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Lappe writes: "In the late '60s, my life changed forever. I asked, Why are millions of people going hungry? Every other species seemed to have figured out how to feed itself and its offspring. So what's up with us?"

They are farmers growing organic, diverse food crops and creating lives of courage, dignity, inclusion, and ongoing creativity. (photo: Tilman Cornelius Dette)
They are farmers growing organic, diverse food crops and creating lives of courage, dignity, inclusion, and ongoing creativity. (photo: Tilman Cornelius Dette)


What India Taught Me About How to End Hunger

By Frances Moore Lappe, Yes! Magazine

02 February 13

 

Back in the ’60s, Frances Moore Lappé realized that hunger is caused by a scarcity of democracy, not food. Then, a collective of courageous women farmers showed her how to change that.

n the late '60s, my life changed forever. I asked, Why are millions of people going hungry? Every other species seemed to have figured out how to feed itself and its offspring. So what's up with us?

Headlines screamed, "scarcity! There's just not enough!" But lo and behold, as I added up the figures, one truth jumped out. There was enough food for all; and today, it's even truer.

So over the decades after Diet for a Small Planet came out, I tugged away at layer after layer of "whys" and finally I came up with a sound bite I loved: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy.

What does it mean?

At root, the problem is one of concentrations of social power so extreme that, from far-flung fields to the global supermarket, people are deprived not only of food, but of dignity and confidence in their own proven capacities.

My sound bite made sense to me, but what good was its "truth" without examples of people actually acting on it? What good was it without real-life proof of people seizing the root and transforming human relationships into true "living democracies"?

Certainly, I knew the weak notion of democracy I'd grown up with - democracy equals markets-plus-elections - wasn't it. So what did I mean? Where is democracy emerging that's vital, engaging, and empowering enough actually to get to the root of needless hunger?

Actually, the answer is: in many places, mostly invisible.

Never would I have imagined that one day I'd be sitting and sharing heart-to-heart with leaders embodying multiple dimensions of living democracy and simultaneously ending - not "alleviating" - hunger in their communities.

Yet, this fall, there I was. In northern India, I celebrated with Navdanya its 25 years spreading empowering, ecologically renewing farming practices to hundreds of thousands of farmers. Then, in southern India, a few hours from Hyderabad, I sat surrounded by a dozen women in brilliant saris on a straw mat, gazing at beautifully arranged mounds of diverse seeds from their own fields.

These women make up the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a network of 5,000 women in 70 villages. They are farmers growing organic, diverse food crops and creating lives of courage, dignity, inclusion, and ongoing creativity.

I first asked the most basic questions. What was it like 20 years ago?

"We were so poor that in the rainy season our hut floors would turn to mud and we had to pile up branches to sleep on. We were always hungry. We depended on government ration cards. Sometimes the big landowner would pay us for a job with some grains and that would be the only food for our children. We were so poor we had only one sari-not even a second one to change into when we bathe.

My husband was a gambler, he was not ever here. I lived on sorghum and broken rice. Our life was dictated by bigger people. We had to suffer, even if they beat us. It was a dark time."

<>And what changed?

"We started meeting, talking. Every week now, at nine in the evening our sanghams [groups of women] come together and make decisions together. We tell each other our problems. If someone was abused, all of us go together to confront him. And now if there is a conflict in our village, they call on us. Through the sanghams, we've reclaimed the land. We don't use any chemicals. We grow as many as 25 crops on an acre or two."

"What about the village food security solution I'd read about," I asked, "where you come together as a village and reach consensus on storing enough food so the most vulnerable families get what they need in the lean season?"

"We don't need to do that anymore. Every family has food security now."

The next day I walked into the fields that these women and their families farm. I learned more about their years of effort to rid the fields of rocks, create water conservation trenches, and establish synergistic cropping patterns. The soil still looked pretty dry and rocky to me, but proof of the women's deep knowledge of how to make it productive anyway was waving above my head-yellow, white, brown, and red millet; and lower down, oil seeds and gram. There, too, were essential plants for natural pest control.

Like most of Indian farms, there's no irrigation here. Rain matters a lot. So I asked, "Aren't you worried about climate change bringing more drought?"

"No. We know what to do. If rainfall is cut by half, we know which seeds will work. If it drops more, we have other seeds."

I learned how DDS women enhance biodiversity by saving and sharing seeds; how they create common plots for medicinal plants and learn and teach the healing arts.

A few years ago, DDS calculated that the women's leadership has meant the production of almost 3 million extra meals each year.

Their 3,000-member cooperative market is growing by at least 20 percent a year. And DDS women also run their own "media trust," learning and teaching videography through which they are documenting their journey, as well as their own community radio station that broadcasts tips on ecological farming, health, raising trees, and other relevant information, right along with traditional music.

DDS has calculated that the women's leadership has meant the production of almost 3 million extra meals each year, as well as almost 350,000 additional days of employment in their villages. And that same leadership is re-balancing gender relationships and radically reducing domestic abuse.

We have achieved food sovereignty, they told me. But what struck me were these words: "From the sanghams what we've gained most is courage."

And with courage comes dignity, there before me in full force in the pride of their gleaming smiles.

Today in India 46 percent of children are still stunted by malnutrition, and this state, Andhra Pradesh, has long been known both for its heavy use of agricultural chemicals and high rates of suicide by farmers trapped in debt, because buying seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides can typically eat up half a small farmer's income .

All true. But the women of DDS, and millions of people like them in India and around the world, prove to me that there is a solution to world hunger. They live it.

I see now that it happens when we break free of imposed disconnection, find our courage, and combine our creativity. Then democracy is no longer something done "to us" or "for us." It is our way of life.


 

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+4 # BobboMax 2013-02-02 23:54
"Every other species seemed to have figured out how to feed itself and its offspring. So what's up with us?"

Ummm, no. I really like Ms. Lappé & her messages and I like her recipes, BUT Mother Nature is a cruel mother. Only a small proportion of the young of other species make it to maturity. Those who do live relatively short lives and often die in misery.

These facts don't excuse the fact that too many of our young don't make it to maturity and too many of those who do live relatively short lives and often die in misery. We can do better and our failure is disturbing- we are often as cruel as Mother Nature.
 
 
+6 # Hirspray 2013-02-03 01:17
In 1973 I used Diet for a Mall Planet as a nutrition text for my rural school teaching Licensed vocational nursing students. I thought I would teach them about basic nutrition using amino acid combinations to teach fundamentals. It worked, but my students learned about food politics as well. I wonder if they still remember. I do.
 
 
+2 # BobboMax 2013-02-03 22:19
"Diet for a Mall Planet"

Typo or truth in disguise?
 
 
+9 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-02-03 01:49
'Finding our courage' and 'combining our creativity' sounds like just what we need to do. Thankfully, it is starting to happen in my community in Western Massacusetts. Wow. What a great article, Frances Moore Lappe!
 
 
+14 # susan lea 2013-02-03 08:18
My father, Bennett Dwight Ensley, had a presidentally-a ppointed position in the US Dept of Agriculture (1950-1972); he was in charge of the grain program in India & later worked for the UN World Food Program. As a 4-yr old in the early 1950s, I remember him emphatically saying "The g__damned pesticides (not the communists!) are going to kill us!" He also said that in the future only the rich would have the money for food. Sadly, the Dept of Ag did not listen to him; when he retired, he gave two-weeks notice and left.
 
 
+6 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-02-03 09:38
Why does Lappe (and many others who address hunger) fail to mention the elephant in the room -- burgeoning human population.

Thanks to hide-bound religious rascals from the Pope to Billy Bob Blowhard, your neighborhood bible-thumper, any sane effort to slow the world's population explosion hasn't a chance.

The SRO sign was out decades ago and few had the courage to call attention to it. When I was an undergraduate economics student in the mid 1900s, Thomas Robert Malthus was a figure to deride. A professor could get a laugh by dropping Malthus name as surely as by dropping his pants.

Ours is a small planet with finite resources, where common sense appears to be in even shorter supply than food.
 
 
+1 # VoiceofReason613 2013-02-03 14:36
As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to point out that there is another elephant in the room -- animal-based diets. About 70% of the grain produced in the US and over a third of the grain produced worldwide are fed to animals destined for slaughter, while nearly a billion of the world's people suffer from lack of adequate nutrition. Making the situation even more scandalous is that feeding he grin to farmed animals converts grains rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates into products that are devoid of these important factors but, instead, are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, thus contributing to an epidemic of diseases.
 
 
0 # BobboMax 2013-02-03 17:00
Good point. I recommend the movie "Forks over Knives," about the various benefits of being a vegetarian, including better health and better use of food resources, points which I believe Ms. Lappé made in her first book, Diet for a Small Planet. For my money, DSP is still one of the best primers on designing and cooking a healthy vegetarian diet.
 
 
+4 # Merschrod 2013-02-03 09:42
So great to read a brief piece on peace from Francis - truly a great person from the just barely pre-baby boom crowd that has made a difference. I enjoyed the market+election s = democracy.
 
 
+6 # Edwina 2013-02-03 10:15
Wonderful. This is a solution to where we now find ourselves -- unable to feed the world's people. The capitalist system is unravelling, from early efficiencies to wasteful and unproductive practices. While the wealthy sit on trillions of dollars of ill-gotten gains, other people go hungry. Our agricultural system is unsustainable. People in the Middle East and Africa are rising up against their governments for participating in a system that rips off their resources, and leaves them with nothing. Meanwhile, the stock markets are doing just fine, busy creating the next bubble. The small movements for democracy, like Occupy, are forming the pockets of sanity that may enable us to survive.
 
 
0 # balconesfalk 2013-02-03 12:41
Again, it is Reader Supported News that comes to the rescue in explaining it all for our elucidation:
http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/15845-the-endgame-of-capitalism
 
 
+5 # balconesfalk 2013-02-03 10:28
Now it is genetically modified seeds that are likely to be our destruction of humanity. Agribusiness in America is intent on taking over the world food supply for profit. This could seriously damage the seed trove in India and other countries who have learned the delicate interaction between their carefully selected crops and environmental conditions.
 
 
+1 # balconesfalk 2013-02-03 12:42
We can do it too: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/02/170846948/how-to-save-a-public-library-make-it-a-seed-bank
 
 
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-02-03 12:06
We do have to learn both to feed by growing and cooking for ourselves and not be so damn wasteful. Think of all these inner city bare lots and parking lots too.
Rural Indians -and Indonesians- long ago figured that their generally and openly corrupt didn't represent them and turned to supporting themselves, like the Kerala women and those mentioned here.
In Indonesia, "Kampungs (villages" are demarcated -even within big sprawling cities- with a "Kepala" -head man, or woman these days, who takes 10% of the earnings from those who are working and distributes it even to families who have no current income, as well as purchasing basic staples like rice and vegetables, some grow by neighbors.
I think it's called Socialism.
 
 
0 # reiverpacific 2013-02-04 19:49
Quoting reiverpacific:
We do have to learn both to feed by growing and cooking for ourselves and not be so damn wasteful. Think of all these inner city bare lots and parking lots too.
Rural Indians -and Indonesians- long ago figured that their generally and openly corrupt didn't represent them and turned to supporting themselves, like the Kerala women and those mentioned here.
In Indonesia, "Kampungs (villages" are demarcated -even within big sprawling cities- with a "Kepala" -head man, or woman these days, who takes 10% of the earnings from those who are working and distributes it even to families who have no current income, as well as purchasing basic staples like rice and vegetables, some grow by neighbors.
I think it's called Socialism.

Once again apologize for humble shitty typing; I omitted "Generally and openly corrupt GOVERNMENTS--".
It really becomes quite embarrassing sometimes.
 
 
0 # balconesfalk 2013-02-03 12:37
Here is another article that could bring about progress in sustainable food grown locally: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/02/170846948/how-to-save-a-public-library-make-it-a-seed-bank
 

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