thing I wrote in my notes from my day as a student:  "There is earth below the cement.  Plant your food! "  Can't move the cement?  Plant in buckets or bags on top of it!  After all I learned at the forum, I think I also want to say:
1.  Plant your food!
2.  Support local, chemical-free gardens and farms!
3.  Try to learn something new about global food production and how US policies and trade impact people who live in poverty and small farmers around the world.


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