04 / 2010
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 est militante et envoyée spéciale, chargée des relations interculturelles auprès du Comité International d’URGENCI.
Texte originellement publié dans le Bulletin International de Développement Local Durable #67, avril 2010.