Daily Archives: October 1, 2020

Jay Naidoo on Today’s Challenges: Ecology Must be at the Center – Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

BALTIMORE – September 30, 2020. Earlier this year, when the coronavirus pandemic began and countries began to shelter in place, Jay Naidoo found himself in lockdown in an ashram in India. Every morning he woke at 3 a.m. and spent the next 18 hours thinking and being in ways that were new for him. One day he watched an ant for hours, fascinated. He spent a day studying a flower, its geometry and fragrance. In the ashram, he began to get a deeper sense of how much we don’t know—that when we recognize that our ignorance is much greater than our knowledge, it makes life an adventure. “For the first time in my life, I had all this time to think about who I am and why I’m here and what lessons I need to learn. I asked myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said.

Naidoo, age 66, is a South African citizen of Indian ancestry, a status that often left him angry and hurt throughout his childhood during apartheid. His activism took root in the South African Students Organisation to end apartheid, his country’s institutionalized white supremacy, and led to decades of work in the labor movement in South Africa. When apartheid officially ended in the early 1990s, he coordinated the Reconstruction and Development Program, and he served in the cabinet of the country’s first Black head of state, President Nelson Mandela. Following that, he served on committees dealing with malnutrition and technology of the United Nations and other international organizations including the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. He speaks reverently of Mandela, referring to him as someone who went a long way to achieve a pure human state. “In the presence of Mandela, you feel safe, secure, you feel you’ve been seen, you’re not voiceless, you’re part of this greater humanity,” he said. “That’s possible for all of us.”

Since his time in the ashram, he’s become less interested in projects and programs and more interested in what we can do to change our mindsets. What he learned through his life as a social activist is that changing systems is the smaller part of creating a better world. The critical work is changing human beings. This time in history—we’re at an inflection point in our journey as a civilization, he says—is the time to be courageous and bold.

“No matter how progressive a constitution is, you have to change people. In South Africa, we de-racialized politics, but we didn’t de-racialize land ownership, economy or education,” he said. “We’re seeing this in the United States, now. It takes a long time to build up good governance, and only a few years to destroy it. We have to change the human being.”

During our conversation, he mentioned three big life lessons that he’s learned in the last years.

“Ecology has to be at the center of everything we do,” he said. “In 50 years of activism, I missed that point until now.” That was the first Big Lesson he’s learned recently.

His work in agriculture has convinced him that the biggest challenge we face today is that we’re destroying our soil, which is undermining all the systems that support life and health. “Industrialized, chemical-driven agriculture in the West has so poisoned the soil that it’s incapable of producing nutritious food,” he said, adding that our current model of agriculture creates disease.

Agriculture that focuses on the soil and shared ecosystem services is where we need to focus. Forms of regenerative agriculture, including biodynamics, a holistic form of agriculture that adapts to the landscape, climate, and lunar cycles, are what we need to shift toward immediately to create pathways of hope and opportunity, livelihoods, and preserve (and augment) the natural resources we still have. Agroecology, agroforestry, re-discovery of indigenous knowledge—Naidoo supports all of it. We must understand the natural environment as a living organism and stop the ecocide that permeates modern agriculture.

With the emergence of the coronavirus, we’ve seen even more clearly that the food system is broken. “There’s no question of that,” he said. “Isn’t Covid a consequence of the way we treat Mother Earth? That the human being is becoming the carrier of so many diseases?”

…. (read more).
Illustration by Mike Milli, 2020.

For more perspective on food systems, read the CLF Global Thought Leaders Series.


Freedom from Empire: An Assessment of Postcolonial Africa | Britannica

The following is a special report written for the 2011 Britannica Book of the Year (events of 2010). It reflects on the state of postcolonial Africa 50 years after 17 African countries became independent.

The currency of the tag postcolonial as a cognomen for countries that once laboured under various forms of European colonial rule tends to obscure the fact that it is at the same time a hotly disputed label. Scholars who embrace it (which is not to say that they are not at the same time critical of it) argue that it is a convenient term for referring to those societies (whether in Africa, Asia, or Latin America) that, being former colonies, continue in different ways to display the imprints of European colonialism. To deploy postcolonial in this sense is to account for the subsisting maladies in those places against the background of the exceptional severity of the colonial impact. At the same time, those who refuse to touch the term with a barge pole insist, no doubt with some merit, that behind what is presented as an innocent attempt at periodization often lurks a derogatory tendency to totalize those societies in an apparent attempt to describe the unique pathologies that they are presumed to embody. In this alternative sense, postcolonial refers not merely to the simple fact that a group of countries share certain characteristics on account of their status as former colonies; it is about the seeming intractability of those problems because they are rooted in a vaguely defined postcolonial culture.

These disputations are in their own way echoes of fundamental ideological tensions among those who study postcolonial societies generally. In Africa such tensions funnel down to the ticklish issue of how the history of the continent is to be written—which social agents and political narratives to valorize and what cultural values to affirm and/or defend. These tensions are not irreconcilable. On the one hand, it is possible to acknowledge, as scholar Richard L. Sklar once said, that colonialism has produced “enduring social formations” in Africa without necessarily succumbing to the nihilism (Sklar, to be sure, does not) that those formations are ineradicable. To do so is to dismiss out of hand the corrective capacities of human agency. On the other hand, it is possible, even necessary, to insist on the unpalatability of the existing social order in most of Africa while not balking at the moral imperative of allocating blame not only when, but especially when those who are deserving of blame are African agents themselves; and although the range of possible perspectives on Africa is not exhausted by these polarities, they are at least a reminder of the important fact that when it comes to the history of the continent, very few issues are actually settled.

When we talk about postcolonial Africa, therefore, it is important to bear in mind that we are referring to an extraordinarily diverse spectrum of political regimes, economic conditions, and social realities. For instance, while it is common to characterize the entire continent as an economic basket case, the examples of Tunisia, Botswana, Morocco, South Africa, and Egypt—countries with the most stable GDP growth on the entire continent—offer more positive stirrings. This fact is worth reiterating, if only to counter the dogma of those who would use the postcolonial label without the slightest concession to its capacity to gloss over this complexity. Even to assert this complexity is not to deny that African countries are beset by similar social, economic, political, and infrastructural challenges. Rather, it is to affirm that much as this is true, it should not be allowed to detract from the fact that an increasing number of countries (Ghana is a good example) appear to be on the cusp of the most revolutionary transformations seen anywhere in the whole of the less-developed world over the past half century.

…(read more).

Agriculture at a Crossroads – Business as Usual is Not an Option!

Agriculture at a Crossroads – Business as Usual is Not an Option!

Why should 688 million people on our planet be going hungry while 1.9 billion are suffering from the ill effects of overweight and obesity? In 2019 more grain was harvested than ever before: 2.7 billion tons worldwide. Despite this record-breaking harvest, only 43% was used to feed people. The rest was used to feed livestock, fill our petrol tanks, support industrial production processes or was simply wasted. Our global food system is one of the most significant contributors to climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution and water shortages as well as preventable disease, poverty and injustice.

On behalf of the United Nations and the World Bank, in a four-year-process, more than 400 scientists summarised the state of global agriculture, its history and its future. The outcome was the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The findings are uncomfortable and alarming: providing a warning on the misleading ways of the past and showing new ways forward. This website makes the IAASTD’s findings available by topics, and offers all reports as well as updated figures, background information and news.

Global news update:

24/09/20 +++ New book calls for accelerated transformation of our food systems +++ NEW
09/09/20 +++ Study shows the potential of agroecology to adapt to climate change +++
22/08/20 +++ Earth Overshoot Day: COVID-19 has reduced our ecological footprint +++
06/08/20 +++ Decline in pollinators threatens US crop yields, study +++
27/07/20 +++ Scientists call for a shift to agroecology in order to protect biodiversity +++
13/07/20 +++ World hunger increases for fifth year in a row, UN report +++
26/06/20 +++ HLPE calls for policy shifts to radically transform food systems +++
11/06/20 +++ Report calls for shift to agroecological research in Africa +++

See related publications, including:


The State of Concentration in Global Food and Agriculture Industries – Philip H. Howard

This graphic accompanies a chapter in a book that reflections on the 10 years since the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD): https://www.globalagriculture.org/transformation/

More than a decade has passed since the world was awoken by the publication of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report. Now, a new book takes stock of what has been achieved since the release of that ground-breaking “Agriculture at a Crossroads” report. Co-publishers Benny Haerlin and Hans R. Herren use empirical evidence and rational argument to sharply criticise the current dominating food systems whilst simultaneously providing evidence that a real paradigm shift has emerged and that change is happening all over the globe.

A pdf version of this graphic is available at this link.

In their contribution, Philip H. Howard and Mary K. Hendrickson present

a worrying update on the state of the dramatically accelerating corporate concentration in global food and agricultural input and trade industries and its impacts on farmers and rural livelihoods.

For more see Howard, Philip H. & Mary K. Hendrickson. The State of Concentration in Global Food and Agriculture Industries. Pp. 89-91 in Transformation of Our Food Systems: The Making of a Paradigm Shift. (Hans Herren, Benedikt Haerlin & IAASTD +10 Advisory Group, eds.). ISBN 978-3-00-066209-6.

Note that the entire book is free to download at this link.

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...(read more).