16 April 2013

A Nature Hike Through the Book of Revelations with Al Gore: Dublin Day 2.

So, Day 2 of the Dublin conference on Hunger. Nutrition. Climate Justice  was interesting. 

First there was another useful learning circle.  The theme was joining up the issues and joining up national to local.  The case study in my group was Keyhole Gardens, which are one metre tall and two metres in diameter.  Filled with layers of soil, ash and manure, within a stone wall, with a biodegradable basket in the centre where water and organic waste is deposited.  We were told by one of the farmers and extension workers, together with Catholic Relief Services about how they were transforming the lives of poor households in Lesotho by increasing income, diet diversity and resilience.

The Keyhole Gardens seem like a good thing:  They integrate the issues (households cannot afford the luxury of separating them); they blend local and outside knowledge; they use locally available products (except for the seeds); they are tailored to HIV/AIDS afflicted areas that have been depleted of agricultural labour and they are scalable.

Questions were raised, however: (a) where are the independent evaluations of the range of benefits and costs? These will help get investment and scale the technology spatially and help get it embedded in policy, (b) when to bring in the government? (c) how do they affect gender and community power relations?  and (d) what are the market consequences of surpluses generated?

We had plenary presentations, but the highlights for me were Al Gore (yes, him) and a farmer (I missed her name!) who closed out the session.

Gore was quite inspirational. He said the increasing incidences of severe weather was like "taking a nature hike through the book of revelations" and that we need to "win the conversation" on climate change (recalling a recent incident when he was in line --yes it is hard to imagine him waiting in a line--and someone uttered hateful words to a gay couple also in the line. The others in the line all told the person in question that their comments were unacceptable--that conversation had been won).

David Nabarro, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Food and Nutrition said we need to go further and win not only the conversation, but the struggle. (I do believe David, like a US Presidential contender, is getting more radical as the campaign goes on. I like it.)

Gore also told a story about the average age of the systems engineers in Houston that got Apollo 8 to the moon and back: 26 years old. They were 18 when JFK set out his call to action. A good way of reminding us of the power of youth. He also told us that Aristotle wrote that the the end of a thing defines its nature. He said that he refused to accept that humans were destined to destroy ourselves: "the opposable thumb and overdeveloped cerebral cortex cannot be merely a failed experiment. I refuse to accept it refuse to believe it." Great.

But the best parting shot was given by the farmer that closed out the conference. I paraphrase: "you invite people to the meeting who know nothing about farming. They can just read and write. We are the owners of the work". Other comments by other farmers "what I know is not in your papers" and "local people don't need to think out of the box--we don't put things in boxes".


A good conference. A bit light on analysis, but rich on relationships. Nutrition got a bit lost, even in such a friendly environment. 

We nutritionistas need to keep fighting for space in the post 2015 world.


Anonymous said...

Dear Lawrence,

I concur with your excellent analysis. One additional point: the role of the private sector as stakeholder both in nutrition security and climate justice should also have been discussed. The private sector was absent at the conference and it was noted by all (visualized stats through the great voting system). Any comments?
Lina (UNSCN Secretariat)

Lawrence Haddad said...

Thanks Lina, yes I was disappointed that so few private sector folks were present. We seem to be too worried about them influencing the narrative and not confident enough about our own ability to not be swayed and our ability to influence them... but let's give the organisers credit for at least allowing this low representation to be made transparent...

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