Tuesday, May 06, 2008

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development
Newsletter #48
May 1, 2008


Message from the Editorial Team

The crisis of the current agricultural model
Another agriculture is possible: a proximity agriculture

European Centre for Resources for Employer Groups
Innovative territorial initiatives in the labour market

Message from the Editorial Team

The increasingly globalized agricultural crisis strikes hardest the most vulnerable populations and countries. This issue of our Newsletter is devoted to emphasizing the adverse effects of the excessive «marketization» practiced today on the most basic and fundamental need, that of being able to feed oneself. We could summarize the current situation by a sentence heard over the radio: The obsession with profit is starving the poorest.

The bad news are now a daily occurrence in the media; the UN organisation FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and WFP (World Food Programme) are sending alarm signals.

As for us, we firmly believe that another agriculture is possible, even essential for the survival of the planet and its inhabitants.

Just as the local territory will be the site for harmonisation of consumers’ and farmers’ expectations, the example of Employer Groups (GE) shows that it is at the local territory level that the expectations of employers and employees can be best harmonized.

Editorial Team
Yvon Poirier
Martine Théveniaut

The crisis of the current agricultural model
Another agriculture is possible: a proximity agriculture

Until 1940, even in the most developed countries of Europe or North America, over 95% of the consumption of food came from local or regional production. Therefore, even a metropolis like New York lived on products from neighbouring states like New Jersey (a 100 to 200 km radius).

Less than 75 years later, the situation is exactly the opposite. The arrival of major food chains totally changed the picture. In the province of Quebec (8 million inhabitants) in Canada, the market is dominated up to 95% by four distribution networks. Thus, agricultural production is directed to large centralized storage facilities and thereafter towards grocery stores in each city and region. Although approximately 50% of the production consumed comes from farmers in Quebec, this model has resulted in serious consequences:
As the big chains are looking for suppliers who can supply all their stores, small farms, often family farms disappear;
As the big chains choose the best price, there is a double effect, a downward pressure on prices paid to farmers, and the choice of a producer does not take into account the distances.

In all industrialized countries, the mileage each product travels becomes enormous. Thus, a carrot producer can be 500 km from Montreal. Therefore, carrots are sent to a central warehouse and travel back to the large surface-producing region. The carrot will have travelled 1,000 km before being consumed in its own production region. It would be possible to illustrate this phenomenon for the entire production. These facts are well known.

The industrialization of agriculture, accompanied by a general use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers and pesticides has led to a significant increase in agricultural productivity. Thus, in North America, households spend no more than 11% of their purchases for food, compared to over 20% in 1960.

Although the success of this type of agriculture is undeniable, it has drawbacks; it depends on low-cost energy (oil) and the petrochemical industry products. To illustrate: the production of corn in the USA increased by 346% between 1910 and 1983, but energy consumption for all agriculture increased by 810%. Two other examples: a head of lettuce produced in California and consumed in New York costs 36 times more calories of energy than the lettuce itself contains, a kilogram of grapes from Chile transported to North America emits 6 kilos of CO2.

Meanwhile, structural adjustment policies (SAP) of the IMF to liberalize markets have forced many countries, particularly in Africa, to abandon their agricultural food policies, while rich countries continue to subsidize their own productions. Thus, in Senegal, a kilogram of onions from the Netherlands is cheaper than a kilogram produced in its own country.

And more recently, the logic of free market means that large agricultural production, as is the case for 20% of the corn grown in USA is diverted for ethanol production, further exacerbating the current situation.

Can we act otherwise?

In his book, Deep Economy: the wealth of communities and the durable future, author Bill McKibben describes the alternative. And this alternative already exists, and it is growing. As described in our previous issue (the URGENCI network), agriculture supported by the community, public markets of local producers and organic farming are expanding.

For example, let’s mention that in 1970 in the USA, there were only 340 public farmers’ markets, but in 2004 there were 3,700. The phenomenon is identified in other countries. In the case of Cuba, the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated the supply of cheap oil. Thus overnight, Cuban agriculture, built on the Soviet model of large farms was radically transformed into community and urban production. Therefore, Havana produces most of its food locally, with an essentially organic agriculture, without fertilizers and pesticides.

The British agronomist, Jules Pretty studied over 200 cases of sustainable agriculture in 52 countries. The results show that sustainable agriculture has the ability to produce more food per hectare than industrialized agriculture, and at lower cost. Industrialized agriculture still dominates because it is the one that gives greater financial returns per hectare.

The reconstruction of local communities

The capitalist agricultural model, particularly in its neo-liberal form, contributes to the disappearance of small farms, resulting in an exodus of people from rural areas to large urban centres. But, even more destructive is the total disconnection which has occurred between producers and consumers.

However, the number of consumers and producers who are building this new approach to agriculture has increased to the point where trends have reversed. In the state of Oregon in the American west, the number of full-time farmers has risen from 13,384 in 1974 to 21,580 in 2002.

In light of the current crisis and with the knowledge and techniques already known, this article shows that close proximity agriculture will be the only one that will allow a major shift towards a sustainable agriculture; capable of feeding the population of each country, capable of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, and capable of rebuilding the social fabric between producers and consumers, between the cities and their surrounding territories.

Author : Yvon Poirier

European Centre for Resources for Employer Groups
Innovative territorial initiatives in the labour market

Time-sharing hiring practises: an organizational innovation that meets the economic and social needs of employers and workers from the same basin of life.

Social invention is part of the Poitou-Charentes region, since the 1985 law creating Employer Groups (GE) was enacted in France. The GE is an innovation to organize time-sharing workers: part-time sharing of skilled employees, seasonal work, increased activity, anticipation of recruitment, stabilization of employment. First largely approved by the farming community, this tool spread through a multi-sectorial approach. Regional results in 2007: 1700 employees, 2100 adhering structures to a GE and a total financial operations of 35 million €. By focusing on a win-win relationship, GE are adapting and anticipating changes in the global market for the benefit of sustainable employment for citizens.

This type of innovation is spreading and is adopted in several regions of France and European countries: In 2001 in Belgium, a first employers group in Brussels, Jobiris, in the agri-food sector, now has some twenty employees. Similarly, in Germany in 2004, the first employers group was in the Land of Brandenburg. There are now four groups in Germany and many projects in the states of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, especially in the agricultural environment.

To federate is to gather and not standardize: the principle of subsidiarity is vital.

The Employer Groups have organized their 2nd European Convention around a participatory debate in Brussels on February 22, 2008 in the presence of the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Špidla, and the president of the Committee of Regions, Luc Van den Branden. The meeting helped to initiate the creation of the European Centre for Resources for Employer Groups, the CERGE. France Joubert, who initiated the movement, will be the first president. The aim of CERGE is to promote the GE tool and to spread in all regions of the greater Europe. The launch adopts the model of the Resource Centre, as practised for almost ten years in Poitou-Charentes. This form of joint organization brings together employers and employees, as well as representatives of the social solidarity economy, with a rotating presidency. It has shown its ability to stand the test of territory to address the problems of labour, employment, but also those of the creation of activities, housing or services, which are interdependent problems. The answers are more inventive, and support that everyone brings a share of success.

Martine Theveniaut, meeting participant
For further information (French only): http://www.crge.com/

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Special thanks to:
Évéline Poirier from Canada for the English translation
Brunilda Rafael from France for the Spanish translation
Michel Colin from Brazil for the Portuguese translation

To contact us (for information, feedback, to subscribe or unsubscribe):
Yvon Poirier ypoirier@videotron.ca