ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

7 September 2002



Can you please put this mail and statement on your network? To our mind this has a lot of implication for the small and organic farmers from two ends of the world.


Deccan Development Society

An unique event took place in the shadow of the WSSD, largely unnoticed by the world media. But an event which has a great implication for the Future of Agriculture on this planet. A group of small farmers, majority of them women, from two corners of the world, South Asia and Canada, met in Canada recently to dialogue what was billed as South Asia - Canada Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture. As a beginning, this was one of the most significant initiatives in recent times. The entire group was committed to organic agriculture, and through that committed to the Earth and her health. And thereby the health of our planet.

The statement attached herewith was the culmination of a fortnight long interaction between the farmers. The South Asian farmers included three dalit women farmers from the Deccan Development Society in Southern India, two farmers (one woman and one man) each  from Naya Krishi Andolan, Bangladesh, USCCN in Nepal and Green Movement of Sri Lanka and one farmer from Lok Sanjh in Pakistan. Dialogueing with them sharing their experiences and perspectives were nine farmers from Canada among whom were five women farmers from different parts of that country.

The group was accompanied by several activists from South Asia and Canada. During this interaction facilitated by the South Asia Network for Food, Ecology and Culture [SANFEC, the South Asian network which has a membership of over 200 civil society groups] along with two Canadian institutions, International Development Research Centre [IDRC] and Inter Pares.

It was an incredible experience for everyone.While the South Asian farmers were delighted to learn that in Canada which they had thought was a monocultured, chemical agri-desert, there were such oases of commitment from individual organic farmers and their organisations. This valiant struggle of Canadian organic farmers moved the hearts of the South Asian farmers.

On the other hand the South Asian farmers impressed the intensity of their farming culture upon their Canadian counterparts. They articulated that organic farming for them is not an issue of technology but of culture.

Biodiversity for them was an integral design of their complex farming systems and not an assembly of small monocultures whcih they witnessed on the Canadian farms. They advised the Canadian farmers that livestock, crops, vegetables --- all of these must be integral elements of organic farming systems and the absence of anyone of these elements would again take away from the cultural principles of organic farming . They said again and again that their farming can feed the millions and they needed no biotechnology or TNCs to help feed their populations.

Both sets of farmers articulated that control over their agriculture was the most critical issue and that was the point that united them. To see that farmers from what is dubbed as one of the poorest parts of the world interacting with farmers from one of most affluent countries of the world and still finding a common ground on which they could march together was a near-spiritual experience.

Ultimately, both the Candian and South Asian farmers declared that Earth was their Common Ground and it is in relating to her that they could come together.


p v satheesh
India Coordinator, South Asia Network for Food, Ecology & Culture [SANFEC]
Director, Deccan Development Society



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 Johanesburg, 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 corporations.

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 industry.

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 forms.

 South Asia-Canada Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture - 2002

 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 Bangladesh.

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 Lanka.

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 community.

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, Manitoba.

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 based in Ottawa.

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 is a Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre and an author of several books on development and agricultural issues.

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 (SANFEC), South Asia, Inter Pares, Canada.

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

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Dominique Caouette
Inter Pares
221 Laurier East Ave.
Ottawa, ON
Canada, K1N 6P1
Tel: 613-563-4801
Fax: 613-594-4704


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