One of the most difficult things to accept, when we begin to realize the scale of environmental destruction (or ‘ecocide’), is probably the inaction of our governments.
In the fight against climate change and the destruction of our planet, the role of the state is most notable for its absence. At a time when huge campaigns should be put into place, when citizens should be putting forth an effort on a scale of the second world war, our governments prefer to bicker over unimportant issues or just give free reign to corporations who think only of profit rather than the public interest.
We are writing this from Rio de Janeiro, a few days from the beginning of the Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, and the whole world already knows that nothing tangible will come out of these endless negotiations.
It’s the realization that our governments aren’t going to take action (on time) that pushed us to set out in search of people working on solutions without the help of governments. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that civil society is extremely active, everywhere in the world.
But it is in Guayaquil, the economic capital of Ecuador, that we saw just to what extent the authorities can be an obstacle to citizen initiatives. It was also there that we saw a beautiful example of civil disobedience, with all its implicit courage and creativity.
We present to you FECAOL (The Federation of Agricultural Centers and Farmer Organizations of the Coast) which has been working for many years on questions of organic agriculture, agroecology, and fair trade all along the Ecuadorian coast.
One of FECAOL’s missions is to help farmers convert to organic, helping them in the short term to replace chemical fertilizer with organic fertilizer, and then in the long term to diversify their cultivation. FECAOL organizes study days and conferences to help each farmer inform himself on the vast possibilities that agroecology has to offer. Finally, FECAOL helps farmers to sell their products at a competitive price.
When the mayor of Guayaquil announced, a few years ago, that from that point on all agricultural products sold in the city would have to pass through the municipal food transfer terminal and be re-sold by middle-men, it was a catastrophe for the small farmers who, until then, had traveled to the city to sell their products directly to consumers.
The new system was clearly designed to bring more money to the well placed middle-men and to make the lives of farmers and peddlers more difficult. Once more, a government was mocking the Earth Charter call to, ‘Promote social and economic justice, enabling all to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood that is ecologically responsible.’
Confronted with this injustice and the difficulties created by the law, and with their official complaints unanswered, FECAOL decided it was time to take action, and organized farmers markets in Guayaquil.
Since then, members of FECAOL meet at the beginning of the day at the entrance to the city, to enter secretly with their products. Together, the farmers feel stronger and safer in case they are stopped by the municipal police. Slowly, they bring their products to the school where the tables are arranged and set up in the best way possible. One of the markets is organized in a poorer neighborhood of the city, where FECAOL works hand in hand with social groups that prepare the terrain, explaining the advantages of organic food to residents of the neighborhood.
Richard, president of FECAOL, thinks the market is particularly sustainable because it is organized almost entirely without financial resources, and so it doesn’t depend on external support that could disappear at any moment.
Richard explained as well that, for the farmers, what is most important isn’t the act of commercialization, but the sharing of food with a community that has such a clear need. For the farmers, the market is an opportunity to celebrate food sovereignty and to show the mayor and his cronies that nothing can stop them.
When we were there, it was just this festive atmosphere that struck us – everywhere people laughed and joked, farmers gave free tastings of their food, people danced and sang…
That morning, spent listening to the different experiences of members of the market, under the Ecuadorian sun, made us want to join a community around food and food sovereignty too. And of course, also to have the strength to break stupid laws.