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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since January 2011

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SOTU: Really, Mr. President?

January 26, 2011 ·

The following is a summary of the analysis IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis made of President Barack Obama's foreign policy comments during the State of the Union address. It's included in the interactive transcript on PBS NewsHour's website.

President Barack Obama
I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Phyllis Bennis
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, from President Obama’s own party, said just this morning that we have to “look at the war in Afghanistan” when he was asked where he would cut the budget. He’s right.

Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts has called for a very moderate 25 percent cut in the defense budget. If we’re serious about jobs for the 15 million unemployed and health care for still tens of millions without insurance, that 25 percent cut is going to have to be just the first step.

President Barack Obama
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment
has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.

Of course, as we speak, al-Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

Phyllis Bennis
But there are 50,000 U.S. troops still occupying Iraq. The "new government" has been formed, but it is widely discredited, riddled with corruption, and incompetent and unable to provide even the basics of electricity, security, jobs.

The war will not be over until all the U.S. troops come home, all the U.S.-paid contractors (those paid by the State Department as well as the Pentagon) are no longer on our payroll, and Iraq's people have a government they choose.

President Barack Obama
We have also taken the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Phyllis Bennis
Are we really hearing that the war in Afghanistan – where our own officials admit our top ally is corrupt; where more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops died last year than ever before; where our other friendly neighbor, Pakistan, continues to shelter guerrilla forces attacking the U.S. across the border – is somehow going well? All our political and military leaders admit this war cannot be won militarily; why do we continue to fight a war as if it could be? We have more than 100,000 U.S. troops occupying Afghanistan, plus another 100,000 or so U.S.-paid mercenaries. They’re not winning. This is a war we cannot win and we cannot afford…

Is President Obama going to say anything about the latest failure in U.S.-brokered peace talks in the Middle East? Or is he just hoping we’re not paying attention, and that we’re fine with paying $30 billion over these ten years directly to the Israeli military, money that could be used for 600,000 new green jobs here at home?

President Barack Obama
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

Phyllis Bennis
It’s about time. The long-time dictator in Tunisia, just ousted by a popular revolt, was backed politically and militarily by the U.S. for more than two decades.

President Barack Obama
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by
enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.

Phyllis Bennis
Let’s really support the troops – let’s end the terrible failing wars in which they are forced to serve, and bring them home. Let’s provide real health care when they return, and rebuild an economy that provides jobs for young people rather than have them drafted by poverty, lack of money for school, lack of jobs, lack of options.

SOTU: Use Newfound Corporate Tax Revenue to Invest in America

January 26, 2011 ·

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama zeroed in on the ways that corporations have gamed the tax code, saying:

"Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change."

It's encouraging that Obama is zeroing in on the myriad abuses in the corporate tax code.

Unfortunately, he repeats the tired canard of anti-tax groups that complain about our "highest in the world" tax rates. It is true that statutorily, the U.S. has a high 35 percent corporate income tax rate. But the effective rate — the percentage of income actually paid in taxes — is considerably lower than in most industrial countries.

How low? According to a Bush administration Treasury Department report from 2007, U.S. corporations paid an effective rate of 13.4 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes during the years 2000-2005. Corporations in OECD countries on average paid 16.1 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes.

President Obama called on lawmakers to simplify the system, eliminate loopholes and level the playing field. He pressed them to "use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit." By broadening the base and eliminating loopholes, Congress could lower the tax rates without reducing deficits. But revenue shouldn't just go back to corporations in the form of a rate cut. Some of this revenue should be used for long overdue investments in education, health care, and energy retrofits. Citizens for Tax Justice, in a report released shortly before Obama's speech, called for "revenue-positive reform of the corporate income tax."

On the positive side, he called for eliminating tax breaks for the oil industry — and shifting incentives to support clean and renewable energy. He was quiet about the overseas tax havens and global tax-dodging that has gotten completely out of hand.

Cracking down on corporate tax dodgers could be a unifying theme in the new Congress.

Rocky Times Ahead: Are You Ready?

January 20, 2011 ·

Cross-posted with Yes! Magazine.

“I don’t believe the economy is getting better,” says Billy R., a member of a mutual aid group in Oregon that he jokingly calls “my reality support group.” “All around me I’m surrounded by media and advertising urging me to keep borrowing, buying, and sleepwalking. I love meeting with others who are staring down the potential risks and challenges of the future.”

Maybe more of us could use a reality support group.

Even with the announcement that the official unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent, millions of people remain in dismal economic straits. The pace of home foreclosures has barely slowed and millions remain out of work. Even upbeat scenarios still assume protracted unemployment and economic stagnation for much of the decade ahead. The unspoken scenario is that things could get worse.

So here’s the point: you must not face the future alone. Find your own “reality support group” (we’ll tell you how below). This year, make a resolution to deepen your relationships with people around you with whom you can face what’s coming down the pike.

Sometime during the next couple of years, there will likely be a fundamental shift. It might be another economic meltdown along the lines of 2008, or a shock to the economy thanks to a rapid spike in energy costs. It could be a series of extreme weather events that result in flooding, drought, or unprecedented heat waves. Think Hurricane Katrina on a larger scale. These changes could lead to food and water shortages—and test our personal and community preparedness in ways that we have not experienced in our lifetimes.

You should know that we, the authors of this piece, are not apocalyptic, bunker-building, pessimistic people. We’re both parents, gardeners, and active in our neighborhoods. We like a good football party—though we root for different teams (Patriots v. Steelers).

We believe our society has almost everything we need to build stronger communities, reduce inequality, live in harmony with the earth, and make a graceful transition to a new sustainable economy. But we won’t get there ignoring the data, and we won’t get there disconnected from one another.

We’re not talking about yet another issue campaign. We certainly need to remain engaged in the good fights around economic justice, peace, democracy, the environment. But there is something huge missing right now in our approach to social change. Our social movements are weak and, with some inspiring exceptions, not changing the political dynamics. The “Net Roots”—online organizing and social media—are creative ways to aggregate money and power in specific situations, but online activism is not a substitute for a movement based on durable and trusting face-to-face relationships. In some religious and labor traditions, this is called solidarity.

Fearful, Alone, & Ashamed

Presently in the United States we are witnessing the emergence of politics based on fear and the erosion of status. Millions of people saw their livelihoods and dreams collapse in the aftermath of the economic meltdown. People lost their homes, jobs, savings, and sense of a positive future. They’ve had to adjust their expectations—for example, facing the reality that they may never be able to retire or improve their standard of living.

Some people respond to these circumstances by blaming themselves and feeling ashamed about their difficulties. Many are hunkering down, feeling depressed and withdrawn. In the U.S., we tend to think everything is about the individual—even blaming ourselves for things that are largely beyond our control.

Others of us respond by scapegoating others, often those more disadvantaged. These responses often come from a place of fear, isolation, and shame.

There is good reason to be angry and focus on powerful financial and political actors who are responsible. But, as in the grieving process, we must move from anger to a place where we can boldly face today’s difficult realities and also initiate pro-active responses. We can start by learning to accept and live within new limits set by economic and ecological reality. Many people are already deliberately moving away from the old economy, and they’re finding new types of security and abundance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they often feel much richer than they did in lives defined by the “work-watch-spend” cycle.

Rebecca Solnit, in her remarkable book A Paradise Built In Hell, reminds us to look for the “shadow governments of kindness,” the deep reservoirs of resilience and compassion that emerge during disasters and troubled times. All over the planet, people are defying the stereotypes of the self-centered “economic man” and instead caring for one another, building alternative economies, and deepening solidarity.

A Movement to Build Economic Security

The good news is people are already coming together in small groups to form and strengthen relationships. Some are called “common security clubs,” while others go by names like “mutual aid groups,” “resilience circles,” and “unemployed support groups.”

Call it what you want, but the purpose is the same: getting together regularly—8 to 15 adults—to face ecological and economic change. Small group organizing is part of the missing architecture in our social movements ... which may be why it’s catching on so quickly.

Such groups are designed to strengthen our personal and community resilience. They typically have three purposes: to learn together, support one another through mutual aid, and engage in social action.

Learn together. It’s hard enough for each of us alone to keep up with news about the ways our changing economy and ecology are impacting our lives. But it’s particularly challenging to face unsettling realities in isolation. In order to move forward, we need a community to help us learn and figure out how to deal with our fear, anger, loss, and feelings of betrayal.

Group members watch videos, read articles, talk to each other, and organize forums. Since the “experts” mostly got things wrong two years ago, participants are investigating things for themselves. What’s really happening in the economy? What caused the economic meltdown? What’s changed? What are the ecological risk points? How will the decline of cheap, easy-to-get oil affect the future economy? What will a transition to a new economy look like?

Mutual Aid. Our mutual aid muscles are out of shape. We need to find ways to increase our real economic security and web of support through shared resources, skills, experience, and capacities. Some folks do this through extended families, religious congregations, and ethnic and fraternal associations. But millions of people are disconnected from extended family and the immigrant and civic associations that helped earlier generations survive. And many religious congregations have gotten out of the practice of being centers of mutual aid.

Common security clubs often gather around potlucks, sharing food and recipes for healthy, low-cost meals. They support one another to get out of debt, brainstorm about employment options, share tips on saving money. They form bartering circles to swap skills, tools, and time. They talk about the challenges of parents moving in with children, children moving in with parents—and adjusting to new norms and limits as a result of the changing economy and future.

Social Action. Many of us want to make meaningful change at the local and national level. We want to find ways to constructively channel our anger and fear to resist further Wall Street destruction of our local economies. We want to act together in ways that go beyond online petitions or phone calls to our member of Congress. Think “affinity group” or “social action group”—a place to deepen our effectiveness as a small unit, but be part of larger movements.

Common security clubs in particular have worked for national policy changes, from universal health care and Wall Street financial reform to the extension of unemployment benefits. Many clubs, animated by the “break up with your bank” and “move your money” efforts, relocated personal, congregational, and other funds out of Wall Street, and into community banks and credit unions.

Other clubs have connected with community-wide “transition” efforts, inspired by the Transition Town movement sweeping England and now moving U.S. communities into action. Transition neighborhoods and towns proactively prepare themselves for climate change, economic hardship, and the decline in easy-to-get oil and cheap energy—with its huge implications for transportation, food security, building design, and our standard of living. Within the broader initiatives, small personal groups like common security clubs provide a place where people can meet to practice mutual aid and reciprocity. Both transition towns and common security clubs are integral components of building needed personal and community resilience.

A Few Stories

Encouraging stories are emerging from common security clubs and other mutual aid groups.

A group of unemployed workers in Maine created a resource sharing exchange. They met regularly at the library and laughed so much the librarian didn’t believe they were economically struggling.

A group in Greenfield, Massachusetts calls themselves “the neighbors” and meets monthly to check in, sing together, and practice mutual aid. On another night they meet for a monthly game night—what one member called “fun and affordable entertainment.”

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a network of Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers meets weekly and has formed committees to help educate one another about computer use, unemployment insurance, stress management in tough times, and green job opportunities. “Part of our work is to help face the unemployment bureaucracy so people get their benefits,” said Tom Lewandowski, a founder of the group. They invite people leaving unemployment offices to join the group. Members volunteer at libraries on Sunday afternoons to help unemployed workers file claims online.

Small Groups in Social Movements

Can forming a small group like this really make a difference, when the problems we face seem so overwhelming? History tells us they can. At many crucial moments in our past, small groups have played an essential role in incubating the seeds of great change.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, more than 27,000 “Share Our Wealth” clubs formed to discuss the causes of the Depression and advocate for a radical program of wealth redistribution.

Also in the 1930s, seniors organized “Townsend Clubs” to advocate for old age pensions—a formidable social movement that added to the pressure to establish Social Security. By 1936, more than 8,000 Townsend Clubs had been formed with over 2 million members. In ten states—including Oregon, Colorado, California, Florida, South Dakota—there were more than 50 clubs per congressional district.

In the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, people formed nonviolent direct action groups to engage in sit-ins and keep up morale. Activists rooted in faith-based congregations and tight-knit communities were able to take greater risks knowing that if they should be jailed (or worse), there were others to care for their children and elders.

The women’s movement was built upon small consciousness-raising groups, which enabled millions of women to reflect on their identity. “The personal is political” was experienced in thousands of face-to-face gatherings, ultimately shifting gender attitudes throughout the society. The anti-nuclear movement in the late 1970s formed “affinity groups” as part of direct action efforts to prevent power plants from being built.

In the labor movement, the success of organizing female clerical workers into trade unions depended upon an organizing approach that included small support groups. Large mega-churches have grown upon a foundation of “small group ministry” in which members connect through smaller, face-to-face groups. A growing number of organizers today are examining the “power of networks” in social movements.

Given the challenges we’re collectively facing in the present, where are such movements today? It appears that without a lived experience of “solidarity” in our personal lives, it can be difficult to respond to an abstract call for the common good. It may be that small group organizing is central to our hopes for broad-based change.

Potential Shock Points

There is good reason to believe that the next 10 years are going to be very different than the 10 years prior to the 2008 economic meltdown. Persistent unemployment means that millions of people may live out the decade in an economic depression.

Moreover, the underlying economic structures that brought on the collapse have not been addressed. We remain at risk for more financial nosedives. As a result, new Wall Street economic bubbles and busts may emerge. The “danger” light on the dashboard is still flashing…

In fact, the future could bring any number of “shock points”: another economic meltdown along the lines of 2008; a further increase in unemployment, even to 20 percent; more extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves); new spikes in the cost of energy; rapid deflation as the value of money falls; a dramatic increase in the cost of food; and/or shortages of fresh water.

Because of the extreme inequalities of income and wealth that have opened up over the last generation, the brunt of these changes is falling, and will continue to fall, most intensely on lower and middle income and disadvantaged folks. But these changes will touch everyone in various ways, even those who believe they have built a wall of economic security around their families.

These are some of the reasons people need to face the future together and strengthen the social fabric of our communities. This is not a future you can, or should, face alone.

How to Start a Common Security Club

Calling All Organizers! Does this idea of a small support group appeal to you? Is it a missing part of your organizing work? Would it benefit your community, or your own life? Check out the resources provided by the Common Security Club network to help you organize a group.

Calling All Facilitators! Are you good at getting people together and holding a respectful space? If you’ve ever successfully facilitated a small group, you can facilitate a Common Security Club. You don’t need to be an expert on these matters, just good with people. There is a network that provides a free downloadable Facilitator Guide chock full of ideas for discussion, learning, sharing, mutual aid, and social action. The network provides facilitation tips, conference calls, and ongoing support.

Visit www.commonsecurityclub.org to learn more.

The Transition to the New Economy

Eight million jobs in the old economy are not coming back. But new jobs, enterprises, and livelihoods are emerging. We are seeing vibrant new kinds of enterprises in the local food sector, green building, and alternative transportation, as well as locally rooted cooperatives and producers. These are the pieces of a new economy that is emerging piecemeal around the country—an economy based upon entirely different models of economic growth and indicators of community health, and also new conceptions of wealth, community, and governance.

This new economy includes financial institutions invested in the real economy, like community banks and credit unions walled off from the Wall Street speculation that adds no real value to our economy. It includes respect for “all that we share”—our commons of public and private institutions such as libraries, schools, or agricultural knowledge. It is based on sound management and protection of the gifts of nature including water systems, seed banks, and land conservancies.

In the current political moment, leadership for large-scale transition to this new economy will not come from Washington, D.C., but from movements around green jobs, local manufacturing, alternative transportation, regional food, and more. This is a moment for each of us to reflect on our own power and agency. We each have a role to play, but perhaps we aren’t sure what it is yet. This is where your small group is important. Small groups help disconnected individuals find their roles, turning them into community players who contribute to the movements toward the new economy.

If we are prepared for a transition, we will be in much better shape than if we simply hope life will somehow return to normal. If we have our “core group,” we can face changes with less fear and more sense of our personal agency. Together, we will be able to work toward an economy that works for everyone.

Chuck Collins and Sarah Byrnes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Chuck is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. Sarah is the organizer for the Common Security Clubs at IPS.

What if Jared Loughner Were a Muslim Arab Immigrant?

January 19, 2011 ·

The repercussions of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last week, in which six others were murdered and 13 wounded, continue to resonate. Discussion — and discussions about the discussion continue. Discussions rise and fall about how to achieve the real changes that will make a repeat of this tragedy impossible. Will we stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and work to enact real, stronger gun-control laws? Will we do anything to make mental health care truly accessible for those who so desperately need it? Will anything change in the nature of the governmental and media discourse that still allows not just hostile but eliminationist rhetoric featuring cross-hairs, "second amendment remedies," and offers to "shoot a fully automatic M-16" as a campaign souvenir?

We don't know yet. There's way too much work ahead to even predict if there will be any change at all. President Obama's funeral oration at the Tucson memorial hit all the right notes - urging all who listened to live our lives and make our country into the people and nation that nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was just beginning to claim as her own. It was a powerful moment.

He didn't say a word about the alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner, or about the vitriol and the violence that has infected the political debate possibly having consequences. Maybe that was a good call for President Obama at that moment. Certainly Loughner is mentally disturbed, and while there's no question his delusional rants reflect some of the right-wing tirades all too common on the Internet, it's certainly possible those ideas didn't have anything to do with his targeting of a politically moderate congresswoman.

And yet. What if? What if things were just a little bit different? What if the alleged gunman wasn't named Jared Loughner but instead was named Ali Mohammed? What if he wasn't a mentally ill white, Christian-Jewish native-born U.S. citizen but rather a mentally ill Muslim Arab immigrant? What if his delusional rants seemed to channel not those found-on-the-Internet right-wing American rants about the gold standard and government invasion, but rather those found-on-the-Internet calls for violent jihad? Would we still be so careful not to place any blame on those who spew hateful, violent rhetoric? Would we still be so certain that there's no link between violent rhetoric and the response of an unstable mind to that rhetoric?

Did anyone even bother to find out if the would-be underwear bomber is actually mentally ill or unstable? How about the army psychiatrist accused of shooting 13 people at Fort Hood? Do we care? Or do we simply assume that anyone who carries out an act of violence inspired by some warped version of Islam is "sane," but that someone who may have been inspired or influenced by "don't retreat, reload" rhetoric when they carried out their shooting spree, but who looks and talks a little more "like us" must be inherently "crazy"?

What if? What if things were just a little bit different? What would be our response to the Tucson shootings then?

Food for a Rooted Future

January 19, 2011 ·

John with Delia

John preparing local string-beans with
Delia.

Photo by Robin Broad

Our search for rootedness has brought us back to the Philippines, back to communities in the south where Robin spent a year over three decades ago.

We spend time with the family of a rice farmer, Delia, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Delia, her husband Romulo, two daughters, one son, and three grandchildren live in a simple but roomy house on the edge of their rice field. Behind the house is a tilapia-filled fish pond with papaya trees growing on one side. A few pigs are housed by the fish pond, and fifteen chickens have free range of the property. Vitamin-rich greens grow at the far edge of the pond, and two towering jackfruit trees provide shade as well as ingredients for delicious meals. Theirs is an example of what we call a “rooted” life; among other things, they eat mainly what they grow and raise.

So, too, is much of their other consumption locally-based—including our bedding. After dinner on the first night of our visit, surrounded by village kids, we walk five minutes up the road to the house of neighbor Ging-Ging. She is just finishing weaving two rattan mats for us on a wooden loom in her back yard. We chat as she weaves, and she explains the economics of her inputs and her time, convincing us that she still makes money on the one dollar that we pay for each.

  Ging-Ging  

  Ging-Ging weaving our
  bedding.

  Photo by John Cavanagh

Our host Delia is very active in the community, serving on several local committees, and—this is why we are here—is an enthusiastic backer of organic farming. After attending a workshop by a local non-governmental organization a couple of years back, Delia switched one of their three hectares from so-called “high-yielding” seeds dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to organic rice. She was an instant convert: “It is safer and the profit is bigger as expenses fell. With our two ‘chemical hectares,’ the rice traders who give us the loans are getting rich.”

Rice is central to Philippine culture, politics, the economy, and to most rural communities. It is also the biggest employer in the Philippines; over a third of the population still works in agriculture, and rice is still the largest crop. And, as we discover in several rice communities like Delia’s across the country, there are exciting shifts in the orthodoxy over what rice is planted and how it is grown.

After sleeping well on our new mats, we rise early with Delia’s family. It is the 15th of the month, which means that each family in the community must send one member to help cut weeds along the irrigation canal; those who fail to show are fined two dollars. This is one of several community tasks where all families here participate for the greater good, in this case keeping the canals free of weeds that would slow the water flow. The farmers move quickly, offering us their bolo knives so that we can join in.

At the edge of the irrigation canal, Delia proudly shows us her hectare of “zero-chem” rice and we discuss the traditional seeds she has planted. Part of the high expenses of chemical agriculture is that farmers must buy new hybrid seeds each planting season, a costly proposition. The traditional seeds that Delia and other organic farmers here are using are saved from the previous harvest or “in-bred” locally to work best in this particular area. Delia complains that the government’s agricultural extension agents sometimes give out free hybrid seeds, and that they mainly give seminars on chemical agriculture rather than providing support for “zero-chem” farming.

Delia and other organic farmers we meet are aware of the larger argument against traditional and inbred seeds and against organic agriculture overall: that it is “backward,” unscientific and can never compete with the high yielding seeds of chemical agriculture. Thus, it is often argued by proponents of chemical agriculture, it cannot feed the world. Africa is starving, the supporters of chemical farming say, and China is buying up farm land in other countries to feed its own people. Hence, higher yields are essential to feed a hungry world—or so goes the argument. 

The older farmers we meet say that yes, when the new rice varieties were first introduced in the 1960s and 1970s “green revolution,” the expensive seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides often produced increases in yields. But they also tell us of falling productivity over the years as soils became compacted and depleted of the nutrients that get replenished with organic farming. And, farmers were often forced to take on more debts to pay for the inputs or else, though economic desperation, to cut back on the pesticides and fertilizers, cutting yields further. Some even had to sell their cherished land.

As we see for ourselves, Delia and her zero-chem neighbors are anything but backward; they are impressive scientists in their own right, constantly experimenting with different seeds and different amounts of water. Instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they cook their own non-chemical “concoctions” to handle everything from rats to stem-boring insects to plant viruses (more on this in a later blog).

After using the zero-chem techniques for a couple of seasons, several tell us their yields are just below what they were with chemical farming. Others say their yields have stayed the same or actually gone up.

The successful initiatives of farmers like Delia to take back control of their lives and gain food security are significant for this community and for the Philippines. But they are more than that. What we find here—people rejecting a half-century of conventional “wisdom” in favor of more rooted alternatives—is happening in many parts of the United States and other countries as well.

 


John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Robin is a Professor of International Development atAmerican University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is on leave from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability.

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