I woke up one morning last week with the words of deceased Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai ringing in my mind. I can’t remember the comment exactly, but I remember Maathai saying, of her childhood in Nyer, that she and her fellow villagers never wanted for anything. There was abundant firewood and water, the tribe grew food and hunted successfully, and even building materials were plentiful.
What a change from today! And why has the situation changed? In Kenya, the transformation began with English colonization in 1895 – the iron fist in the velvet glove that replaced Persian warlords and introduced huge monoculture farms using vast amounts of resources to grow plants never meant for the climate. Even when the nation became a republic, its new rulers – Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi – took a page from the European playbook, leading to accusations against them of land grabbing and crimes against humanity.
Was Kenya peaceful before British colonization? Not likely, given the number of tribes in the area. But displacement and death (from want) on such a huge scale as was seen after 1964 – or after various Westernized plantations of tea, pineapples, sugar cane and lumber robbed the area of precious resources like water – was unheard of.
More relevant is the fact that many corporations operating in Africa (and elsewhere) do not pay their taxes, insuring that third world countries remain poor. Even where taxes are paid, speculation (in the form of commodities trading) drives local prices for food up in poorer nations, assuring that they never reach the economic success level of Western nations.
This brought me to another realization. In the U.S., when people speak of the rural poor, they mean individuals who grow their own fruits and vegetables and don’t own cell phones or iPads.
Simply put, simplicity (self-sufficiency, pastoralism, agrarian lifestyles) has been demonized by entities like corporations and politicians, who want to keep us locked in our urban ghettos without access to natural resources like fresh food and untreated water. Fortunately for us, air is still universal (but perhaps not for long, as air pollution rises and health demands “canned” air).
This corporate/political perception – control through resources – results in a kind of bizarre shell game in which huge corporations buy wood from Indonesia to sell to U.S. builders to erect homes that most U.S. residents can’t afford anymore.
Meanwhile, the U.S. lumber industry falls apart, destroying jobs and local economies, while the people of Indonesia continue to live in huts and shanties, unable to afford even their own “cheap” lumber. Proving yet again that bringing an economy “into the fold” (of international trade) doesn’t help the poor, but only the corporations selling the wood.
By the same token, NAFTA and CAFTA haven’t improved the living standards of Mexicans or South Americans, but have instead put more money into the hands of corporations courtesy of well-off Americans and Canadians who have bought into the whole consumer schtick.
In the wake of wholesale Western adoption of consumerism, people south of the (U.S.) border continue to go hungry, and must also face the prospect of polluted water, soil and even air in the wake of former clothing factories (called maquiladoras) sourced by corporations selling jeans under labels like The Gap, Guess and Old Navy.
The poster child of this anti-natural culture is Monsanto, which is currently being sued in India for Frankenfood eggplant. Too late, however, for the millions of Indian farmers who killed themselves when genetically-engineered (Bt) cotton crops failed to produce enough income to buy another year’s worth of seed – or the designer weed-killer Roundup that goes with it.
This, by the way, is the very same Roundup billed as killing all the weeds in a farmer’s fields. Well, not any more, according to Monsanto itself. Whoops. Looks like a lot of Indians died for no reason.
In those few cases where these modern day megaliths don’t control the purse strings, they control the political sphere in which decisions to subsidize oil instead of renewable energy technologies, or to buy land from African politicians without consulting tribes living on it, or to factory farm instead of letting animals live a more normal lifestyle, play out. Meanwhile, you are a criminal if you buy locally-grown vegetables.
The name is globalization. The players are a few dozen corporations which control mankind. These “globalist wolves” coopt as many of earth’s natural resources as is humanly possible in order to keep us in line.
But we can get back to where we were. We can get back to those Kenyan highlands where all that humans needed was once provided by the earth. The way back is also simple. Want less. Live as though every dish, bottle, pan, shirt and pair of shoes had to last you forever. Buy and eat local. Take up a smaller space, virtually speaking, in the ecosphere. And yes, we need to cut population, but it may be Malthusian eugenics (by the very rich, against the great mass of the poor) to suggest that we need a “good catastrophe” to cleanse the earth.
This doesn’t mean we have to give up the 21st century. We can still have Internet and iPhones, but we will have to make choices; we can no longer have it all. One of those choices should be growing our own food, even if it’s a lowly cucumber or a patio tomato.
Why? A 30-year study by the Rodale Institute shows that organic farming is the key to feeding the earth, and organic farming works best on a smaller scale.