One of the wisest men around, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was in Alberta last week.
He was invited to speak at a conference on First Nations treaties, climate change and, of course, the impact of oil sands on the process.
He was quoted in the Edmonton Journal as saying: “I don’t come as a know-all who is going to pontificate and tell you Canadians what you must do. I think I can almost say, without fear of contradiction, that you do know what you should do.”
Do we (our provincial and federal governments) know what we are supposed to do?
Archbishop Tutu’s words reminded me of a recent discussion I had with an area farmer on Harper government’s agricultural policies.
His question was: “Do they (the feds) know what they are doing to us?”
I happened to be on a stroll just along the rail tracks on the beautiful spring afternoon last Sunday when a Canadian Pacific train with more than 120 cars was moving in a southerly direction. It perfectly represented the approach of our provincial and federal governments to the economy of this country: For every grain car pulled by that train, there were at least two liquid tankers; whether they were carrying bitumen, petrochemical products or liquefied petroleum gas, I don’t know, but they were not carrying grain for sure.
And this is at a time, when the House of Commons passed Bill C-30, a perfect example of a piecemeal approach to a very serious problem, that of farmers’ huge losses this year because of lack of capacity to transport their bumper crop to the ports to be exported. The bill is supposedly to force railway companies to allocate more capacity to ship grain from the prairies to open seaports.
One really wonders how serious this government is to really protect the agricultural sector in this country.
It has been known for sometime now, but a recently surfaced article “Hungry for Land” (http://www.grain.org/article/entries/4929-hungry-for-land-small-farmers-feed-the-world-with-less-than-a-quarter-of-all-farmland) very succinctly makes the point that the more the corporate interests dominate the agriculture, the less food we are going to have to consume, thereby having to pay higher prices just to stay alive while fattening the checkbooks of the corporate executives.
It shows with concrete figures that the real burden of feeding the world is currently on the shoulders of small farmers. It stresses that, for example, if all of Kenya’s farms matched the output of its small farms, the nation’s agricultural productivity would double. In Central America, it would nearly triple. In Russia, it would be six fold.
With the federal government now pushing for Bill C-18 to open this country’s agricultural sector to further corporate expansion, we might be well on our way to losing one of our greatest assets, our farmers, to monopolist policies.
Desmond Tutu is reported to have described the oil sands as “filth created by greed.”
The greed is very much a part of the approach ignoring the importance of agriculture in seeking to extract the maximum profits in the shortest possible time from the oil sands in northern Alberta.
At the expense of being accused of plagiarism, and inspired by this proverb attributed to First Nations of North America “when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money”, I think our leaders should be warned that after the last drop of bitumen extracted and sold in Alberta, we will still need land to grow food and people to cultivate that land.
I very much hope that the electorate will remember that, too.
– Mustafa Eric