A recent report published by Cambridge University Press finds that over the last 20 years more than 8 million social groups have emerged to support sustainable agriculture and land management.
According to the report, “Assessment of the growth in social groups for sustainable agriculture and land management,” the increase of social groups provides the basis for further progressive change towards sustainable policies and behaviors. By working collectively, these groups can enact frameworks that maintain productivity and diversity, without external legal enforcement.
The emerging social groups highlighted focus on sustainable agriculture to optimize natural, social, and financial capital without harming humans and the environment. The report finds that with social capital comes opportunities to improve productivity, increase sustainable management, and improve individual and communal well-being.
“This is a real revolution occurring,” Jules Pretty, lead author of the report and professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, tells Food Tank. “It has largely been hidden from view, but now we have more than 240 million people organized into groups.”
The researchers find that the majority of these social groups are growing in the Global South. Pretty explains that in these regions, the current system can hurt social capital. “Governments removed resources from agriculture and land management, assuming that farmers would pay for any kind of organization or innovation platform,” says Pretty. In response, social groups are turning inward for sustainable solutions.
Small-scale farmers produce more than 80 percent of the food consumed in the Global South, according to the World Food Programme. Despite this, they face political marginalization and socio-economic hardships that can lead to food insecurity and vulnerabilities.
La Via Campesina (LVC) – a movement of more than 200 million farmers fighting for food sovereignty and one of the social groups mentioned in the paper – focuses on peasant farming, which grows food in harmony with nature.
“We believe in people’s power,” Pramesh Pokharel, a member of the International Coordination Committee of LVC, tells Food Tank. “Because without organization and networking, it is difficult to achieve our goals. [Peasants] have no other options for demanding their rights.”
The food and agriculture system should represent the people who are working and struggling, says Pokharel. “Social capital is important to have access to the people. We have to break the inequality and segregation because we know that those that feed the world are at the bottom of the social class.”
While increasing social capital and uplifting grassroots organizing is important, Pretty and Pokharel acknowledge that policymakers can help facilitate change by aiding the work of social groups. States can create policies and laws that support sustainable management, protect small farmers from market changes, decentralize power, and promote women and youth programs.
Pokharel notes that the coronavirus pandemic has increased peoples’ awareness of systemic issues within the neoliberal economic model. From this crisis, localized food systems and agroecology will increase as “people come together to fight this regime,” says Pokharel.
Pretty agrees that the pandemic will foster new local and international solutions to food poverty and security, as COVID-19 continues to heighten these issues.
“We have been challenged but we are hopeful,” Pokharel tells Food Tank. “Now is the time to build the movement of policies that [include] rights for the people and guarantees peasants agriculture and food sovereignty. No alternative can solve the sustainability crises.”
Photo courtesy of Pramesh Pokharel
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