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Raj Patel: Big Ag Can't Feed the World -- Here's Who Can

Critically acclaimed writer Raj Patel talks about the failure of the Green Revolution, the beauty of the commons, and why industrial agriculture will never be the answer to our food woes.

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For example, we have many fisheries that are sustainably managed by communities that are very connected to ecosystems around where they live. There are community-imposed restrictions on when you fish and the kind of fish you throw back in. But industrial fishing concerns have violated the knowledge that has been accumulated over generations. If there’s profit to be made this year, you worry a great deal less about what happens next year. That’s the idea of  Homo economicus  – it’s that although in economic models there is this fictitious selfish individual that floats around that has nothing really to do with human beings. It’s actually quite a good approximation of how corporations behave in our world today.

MNM: What are some of the most encouraging examples of groups or communities working for environmental and social justice?

RP: I’m really blown away by organizations like a Canadian group called  The Stop. They are a food bank that wants to put themselves out of business. That model of an  NGO, whose mission is never to exist, where very explicitly you work for jobs and political empowerment and gardens and spaces where communities can grow their own food, so that ultimately you will never need a food bank because it’s an embarrassment to society that a society needs a food bank. That’s the kind of NGO I’m more interested in rather than an NGO that’s set up to exist in perpetuity.

I’m also always inspired by  La Via Campesina, the international peasants’ movement that has over 200 million members by some estimates. I’m really impressed by how this organization is learning over time. There is not just one line in the sand that they draw and stick to it. It’s an organization within which struggle happens. So women’s rights have become increasingly important within La Via Campesina. That, I think, is a tremendously important given that peasants are often thought of as backwards relics of a bygone era.

I’m really impressed by this kind of political philosophy and scientific research coming from the poorest people on the planet. Their example is one everyone can learn from. So whether it’s NGOs in Canada or whether it’s barefoot farmers in Malawi, there are amazing lessons to be learned.



Maureen Nandini Mitra is managing editor of Earth Island Journal.
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