Local Solutions to Global Problems

by Julian Rose

Plenary speech at the First Congress on Organic Agriculture, Istanbul. Oct. 20th 2007

Introduction: At an unprecidented time of global upheaval and change, it is surprising to find many solutions exist right in our own back-yards. The most stark example centers upon food and energy production. In post industrial nations, food and energy needs are controled by transnational corporations determined to exact a profitable return on their investments and to control of the mass market.
But this leads to the disenfranchisement of local communities accustomed to retaining food sovereignity over the means of production of both these primary necessities. Fast fading oil supplies and the need to greatly reduce our global warming carbon footprints, mean that localized ‘community control’ of renewable and sustainable resources suddenly looks like the best bet.
It is also the logical way to establish a properly balanced and sustainable social, environmental and economic equilibrium within society.


So what are the main global environmental problems?

  • Heavilly polluted soil, air and water.
  • Global Warming. – The collapse of ecosystems.
  • More than fifty percent of the World’s population now living in cities.
  • Corporate domination of the food and energy chain.
  • GMO.
  • An extremely passive reaction by the majority to this crisis.

Which are the main institutions behind these global problems?

The World Trade organisation – tries to force food and farming into the same “free trade” context as microchips and motor cars.
United States Department of Agriculture – reinforces WTO and promotes GMO.
The World Bank and the International Moneytary Fund – fund large scale, capital intensive projects that displace native peoples.
The European Commission – enforces ‘Hygiene and Sanitary’ controls as a way of shifting small farmers off the land and encouraging large scale monocultures.
Most national governments – put financial interests ahead of human and environmental welfare.

All the above parties wish to retain ‘control’ over food and farming for reasons of financial gain.

To-day, we have an ecological, economic and cultural crisis. They are inseperable components of life on earth and should be viewed as one. This ‘oneness’ is what as the founders of The Soil Association (UK) described back in 1946: namely, that soil, plant animal and man form an inseperable dynamic cycle and interrelationship. Disrupt any one of these elements and it immediately wounds the other three. It is the fundamental and underlying principle of ecology.

Such holistic thinking is the most absent element of our decision making process to-day. The result is a world divided up into segments, each vying with the other and intensely competing for recognition and finacial support.

Mother Earth has endured such maltreatment for long enough – she cannot do so indefinitely. She now has a fever as a direct result of having been obliged to ingest a largely toxic diet for the past two or three centuries. This fever is called “Global Warming”, but like all fevers, it can rapidly change to “Global Freezing.” The costant fluctualtion between these two extremes will eventually reach a peak and the fever will blow itslef out, at great human and environmental cost.

We need to help nature pass through this curative process in every way we can. Our footprint on the earth needs to be as light as possible. Simultaneously, we need to set the stage for what is to come once the fever has cleansed the clogged and hardened arteries of our struggling planet.

What are the solutions to the global problems?

They are local. The world is composed of millions of rural communities – and cities are also composed of many communities. These communities have to reestablish their direct connection with the resources they live from.

They have to be enabled to actively participate in the process of aquiring local food, energy and building materials, in a spirit of collective responsibility. This is the only way to rebuild a meaningful sense of place, purpose and pride for most of the citizens of our crowded planet.

The mined fossil fuel resources that have powered our globe towards self destruction are now running out, but not before causing almost irreparable damage. The forces of ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Free Trade’ have proved too destructive and unsustainble to endure. We have been living beyond our means for far too long and the bank balance is now in overdraught.We have no choice left. If we wish to retain a global habitat capable of sustaining life, we must drasticly alter our ways.

We need to think like children. Simply. And act simply. The first and most immediate act is to TAKE CONTROL OF OUR LIVES AT THE LOCAL LEVEL. A grassroots revival.

Then we must follow ‘The Proximity Principle.’ This means producing and consuming food, fuel and fiber from ecologically managed land areas immediately surrounding the towns and villages they are to supply. Not trucking or flying such produce in from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.
All moneytary resourses generated at the local level should continue to circulate at this level and support local, sustainable initiatives.

Provinces will be surprised to discover that they already have the natural resources to become virtually self sufficient in all staple needs. Only when these have been utilized, should they export any surplus or import ant shortfall to/from neighbouring areas or countries.

We can steer this process of ‘decentralised regionalisation’ into a renaissance of local culture, music and artisan skills. Of skillfully constucted renewable energy technologies utilising wind, sun, water and biomass mediums and many more besides. It can lead to a joyous rediscovery of local food flavours and curative medicinal plants. We can – and should – view it as the greatest creative challenge facing the world to-day. A challenge of equal significance for young and old alike.

Working in Poland has futher developed my admiration for peasant farming methods of the land management practices that hold the clue to the future. The mainly subsistance agriculture practised by around one and a half million small farms in Poland, coupled to the local sale of any surplus produce, is about as close as we have got to an example of no waste ‘best practice’ agriculture. It is the true foundation for genuinely sustainable ‘organic’ farming. We must be humble enough to admit this and to build on – rather than destroy – the great store of wisdom that lies here.

Farming is a way of life. Agriculture is a “Culture of the field”. It simply is not an ‘industry’

In Turkey, the site of both the birth of agriculture and of money, it seems most apt that a new ‘not profit driven’ and ‘non industrial’ agrarian revolution should be born. A rebirth that will recognise the wisdom of drawing upon the still present and irreplaceable wisdom of the artisan farming communities that are the true guardians of the countryside. It is to be hoped that the World will once again take heed.

Julian Rose
October 2007