Economic issues, English, Human Rights

Imagine ! New South Asia

Sarath Fernando, MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform), Sri Lanka
( 27-28 March,2007, Imagine New South Asia, New Delhi, India)

“Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life”.

I would like to imagine a new South Asia and a new world, where “every single individual on earth will have the possibility of living a decent life”. One simple and obvious requirement for a decent life is that no individual should be hungry or should not die of hunger. Therefore, before we go too far into complex and complicated imaginations can we think of a South Asia and a world where no human being would be compelled to die of hunger. This should be quite easy to achieve, because it is admitted that the world, the earth, has capacity to produce enough food for all human beings and more.

We know very well that over the centuries the processes of production, forms of distribution and consumption have not looked at the need to sustain the earth’s capacity or the nature’s capacity to continually “regenerate” its resources, the resources that are necessary for the survival of humans and all other living beings. Thus, most of these processes have been so designed that they deplete these resources and destroy the nature’s ability to regenerate itself. In spite of such massive destruction, almost throughout the history of what is described as “Human advancement” it has still been possible for the World to say that the ability of the world to produce enough to feed all is not yet lost.. Therefore it should be possible to imagine a world and a South Asia where no one goes hungry, at least where no human person dies of hunger.

I say it should be quite easy, since some simple birds such as crows may not be dying of hunger. At least I guess that the numbers of crows dying of hunger should be less than the number of human beings dying of hunger. This I believe because crows are free to feed themselves when and wherever they are hungry. They do not have to earn money to pay for their food. Neither do they have to have permission to eat from wherever there is food, if they are hungry. Therefore, we human beings who are assumed to be more intelligent, rational, and capable, should be able to think of an arrangement where all human beings should be free to eat from wherever there is food, even when they do not have the money to pay for it. Or as the crows do, they should be able to move to places where they could find food freely. All human beings will look for food or will produce food, to avoid being hungry, if they are given the possibility

In dealing with the right and the potential of every human being to have a decent life, I would like to begin by looking at the possibility of all human beings having food, because if we can imagine a process that would help us in South Asia and in the World, to ensure that all human beings will have this requirement fulfilled, it would be easy to envisage the more comprehensive processes that are necessary to ensure that all will have decent lives. Giving people the possibility of using their potential to be free of hunger would mean that they would also have the possibility of using their potentials to achieve better lives in other respects too.

A simple way of achieving this is for all those who are controlling the processes of food production and distribution and all those who have ownership over the nature’s resources necessary for food production such as land, water, machinery, technology, sciences, trade etc. and all those who design systems, rules and regulations, to agree that the way they utilize these should ensure that all human beings should have food in quantity and quality necessary for them to survive and have a decent life. This we know is difficult to achieve, because the above categories of people do not utilize their resources (nature’s resources over which they have acquired control ) for the purpose of feeding all. That was the original purpose for which humankind started using nature’s resources. But this purpose is now lost, almost completely.

The only group of people who would, surely and genuinely, be interested in using nature’s resources for eradication of hunger is those who are compelled to be hungry and are even compelled to die of hunger. Therefore, it is logical to propose that we should begin the process of transforming the purpose for which nature’s resources, particularly the resources that are necessary to eradicate hunger, are being used, by allowing them to be the planners or the designers of this process of transformation. We have to recognize that they have to set the agenda for eradication of hunger. It is not realistic to assume that those who have control over capital, land, technology and science and therefore the control over plans, will willingly give them over to the hungry and the poor and give up their plans of profit making at the cost of massive hunger, poverty and death.

Thus, the poor and the hungry will have to begin their process of eradicating hunger without depending on these. This means that their process of overcoming hunger should begin with “non dependence” on external capital and other requirements that are seen as necessary for food production. In other words, such a strategy by the poor and the hungry should be one where they maximize the free gifts of nature, without destroying or depleting them or their process of regeneration. If they utilize nature’s resources in a way that does not destroy regeneration, they will be working for survival of life and of nature’s resources. Thus, they have a “moral right” to take control over such resources. Those who plunder and destroy nature for greed and profit do not have this moral right.

From the beginning of human evolution about 250,000 years ago, humankind survived simply on what was given free by nature,. Agriculture is said to have emerged only about 10,000 years ago. Within a very short period of, say, less than 500 years, the way agriculture , industry, trade and consumption has been done has led to a serious crisis that threatens the survival of all. This is why the world has had to think seriously about “sustainability”. However, sustaining approaches that are fundamentally unscientific and irrational should not be our task. What we need to think of is the way of reversing these processes. This reversal should be in the direction of production , distribution and consumption becoming processes of “regeneration” and not of “depletion and destruction”. What we need are not approaches that are merely “sustainable” but those that are “regenerative”. This is possible especially in the way we do agriculture. The way we deal with land, plants, water, sunlight, soil and its fertility, seeds and biodiversity. How do we deal with nature and its ways? The approach must be one of recovering nature’s capacity and nature’s potential for regeneration.. We have to embark on a process of remedying the damage. How is this possible? Who are the people who will want to do this?, who are those capable of reversing these losses? It is those who are compelled to achieve their survival by living in harmony with nature, who are the most qualified to do this.

Fortunately, we live in a situation where such people number millions in each country and in billions in the region. Can we imagine a South Asia where such millions or billions begin to imagine a future where they recover the nature’s potential to provide for their survival?

It may not be very effective to imagine the present rulers, the present economic powers, the leaders of the present systems of destruction would understand or accept such a vision and a process. Their power of imagination is limited by their desire to make and accumulate profit. Therefore, it is important to visualize a process that would lead to the situation where such a vision, such imagination would capture the minds of millions of those destined to be excluded in the present and ongoing processes.

In South Asia, a very large section of the population is already in this situation where they are almost completely excluded from the market, market as designed by the profit makers and the rich. These numbers of the excluded, are rapidly increasing. It is already planned and envisaged that such small scale farmers, the peasants who depend on nature’s gifts for their survival would be completely eliminated. The reality therefore is that they are pushed to a situation where they have to fight against these tendencies and designs, for their very survival. Thus, a vision of recovery, a vision of regaining their right to have control over these resources and to use them in a manner that would not destroy the potential of nature’s resources for providing for survival of all, all human’s and all other living beings is essential and such a vision would give them the conviction and strength to fight for the right to restore nature’s ability to provide for survival of all.

This is not pure imagination, it is a process and a vision that already exists and is growing. The concept of “food sovereignty” describes this right to restore the human potential and the nature’s potential. This concept is already accepted and fought for by movements such as Via Campasina. The ecological agriculture practiced by large and increasing number of farmers, small scale fisher people, forest people and indigenous communities, the tribals, rural women and their movements are becoming a growing movement in all parts of the world.

South Asia’s richness in knowledge and experience and also the very wide spread application of these approaches in India and other countries in South Asia could be unparalleled. Natural advantages that exist in most parts of South Asia for such an approach needs to be studied and recognized too.

South Asia has the richness of ancient sciences of health such as ayurveda, ancient knowledge of working with nature in agriculture, wisdom of the Buddha who understood and preached that greed and accumulation only leads to suffering. This has to be seen not merely as religion or philosophy. But it has to be seen as some thing that guides science, technology, economic and social planning. The rich contributions made by great thinkers, strategists and fighters such as Mahathma Gandhi that can tremendously strengthen the hungry and the poor to create a more rational future for all. For Mahatma Gandhi introduction of the “charaka” was a way in which millions of people could be provided the opportunity of feeling that they are “usefully engaged” and he made this a means of mobilizing millions in struggle.
What is most important is to recognize the right and the potential of the hungry, the poor and those already excluded from the systems designed by the market to create and regain a world that would allow them to survive. It is necessary to de- legitimize all powers, structures and processes that obstruct the poor and the excluded people from setting their own agenda, an agenda that will not only save them but will ultimately save all others. This process of de legitimization is a necessary condition for establishing the legitimacy of the poor to set their own agenda. Are we willing to imagine such a new South Asia and a new world? Are we willing to give legitimacy to such a process.

“We must remember that nearly half the world’s population, even today, lives directly on the land, growing food for their families and communities. They emphasize growing staples and a mix of diverse crops and they replant with indigenous seed varieties that their communities have developed over centuries. They have perfected their own fertilizers, crop rotations, and pesticide management and their communities share all elements of local commons, including seeds, water and labour. Such systems have kept hundreds of millions of people going for millennia. No one claims these people are getting wealthy. But let’s not call them all poverty stricken either, at least not until the IMF and World Bank and other institutions got into the Act.”

Jerry Mander, Debi Barker, David Korten – International Forum on Globalisation

People excluded from the market led economies have to device ways and create a new world and new world systems that would not exclude them completely and would want to eliminate them. All others who do not want this to happen could help and contribute to the creation of such a society by giving recognition and legitimacy to this process of creating a new approach. This involves a new understanding of the way human beings should relate to nature and to all other humans and living beings. This will therefore imply a new understanding of nature’ s resources, of science and technology, methods of production and distribution and finally of wealth and happiness. Such an understanding has the potential not only of saving the poor and those being excluded but of saving all.