Thursday, April 01, 2010

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development
Newsletter #67
April 1st 2010


Message from the Editorial Team

The Urgenci International Network, Kobe Conference 2010: Community supported foods and farming

Solidarity Economy in Nepal

Message from the Editorial Team

There are many varied initiatives in Asia in the field of local and community development, social and solidarity economy.

In this number Judith Hitchman shares the results of her participation in the URGENCI network Symposium that was held in Japan. Yvon Poirier took part in a meeting organised by the recently developed Nepalese Solidarity Economy Network.

In both instances, the field trips allowed us to observe how rich and strong a more community-oriented economy can become, when it is anchored in the needs of the local population.

Editorial Team
Judith Hitchman
Yvon Poirier
Martine Theveniaut

The Urgenci International Network, Kobe Conference 2010: Community supported foods and farming
The background
With the world in a state of on-going economic, financial, social and environmental crises, the relevance of local actions is greater than ever before. The importance of food sovereignty at local community level has taken on a new meaning. Not that Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a new phenomenon. The concept was first developed in Japan in the early 1970s, to try to guarantee healthy organic food at a time when mercury poisoning had led to Minemata disease, mother’s milk poisoned their children, and pollution was causing increasing environmental havoc. Three separate initiatives came together, led largely by Yoshinori Kaneko, to form the Japanese Teikei system. A similar unrelated birth occurred in Switzerland around the same period. As Elizabeth Henderson, one of the leading figures in the field of CSA and the global fight for local solidarity-based partnerships between producers and consumers so rightly says: “A century of ‘development’ has broken the connection between people and the land where their food is grown in many countries, North and South. A few decades of free trade have driven family-scale farms to the point of desperation. A long series of food scandals - illness from food-borne pathogens, milk and other products contaminated with GMOs and chemical pollutants - have led to a crisis of confidence in imported foods from industrial-scale farms. CSA offers a return to wholeness, health and economic viability”.

The Urgenci International Network brings together the many different national networks of consumer-producer partnerships from different countries all over the world. Its key aims are to disseminate and promote the concept of Community Supported Agriculture, as well as other related issues, such as the preservation of biodiversity and access to land. It also includes other similar concepts, such as farmers’ markets. The current global situation is leading to a natural development of the phenomenon, and it is a vital part of building a new solidarity-based economy.

An exemplary case-study: Tamba city local authorities play their part.
Japanese culture is largely based on the concept of harmony and peace, which is not an easy challenge in a country where 21 per cent of the population are over 65, agricultural land increasingly lying fallow, more food imported from abroad, young people moving from the rural to the urban lifestyle… Food also plays a very central role in Japanese lifestyles, and is traditionally one of the finest cuisines in the world.

We had the unique opportunity of a field trip to Tamba city before the Kobe conference took place, to visit a local initiative. Tamba city is the result of 6 different towns merging some years ago. It has a population of 71,000, and is situated in the Hyogo Prefecture, about an hour’s drive from Kobe. It is where Shinji Hashimoto, one of the members of the Urgenci International Committee lives and farms. The region is famous for both its beautiful scenery and its food.

In order to develop the Teikei system, and address some of the challenges stated above, Shinji was largely instrumental in convincing the Local Authorities to financially support some 20 young people from various cities who wanted to become farmers to gain access to farmland. He helped to initiate an apprenticeship scheme so that the young people could learn their new profession, alternating between internship and working their own rented farms. The initiative has proven highly successful, with over 1,000 consumers benefiting from the box scheme and able to buy reasonably priced organic fruit and vegetables for ten months of the year.

The producers and consumers involved in the scheme prepared one of the finest banquets I have ever eaten for our group, all from local produce, all cooked by members of the Teikei scheme. The ceremonial speeches were moving, with the mayor and other local figures speaking and toasting the farmers and the group of foreign visitors. The farmers all introduced themselves to the group, and presented their individual projects. Most had left factory jobs in cities to take up a rural life and serve their community by producing healthy food.

Using and preserving nature
The search for harmony already mentioned above can best be illustrated by the approach to growing organic rice and preservation of the wetlands: the paddy fields are populated with ducks. They keep them clean, provide natural fertiliser, and good healthy meat. The Oriental Stork (konotori), is a bird that is very sensitive to pollution. It became extinct in Japan due to “modern” farming practices killing off its food supply of frogs, fish and other wetland animals. The last bird died near Kinosaki in 1971.

Konotori no Sato Park was built to reintroduce the storks to Japan using birds obtained from Russia. The storks themselves are now designated a special protected animal by the government, and have become a symbol of the Tajima region around Kinosaki where I spent several days, where even the local airport is named after them (Konotori Tajima Airport).

Located 10 km south of Kinosaki, the Konotori no Sato Park is part museum and part breeding habitat, where visitors can learn about the storks, the breeding program and conservation, as well as see the birds on the sanctuary grounds.

The aims of the program are being realized as local farmers are altering their farming practices to preserve the wetland habitat, and the storks are being successfully reintroduced into the wild. In May 2007, for the first time since 1964 a stork chick hatched in nature. Its parents were born at the sanctuary and released into the wild. The Teikei farmers of the region are very proud of their storks, and rightly so!

Challenges and threats
One major challenge facing all forms of alternative economic production in general, and food in particular, is that of standards and quality. In a world where the transnational agribusiness has imposed quality certification costs that are prohibitive for small-scale producers, there is an even greater risk of being excluded from the market. The participatory guarantee system (PGS), such as Nature et Progrès in France, does however provide a positive answer to this. A similar system operates in Japan. A far greater and more insidious threat is the industrial-scale production of organic food by transnational corporations, trying to cash in on the ‘niche market’ of the increasing number of people who have understood the dangers of GMOs and pesticides, but are unable to distinguish between industrial-organic and family-farm produce, and who see the organic food sold in supermarkets as an attractive option. It seems important to me to raise public awareness on this issue.

Scaling up the local approach and building networks
Like so many of the case studies illustrated in other articles of this newsletter, the Teikei system and other CSA approaches (AMAP in France, GAS in Italy, farmers markets in the UK, Equiterre in Quebec, Vodelsteams in Belgium, Reciproco in Portugal…) are all based on a form of sustainable local development. Local food, local jobs, less fuel, fewer food miles… As Elizabeth Henderson states: “Each local food project takes its shape from the tastes, talents, needs and resources of its creators. The more we can learn from and support one another, the faster we will move toward sustainable and peaceful communities”. To achieve this, the Urgenci international network intends to continue disseminating the Local Solidarity Partnerships between Producers and Consumers (LSPPC) approach, and build alliances and partnerships with other networks to strengthen the ability of civil society to fight the multiple crises.

Judith Hitchman
Activist and special envoy in charge of intercultural relations
with the International Committee of URGENCI
Original article in English

Solidarity Economy in Nepal
On March 4th, the Solidarity Economy Network (SEN-Nepal), currently under construction, organized a workshop to better understand the origins of different concepts such as social economy and solidarity economy, the history of the SSE movement, the current global issues and the challenges of networking. Approximately thirty (30) people from more than twenty (20) organizations attended the workshop. Among these organizations, there were some from social economy enterprises such as cooperatives in agriculture and in savings and loans, a national association of groups of forest users, micro-finance, fair trade organizations and advocacy groups, etc.

For this occasion, the coordinating committee's provisional network invited me to make a presentation on how to meet their targeted objectives. Since this was the first time that several of the organizations were participating in a network meeting (the most important meeting to date), the coordinating committee presented its action plan for the year. One objective of the plan is to become better known and recognized, especially in the media. Various opportunities can be used for the advancement of the social solidarity economy. The restoration of democracy with the king's forced abdication in 2006, and the end of armed insurrection provides a more favourable environment for development. The Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 is under the legal obligation to adopt a new constitution before the end of May. With the establishment of a federal republic and the elections that will follow, Nepal will work to rebuild an economy that meets the urgent needs of the population. The situation is therefore more conducive to proposing the inclusion of the social solidarity economy in public policy.

At the request of the organizers of the workshop, the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI), a Canadian international NGO, the costs of my participation were covered through a short-term mission of the UNITERRA program.

I cannot conclude this short article without mentioning the importance of a vast organization of forestry users that I first got to know when I met them at the World Social Forum in January 2005. FECOFUN (Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal) consists of 12,500 user groups (who have been entrusted with the forest), representing a total of 1.7 million families, or about 9 million people. Considering that the population of Nepal is 28 million, 1/3 of the population is a member of the association. This association, which considers itself as part of the social solidarity economy is by far the largest civil society association in Nepal. It is also an active member of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international certification organization dedicated to the responsible management of the forest.

I wish to thank Sunil Chitrakar from the Nepal Fair Trade Group and member of Board of Directors of RIPESS for organizing my participation in the workshop and the CECI office in Nepal for their hospitality and support.
Yvon Poirier
Member of the International Comittee of CCEDNet
(Canadian Community Economic Development Network)
and Comité international du Chantier de l’économie sociale du Québec
(a social solidarity network in the province of Quebec)

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Special thanks to:
Évéline Poirier (Canada) and Judith Hitchman (France) for the English translation
Brunilda Rafael (France) for the Spanish translation
Michel Colin (Brazil) for the Portuguese translation

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