Monthly Archives: August 2011

What do we want? Food Sovereignty When do we want it? NOW!

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Nyeleni Forum  – August 18th – 21 – Day 3-6 – Thurs-Sunday

Well, the forum is concluded, and sorry I didn’t keep the blog daily, but heck, I’ve never had such a densely packed week of meetings, conversations, more meetings and partying! God forgive me, but I had to catch up on some sleep and figure out a way home since my eurolines open return botched up on me. (don’t rely on an open return in peak season!!), but I made it back thanks to a lift from the Via Campesina Belgian film crew who took me to Brussels!

I was incredibly inspired by everyone’s energy and enthusiasm to get the absolute max out of our time together…..to the point that after Saturday night’s final party evening, the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) in crisis called an 8.30am meeting on Sunday morn, over breakfast to see how we could create more solidarity in our particularly nasty recession positions we find ourselves in.  With 4 hours sleep on me, I made that meeting! But I digress…, let’s go back a bit…

Thursday

Second discussion day in subtopics, I lost concentration a bit. It was hard with all the translations.  We reported back to our main thematic groups and then to our constituency groups. (mine was consumers/urban movements).   Its a bit complicated, so hopefully ill get to draw a lil chart and stick it in next week and you’ll get how the structure of it worked.  Some action ideas were materializing and good overlaps were happening even between thematic topics.  For example, in my ecological production group, trade policies and alternative distribution methods were identified as key challenges which overlapped with two other thematic groups of the same names.  Encouraging ecological production is not a clear case of convincing farmers that these methods work….it’s about diminishing the stack of active policies against this mode of production as well as ensuring access to a market, as well as other challenges.

That night, a fab Balkan DJ Tom took us on a whirlpool dance bonanza till 3am in the morn. I was wrecked but happy.

Friday

Friday was the relax day, with around 15 trips organised to different eco-places around Krems, like workers co-ops, alternative farms and some general history tours thrown in too.  Myself and Sian went on the trip to Arche Noah, one of the best seed banks in the world they told us.  We saw amazing varieties of everything; purple and black tomatoes, loads of different types of blackberries which I savoured slowly, mad purple and white carrots.  It was such a good feeling to just walk around this place.  This is where I want to be if the shit hits the fan! Our guide told us that sometimes when older people who visit and find a ‘lost’ variety lets say of apples, which they hadn’t eaten since they were young, and then they taste it again after so long, they get quite emotional as is brings back a flood of memories.  I got the feeling that this place held a lot of magic.  We need more seed banks. Visit and support Irish seedsavers!!

Our guide also told us that 80% of their customers are gardeners, and  only 20% are farmers growing strange/local varities. It’s incredible that EU law already is prohibiting sale of unregistered seed varieties….for now seed swapping is possible but for how long? If I’m not wrong, there’s a law in the pipeline to seriously restrict this too.

Friday afternoon saw a colourful musical march happen…..the direct action folk who were all engaged in the thematic discussions organized a small demo with SAMBA -ATTAC band through Krems city centre, stopping at some chainstore supermarkets and handing out fliers.  The march ended at the “Market of Ideas” which was set up in a square in the town with lots of local produce, and interactive activities for the public to engage with, as well as some great live music.  There was even a stall of locally skipped food for anyone to take for free which some dumpster divers had collected to emphasise the food waste that goes on in our supposed civilized countries!

I showed The Pipe flick that night on the Anti-Shell campaign in Mayo Ireland and had a small discussion afterwards. Folks were pretty interested in it, and some people took copies to show in Germany, Turkey and Austria.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we had the first reading of the final declaration….and we were all able to give feedback at the general plenary for final changes.  The organisation committee had been pulling all-nighters trying to assemble the essence of the 20 different subgroups which had been discussing issues, ideas and actions over the last 2 days, to try to come out with a declaration which would be acceptable to all.  I didn’t envy them the task! I have to confess though….I slept it out for this. After a week of late nights and early starts, I had to get one lie in, so I turned up at lunchtime, but got filled in by the rest of the Irish delegation.

The afternoon saw people meeting up to discuss the declaration and make final suggestions to the writing committee.  Again the translators/interpretors astounded me, as the text was translated into at le3ast 10 different languges before the day was out.

I attended a Friends of the Earth meeting where we were able to input into the declaration…most of us wanted it more strongly worded, with more explicit references to climate change being both a impact on food production worldwide, as well as food sovereignty being part of the solution to climate change.  When the final declaration was read that evening, there was great appalause from the crowd paragraph by paragraph nearly. People were well satisfied.

That evening, some Belgian folks organised a direct action sharing workshop where 4 folks got up to present….first up was a Belgian guy against GMOs (forgotten his name!) pulling crops up in Belgium which has one of the highest number of GMO trials in Europe at present, which meant that the scientific community mostly called them luddites for their actions. Then I talked about Climate Camp Ireland , the  Rossport Solidarity Camp, and general activist personal sustainability skills. Amoury from the Belgian Artivist collective gave us the lowdown on their YESMEN stunts around Belgium in the EU Commission, many on food sovereignty issues. And finally Morgan from France talked about Reclaim the Fields (see previous blog for more details),  There was interesting discussion then on the effectiveness and importance of direct action and its role in wider campaigns and the pre and post work needed.  The question of what is non-violent direct action also came up, to which I urged everyone to keep debating it in their groups, read more on it, and keep evolving their ideas on it, because my experience over the years is that I cannot judge someone’s actions without knowing the context and other relevant info.  It’s a difficult but important debate.

Many folks there were well interested in trying to organise an European-wide direct action gathering….to discuss theory, strategies and tactics, and take a little action.  It’s another one for the pipeline. I think it would be brilliant.  I’m on a mailing list now. We’ll see what happens.

Sunday

The forum came to an end with quite a bit of madness in the form of a mystica, where 8 countries while we all stood in a circle, and the chairs were laid out as spokes of that circle in double rows facing inwards, where we later were asked to converse to someone across from us about how the event went in total.  Twas a bit chaotic trying to organise the couple of hundred folks there, some which were hungover, or not even gone to bed.  But we did a great bit of cheering at the end and did big thank-yous to the organizers, amazing kitchen collective crew, facilitators and interpreters.

I really saw what it takes to pull off an event like this…..I was well impressed as were most people. I know now that it’s possible to have a very participative event.  The forum did cost over 200,000 euro though, with almost 100 volunteers giving their free time to translate, facilitate and cook….so it’s no small task, that’s for sure. But when people come together…..we can be the change we want to see in the world!

Now back to Ireland, and spreading the good fair food buzz there…..

Creativity and Direct Action at Nyeleni…

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Day 2 – 17-08-11

….”and the Mystica will be starting at 8.30am sharp” said one of the plenary session speakers as Monday’s session came to a close.  Aha….I thought, some kinda spiritual ceremony thing to start the day. Depending on how it works,  I sometimes like those things, and sometimes not. And wasn’t I pleasantly surprised…it was a multilingual mini-theatre performance by 4 clowns on GM crops! a great way to start the day, laugh over breakfast, and see creativity being used to transmit these messages! Classic.  We need more clowns and creatives;we need to have more fun while campaigning and doing. Get me to a clown workshop!

And so all 400 odd participants then got stuck into the first full-day’s work, first in a general plenary where international delegates spoke about the situations in their countries. Miriam Bassey spoke about her country Nigeria, and mentioned  that recently Shell admited in court to 2 cases of pollution paying 1 billion dollars in damages (pennies for them!)  in Nigeria after decades of contaminating vast tracks of land.  She acknowledged the great work being done by the forum, but stressed that the problems they suffer in Africa are mostly due to European and other global north transnationals either polluting and abusing them, or then coming in and telling them how to solve their problems, be it with GMOs or other technologies. “It is good to have big dreams, but we need to wake up and act!” she said.

That’s heavy stuff to hear, but I always come away inspired and empowered to continue campaigning on these issues, because meeting these people face to face really reminds me about how real people are suffering and how I admire them for battling and struggling against all odds, not only for what they believe in, but for their lives!

We then split into out thematic groups, and within these there were subgroups too and we spent the rest of the day discussing our particular strands. I ended up in the largest group which was part of the production strand, and within that the ecological production subgroup. I had chosen this because I wanted to learn more about this, but I think in the end I probably belonged more in the consumers and markets because I know more about it. All the same, it was an interesting debate and discussion with some final suggested action points reached. Our group being the biggest, and with at least 4 languages being translated meant the going was hard at times.  We got somewhat bogged down in terminology and definitions at the beginning, but finally moved on to more practical actions we could work towards together.

Couldn’t possibly write even half of what was said, but some of the final things that are materialising is a call to action on World Food Day on October 16th, with all sorts of events and actions around Europe to highlight food sovereignty issues. April 17th was also mentioned as a day of action. People called for European platforms to continue working together, more regional meetings, and databases to share info on events, initiatives and actions. French farmers called for everyone to be inspired by young people’s direct actions against GM crops, and in general it’s been beautifully refreshing to hear so many people talking about direct action to be used along side other strategies!! Are we finally breaking through to a bigger crowd?

In the evening I went along the a Reclaim the Fields meeting despite being quite tired, and hey presto I found a little more of the stuff I was looking for….permaculture, squating and direct action crew all under one roof! Reclaim the fields began in 2008 as a Via Campesina project but within a couple of meetings in differnet countries, it soon expanded and became its own project.  The amount of amazing land squatting actions and planting escapades these folks told from France, to Spain, UK (Grow Heathrow) to Hungary were amazing! I felt really inspired, especially with their stories of anarchists working side by side with farmers getting their hands dirty and taking action in cities, with crowds as big as 1,000 marching with their garden tools to reclaim a piece of land. The next gathering is in Romania, and its looking real tempting.  Reclaim the Fields is a non-hierarchical group thats fluid undefinedness very much reminds me of Gluasieacht’s basic ethos.  They think of themselves as constellations; roughly interconnected networks and groups (which depending on how you look at the stars, you can see different shapes and patterns ), which come together to support each other as needed. So Romania is the place to be at the end of September. God Im tempted! We’ll see…..mmm

And as I’m writing this thursday about Wednesday, things are melding in my head.  Reporting back to our main thematic groups and consituency groups has been long and intense, but some seriously great exchanges have been had, and once the final report is done in a few weeks, ill link it up here. We’ll also be doing one ourselves, either among the Gluheads, or hopefully with the 7 irish delegates in total.

Last night we danced our socks off to a crzy Balkan DJ who were amazing, and there’s more on tonight, so I better get me ass over there and chill after another hard day’s intensive communication, but truely satisfied at having met such great people and learning lots and being inspired about movements everywhere!

Nyeleni 2011 – European Food Sovereignty forum – and so it begins….

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16-08-2011

I am in Krems Austria at the end of the first day of the European Food Sovereignty Forum and it’s been a jam-packed day!

The Nyeleni forum originated in Mali in 2007, and now the first European one is taking place near Vienna in a town called Krems an der Donau (on the Danube) with 35 different countries participating.  For those new to the term Food Sovereignty, I must admit I’m pretty new to it myself and that’s half my reason for coming,(to learn more) but in short I’d describe it as taking back control over what we eat, how it’s produced, who produces it and making all these processes socially just for those involved and sustainable for the planet. Food sovereignty fights for local, GM-free, organic, seasonal, culturally-appropriate and fairly priced foods.

So, I’ve come to this gathering representing Gluaiseacht along with an Irish delegation of 7 in total, from LASC, Dublin Community Gardens, Seomra Spraoi Food Action Group, and Leitrim Organic farmers group. Gluaiseacht decided to fund 4 folks coming over, from Gluaiseacht and Seomra Spraoi Food Action, of which 3 made it in the end. We all travelled by land to get here….Donna hitched most of the way from Lyon, as she was travelling round Europe for the summer anyhow, (and found herself a real nice mountain bike in a bush on her way here yesterday!) Mad but true! Myself and Sian (Seomra Food Action) travelled by land from Ireland, because Gluaiseacht doesn’t fund air-travel to save a wee bit of the climate and cut down on carbon emissions, short-haul flights being the worst.

So land travel huh? How insane is that? Ireland to Austria? Well…..yes, it wasn’t that bad or that pricey. A 2 day trip for 200 euro (Dublin – Vienna). Land travel is pretty cool if you have the time . The bus wasn’t the cushiest( best night buses I’ve experienced were in Brazil; why can’t we have better ones here??) so the legs were feeling it the next day but we got plenty of time to talk about the forum, our reasons for coming, and basically to get to know each other better too, apart from meeting some very colourful charaters on the way (Harry Bird and the Rubber wellies).

I started out a from Dun-Laoghaire port with a sail and rail ticket to London. I was a bittired, having had a great wee evening at the first Irish Permaculture Gathering in Wicklow where the lovely crew had made a great communal meal for all on Saturday eve from many local veg followed by a great sing-a-long by the fire.  That was great start to my trip towards Austria in terms of healthy, local, fresh, seasonal food, all in line with food sovereignty.

However, that was the last of the good ethical food as despite our best efforts to be eco and travel by land, buying local, fresh produce on the route was absolutely impossible.  I’d brought some wholemeal bought bread, nuts and a tomato from Lidl (grown in Holland).  Sian brought some home-made flapjacks.  We bought Charleville cheddar in a centra near the port (no local shops to be had), which Sian later told me is partly produced in the UK, so it may not even have been that local! It was mostly cheese sandwiches for the first day. We stayed the night in London with friends (in a great squat! ‘ Colorama’) and took off early the next day on our Eurolines 22hr ride to Vienna. As expected, all the bus stops en route were at stupid motorway multinational chain stores, such as Carrefour, and Shell petrol statis.  We got some more bread, yoghurt, brie, crisps and saucisson but none were very local or cheap! We picnic’d away the day while reading, chatting and stretching our legs at each stop. We soon realized that although travelling by land might be more eco but we had no control over our food supply!  We could have brought more homemade stuff with us, but 2 days was a bit long to keep things fresh on a bus.

We arrived into Vienna Tuesday morning at 9am, and promptly found our way to Krems on a local train, where after setting up our tents and having some much-needed (glorious) showers and lovely lunch, we got stuck into the women’s meeting which was first on the agenda.  About 70 odd women from all over western and eastern Europe took part (15 different countries at least), plus some international delegates from almost all continents.  In smaller groups, we were asked to envision a future world without discrimination or violence against women, and then what steps we could take to get there. Some interesting suggestions came out of this, including such things as feminization of economics and more egalitarian participation, more rights for children to participate, redefining values from a more feminine point of view such as salaries and work and being prepared to engage in civil disobedience to take a stand for what we believe in.

After that the whole forum split into constituency meetings which meant splitting into the sectors we represented, namely producers, NGOs, Consumers/urban movements, and trade unions. I went with urban movements, as Gluaiseacht is more of a network of mostly urban-based people.  We all introduced ourselves and then said what main topic we were attending during the forum (1. Production models 2. Markets/food chains 3. Social aspects and conditions of work 4. Land access and resources 5. Public policies) so that we could then report back at the end of the week. After this session, 2 Belgian guys came up to me as they were interested in the direct action stuff I’d mentioned Gluaiseacht supports in campaigns such as the Rossport Camp.  They were part of an artist collective called collectifartivist.be, and we exchanged addresses to grow the network.  Yes….networking is definitely a huge part of me being here. Personally, I’m also interested in meeting people from Latin America in struggles there to see what links can be made between farmers and consumers in how food sovereignty affects them.

The plenary came next with everyone together in the main hall where the forum was officially opened with some speeches, and later a cool world café was done where we all moved about to different tables to answer 2 questions: Why was the forum important for us? The interpreters did a great job through out translating via radio transmitters, and then live at the discussion tables of the world café.  A bit of Austrian traditional dance ended the evening, with some nice beers drunk over chats before folks off to bed.

There are no main speakers at this forum. It’s all about small discussion groups through sectors and topics we associate ourselves with.  The methodology is very participative and the organizers are doing a great job of trying to document the discussions, ideas, proposals and actions which develop in each of the sub-groups of the thematic axes. So, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few days!