Only a different kind of agriculture can help to fight pandemics
Maude Barlow, Tammi Jonas, Alex Liebman, Raffaele Morgantini, Rob Wallace and Christian Zeller debated the following theses with Eva Gelinsky*:
- Thesis 1: The increase in the emergence of viruses (zoonoses) is a consequence of our industrialised and globalised food production.
- Thesis 2: Those who cause the crisis are also its foremost beneficiaries
- Thesis 3: The way out of this impasse is a different “metabolism” between humankind and nature: agroecology and food sovereignty instead of factory farming and the privatisation of land and water.
*Eva Gelinsky faciliated the conference and wrote the conference reader. She works for various NGOs and started her own business in 2015 with her office semnar / saatgutpolitik & wissenschaft. Technical, legal and political-economic aspects of seeds, breeding, agriculture and patents are the main focus of her work. Eva lives on a small, diverse organic farm on Lake Baldegg (LU, Switzerland).
Global warming and the Covid-19 pandemic – why we have to radically transform our metabolism with nature
Christian Zeller, University of Salzburg
Since the beginning of agriculture people have used agriculture to change nature and landscapes. Industrial agriculture is now driving a social metabolism with nature that is destroying ecosystems on a large scale. It has become a destructive force that deprives humans and non-human nature of the basis of their existence. The colonization of nature goes hand in hand with the exploitation of labor. The capitalist compulsion to accumulate capital has driven the metabolic rift with nature to such an extent that the life-friendly configuration of the Holocene era has faltered and been replaced by the unstable Anthropocene. Survival in the Anthropocene requires radical societal responses.
Christian Zeller teaches economic geography and global studies at the University of Salzburg. He publishes on global uneven development, the growing importance of financial capital, valorisation and exploitation of nature, urban development and economic democracy. He is the author of Revolution für das Klima. Warum wir eine ökosozialistische Alternative brauchen, published 2020 by Oekom. He is engaged for a transnational ecosocialist movement from below.
Agrobusiness, finance capital and pandemics
The causes of the COVID-19 pandemic extend far beyond a virus and the travel and trade networks that spread it. SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, is only one in a series of novel and re-emerging infections that have escaped suddenly globalized hinterlands. These new geographies have been reshaped by a regimen of agribusiness consolidation, agricultural foreign direct investment, land grabbing, and the global livestock trade. How did this constellation of causes emerge? What are its geographic and evolutionary mechanisms? How might humanity exit the resulting epidemiological trap agribusiness and finance capital have laid for us?
In this talk, we will outline the racial capitalism that set the plantation logics, alienated metabolisms, and diseconomies of scale that, from the molecular to the planetary, amplify novel infections. We will describe the damage to disease control that industrialized food landscapes and capitalist natures render as a matter of first principle. We will end with a discussion of the ways agroecology–as agronomic practice, social movement, and mode of scientific understanding–embody the food production practices, regenerative livelihoods, decolonial knowledge production, and radical political struggles that upon wide adoption can keep the deadliest of infectious diseases from emerging in the first place.
Rob Wallace and Alex Liebman
Rob Wallace is an evolutionary epidemiologist with the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps. He is author of Big Farms Make Big Flu and coauthor of Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19 and Clear-Cutting Disease Control: Capital-Led Deforestation, Public Health Austerity, and Vector-Borne Infection. He has consulted with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alexander Liebman is interested in the turn towards Big Data science in agricultural research and its implications for climate change, peasant livelihoods, and agroecological landscapes. He explores how agricultural data science reproduces particular forms of standardization and homogeneity that constitute racialized and exclusionary forms of international development and environmental management across the global South.
Factory farming and its consequences
Devlin Kuyek (GRAIN)
The industrial meat industry is a primary vector and source for new, highly pathogenic diseases that can affect both animals and humans. However, the disease outbreaks and measures promoted by corporations and governments to deal with these growing disease risks, under the guise of “biosecurity”, are decimating small scale livestock farming and local processing, undermining the practices that can adequately address these problems at the source. This presentation will look at how the recent African Swine Fever (ASF) pandemic, which continues to ravage pig farms in Europe and Asia, is a product of the geographic expansion of factory farms and corporate supply chains into new areas. It will show how the ASF pandemic is deliberately used to wipe out small pig farms and consolidate the power of large meat corporations, even as these measures have been unable to stop the propagation of the disease. It will discuss the actors driving these developments and what can be done to counter the dangerous, dominant paradigm shaping the approach to livestock diseases.
Devlin Kuyek is a researcher at GRAIN, a small international non-profit organisation that supports small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. He monitors and analyses global agribusiness, including the global land rush and corporate concentration in the livestock sector.
Q&A with all speakers of the first day
with Devlin Kuyek, Alex Liebman, Rob Wallace und Christian Zeller
Global warming, water privatisation and public health
Maude Barlow (Canadian activist)
Water and sanitation are fundamental human rights. After long discussions, this has also been recognized by the UN. The importance of these rights was demonstrated once again during the pandemic. Everywhere people were advised to wash their hands as often as possible. But almost half of the world’s population has no way to do this, they have no access to clean water and sanitation.
The global water crisis does not only affect poor countries, it is a global problem. Many developed countries are experiencing serious water shortages, and the inequality that exists in the Global South is increasingly occurring in the wealthier nations of the Global North. The climate crisis is exacerbating the problems, but it is also our misuse of water that is making the crisis worse. Not only are we heating up the planet, we are polluting its water systems, damming and using them up, tapping them, diverting them.
Modern agriculture consumes vast amounts of water, which is transported as virtual water from the South to the North via food and feed exports.
The official answer to this global crisis is privatization and financialization. The overuse and exploitation of nature is said to take place because it has no or no correct price. As an instrument of control, it is therefore proposed to put prices on all of nature, which presupposes privatizing it. Water is also commercialized through free trade and investment agreements. Since 1985, water has been considered a tradable good subject to commercial trade rules.
Privatization of water, however, is not a solution. On the contrary, it exacerbates the problems. In order to preserve water as a common good, which is also a central element for the realization of food sovereignty, an international movement like the Blue Communities is needed.
Maude Barlow is a Canadian activist and author. She chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch and Ottawa-based Blue Planet Project. Maude co-founded the Council of Canadians and chaired its board for over three decades. She serves on the Board of Advisors of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and is a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council. Maude is the Chancellor of Brescia University College in London Ontario.
Maude is the recipient of fourteen honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alterna-tive Nobel”), the 2005 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Fellowship Award, the Citation of Lifetime Achievement at the 2008 Canadian Envi-ronment Awards, the 2009 Earth Day Canada Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award, the 2009 Planet in Focus Eco Hero Award, and the 2011 EarthCare Award, the highest international honor of the Sierra Club (US).
In 2008/2009, she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN. She is also the author of dozens of reports, as well as 19 books, including her latest, Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse and Canada’s Water Crisis; and Whose Water is it Anyway? Taking Water Protection Into Public Hands.
Agroecology. A life in common with nature
How do we have to transform agriculture if we want to prevent further pandemics? Which role do food sovereignty and agroecology play? Tammi Jonas will use the example of the Pandemic Research for the people project to answer these questions. Moreover, she is demonstrating, with her own farm, that environmental and people-friendly agriculture is possible.
Tammi Jonas is an agroecologist in principle and in practice. Along with her husband Stuart, she raises heritage-breed Large Black pastured pigs, cattle, and garlic on the unceded lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung people in the central highlands of Victoria, striving to care for country with grace, and with respect for the Jaara and their elders past, present, and emerging.
Tammi has been president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) since 2014, working to promote everyone’s right to nutritious and culturally-appropriate food produced and distributed in ethical and ecologically-sound ways, and our right to democratically determine our own food and agriculture systems. She is an editor and co-author of Farming Democracy: Radically transforming the food system from the ground up (2019). Tammi is also undertaking a PhD at the University of Western Australia on the biodiverse and decolonising practices of agroecological farmers, and the ecological, social, and political enabling conditions for an agroecological transition in Australia.
AFSA is actively engaged in the global fight for food sovereignty with comrades in La Via Campesina and the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), advocating across multiple UN agencies for an agroecological transition, and for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and peasants and their communities.
Panel Discussion: The buck stops here
The social and ecological transformation of agriculture: where and how do we start?
Raffaele Morgantini studied International Relations and Development and International Cooperation at Geneva and Brussels. He is currently the European representative for the Third World Centre (CETIM) at the UN in Geneva and responsible for the Human Rights Program. He participated as an advocacy officer in the negotiations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants between 2016-2018.
Background documents and links
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