In the brief submitted to the Commission sur l’avenir de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire québécois, La Coop fédérée proposed the creation of a symposium where both citizens and farmers would get together for the purpose of drafting a new social contract for Québec’s agriculture. Such a collaborative exercise with agriculture’s partners and a dialogue with surrounding communities could in fact become a mandatory passage to greater world security. The food crisis, which the media is covering at length, has led us to review our paradigms: the agriculture currently supported by our farming policies is not adequately meeting everyone’s needs.
Concluding a social pact that redefines the role of agriculture in a sustainable society is not a Utopian concept. The brief we submitted mentioned European charters as an example. Our fellow citizens from across the sea have afforded public participation in making choices affecting all of society the recognition it deserves. In his book “And Old Man and the Land”, Edgard Pisani, former minister of Agriculture, France – and widely considered as one of the best – is calling for the institution of new agricultural agreements. He argues the following:
First, each country must have a bona fide agricultural policy and be concerned with sustaining and supporting the people who inhabit its territories. It is beyond mere charitable intentions, it is above all a question of social justice and safety. To ensure the support and sustenance of all people, we need every type of agriculture: productive agriculture that values nature, and a modernized rustic agriculture, capable of maintaining the men and women who make their living from the land when cities could otherwise not be able to sustain.
The Western world needs to stop wasting. We can live better, states Mr. Pisani, if we squander away fewer resources. The consumer must also pay for his sustenance at a price that reflects its real cost, which would reduce the massive subsidies that disturb the agriculture of developing countries. Moreover, agriculture should provide services of general interests, such as environmental services, and in turn, we should acknowledge farmers for said services. And finally, in terms of research, adds Pisani, if agronomy when combined with medicine can make significant progress, they’ve also led to some ethical dilemmas that society needs to deal with. It is not up to researchers, nor is it up to the market to determine the legitimacy of research. Pisani concludes that a social pact is critical, in every political arena, to enable agriculture as a whole to effectively meet the needs of food security, as well as environmental and ethical management as required by society and that its efforts and worth be recognized.
When working with the French government, Pisani was a proud supporter of an exclusively productivist agricultural policy. He is now distancing himself from those partisan days. “It is no longer useful”, states Pisani. His book, written in 2004, seems surprisingly on target. The food and oil crisis having significantly worsened, which is proof of an even deeper problem, and with the potential to be devastating, can no longer be ignored. Agriculture is in need of renewal. The industry needs to be revitalized. It should be modeled on the needs of the population and allowed to grow and thrive in every way possible.
We’ve seen the signs, all over the world. A recent report produced by some 400 scientists from the World Bank estimates that 33 countries, from Mexico to Yemen, could soon face social unrest as a result of increased food and energy prices. We all know the saying: “Hungry bellies have no ears”. We should not forget it since it is about our safety. Wouldn’t it be wise to listen… while our bellies are still full?