(COMMON DREAMS) Helena Norberg-Hodge — It’s no secret that there’s a divide between the global North and South. Most people know about the huge wealth gap between the industrialized and so-called “developing” worlds, and that rates of pollution, resource use, greenhouse gas emissions – and much more – vary widely between them. But there’s another gap, one that’s rarely discussed in the media, or even by NGOs. It involves changing attitudes to farming, to the land and the soil – something worth considering in this UN-designated “International Year of Soils.’
All over the Western world, increasing numbers of people are leaving their desk-bound lives to rediscover the joys of getting their hands dirty. The passion for soil is on the rise as more and more people grow food on their balconies or rooftops, or turn their lawns into a mixture of wilderness and vegetables. People are also reaching out to farmers, joining Community Supported Agriculture schemes or starting food co-ops. The permaculture, ecovillage and transition movements now have huge followings, with thousands of people undergoing training and reconnecting to each other through growing food. Interest in slow food, organic food, agroecology and regenerative agriculture are also increasing. Central to all these movements is localization – the shortening of distances from the farm to the table. At same time that local food economies rebuild the relationship between consumers and farmers, they encourage highly diversified organic, small-scale agriculture, contributing to sustainable food systems.
Things are very different in the global South. While nearly half the population is still connected to the soil, farmers are being encouraged to leave the land by the millions. Throughout the developing world, food producers are struggling with a range of problems, including debt, GMOs, soil degradation, climate change and dependency on an increasingly volatile global marketplace. Just as importantly, they are being made to feel ashamed of their farming traditions, ashamed of having their hands in the soil. Western-style schooling, the media and advertising all romanticize an urban consumer lifestyle, while farming is seen as “backward” and primitive. I witnessed this first-hand during the many years I lived in Ladakh, or “Little Tibet”. Sometimes the message was subtle, sometimes it was overt, like in a schoolbook I came across, which said:
“The pace of development of our villages is not very rapid. In the developed countries, such as the USA and Canada, only a few persons are farmers. This small group of farmers not only produces food for the entire population but also exports it to other countries. In our country, the majority of the people living in the villages are engaged in agriculture but their income from agriculture is not sufficient to enable them to lead a happy life.”