An Amerindian legend says that one day, there was a huge wildfire. All the animals gazed at the disaster terrified, distressed and helpless. Only the little hummingbird was hurrying, going to find a few drops of water with his beak to extinguish the fire.
After a moment, the armadillo, flustered with all the agitation, said, in a derisory way, “Hummingbird! Are you crazy? You won’t extinguish the fire with those drops of water!” And the hummingbird answered, “I know! But I’m doing my part.”
From that legend, and convinced that a coalition of like-minded and committed individuals can transform society, Pierre Rabhi creates the movement “Les colibris” (the hummingbirds) to multiply and allow to share local experiences respecting nature and humankind.
Pierre Rabhi (from his birth name Rabah Rabhi, on May 29th 1938) is a writer, a farmer and a French environmentalist. Muslim, he converted to Christianity then moved away from all religion. He studied in France, where he is considered a very important personality in agro-ecology for his initiative Oasis in all places. The principles of Oasis are as simple as they are steadfast: human beings and nature are at the center of development; getting back to agriculture is an alternative to a way of life that has become unsatisfactory for many people; Oasis promotes the following:
- developing food crops for self-sufficiency by producing without destroying, focusing on local produce and establishing agreement between town and country;
- take a responsible look at the needs and modes of consumption;
- recreate social bonds by listening, sharing and coming to an agreement;
- be in favor of local commerce from a bottom-up rather than a top-down point of view;
- to be creative and make people responsible for their own economic and financial activity;
- to promote multiple activities in one’s own environment;
- to rethink access to agricultural property and its use;
- to promote a low-cost ecological habitat;
- to unite the dynamics in the regional, national and international network.
While all studies show that accumulation of goods is a no-brainer due to the limits of our planet, agriculture should also change the way it is organized to avoid waste and that implies relocating production and consumption. Considering these constraints the question arises as to what type of agriculture to feed the 9 billion people projected for 2050? An agriculture that provides sufficient but also healthy food. A sustainable agriculture that contributes less to global warming?
According to many experts, including those of the FAO, only peasant agriculture and family farming oriented towards agro-ecology can meet these requirements. So why have subsidies, national and international aid and private investment all of which is still very often massively geared to agribusiness, whose very nature leads to intensive production systems, vast mono-cultures, pollution and export-oriented agriculture?
It’s obvious that the model of society we chose goes hand in hand with the agriculture we finance.
The ideas and initiatives of Pierre Rahbi are offered as an alternative: society should function in a way that respects people and land by promoting farming techniques that protect the environment and conserve natural resources. These ideas concern particularly but not exclusively arid areas where Pierre Rahbi got his experience, based on “happy sobriety”. From this, happiness is created and is a strength and a guarantee against the alienation imposed on us by the doctrine of accumulation.” When he set up his farm, there were five others around, he says. Now those lands are abandoned, because the farms have been swept away by an endless cycle of costly investments and random farm prices. He concludes by saying that everyone had predicted dire consequences for a farm on land so poor and so remote.
But he based his work on respect of the environment and traditional knowledge, by reducing farm development costs but which could still be profitable despite the inevitable reduced production, which is what it was beforehand.His ideas are moving closer to what’s called biodynamic agriculture which arouses some controversy since its principles are seen as based on pseudo-scientific and esoteric beliefs of anthroposophy. However, if we join the idea of “happy sobriety” and the wisdom of the Amerindian legend “I know, but I’m doing my part” with the principles of “Oasis in all places” a new and hopeful path can be opened to society as well as to agriculture.
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO,
with consultative special status at UN