By Jacob Alexis Betmou
On the 10-13th of May, a conference was held on the „Weltwärts South-North“ volunteer program organized by the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) at Upstalsboom Hotel Friedrichshain. Sending organizations and host organizations met to reflect on the project that started two years back. At the conference, I was happy to take part in a panel discussion with the representative of the Ministry Dr. Bernhard Felmberg, the ambassador of South Africa, Nirmalya Trust (India), ICYE (Colombia), Bistum Limburg (Germany). I was pleased to explain my experiences in our Slow Food organization fighting for a good, clean and fair food system including raising awareness about the value of biodiversity and the right to food sovereignty.
The day after the workshop was held at the 2000m² field. Twelve people from the conference attended the open air classroom. The 2000m² is a project that raises awareness on our global consumption and its effects on soil. Daniel Diehl who is leading the school project „Boden Begreifen“(understanding the soil) explained what the 2000m² project is all about: “If we divided the global area of cropland by the number of people living on this planet now, all of us would receive 2000 m². It is on this piece of land that everything Mother Earth supplies you with must grow: wheat, rice, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, oil, sugar-not to mention all the animal feed that does not stem from meadows and pastures. On top of that we also need to grow cotton for our clothes, tobacco for smokers, “bio” gas or diesel, and other so-called renewables on our field”.
Subsequently he showed different types of soil from different places of Germany to the participants. He asked them why our soil is so important. Several answers were given but nobody mentioned that soil is very important to our climate. Healthy soils are able to capture more CO2 than our oceans. But, the degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Here effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO² and slowing climate change. Through photosynthesis, a plant draws carbon out of the air to form carbon compounds. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through the roots to feed soil organisms, whereby the carbon is humified, or rendered stable. Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and helps give soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility.
I intervened to explain my experiences as I attended classes to teach children on the topic of global food consumption and its effects on soil. I showed the work we do with the children to explain the quality of good soil with the help of a “root box”. I explained how children can observe the soil life and the growth of the roots. Roots bring organic matter into the soil to enhance fertility. Having said that, the soil quality is required for the germination of the seed and fundamental for the plant. It was also an opportunity to me to explain the impact of food waste and how it is connected on land grabbing to the global south. Indeed, land of small scale farmers is taken by big companies, often to produce food, which subsequently is exported to Europe. This idea is especially interesting knowing that today in Germany the land use for food is 2700 m² per person. In the end one third of food produced on the soils of the Global South is finally found in the garbage of the consumers. Our global consumption has a tremendous effect on our soil; we put soil under pressure to produce our food and finally we do not consume it. This is something that we all need to thing about.
The responsible of the sending organization Duca from Cameroon mentioned that in “her country, the government invites the youth to follow and be interested in agriculture, but, as land becomes a very expensive and lucrative commodity, it is very difficult for young people with little money to gain land and to be a farmer”. Others participants agreed, saying they face the same problem. Indeed, the problem has a global dimension as one participant mentioned. In Germany “it is much easier for the big companies to have access to land than for young farmers who want land to produce food. It is too expensive for them”.
The program ended with a rally on land foot print, food waste and different crops around the world. Afterwards, coffee, cake and juice was offered to all. We all enjoyed sitting together and exchanging different cultural experiences on food and agriculture. At the end an official from Ghana said “it is really necessary and important to talk about this thematic. I am very amazed by this project. Sometimes people don´t have a lot but they still try to donate. And like any project requires support and a considerable contribution, I shall not leave from here without giving my share of contribution to support the project”. He offered a generous donation of 50 Euros before leaving us. We are very grateful!
Pictures: Anne Akuété, Lotte Heerschop