There’s something happening in Latin America.
Somehow, our solutions for growth and trade and food have not worked for poor people. The land is used by big foreign companies, to grow food to sell here in our supermarkets that are big and beautiful. As plantation-factories grow bigger and more capital-intensive, there’s really not much advancement in wages for the workers! And they’re still exposed to harsh chemicals and long daily hours of machete work.
Organic farming can be much better for farmers and the environment. Fundamentally, it denies the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and GM seeds. What it means is that the mindset of the farmer is very different- rather than try to minimize the costs to produce as much as possible, it’s more about managing the land. It’s more “labor intensive,” which means more skilled jobs that the family can help out with. And you can use “crop rotation,” which is just not planting the same thing every year. The interesting part is that you can actually get a “higher yield” from this small-holder, labor-intensive, ecological agriculture. The plants grow better when cultivated for health, beauty, and permanence surrounded by other plants of different types. Foodfirst backgrounder on organic yields: sustainable-ag-can-feed-the-world
AND consumers are taking a liking to this more natural crop.
Aside from the more sustainable production benefits, it’s more healthy and natural, without chemical residues or untested genetic materials. An organic system is much less susceptible to food diseases- every plant is differently selected for rather than cloned by the same company. That, and it’s just plain trendy. With a growth rate of around 20%/year for the last 10 years, that means that the amount sold doubles every 3 years. Even with the recession looming, organic coffee or peppers or corn, etc. have not taken a huge hit. And as oil gets more expensive, the oil-dependent monoculture crops will just get relatively more expensive… US Market growth article preview
So we have these two sides– got it? It’s supply and demand. Demand is increasing rapidly because of consumer preferences, and supply is still not getting there for Latin American farmers! The big monocultures can’t produce organically very well, and the smallholders who can are stuck behind all kinds of barriers. Certification, credit, seed access, unbiased organizational support, and scale, to name a few. For coffee farmers, it’s actually been getting much better. Coffee tastes better when more attention is paid to the beans, and has been conducive to forming cooperatives. Equal Exchange campaign: http://eecampaign.wordpress.com But it’s not enough. In other areas, small farmers are getting their land taken over, their lifestyle destroyed to move to city slums. Plantation work takes up a lot of the land, with farmers working for little compensation and no chance of advancement. An entrepreneurial rural middle class has been slow to take hold.
What if organic agriculture can be that missing link? What if certification, lending, and cooperative selling can be the norm for growing in these regions? What if the energy-intensive, inequal, unsustainable ag. system we’ve established burns itself out?
This vision is VERY plausible if one looks 5-10 years down the road in the big systemic changes to food. I called the “green” movement from it’s inception, and want to be there to facilitate every small farmer who hasn’t got enough. Scaled across Latin America, that’s a big change indeed.
For the business: post coming soon
For research: working on a development econ paper, I’ll let you know!
For a team: still looking for passionate people. Debate me/agree/question? leave a comment!
Also, check the links section for frequent updates to food research and websites. Feeds from my del.icio.us, lovemytacobell.