Discovering Possibilities for Hope
In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, known as the pesticide capital of the world, farmers are committing suicide. Tens of thousands of them, driven into crushing debt by their dependence on corporations for chemical inputs and patented seeds, have taken their lives since the late 1990s.
But this grim story has another face.
It is the face of thousands of farmers, women primary among them, who over the past decade have said no to industrial agriculture, and are returning to farming as an activity embedded in ecosystems, reliant on complex relationships among plants, animals, and the living soil. In the process, they are replacing corporate dependence with community interdependence.
This was one of the stories shared by Frances Moore Lappé, author of the 1971 best-seller Diet for a Small Planet, with hundreds of people at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts on February 1st. The event was organized by the Ottawa-based non-profit USC Canada.
The ideas presented in Lappé's latest book, EcoMind, formed the basis of much of her talk at St. Brigid's. Just as the farmers of Andhra Pradesh are rejecting the mechanistic approach to farming peddled by the Monsantos of the world in favour of one based on ecological thinking. Lappé argues that the key to solving environmental problems is not a technological fix but rather a seismic shift in our frame of mind.
Frances Moore Lappé speaking at St. Brigid`s Centre for the Arts in February.
Photo: Faris Ahmed, USC Canada
"I've learned that we don't see the world as it is, but as we are," Lappé told us. "We see the world though filters...[seeing only] what we expect to see."
"Scarcity-mind" is the term she uses to describe the dominant mindset of our culture. This mindset, she argues, block us from seeing the true solutions to many global crises, from global warming to the growing gap between rich and poor. It is premised on the belief that "there is just not enough"--not enough goods or resources to go around, and not enough goodness in human nature for us to share the little that exists. It keeps us narrowly focused on producing more (more food, more energy) as a way out of our problems.
Lappé contrasts this to what she calls an "ecomind," which assumes that the world is a place of plenty, and that we can co-create this plenty when we align with nature. It is similar to the worldviews of many indigenous cultures. Learning to think in this way, she argues, is the single most important thing we can do to start creating the world we want.
The "ecomind" perspective focuses more on the quality of our relationships--with each other, with the Earth--than on fixed quantities of resources. It assumes that human beings have the need and the capacity for cooperation, and that when this quality is fostered, incredible possibilities open up for problem solving that benefits the common good. It allows people to discover their power and become participants in living democracies.
They rarely make news headlines, but if we look for them, we can find many instances of this shift towards democracy and alignment with nature.
Lappé spoke of farmers in Niger, for instance, who are shrugging off narrow-minded thinking left over from colonial times that had defined trees as unwelcome nuisances that compete with crops for scarce water and nutrients. They have reforested over 12.5 million acres of land in recent years.
In India, forests in many regions are being managed by local communities, with each village setting and enforcing rules for the use of the surrounding forest using a participatory democratic process. The forests managed this way are thriving, says Lappé.
In Brazil, the infant mortality rate has been cut in half over the past decade by a government that is based on working for people's interests rather than moneyed interests.
The shift away from corporate-dependent agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, echoes a change taking place in rural communities worldwide. Farmers are reclaiming ways of growing food that are embedded within natural ecosystems and human relationships of solidarity. Sustaining this quiet transformation is one of the goals of USC Canada, which provides support to small-scale farmers around the world through its award-winning "Seeds of Survival" program.
It is crucial, Lappé argues, that hopeful stories such as these be told and re-told, to give us the inspiration and courage needed to confront the daunting circumstances we're up against.
Or, as she illustrates with a quote attributed, oddly enough, to the founder of Visa: "It is far too late, and things are far too bad, for pessimism."
For more information about Frances Moore Lappé and her writing, see smallplanet.org.
To learn more about USC Canada's work, see www.usc-canada.org. For a transcript of Frances Moore Lappé's talk, see www.usc-canada.org/lappe.
Lori Theresa Waller is a writer and editor based in Ottawa.
Last Updated (Friday, 23 November 2012 19:18)