The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. That’s right: pulses. Rarely has a UN international year caused such little stir; very few agricultural experts even took notice. Notwithstanding, pulses are important to many very different groups of people in the Global North and South. What other issue could link the interests of healthconscious vegans in the metropolises of the Global North to those of rural peasant farmers in the Global South? Pulses are to be cherished.
Whether it is a farmers’ market in Peru, Zambiaor India, the picture is always similar: piles of lentils,chickpeas, beans and peas everywhere. A colourful display ranging from light red, brown and bright-yellow lentils, to beige chickpeas and the black of dried beans. In Europe, we buy them packaged and consider them hip. Today we perceive what used to be considered poor man’s food such as lentil soup or pea stew as delicacies. Thanks to their high protein content, pulses can replace meat. Peasant farmers value them because they improve soil fertility and reduce the need for fertilisers. From the consumer point of view, pulses are healthy food products which, from a production point of view, they promote biodiversity and reduce the need for fossil resources: mixed cultivation including pulses exemplifies the agroecological approach.
Agroecology is also an attempt to slow rural-to-urban migration into the megacities and save agriculture from destruction through industrialisation. Let us look back. With its revolutions and massacres, Eric Hobsbawm, the British historian, termed the twentieth century the ‘Age of Extremes’. Yet, what in his eyes distinguishes our modern world from the past is the global decline of peasant farming. It is the end of the millennia-old era, in which the majority of people lived off the land, growing crops, raising animals or fishing from the sea.
Europeans, US-Americans and the Japanese have all essentially stopped working the land. In large parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa agricultural labour, however, remains a characteristic trait of societies. In fact, over the course of fifty years, population dynamics have led the number of people employed in agriculture to increase from 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion. Nonetheless, should the current trend continue, it seems likely that peasant-farmer societies in the Global South will face impoverishment and decline.
For over half a century the struggle against poverty has been a focus of global rhetoric. Rarely, however, do people ask the most important question: Who is going to fight poverty? The World Bank and many governments have their answer: outside experts, donors and corporations will alleviate poverty. This perspective more or less reduces the struggle against poverty to an investment programme. Civil society organisations and social movements, in contrast, have a very different answer. In their view, the poor need to free themselves from poverty. This will require broadening their scope for action and strengthening their rights, and involves a programme of empowerment aimed at both more encompassing as well as piecemeal shifts in the balance of power. The poor are not needy recipients of aid; they only have their hands bound.
This is where the concept of agroecology, the focus of this brochure, plays in. We are sceptical of agroindustrial corporations and, instead, call for agriculture based on peasant farming systems. Our approach defends diversity against monoculture and gives local markets priority over the global market. We argue against the oil and chemicals dependency of today’s agriculture and advocate the use of worms, insects and animals. Agroecological approaches not only mimic nature; they are also better for people – as diverse workers, self-employed producers, and market participants and buyers of processed goods. At its best, agroecology reveals what Old Latin always knew: that a secret connection exists between humus and humanum.