The Globalisation of Steiner's Impulse for a Renewal of Agriculture: How Can The Individual Participate in the Historical Processes of Change Into The New Millennium?
Tadeu Caldas (2002)
The foot-and-mouth crisis which has wiped out millions of livestock in Britain has certainly overshadowed the BSE crisis and other problems aflecting the safety of food production and consumption, not only in this country but also in most countries where so-called modern, inten-sive, "scientific" industrial farming practices have become the norm.
What can we learn from this further crisis in agriculture?
To begin with it has certainly revealed the multifaceted dimensions of agriculture in their economic, biological, ecological, nutritional, cul tural, social, historical and political complexities, and also the international context of agriculture - and its repercussions - which results from global trading.
The dangers of globalisation and free trade have been much exposed at hysterical levels by non-governmental groups every time multilateral agencies such as the World Trade Organisation and even the European Union Heads of State meet. This anxiety has recently even infected anthroposophical circles. It has become impossible to hold a balanced dialogue in this matter since the issues have become so mo-tionally loaded. This situation carries the risk that we fail to understand the whole and, rather than being able to focus on the positive devel opments which counter these forces, we become passive promoters of the negative images in the media which are nourished by fear.
This article aims at presenting a phenomenological counter picture of globalisation from the perspective of the international process of renewal of agriculture out of a holistic approach and of Rudolf Steiner's suggestions given to farmers in 1924 in Silesia and in part out of my individual research and professional contributions to this process. We need a new perspective to assess the interdependent developments of the last decade and indeed the last century, which have influenced on the one hand the safety of the food we eat and the way agricultural landscapes develop worldwide and, on the other, the newly acquired perception that the world is at the sole mercy of corporate forces which misuse the international process of the liberalisation of world economies.
Is this a one-sided process?
Should we delve deeper into our meditation exercises as a result of these external challenges and let these external forces dictate their historical consequences hoping that someone out there will deal with the problems?
There can be no doubt that agriculture, farming communities and their landscapes world-wide are in their most vulnerable and critical situation since man first sowed seeds into the soil. Global trade (not a new phenomenon at all) which is now supposedly freer from the influences of undue taxation has enabled more farmers to place their produce in markets farther and farther away from their farms to the point where rich consumers in the industrialised world can eat any type of food any time of the year at ever lower costs.
But have we noticed that more and more organic food is also available at our supermarkets and health food shops? Where is this coming from? Who is behind this process? How is that affecting farmers and their land? What has happened to DEMETER products amidst all this "organic" explosion? Does it matter that our biodynamic farms are having to call themselves organic in order for customers to understand the message? Is "organic" spiritual enough? Is there any relation between Rudolf Steiner's vision for agricultural renewal and what we see happening outside the movement? These are important questions which are not necessarily being asked or answered.
As with BSE, foot-and-mouth disease has swung consumers strongly towards organic food, which is now the competitive focus for the main supermarket chains. Who can provide the widest range of organic items ? Sainsbury's has over 1000 items certified organic. The demand cuts across all types of produce. The choice of consumers in Europe, the USA and Japan for healthier food is enabling a massive process of transformation of the world's agriculture to take place.
Obviously, European farmers are the first to benefit; but gains are also being made by those in tropical and sub-tropical landscapes, whose traditions were overwhelmed 500 years ago by brave conquering sailors who took with them the once exotic products which were to become staple foods in lands so distant from their origin. These same lands became the colonial suppliers of vital foods, beverages, spices, wood, medicine and fibres not grown in Europe. Over 300 years ago these lands saw the first extensions of plantation farms manned by slave labour and brutally controlled by master states in their production, trade and consumption. Well, organic foods are also coming from these exotic lands over the seas.
Surprisingly, the demand over the last ten years has been met by supply from a increasingly large area worldwide. That surely cannot be an automatic process since the changes required in the farming system call for new ways of thinking, doing and restructuring farming operations in a harmonious and balanced way. So what is the source for this process and how can we nurture it?
The malaise which affected farmers producing for consumers of conventional food is unfortunately already becoming entrenched in those buying organic produce. People take for granted that they are able to go out and buy organic produce at any time of the year from the most remote countries.
Moreover, in all this organic revolution what has happened to DEMETER produce? What is it that differentiates organic from bio-dynamic? Who should be consuming the latter? We are caught between questions of core and periphery, between holding on to our treasures in small groups of believers and sharing them widely, between inside and outside.
The relatively slow growth of the biodynamic movement in this country and in most European countries should be a cause for concern for those professionally involved. On the other hand the opening up of new initiatives outside the European focus of the movement is progressing rather fast but is nevertheless restricted by the relatively small number of people demanding biodynamic food compared to those consuming organic food.
Another important indicator of the phenomenon of change but at a different level - which I would like to bring to this analysis - is the progressive advance of organic farming support from within European ofhcial institutions, which are metamorphosing from being hurdles corrupted by chemical multinationals with vested interests into becoming active enablers of renewal.
Last month " .. the European Council adopted unanimously a position urging the European Commission to analyse the possibility of a European Union action plan to promote organic production and foodstuffs, and to put forward appropriate proposals to implement that agreed policy. Recognising organic production as a way forward and as a way of achieving sustainable development, the conclusions of the Council of the European Parliament invite the Commission, member states and other interested parties to exchange ideas on ways to promote the organic sector. The Commissioner in charge pointed to the considerable progress made in this field.' By now 120,000 farms are converted to organic farming systems covering 3 million hectares. Further action of support to this new policy depends however on the availability of sufficient human resources within the Commission? ... "What about human resources within the farming community to incarnate these aims, what about educators, advisers, researchers?
So there is not only bad news coming from these sources. These developments are progressively analysed by governments in all parts of the world which look towards Europe for references and replicate these developments after necessary adaptations. A real momentum is gath-ering. The very criteria for assessing development aid (not just within the EU) have changed in the last ten years. Agriculture must be sustainable from an ecological, social and economic perspective and contribute to the sustainable development of the rural areas and farming commu-nities. Programmes which do not fulfil some of these criteria will have less chance of being funded.
What is most fascinating is that the very core principles of Rudolf Steiner's vision such as the importance of biodiversity in the farming system, the enlivening of the soil, the recycling of substances, the search for nutritive value, the elimination of harmful pesticides, even reference to the biodynamic preparations as permitted inputs, all this is reflected within these now dry and legally binding EU Standards. Pure chance?
The official birth of that more holistic developmental concept (of sustainable development) took place in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.4 A global framework called AGENDA 21 was proposed and signed by the heads of government present, where they made a com-mittment to pursue goals of economic development which do not destroy the environment and which respect local cultures and commumities.
Discussions with the Food and Agriculture Organisation during the events and afterwards have led to the inclusion of organic agri-cuture into the Codex Alimentarius of the Food Standards Committee, an internationally binding set of regulations supervised jointly by the FAO and the World Health Organisation of the United Nations. These regulations now embedded in that international food safety Act have to be acknowledged by disputes within the dreaded World Trade Organi-sation.
Similar developments are taking place within the UNCTAD® and UNDP? and many other intergovernmental bodies and multilateral organisations. Many of the transnational corporations responsible for the problems mentioned here are now entering the market and enabling organic production and processing.
A truer picture of agriculture as an ecological, economic, social and cultural activity affecting directly and indirectly the lives of all human beings on this planet has slowly emerged towards the end of the millennium, partly due to the disasters of the past and present but also in no small part due to the concerted work of individuals and institutions pointing to the concrete answers provided by organic (and biodynamic) agricultural principles and practices as bearers of solutions.
Has the biodynamic movement contributed in any way to the above events? The answer is, mostly no.
Has Rudolf Steiner's impulse for the renewal of agriculture at the beginning of last century contributed to the above? The answer is yes.
If so, how? Through the actions of individuals inspired and transformed by Rudolf Steiner's work who intervened voluntarily outside the scope of the biodynamic movement.
The international organic movement benefited from the individual engagement of concerned biodynamic professionals acting in their professional capacity, who influenced procedures and standards setting at the core of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements as well as its political agenda at a time when that organi-sation, which represents organic farmers worldwide, was lobbying for support to its members and for acceptance of organic agricultural practices as a way of farming worthy of support for its production, research and education at the European Union level. That concerted action not only previously shaped FOAM's Production and Processing Standards of Organic Agriculture and Foodstuffs but also the European Union Regulation adopted in 1991 using the latter as reference.
Between 1990 and 1994, the period which consolidated organic agriculture at the official level in Europe, the USA and also overseas, half of the elected members of the FOAM Board of Directors were anthroposophists and professional agronomists from countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil, all respected by the international organic movement in their own capacity, which chose them as their elected representatives to advance and guide the cause of organic farming world-wide during that period.
At that same period, individual, institutional and corporate membership of FOAM grew from about 30 countries to reach over one hundred countries of all continents due to specific programmes to enable wider outreach and participation.
Were these professionals supported by their respective biodynamic movements and anthroposophical movements? In the majority of the cases not.
Why? Because " .. ..they should rather focus on the real task of developing biodynamic agriculture and practical farming and not waste their time or dissipate their energies on these peripheral and political issues. So while we can say that we did and do participate as individual agronomists in this fascinating battle for the soul of the Earth and its farming landscape, many in the "real" biodynamic movement in Europe and this country will not share this satisfaction. They will be, in their own right way, busy with "core" esoteric questions of how to spiritually understand for instance the biodynamic preparations". Are we failing to understand something? How can we engage consciously in the crucial events of the beginning of this millennium which will set the basis for the ideals streaming in from the future? How can we read omit external events and discover there "outside" our social and cultural sphere allies for the difficult task of these times?
After being invited to submit this article, I have realised that I have now worked with Rudolf Steiner's insights and suggestions for a renewal of agriculture for a quarter of a century. During that time I have been invited in my professional capacity, as agronomist, to deal with agricultural and farming problems (in their widest sense) in more than 45 countries of all continents, resulting in thousands of farmers converting their lands to either organic or biodynamic practices.
We are indeed fortunate to be able to contribute to a dynamic process which works counter to the forces of destruction oppressing the land and its people.
But I feel we must regain the capacity to visualise the forces shaping our world, the landscape around our cities. In order to participate in the process of change which now counters the destructive forces contaminating our countryside and polluting our food we must not only be prepared to meditate in the evening, in the cosy calm setting of our bedroom protected from outside influences, but in the busy loud aggressive setting of a supermarket. We have to translate our meditation of the seed into a meditation of the product we buy from the grocery shelves of supermarkets and health food shops. We must ask ourselves how that organic coffee or tea was produced, who was involved, whether the act of producing this food liberated the human spirit and the earth in that place. How does it come about that such a product reaches this shelf but originates in The Gambia, Colombia, Thailand or Spain? Where can 1 find more information about it? What were the problems the people faced in making the effort of changing their farming system from one which contaminates the land and its produce to one which renews the possibility of the spirit to work on the land and in the people consuming its fruits?
In a small way, we need to participate as individuals in this web of initiatives, which counters in a very concrete way the wave of exploitative globalisation actively pursued by large corporations and irresponsible governments. Then we may be able to consider that the battle for the planet is indeed tough but not one we cannot win together, consciously also as a consumer, not just as a producer.
As a professional agronomist who has fought hard for these changes for the last quarter of a century at all levels, I am delighted to be able to meet the continuous demand for advisory services in this field coming from all corners of this planet. Governments, NGOs, corporations, individual farmers and farmers' associations want solutions to their problems, they need change. It is deeply satisfying to be able to use the tools Rudolf Steiner gave us to perceive and understand the needs of the Earth in this work, side by side with local farmers and technicians of such diverse backgrounds. It is revealing to discover that we can develop a common practical and pictorial - almost archetypal - language to understand the way to recreate balanced and individual farm organisms which can be organs of the landscape, be it a farm in the Mantaro Valley at 12000 feet in Peru producing potatoes and quinoa, one in the Souss Valley of Morocco producing citrus and vegetables, a farm in Darjeeling producing tea, a farm in Baluchistan producing among other crops cotton, a farm in the Phuto province of Vietnam producing rice and tea, a farm in the Caribbean district of Santa Marta, Colombia producing bananas or a Peul farm in Senegambia with its cattle herdsmen and farmers producing oilseeds, grains and cotton, or a farm in the plains of Mongolia and Siberia. After all, whether in a desert or monsoon landscape, on plain or mountain, tropical or temperate farmers especially in so-called developing con-tries still have a special intuition for the needs of their land, even after years of submitting themselves to doing something against their deepest feelings, such as conventional farming. That shared feeling, combined with the right thoughts and designs and helped by practical steps, is the key to unlocking farmers will to change and become co-creators again.
Out of an on-going study and implementation of Steiner's Agriculture Course of 1924, we start to realise in our professional travels how life and cosmic forces manifest themselves in interaction with the forces of the Earth's depths to give us a range of landscapes metamorphosed from the far North to the Equator, from valley to mountain, from desert to forest, and how this biological and ecological diversity is also manifested in the social and cultural diversity made possible by ever active Folk Souls, who continuously interact with regions of the Earth, shaping the farming landscape, influencing the proportions of fields and forests, crops and animals. It is also fascinating to regain one's own sense of historical place in an era where, from a global awareness, one derives a capacity to flow even against the old trade winds, to meet one's destiny in unfamiliar corners of the planet and to meet human souls able to cooperate beyond race, culture, religious and social norms in the task of renewing the way we interact with nature in the pursuit of food production. It is marvellous to realise that we are creating a new culture of the land, a new agriculture, and incarnating a vision, a task indicated to us by Rudolf Steiner so many years ago.
That's why it is important at least to understand the wider developments behind the scenes of these mysterious institutions and mundane market places. We are called to be actively present if we are not to be consumed by the weight of useless negative information showered upon us at every corner and through immensely invasive multimedia.
When we learn that the Earth's landscapes were formed by an ever-flowing interaction between the Spiritual Hierarchies from the cosmos and the depths of the Earth, and that Folk Souls imprint their mark upon this heritage which is in the process changed, we can make this alive, feel it when we try to understand agriculture and the food we consume.
Man as co-creator brings nature a step forward in its develop-ment, forming cultural landscapes which, when in harmony, enable civilisations to thrive and the Spirit of the Times to manifest itself.
Individual farmers mostly instinctively - and part consciously - perform agri-culture, taking into consideration cosmic rhythms and the inner potential of the terrain to produce food for the spirit.
As active and conscious consumers we can become partners in this process by exercising the capacities developed in us by the anthroposophical path. It is not too late to take part in this battle even if one's own destiny has placed one firmly in a local setting, within a local community. It is our task to grasp the phenomenological tools we have and permeate the produce we consume with an understanding of the inherent qualities of its etheric nature, of the imprint of cosmic forces on the material substance of the locality where it originates - a substance transformed by human hands working out of social and cultural patterns which link them to their collective past and traditional knowledge, but now influenced by a modern understanding furnished by organic agriculture's exoteric principles and practices ensouled with esoteric content in its core, in line with the Michaelic task of freeing the land from the forces of darkness.
Let's regain the levers of our individual power in this subtle battle, which we are not losing, as emotional demonstrators might feel. Let's be part of this positive globalisation which enables us to support small farmers in India, Senegal or Brazil to live a healthy life when we buy their organic products from the supermarket shelf.
Let's support biodynamic food, drink and fibre producers by asking for DEMETER quality, so that the subtle progress from organic to biodynamic is made possible. Let's feel the difference between not just conventional and organic but also between organic and body-namic produce.
If women harvesting biodynamic tea experience a difference in the way they feel the soil under their feet and the diversity of weeds under the tea bush and the taste of the tea produced and the milk produced by cows fed on these weeds, then we should also be able to feel the difference. If biodynamic teas are able to fetch a better price at the Calcutta auction just because they taste better, it is worth subsidising this producer who has invested in the healing properties of biodynamic practices as against one who has just made the first step in the renewal of his land.
When an old tea planter tells us that it is the first time in forty years that he has seen the powerful sprouting of the pruned tea stem brought about by our suggestions, we know we are in the right direction and are proud when that tea, coffee, cocoa, cotton, vegetables, spices, fruits and flowers reach the shelves of markets in Europe, Britain and Forest Row. But our enthusiasm is clouded when we see consumers taking for granted all the efforts which went to make that reality pos-sible. All the efforts of the company owners to convince their Board of Directors, of the company managers to persuade the workers, who are imbued with their own traditions, of the company to withstand the pesticide and fertiliser salesmen, of the owner to prevail over the other owners and the local market, which does not recognise such subtleties. It is painful, when arriving back from our frequent advisory travels abroad to see that the shops no longer reveal the origin or the producers, as was the case as early as the eighties of last century. More disheartening is to see how trade in organic and biodynamic produce has become business as usual and how farmers are paid less and less and traders and retailers charge more and more.
It will in the end be simpler if, at the end of the day, we look back on our actions and become more conscious of the karmic consequences of our deeds.
I here invite my fellow anthroposophists to gain a fresh perspective on their part in the historical process of changing not only their backyard but the planet, because the battle will be lost when we allow the old forces of globalisation to take over the trade of organic and biodynamic produce. It was our taking the work of the farmers for granted which enabled these destructive forces to gain control of the way agriculture is researched and taught, regulated and made into policy, traded and consumed. It is after all the continuing passiveness of the consumer which has allowed the anomymity of the market place, where food becomes a commodity and where the sole goal is to generate money, to be imposed by traders unmoved by or or unaware of the hardship of farmers in cold or hot dusty fields or the plight of consumers made ill by the poverty and inappropriateness of the food they eat.
That vicious circle which cut off farmers from consumers is the disgrace of the land. In the past, to portray the slory and fertility of the land was the ultimate goal of human culture, and the soil and landscape was regenerated by the seasonal permeation of warmth pouring in from human hearts, during the festivals where painting, music and dance reciprocated the mystery of the Earth's abundance. Now culture is disconnected from the land; and the abandonment of the farmer to the malign flows of the market - which increasingly calls for more and more at an ever lower price - has led to the destruction of the countryside and the poverty of our food and of course the materialism of our surrounding culture.
Thus it is time to awaken for the sake of the Earth and for the sake of all those individuals who in many cases are still fighting a lonely battle to produce real food.
A battle of (w)holism against reductionism, of Goethe versus Descartes, of liberating the land's productive forces by reconnecting it to its future and archetypal pattern against the forces of the synthetic gene.
A difficult challenge where rural and farming communities and even agribusiness worldwide are fast disintegrating, because they are at the mercy of anonymous market forces and need to prop up their resource base, plundered as it is by the one-sided use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Farmers, fighting for their souls and caught in the middle of conflicting roles as stewards of their land and of nature, but also as community and family providers, need partnership with consumers who, misguided by the false promise of ever cheaper food, nevertheless need to nourish their families.
So in a small way as individual consumers we can and do make a difference to the state of affairs of global agriculture. Let it be said very loud.
The "organic (r)evolution" of today, when "real food", "Lebensmittel mit Charakter", displaces day by day other products which are half food, chemically produced, will be viewed also by conscious consumers as a sweet victory, a further fruit of the many years of hard, sweaty, lonely work of maybe only thousands of dedicated farmers and agriculture professionals world-wide for whom the established order was no monolith, no insurmountable challenge and who continue to pursue their aims in spite of existing barriers imposed by the destructive forces of reductionism and materialism coupled with ever sharper strategies for the exploitation of human and natural heritage.
There we will join the historical spiritual forces shaping the destiny of the Earth which depend more and more on human beings to become effective, now that the withdrawal of the nature spirits - which is in part a consequence of the commoditisation of our lives and the cheapening of our spirit - has been taken to its present extreme point.
Then it will be a pleasure to go out into the wide and endangered world, leaving our families and friends behind, to redesign the way we farm with farmers and people of good will in government institutions and corporations so that we can produce food which feeds not just the body but also the spirit, so that one day we are able to celebrate again the fertility of the land and of the Earth not just as thankful receivers but also as stewards of its deep mysteries.
For relevant clippings from books or news papers, and for posts that are pertinent but which don't fit in the fora above