Written by Justin Trezza, Field Program Director
A Tool for Social Transformation
Few times during our life do we have the opportunity to meet an individual who awakens us from our sometimes forlorn dreams and directs us on a new path of hope. For five days in February 2011, SHI’s field staff were delivered such an awakening at the hands of Jairo Restrepo Rivera - consultant for the Latin American organization COAS, organic visionary, activist, author and scientist. Jairo preached to us on the basic of conventional agriculture, the agro-industrial complex, farmer-to-farmer communication and organic agriculture as a social movement. His passion and knowledge resonated deeply with many of us, but most importantly, forced us to reflect on organic farming and its future in society, particularly in rural communities throughout Latin America.
From a second story classroom in Punta Gorda, Belize to the muddied shores of the Mojo River, SHI staff were educated, entertained and mesmerized by this organic master. Drawing on his work alongside peasant movements in Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and elsewhere, Jairo’s lecture dug below the organic layer, examined the surface soil, and dissected the subsoil. He explored alternatives to traditional lab-based soil testing (chromotography), dissected the agro-industrial model, and empowered us to believe in change and organic agriculture as the means of such change.
His lectures took us to the tropical forests of the Mojo where we analyzed our surroundings and drew conclusions based on geology, species, topography and more. There we learned Jairo’s core principle of agriculture – one is not prohibited from touching, but prohibited from touching what one does not know or understand. All too often, and frequently with negative outcomes, humans alter their surroundings without studying what is present –such as destroying a landscape or building, only to attempt to recreate it. Tragically, our manipulation leads to degradation, and degradation leads to dependence and the ruination of livelihoods and ecosystems. In order to build healthy environments and societies, we need to think and act differently; we need to study our surroundings and create systems that fit within the ecosystem before us. For example, in lieu of removing trees from the fragile soils of Belize or elsewhere in the tropics, selective thinning and the incorporation of hardwoods, fruit trees and tubers should be considered as an alternative to deforestation.
Rarely do people look at organic agriculture from a humanist side; however, that was precisely the intention of Jairo and his intensive training. “Organic agriculture, before becoming an instrument of technological change, is an instrument of social change. It is not enough to change technology, but change the society in which we live.” These words followed us throughout the training, and were reinforced by examples of how organic agriculture is empowering individuals, creating just societies, preserving cultures and restoring ecosystems.
What Jairo discussed is what SHI is working to accomplish – empower individuals in rural communities and afford them the opportunity to create a healthier future for themselves, their families and the environment by way of sustainable and organic farming techniques. SHI is utilizing organic and sustainable agriculture as a means of transformation that preserves rural cultures, while improving livelihoods and sustaining local biodiversity.
Top Left - JAIRO RESTREPO LEADS A DISCUSSION WITH SHI FIELD STAFF IN BELIZE.
Bottom Right - SHI FIELD STAFF MAKES BIOFERTILIZER FROM LOCALLY SOURCED INGREDIENTS.