By Jean Feyder, Italy Delegation Participant, October 2012
Having participated as well last September in the Food Sovereignty Tour in the Basque region, I’m strengthened in my belief of the basically educational, innovative and encouraging nature of this type of Tours for which I want to congratulate Food First. It is showing that vacation time, travelling and tourism can be conceived and used for a basically human, enriching purpose that brings people together from different countries and regions and enables them to share their experiences, their lives and challenges in a very thoughtful manner. More people, especially young, but also less young people in all our countries should be offered this kind of Tours.
This was the first Food Sovereignty Tour to the Piedmont region. For me, it has been absolutely a success.
We had a wonderful and refreshing time among ourselves while traveling, while eating and while being together. The opportunity to exchange and share about our lives and experiences was so rich and diversified, thanks to the composition of our group, and the openness and interest shown by everyone – young and less young – for what the other has been doing during his/her life and for his/her relation with Food First and Food sovereignty.
In addition to our wonderful group, we had the unique opportunity to be together with people like Giorgio, our Italy Tour Coordinator. I only hope that others could be given so many deep explanations about politics in Italy and about his social commitment to food sovereignty. He shared amazing experiences from his whole life- from being in developing countries and in trade union organizations in the Piedmont region to entering his current activities linked to agro-ecology and food sovereignty that really
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by Christine Ahn** | Re-posted from Korea Policy Institute Spotlight, March 19, 2013
This August 24-September 1, 2013, KPI Fellow Anders Riel Müller will be leading a delegation of international participants to South Korea on a Food Sovereignty Tour to discover Korean Food, Land and Democracy. KPI Board Member Christine Ahn sat down via Skype with Anders to learn a little more about the food and agriculture situation in South Korea, why South Korea’s food sovereignty movement led by farmers offers the world hope, and why this tour was created in the first place.
South Korean Agriculture in Crisis
Christine: Anders, you’ve now spent the past few years traveling around South Korea, connecting with the farmers and peasants movements and learning more about the food and agriculture situation. What have you learned?
Anders: South Korea has been experiencing declining food self sufficiency for the past 20 years, and it has worsened over the past 5-6 years largely due to the new Free Trade Agreements with the United States and European Union. South Korea is also now in negotiations with Australia. These large agricultural exporting nations view South Korea as a major market for their agricultural products.
Korean agriculture is in crisis. First of all 40 percent of the agricultural population is over 60 years old, and average farm household debt has been exceeding annual total income since 2003. They carry a very heavy debt load. And the South Korean government is very limited in terms of what it can do to help farmers because of the restrictions placed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). For example, because South Korea is a party to the WTO, it means that virtually all of the old support programs that once protected farmers have been dismantled. The government is trying new ways to support farmers by helping them convert to organic and by emphasizing the aesthetic value of the rural countryside.
The agricultural sector is in decline. The amount of farmland in use is in decline, as is the land ownership among farmers. More farmers are now farming on rented land—in fact, 50% are now leasing land. Development policy has also changed so that more agricultural land has been opened up for urban and industrial development.
In 2009, there were approximately 3.1 million farmers, 6.4% percent of the South Korean population. At least half of farmers are women. Men tend to work in the more economically profitable sectors of rice and beef, which are still relatively well protected, whereas women tend to grow more in vegetables, which is harder to turn a profit and more difficult to sustain. While the population of Korean farmers is on the decline, compared to other wealthy countries, it’s still relatively high.
The average South Korean farm size is 1.4 hectares, which means they are very small farms, like the ones in Japan and Taiwan. Their output per hectare, however, is just as high as the farms in many European countries, such as France and Germany. Although these family farms are small scale, their cereal output per hectare is comparable to the output of mechanized farms in Western Europe. In fact, South Korean farms are on par with the United States in terms of productivity of cereal production, rice and beans with lower levels of mechanization and capitalization.
South Korean farms are small scale, and while it is mostly mechanized, they don’t use large agricultural machinery, but rather rototillers, small planters and harvesters, machines that most Americans would consider garden machines. Unfortunately, Korean farmers still use a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, which were systematically applied under the U.S. food aid program known as PL 480. This U.S. policy began at the end of WWI but it wasn’t until after the Korean War that PL 480 really came into being in South Korea. The United States subsidized fertilizer and pesticides to increase the productivity of South Korean farms because of severe food shortages after the Korean War.
By the 1970s, South Korea made a shift in agricultural policy, moving away
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By Tom Philpott| Fri Jan. 25, 2013
Reprinted from original posting at Mother Jones.
“Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?,” thunders the headline of a recent Guardian piece. Hard to say, but reality check: It isn’t just vegans who enjoy quinoa. Like many occasional meat eaters I know, I’ve been eating it for years. Quinoa is also big among gluten-intolerant omnivores. So quinoa’s truth—unpalatable or not—isn’t just for its vegan fans to bear.
So what is going on with this long-time staple of the Andes and newly emerged favorite of health-minded US eaters?
First, the good. Quinoa is the grain-like seed of a plant in the goosefoot family (other members include spinach, chard, and the wonderful edible weed lambs quarters), and its appeal is immense. Twenty years ago, NASA researcherssung its praises as potential astronaut chow, mainly for its superior nutrient density. No less an authority than the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization hails it as “the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins and contains no gluten.” The FAO is almost breathlessly enthusiastic about quinoa—it has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa and even runs a Facebook fan page for it.
And quinoa has generally been a success for the people who grow it. Unlike other southern-hemisphere commodities prized in the global north, like coffee and cocoa, quinoa, for the most part, isn’t grown on big plantations owned by a powerful elite. A 2003 Rodale article describes its cultural place in the Andean highlands, an area that encompasses parts of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador:
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wá), a seed grain, has been cultivated in the Andean region for over 7,000 years and was considered sacred by the Inca Empire. The crop was relegated to status of animal feed by Spanish colonists, perhaps because of its religious significance and, later, shouldered almost completely out of production by cereals such as barley and wheat and other crops such as potatoes and corn.
Colonial agriculture never really worked very well in the highlands, despite the introduction of agrichemicals. “Pesticide and fertilizer use in Ecuador … increased dramatically over the years,” Rodale reports, “leading to depleted soil and a rise in associated health problems.” But the new technologies failed to bring prosperity—”the farmers’ yields were low, their return was almost nonexistent, and their children were suffering from malnutrition.”
By Patricia Paskov
Koreans consume a whopping 2 million tons of kimchi a year, and they’re not the only ones.[i] As the raw food craze takes off, the fermented cabbage dish is spreading beyond the Korean peninsula to win over Western foodies and health-nuts alike. Popularized in part by Sandor Katz, self-proclaimed fermentation fetishist, kimchi is now widely consumed—from the Tennessee countryside Mr. Katz calls home, to trendy restaurants in New York and L.A. Yet, for Koreans, kimchi is far from a hot, new trend: it’s a matter of survival, tradition and cultural identity.
Kimchi originated in Korea during the Three Kingdoms period (1st century BC to the 7th century AD). By that time, families had long used preservation methods to keep a constant food supply for their families during the long, harsh winters. So, when the first cabbage arrived to Korea in 2030 B.C., families turned to fermentation to preserve it. In the 16th century, the first chili peppers arrived from the Americas giving kimchi its signature spicy flair, and the recipe was complete. A blend of cabbage, garlic, ginger, hot red chili peppers, vegetables, fish sauce and often seafood, kimchi has since established itself as a Korean culinary staple.
Indeed, kimchi is the one food that most Koreans simply “cannot live without.”[ii] Whether served in a stew, atop fried rice or on its own, it seems to make its way into every meal of the day. In autumn, South Korean employers even give their workers a customary “kimchi bonus,” helping to subsidize the ingredients for their annual kimchi supply.[iii] Women are traditionally the ones to prepare the dish, throwing in a pinch of this and a handful of that to yield a flavor distinctive to each family. Even with the growing influence of industrially produced foods—including imports of processed kimchi from China—the majority of Koreans continue to prepare kimchi in their very own kitchens.
The importance of kimchi was underscored in 2010 when torrential rains and typhoons destroyed that year’s crop of napa cabbage, the variety most commonly used for kimchi.[iv] South Korea’s cabbage shortage led to a sudden price spike and a full-blown cabbage crisis. In light of the crop’s central importance, government officials were forced to respond quickly, temporarily suspending import tariffs to stabilize prices and satisfy the nation’s demand for cabbage and, of course, kimchi. The South Korean agricultural sector managed to recover from the cabbage crisis of 2010, and Korean farmers continue to furnish most of the cabbage consumed in the country. But farmers face many challenges.
We’d like to wish you a happy New Year and share some reflections from a few of our 2012 Food Sovereignty Tour Participants:
The Basque Country:
“What did I realize during 2012 and especially during my trip with Food First to the Basque Country? I realized how much I have to learn! So much so that I registered for two courses in the Food Studies program in The New School in New York! Classes started January 28th. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
-Delia Marx, September 2012
“The beauties of the Piedmont hearten me still. The soft, late October sunlight, the Alps almost always in view. The farms – their vineyards, orchards, paddocks of cattle, plots of vegetables, wine cellars and salami cellars, and dining tables of food and drink from close by.
The farmers, seed savers, anthropologists, market organizers, and activists – their stories, love stories all, love for working and nourishing the earth and savoring its fruits, and love for the rights of people everywhere to cultivate and eat from the ground under our feet and make ourselves deeply at home.
I reflect on Piedmont from Houston, where I eat food from my garden and area farmers every day and write about local farm and food communities throughout Texas. Thanks to the Piedmont tour, I feel more tangibly connected than ever to people dedicated to real farming and real eating the world over.”
-Pam Walker, Piedmont, October 2012