Thursday, June 26, 2008

GWOB Conference Recap

I recently attended the Grant Makers Without Borders' (GWOB) annual conference held this year in San Francisco. GWOB is a network of the trustees and staff of public and private foundations who practice global social change philanthropy. While I found the majestic beauty of San Francisco's Presidio extremely distracting, the conference proved to be amazingly informative and thought provoking. As a relative neophyte to the world of social change philanthropy, I approached the conference very strategically, focusing on the workshops which would help me gain a greater understanding of how global issues affect Haiti’s rural communities.

I was eager to learn more about ways in which the food crisis, the environment, and climate change are interrelated. The information was overwhelming and a bit scary. I heard about how oil depletion and the resulting energy constraint would affect us in every aspect of our lives, from transportation to medicine and food security. We are hooked on oil and our lives grow exponentially more miserable without it. The transition to a future of reduced oil supply will require the development of clean, renewable energy sources and the reduction of oil production and consumption.The most thought provoking sessions on the current food crisis were offered respectively by Eric Holt-Gimenes and Grassroots International’s Maria Aguiar. Dr. Holt-Gimenes explored the root causes of the food crisis, stressing that it is grounded in the political and economic decisions which have undermined many countries' abilities to feed their people.. He talked about the impact of the "Green Revolution" on the food crisis, a "revolution" which deepened the developing world's dependence on multinationals and their Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). These GMOs have produced seeds which self destruct after one planting and have forced farmers from Asia, Africa and Latin America to depend on multinationals for their supplies of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. Green Revolution techniques, I learned from Ms. Aguiar’s workshop, rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The fact that most of these products must be developed from fossil fuels make “modern agriculture” extremely dependent on petroleum products. The intense use of fertilizers causes major problems including the depletion of the soil's growing capacity and the accumulation of inorganic chemical residues in the soil. Additionally, over fertilization harms beneficial soil microorganisms and increase soil susceptibility to disease. In other words they are …Bad News…for the environment and even more hazardous for Haiti’s severely degraded environment.

Wow did I learn, a lot! In my efforts to understand Haiti’s food crisis within this global context, I became ever more convinced that we, at the Lambi Fund of Haiti are most definitely on the right track. Our sustainable development programs promote organic agricultural methods including seeds banks, silos and composting. We provide funding not only for motorized tillers but for ox plows and tools suited for the environment. While some view agricultural reform as an opportunity to introduce the modern, highfalutin and oil dependent technologies needed to usher Haitian farmers into the 21st century, it is clear that the long term crisis involving fossil fuel depletion, global warming and the “food shortage”, demands innovative solutions. These strategies must support our farmers’ efforts to adapt and thrive in an era of oil depletion and decreasing dependence on petroleum based products. Lambi Fund’s approach is especially suited to soften the blows from impending petroleum crisis on Haiti’s farming communities.

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