I am writing to you in this column sporting my new credentials: master of arts in global leadership.
And through it all, I never left agriculture.
In fact, it was agriculture that gave me the depth and breadth of experience for interesting dialogue and the completion of many papers based on food production and food politics; companies and organizations; and food and agriculture as an imperative for peace.
But first I had to have a transformational experience.
Admittedly, I started the program in a state of exhaustion and was looking for a change. Determined to go strictly into the humanities, I was stopped dead in my tracks during a course in which my classmates were military personnel. They heard me lament during one of our meetings and the room filled with silence. An officer finally spoke up and said, “Brenda, we cannot do what we do without agriculture. We cannot have stability or peace without food. What you do is important — think again!”
I did — and it allowed me to see the importance of our profession through a different lens and the critical nature of food to those ‘on the ground’ feeding the masses and keeping peace. As you tend to your farm, ranch, or agricultural business, you may not have thought of the importance of your daily tasks in the global context. Well — think again!
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It takes four days to anger a man to violence if he is hungry and only 10 days to starve out a city. The way food flows and the dependency on food is a short and tight timeline. I wrote in a previous column how consumers literally wait for their ship (carrying food) to come in. This is true for trucks, trains, air transport, donkeys, camels, wagons, oxen, and human backs as well. Globalization of food distribution has not fixed this critical problem, but actually may have made it more fragile because of the consolidation of all those essential delivery services and the loss of the general population’s capability to grow its own food.
As a farmer, rancher, or food processor; one who transports food; or the scientist behind new technology — whatever your role in agriculture is, you are a link in the chain of events that in the end benefits those who cannot be part of the solution.
Conflict, weather, and displacement often mean that not only are lives interrupted, but so is the landscape including the soil, air, water, and complementary species (including wildlife and domesticated animals, birds, fish, and fowl).
In my main project, I interviewed global leaders in food. Regardless of their position in the food system, they often referred to the importance of plant health, animal health, and the health of the soil — and how that not only is a benefit in food production but also in creating healthy societies and building the resilience of rural communities. Soil health is also a complement to healthy water systems and clean, fresh water, which is a recognized and growing challenge in the world today.
Animal agriculture is hugely misunderstood by activists. The reality is that more than 600 million of the very poor are critically reliant on food animals for meat, milk, fertilizer, and dung for fuel. Animals are a treasured currency as they are soil stabilizers. Fowl are valued as they provide eggs, meat, and fertilizer, and can be used for weed and insect control.
What the pastoral and nomadic communities understand is the importance of animals in reducing desertification and in building soil. Our use of rotations and zero till, and the focus on building soil is part of a greater goal towards ecological balance.
This means that what you do in terms of plant, soil, air, and water health contributes to the overall stability in global human health.
Not all governments provide their people with basics; even basic access to food. As for the food that you produce, it may end up directly in the hands of those who need it or it may be used as currency to fund new farms for those who are forced to start again.
Regardless, our actions are healing and critical to the Earth’s soil, air, and water. A large wound does not heal at once; it closes with one small clot before regeneration begins.
Food is first in establishing peace, schools, health, live birth rates, growth, communities, and economies. What I heard repeatedly in speaking with global leaders was, “Directly or indirectly food is the economic, social, health, ecological, cultural, community, and justice connector.”
It has been said that history does not look like history when we are part of it. But what you do today feeds your community and communities a world away — for generations.
Talk to your family and partners about how you see yourself and your role in the world. We will not have peace or settle unrest; build healthy resilient communities or economies; nor see social justice without food through the honourable art of agriculture.
What you do is important.