Common Ground: A Vision from the South Asia-Canada Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture


A Vision from the South Asia-Canada Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
August 24, 2002

We, farmers and activists from Canada, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
and Bangladesh, have visited Canadian farms together and discussed the
issues that affect the lives of farming communities all over the world. We
are participating with our concerns in the World Organic Congress in
Victoria, British Colombia and the World Summit on Sustainable Development
in Johannesburg, South Africa.

We want to share our concerns and our determined will to develop and defend
ecological and biodiversity-based agriculture all over the world. We oppose
the policies of multi-lateral and bilateral agencies and practices of
transnational corporations that undermine the culture and systems of
production of agrarian communities.

We want to reassert, along with many other groups making the same call, that
food sovereignty is not negotiable. This means respecting and protecting the
sovereignty of individual farmers, farming households, communities and
nations to decide what seeds to plant in their soils and to localize
agriculture in accordance with their cultures. We cannot let our sovereignty
be willingly surrendered to corporations by national governments anywhere.
Despite government commitments to protect and enhance local and indigenous
lifestyles made during the previous Earth Summit in the Convention on
Biological Diversity, little has actually been done.

Consumer movements for safe and healthy food, movements against Genetically
Modified Organisms, movements to rebuild local communities and movements for
a new form of urbanization have made it clear that non-farmers also want to
re-establish an authentic relationship to food and community. Around the
world they are defying the notion of food constructed for them by
transnational corporations and their media allies. They are also building a
consensus that control over food security must lie in the hands of the local
people and not be decided by remote governments and transnational

We invite the farmers, development workers, activists, researchers and
academics to stand by our side on these issues and support this document by
signing and discussing it with your communities and translating the ideas
into your own farming practice and work with communities.

Let us become one voice in our struggle. Enter, come in and rejoice.

The role of farmers as caretakers of the land, water and biodiversity and as
stewards of the Earth must be acknowledged and rewarded. This stewardship is
the life-line of all human communities, present and future.

We reaffirm that farming is not simply an economic activity. Farming is a
way of life, both ethical and concrete. Food is produced in a cyclical and
nurturing process of birth, growth, maturity and regeneration. This is a
life-affirming process with its own inherent value.

The Earth sustains us, and is truly our mother. Yet we bury her under a
toxic layer of urban sprawl, spoil her with destructive farming practices
and give her over to those who have no interest in her life giving
capacities. Land should be free from transnational corporate control and
placed in the hands of local farmers servicing their communities.

We want an immediate end to the abuse of land, in urban and rural settings.
The destruction of land through misguided forms of land use not only takes
food from our mouths, it also removes land from the hands of young people
and women. Conditions should be created for youth and women to take
leadership in farming by ensuring their access to land. A new form of
urbanization is needed to ensure access to farmland, to integrate food
producers in the urban landscape, and to build equitable relationships
between rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

The development of the art and skill of farming over thousands of years has
been cast aside by so-called modern agricultural technologies. Many of the
technologies support monocultures that fail to regenerate the soil, the
biodiversity, and the water we all depend upon, and therefore are not really
agricultural technologies at all.

The corporations that produce pesticides, fertilizers and seed technologies
have appropriated the skills of food production and taken control of the
food system. The propaganda machine in turn relentlessly bombards farmers
with advertising of their products and methods. Appreciation and respect is
lost for the intimate knowledge of the soil, plants, and animals developed
through a genuine relationship to farming practice.

Through these processes the genuine thirst for farming knowledge is replaced
by a lifeless profit motive. This destroys the status of women as seed
savers in their communities and disheartens the young people who see no art
and craft remaining in the farming profession of their fathers and mothers.

The modern education system has sidelined rural life and failed to develop
the capacity of young people to enjoy and develop agrarian cultures. Youth
should be encouraged to recognize and respect the possibilities of different
lifestyles emerging from different ecological and cultural contexts

Many farmers in the North have already lost control over their seeds. This
devastation is coming hard and fast to the South. Seed that is purchased,
not saved, is vulnerable not only to ever increasing seed prices but to an
ever narrowing range of choices for farmers. Varieties that farmers use for
particular purposes can simply be withheld by corporate seed suppliers
through patent control, technology contracts, genomic control through
genetic engineering and marketing contracts. Heritage varieties of food
crops that maintain our living biodiversity, broaden our diet and provide
nutritious food are being lost forever. The evolution of plants in different
kinds of farmers’ lands is blocked by corporate seed systems. These
developments have very serious implications for the future of agriculture
and the survival of humanity.

We reject biotechnology and genetically modified organisms in agriculture
because these technologies concentrate control of the food system and
compromise farming ecologies. Opposition to GMOs must begin with seed
saving, and protecting the rights of farmers to save seed. Farming
communities can draw inspiration from the farming women of South Asia who
retain a rich knowledge and practice of seed saving. To nurture this
knowledge, there must be no patenting of seeds and lifeforms.

We must resist the corporate takeover of our achievements in the organic
agriculture movement. The struggles of individual farmers and their
organizations to transform conventional farming into organic farming are
succeeding around the world, but the gains are vulnerable to the greed of
corporations seeking new profits in organic food production. We appreciate
these struggles, and recognize our common responsibility to defend farming
in the South from further destruction under the guise of an organic

The conditions of production must not be defined by super-markets, food
propaganda and an urbanizing culture that has lost its link to the true
meaning of agriculture.

The localization of agriculture means taking control of the food system away
from a process of globalization that divides people. Food is our common
ground. Localized food production means producing more food locally
according to the farming seasons and importing less. It nurtures and
enhances local diversity by valuing the seasonality of local food production
and consuming less energy to move food from one place to another. It
integrates livestock, poultry and fish with cultivated and uncultivated
plants in an authentic food system that strengthens farmers’ knowledge. It
enables non-farmers to also rebuild their relationship to food, cultures and
ecologies. These are the meaningful expressions of agriculture.

Corporate agriculture does none of this.

It is becoming clear to farming communities in different contexts around the
world that we are experiencing many negative effects from corporate control
of the food system and destruction of communities and agrarian knowledge.
Many of our concerns are the same, and our different struggles to address
them woven together in a single strand.

To reinforce this unity and common ground, we encourage more exchanges
between farmers, more openness to understanding each others’ experiences,
and more sharing on how to develop a common stand on the world being created
against our will.

We invite you to stand with us by indicating your agreement with the
following positions:

· We promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture in our struggle to
defend and rebuild our local communities.

· We value and acknowledge farmers’ services to humanity and future
generations and therefore demand they be rewarded.

· We support our rights as communities to retain control and remain in
command over the regenerative capacities of the natural and biological
worlds, including seed and our own lives.

· We oppose the destruction of our landscapes, cultures and communities for
the benefit of transnational corporations.

· We reject biopiracy and corporate control of seeds; No patents on life

About the Authors

Ms. Jahanara Begum is a pioneer farmer of the “New Agriculture Movement” in
the coastal area of Cox’s Bazaar District in the southern part of

Mr. Mohamed Afsar Ali Miah, has a five acre farm in Tangail, a flood plain
zone of Bangladesh.

Mr. Massala Koralalage Jayathissa is a small rice farmer and Chair of the
National Farmer Federation for traditional seeds in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Dana A. Kalyanawathi is an organic vegetable farmer in Sri Lanka with 3
acres of land and an executive member of the Women Farmers Federation of Sri

Mr. Upali Munasinghe is a small farmer and the Secretary of the National
Farmers Federation of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Muhammad Azeem, has a biodiversity rich farm in the mountainous area of
northern Pakistan.

Ms. Min Maya Karki is a small farmer in the Terai of Nepal and member of the
Nipane Village Development Committee.

Mr. Ram Sharan Magar is a farmer in the mountainous District of Lalitpur,
Nepal with 2 acres of land.

Ms. Begari Laxmamma is a non-literate Dalit farmer with a one acre farm in
the Deccan Plateau of South India, and a leading Seed Keeper in her

Ms. Chinna Narsamma is a non-literate Dalit woman with a 2 acre farm in the
Deccan, and an accomplished film maker.

Ms. Begari Sammamma is a non-literate Dalit farmer in the Deccan with 1.5
acres of rain-fed farmland.
Ms. Lee McFadyen is a farmer in the Similkameen Valley, British Colombia and
President of Living Earth Organic Growers Association.

Mr. Gregoire Lamoureux is a farmer in Winlaw, British Colombia and director
of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute.

Ms. Alison Hackney farms land in her family for over 120 years near
Montreal, Quebec.

Mr. Patrick Steiner has a heritage seed farm in Sorrento, British Colombia

Mr. John Wilcox has a 15 acre farm on Salt Spring Island and is a founding
member of Island Natural Growers.

Ms. Madeleine Roussel is a biodynamic farmer near Montreal who supplies 300
families with a weekly food box.

Mr. Robert Guilford has a mixed grain and livestock farm near Winnipeg,

Ms. Martha Jane Robins farms with her parents in Laura, Saskatchewan and is
the Youth President of the National Farmers’ Union.

Ms. Abra Brynne works to foster local food systems in the Kootenay of
British Columbia.

Mr. Dominique Caouette is with Inter Pares in Ottawa, Canada, and a
researcher on political issues in Asia.

Mr. Kevin Conway is a writer with the International Development Research
Centre in Ottawa, Canada

Mr. Brewster Kneen co-publishes The Ram’s Horn, a monthly journal on food
systems, out of Sorrento, British Columbia.

Ms. Cathleen Kneen co-publishes The Ram’s Horn and is editor of the British
Colombia Organic Grower.

Dr. Daniel Buckles has published five books on development issues and is
currently a Senior Program Specialist with the International Development
Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa, Canada.

Ms. Farida Akhter is one of the Founding Members of UBINIG and a leading
activist in the women’s movement of Bangladesh.

Mr. Farhad Mazhar is a well-known poet and inspiration to the “New
Agriculture Movement” of Bangladesh.

Mr. Mohamed Rafiqul Haque is the Director of the Bardakhali Centre of UBINIG
in the coastal District of Cox’s Bazzar, Bangladesh.

Dr. Shahid Mahmood Zia is the Executive Director of the Sungi Development
Foundation in Pakistan and one of the Founding members of SANFEC.

Ms. Farzana Shahid is a Professor at the Allama Iqbal Open University in
Pakistan and partner with the Lok Sanjh Foundation of the District
Sheikhupura in Pakistan

Mr. Shree Ram Shrestha is the Country Director for the Unitarian Service
Committee-Nepal, based in Kathmandu.

Mr. P.V. Satheesh is the co-founder and current Director of the Deccan
Development Society, India and a development communication specialist.

Correct Citation: South Asia-Canada Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture,
2002. “Common Ground: A Vision from the South Asia-Canada Dialogue on the
Future of Agriculture” South Asia Network on Food, Ecology and Culture,
South Asia/Canada.

articles post