Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Farming for a Small Planet"

Ashish Kothari

Lappé’s essay is lucid, timely, and exciting for its attempt at connecting so many dots rather than being only a “technical” paper which proponents of “organic farming” can at times restrict themselves to. The stress on the social and political is especially welcome. The important question then becomes “how,” and I would like to share what I think will be vital steps:

(a) Advocacy for women’s rights to farming land and other resources. In many parts of the world, these are not well-established, and the male domination of agriculture (especially in its links to the state and the market) is part of the problem. More generally, recognizing the crucial role of women in agriculture is part of the struggle.

(b) Advocacy for community tenure, not only to agricultural lands, but also to other resources that agriculture is intimately connected to, including non-agricultural commons (grazing lands, forests, wetlands, etc). Sustainability of farming, as well as economic/social security for farmers, is crucially dependent on long-term tenure.

(c) Connected to the above, taking a more holistic view of agriculture by linking (or, where it existed in the past, relinking) with fisheries, animal husbandry, forestry, and crafts/agro-based manufacturing. This is crucial not only because of the ecological connections amongst ecosystems and nature, and the nutrients and other inputs that non-farming ecosystems provide to farming, but also because of the fact that agriculture alone will not be able to provide a full livelihood and employment security. An integrated approach with all these built in, however, could. Several villages in India, similar to the example that Lappé provides, have stopped or reversed outmigration using such an approach. Besides, capitalism and state-dominated systems have excelled at creating divisions between farmers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous people, craftspersons, and other “ecosystem people,” so a successful transition requires their reconnection and mutual strengthening, albeit in different circumstances than the past.

(d) Localization of agricultural cycles. This could also be successful if government or civil society programs linked to procurement and redistribution of food, such as India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), are localized. An example from southern India (Deccan Development Society) has shown the potential for this by starting a parallel PDS using locally grown, organic millets. The same could be for public programs on food for work, free food for schools in poor communities, etc.

(e) Linking not only producers and consumers (which Lappé mentions) but also investors (as far as possible local), with the latter also receiving their “interest” back in the form of agricultural produce (thereby also building a bit more of a non-monetized exchange process). The initiative Just Change in southern India is attempting this; some CSA models in Europe or North America offer a similar approach.

The focus on self-governance (or what I could call “radical democracy”) that Lappé points to towards the end of the essay is the crux of not only a sane agricultural future, but also of a sane future in general—linked, of course, to economic democracy, social justice, cultural diversity, and ecological wisdom and resilience. Applying these fundamental pillars or principles would also help us, I think, to sift the “green economy” kind of tinkering around within a capitalist or state-dominated system (in which “organic farming” is being pushed by big corporates) from a truly revolutionary transformation. Lappé's vision is certainly an important part of this.

Ashish Kothari
Ashish Kothari is a member of the core team of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, a coordinator of Vikalp Sangam in India, and co-editor of Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.

Ashish Kothari, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Farming for a Small Planet," Great Transition Initiative (April 2016),

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