Agritainers: Culture catching up

 

The website, Texas Crossroads Gathering attempts to connect consumers with farmers. ‘Bottom of pyramid’, ‘grass-roots’, ‘foundation of society’, ‘food-providers’ – there are numerous titles given to farmers across societies globally. The very vocation that founded the basis of human society and evolution of civilization stands almost as remote as its historical point of beginning. It is sad fact that estrangement of farmers from non-farming members of society has been on constant increase. In third world countries, economic gain governed formulation of policies which changed the natural crop cycles, made nature-dependent agriculture lose geo-sensitive crop preferences, bringing end to farmer’s autonomy where he exists as a loser –  as entrepreneur and worker.

In many societies lack of infra-structure leads to absence of dialogue between farmer and the rest. At best, they might have access to information channels, which coax them into adopting current practices. This has led to suicides by famers in countries like India. An estimated 200,000 farmers have taken their own lives in India over the past 13 years, according to Indian government statistics. Prime factors were ceding of  seed supply control to the corporate chemical industry, which enhanced production costs and falling food prices in a global agricultural economy.

Income through farming was not enough to meet even the minimum needs of a farming family. Support systems like free health facilities from the government were virtually non-existent. Traditionally support systems in the villages of India had been provided by the government. However, due to a variety of reasons the government had either withdrawn itself from its supportive role or plain simple misgovernance had allowed facilities in the villages to wither away. Read more.

“The farmer suicides started in 1997. That’s when the corporate seed control started,” Vandana Shiva told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And it’s directly related to indebtedness, and indebtedness created by two factors linked to globalization…The combination is unpayable debt, and it’s the day the farmer is going to lose his land for chemicals and seeds, that is the day the farmer drinks pesticide… And it’s totally related to a negative economy, of an agriculture that costs more in production than the farmer can ever earn.” Report

The farmer in America too stands on other side of profitability. However, equipped with better facilities, he is still a part of the mainstream. He has a voice to speak his mind. He realizes that ‘most people take their food supply so much for granted they don’t even think about it until there is a crisis reported by the media’. He is constantly aware of such unrealistic proposals like one stating that rather than repair the levees, it would be a “higher value” to the country to leave the Mississippi river open thereby creating new wetlands. Such assumptions by general public and academia undermine importance of agriculture and thus the farmer finds it imperative ‘to be proactive in reaching the consumer’.

He can no longer depend on understanding or sympathetic attitude of politician. The population is so unevenly dispersed that a mere twelve states can elect the president of USA. And so he comes up with concept of “agritainers” who visit schools, raise awareness about agriculture by not just giving technical information, but also painting a pictures of life within the industry through their songs, poems and stories. Texas Crossroads Gathering implores people to invite these agritainers so that the young may understand the process and challenges of producing food.

Apart from the urgent economic and political goals, this endeavor also helps in restoring an older but deeply ingrained part of culture associated with life on the farm. The country song to a great many is just a label attached to a particular genre of music. It might appear as nostalgia-fantasy instead of a sci-fi one  to the internet generation. Experimentations possible with technology have changed the way music is created and appreciated.

The genius of one-finger pianist conveys growth of a society oriented towards techno-curation. But the same technology has also empowered the traditional agrarian society to  recreate itself in the virtual space. Entertainment grows out experiences, imagined and lived. The joy which listener (reader, viewer or the modern consumer) gleans comes out of imagining the original experience. This, in turn, brings him in greater sympathy with a life-style not his own.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—

  Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow

For old, unhappy, far-off things,

  And battles long ago: Solitary Reaper

And so,  Jackie Johnson, Barry Whitfill,  CowboyBob Atkin, Evelyn Roper, Mar Merecek and numerous other agritarian singers have their music posted on youtube. Several of these are original songs written by singers. Their popularity is a testament to the fact that people still retain their attraction to ‘natural, sorrow, loss or pain’.

Crossroads founder Bob Kinford and his wife Catie decided to give performers the most exposure possible, all live-streaming their performances. They are happy that 13 performers have signed up to make a second (or third) appearance at Crossroads in 2012. It is the power of the instant, ephemera, here-and-now that innate expression of life-celebration (culture) has to extricate itself out of life-style (agriculture) and don the robes of entertainer.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Agritainers: Culture catching up

  1. Shailendra Pandit

    Farming is surely the second-oldest, if not the oldest, profession in the world. Human civilization would not have grown without the food surplus that farmers generated which left time for philosophers to think and soldiers to fight. But for farmers we would still be hunters and gatherers. So agriculture is intrinsic to what it means to be (a modern) human.

    However, agriculture is still ultimately an economic activity insofar as economics relates to the production and consumption of goods and services. Food is a special good (or service, or sometimes both) in that humans cannot survive without food – most of us can live without an iPhone – and the factors required for food production are highly specialized and unique. The longevity of this economic activity in human memory and its importance to human survival have also given it an almost mythical aura (which I’m not trying to take away at all). One can even say that it’s among the few remaining human activities that still connect us directly to Nature and remind us of our humanity.

    All I’m saying is that distortions in any economic process have consequences for both the producers and the consumers. When it comes to distortions in agricultural production and distribution, the consequences are turning out to be pretty devastating, ranging from droughts, hunger and malnutrition to farmer suicides. But let’s go back to the basics for a minute: Suppose it costs $1 to produce a ton of wheat. Then as long as the farmer is able to sell a ton of wheat for, say, $1.10 he gets a fair rate of return on his investment, and the consumer gets a fair price for an essential commodity. If the selling price moves in sync with changes in production costs – so if the production cost increases to $1.20 per ton and the farmer then sells the wheat on for $1.32 per ton, generating the same 10% return – then everybody is getting a fair deal.

    So the question is, why are farmers not able to get a fair price for their produce? In other words, what are the distortions in the production and distribution processes that prevent farmers from getting a fair price for the required inputs (land, seed, fertilizer, equipment, labor, etc.), and then being able to sell their output to consumers at a fair price? What are the distortions in the selling and distribution process that prevent consumers from getting the type and quantity of food they desire at a fair price?

    I’m not an expert in agriculture or economics, and my thinking on the topic is probably quite naive. But I find it helpful to break a complicated issue down into its parts and rephrase it as a simpler problem. Btw, there was an interesting survey in The Economist recently at: http://www.economist.com/node/18200618.

  2. Mona Golden

    Agritainers: Culture catching up…Good thoughts…I’m thinking…Looking further in…Thanks.

  3. Shailendra,
    The main reason farmers have a hard time receiving a fair price for their produce or animals is that agriculture commodities are sold through the commodities market, and/or auction barn (in the case of livestock). This means that market prices are not connected to the cost of production.

    Another part of the problem is illusion of a global economy. While we have always had world trade, countries would trade products they produced an excess of, for things they either could not produce enough or any of. Today tariffs have been dropped and American farmers have to compete against commodities being brought in from countries being exploited for cheap labor (while they have a problem feeding their own people.) When it comes right down to it, no country should be allowed to export food when until such time as they have no hunger problem in their country, and no country should be importing food unless their needs surpass their ability to produce.
    Bob Kinford
    Texas Crossroads Gathering
    http://www.txcg.org/home.html

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