To the Editor:
Some thoughts on reading “Hope for Alleviating International Hunger” in the June-August issue of The MOF&G, about the ECHO farm in Fort Myers, Florida, where “development” workers from other agencies learn about tropical food gardening, and where hard-to-get tropical seeds are sent to groups that need them: There is another side to this “international hunger” story that we should be aware of. We are often told that overpopulation is the cause of hunger in “under-developed” countries, which may well be the case in the future, and with accelerating climate change, but, until now, according to World Watch and other watchdog agencies, the problem is distribution and access to land, not lack of food. People who do not get enough food are excluded from land on which to grow it and do not have the money to buy what food is available. The good land is used to produce cash export crops for us, here, in North America and Europe: tropical fruits (bananas, citrus, etc.), tropical oils for our processed foods, cotton, coffee, tea, chocolate and flowers (!), all shipped to the “developed” world and eagerly and ignorantly bought by us in our supermarkets. An historical example of this situation is the Irish “potato” famine, when the British were shipping grain and beef out of Ireland while the indigenous people starved.
The people back where these commodities come from are pushed into ballooning cities, up erodable mountain sides (to be washed out by Hurricane Mitch), and into forests that belong to other peoples. Shrimp aquaculture, tourist development, mining and oil operations, and big dams that flood the good bottom land to electrify cities and irrigate export crops all have a like effect. These peasants who are forced off good land often had great skill in gardening and cultivated intricate, very productive, multilayer tropical gardens. (The Mayan “back yards” are, were, year-round tropical edens of food.) But their skills can be lost in a generation of city or fugitive life.
So now, ECHO is learning and teaching what is being lost in these threatened areas because of our own purchasing, investment and political policies. (Our government supports the companies that ship us all this stuff, and often the political regimes in which they function.)
We should be teaching ourselves the skills that are being lost by our economic choices, of how to grow wonderful tropical and temperate gardens, and how to respect the people who do. ECHO is teaching us this lesson.
Another very important service that “development” workers provide, even unintentionally, is to witness the injustice of land ownership and political power in the countries where they work, and to provide some little protection by their very presence, for peasants who might otherwise be bullied or worse under military and oligarchic regimes. (Perhaps political innocence makes them less likely to get into trouble themselves.)
To be in touch, to educate yourselves and help with the political side of “international hunger,” contact:
Food First (Institute for Food & Development Policy), 398 60th St., Oakland CA 94618; Tel. 510-654-4400; www.foodfirst.org
(Read: Food First, Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, for solid, massively documented background.)
Global Exchange, 2017 Mission St., Rm. 303, San Francisco CA 94110; Tel. 415-255-7296; www.globalexchange.org
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2105 1st Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404; www.iatp.org
Oxfam, 26 West St., Boston MA 02111-1206; 800-77-OXFAM; www.oxfamamerica.org
Public Citizen, Global Trade Watch Project, 1600 20th St. NW, Washington DC 20009-1001; 612-870-0453
Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, Environmental Research Foundation, PO Box 5036, Annapolis MD 21403-7036; www.rachel.org
The World Watch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington DC 20036; 800-555-2028; www.worldwatch.org (Magazine: World Watch; Annual reports, State of the World and Vital Signs; and World Watch Papers [reports])
– Beedy Parker