As usual much has been happening for AFSA and on the food sovereignty front in Australia.
Food Sovereignty and Food Security
David Holmgren has some interesting things to say on food security and food sovereignty. His comments on food sovereignty are incomplete, so we have asked for a right of reply/clarification with the wonderful new PIP magazine where an abridged version of was published.
Planning is well underway for Fair Food Week 2014 and will be launched very soon. We have some exciting developments in the pipeline and you will be the first to know as soon as they are locked in.
Free Trade Deal with Japan
As you may be aware, Australia has signed a 'free trade deal' with Japan. As Japan is a net importer of food, the trade barriers and tariffs that Japan has in place are there to protect her own farmers and food sovereignty. If trade is meant to be mutually beneficial, how does the reduction in tariffs benefit Japanese farmers? It doesn’t. A very small minority of Australian farmers might benefit from this trade agreement, but the bulk of Japanese farmers will suffer. There is no mutuality or reciprocity in this trade agreement, other than the vague and untested assertion that “consumers will benefit”.
The benefits to Australia are touted as a reduction in car and electronics prices. I am sure you are aware, but most of the Japanese brands are made in other parts of Asia, so that benefit is marginal at best. And for this marginal benefit, and the boost in profits to a handful of Australian corporate exporters, we will damage the livelihoods of Japanese farmers, sending thousands of them to the wall. This is a narrow and selfish agreement designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many and food sovereignty.
Whilst we are on the topic of 'free trade deals', we all need to be aware that the Trans Pacific Partnership is actively undermining the potential for food sovereignty in Australia. The ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provisions allow foreign corporations the right to sue our national state and local governments for the potential loss of profits. The coalition government thinks this is a great ‘trade deal’ but the truth is it will grant every foreign corporation the right to sue Australia – just like we are being sued over the cigarette plain packaging laws by Phillip Morris under an obscure law found in a trade treaty with Hong Kong.
I cannot stress how serious a threat the TPP is to Australia’s sovereignty and food sovereignty. If you have not signed one of the petitions to prevent the TPP, I urge you to do it asap and get your friends to do so as well. The only reason the TPP will get passed is if we stand by and allow it – please get active on this issue!
Agriculture White Paper
The Australian Government has released the Agriculture White Paper for discussion. AFSA submitted our excellent People’s Food Plan in response. Needless to say the White Paper is all about exports and a productionist agenda and our holistic food sovereignty plan is superior in every area of our food systems impacts.
International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty
And lastly, a personal story, no matter how worldly wise we think we are, there is always something else to learn. One of the things I always try hard to do is to question my assumptions.
So there I was, November 2013 Brasilia, sitting in a meeting of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, and agreeing with all that was being said. Oligarchies were being dissected and lambasted, the issues the food system faces in Australia were the same the world over, and issues I knew from papers and articles were being confirmed first hand and in real time.
I was happy, very happy. There I was, representing the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and Oceania, surrounded by like-minded people from all over the world and charting the course of the international movements next steps. These people were speaking my language and I was luxuriating in that feeling of being at ease and with my tribe.
So on day 3 of another 12 hour day of meetings, I am giving great consideration and nodding in solidarity with the speaker from Latin America detailing the struggles of the landless peasants. To put this into perspective one woman who spoke had her husband, brother and son killed in the struggle for the land they had occupied for generations, now being acquired by corporations by force. This was and is literally a life and death struggle, something of which we in Australia are barely aware.
The meeting breaks for a much-needed coffee, I am pulled aside by one of the more experienced participants and asked in a serious, almost reprimanding tone, "What is it you disagree with? You have said nothing!" Enter cognitive dissonance! I thought I was showing agreement and solidarity with all that was being said in all of the meetings. How could my gentle smiling nodding and silent ascent be perceived to be anything but agreement?
Culture! Our cultural preferences and hierarchy of values were different. To the cultures steeped in an oral tradition, silence can mean disapproval. Silence is seen as withdrawal from the process and the ultimate condemnation. It didn't matter that I was in complete agreement, and that my body language said so, I had to speak up.
Day 4 of the meeting and it is coming to a close, I have started to say a few words of agreement, even when I didn’t think it was necessary and thought others had more to contribute. It remained surprisingly hard to overcome the Anglo cultural norm (assumption) that being quiet and attentive means respect. In the end I was asked to address the IPC on the food sovereignty situation in Australia and gave one of the thank you addresses to our wonderful hosts CONTAG. So it ended well despite the potential for cultural blocks and misunderstanding.
I am sharing this story with members as a reminder that we may well have cultural blind spots and assumptions that can hinder progress and understanding. This is particularly relevant to Australia with a great multicultural tradition and the oldest continuous indigenous nations on the planet.