Air Date: June 3, 1997 Program 9722


Farmers from Mexico, Canada, and the United States
Prakash Shah, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)


JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.

NANCY HUCK: You know, free trade has been mainly for big business and it seems to be somewhere where you can't have access to it. And this type of direct farm marketing has made contacts. I mean, people have gotten to be friends and will travel back and forth to each other.

MARTIN: The food industry, like most others, has become globalized and large. The average farm is getting larger. Food is processed by firms that are parts of large multi-national conglomerates, and even at the retail level supermarkets have become enormous. But within that large industry there is an expanding sector that has chosen to remain decidedly small. They are small farmers who take their products to market.

SARAH GRANT: What they can do, is they can be a person. And they can provide service and they can provide education and they can provide a face to whatever it is that they're selling.

MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground we'll report on an interesting twist in this development. Farmers from Mexico, Canada and the United States are meeting to share information and experiences in a kind of alternative NAFTA. And then later in the program, India turns 50 years old this year. Mary Gray Davidson will have a report. Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation, I'm Jeff Martin.

MARTIN: International trade pacts such as NAFTA and GATT are a hallmark of our times, when big corporations and mass production define the world economy. In agriculture, globalization means fewer farmers are supplying more food to the world's dinner tables. But as Kent Paterson reports, smaller farms are figuring out ways to survive by exchanging ideas across borders.

VOICE: You don't go, you don't go, you know, work yourself to death.

PATERSON: Evelyn Loesak talks with customers at her stand in the Corrales, New Mexico growers market. A member of a farming family with century-old roots in the town, Losac is among a growing number of small farmers who are relying on old direct ways of selling to consumers.

LOESAK: And it's important that we get together so that people have a variety, because everybody has it like almost the flea market mentality anymore. And we try to stay quite removed from flea market ideology, but we do need to band together so that people, when they stop they can have a variety of pickings.

VOICE: Wild spinach, and you can have the whole bucket for two bucks.

PATERSON: At the Corrales and other farmers markets in North America the shopping atmosphere takes on a festive mood. Buyers swap stories and recipes with sellers. Jokes are told. Shoppers like this woman express a preference for locally grown food that is bought in person from the farmer.

PERSON: And I particularly believe very strongly in organically grown food. I believe very strongly that it supports the land and it's people supporting each other for the best nutritional food, the ones that are the most viable and the ones that enrich our bodies, keep us healthy, provide us with energy. And it's living food. It's not dead food. When I go into a supermarket, which is very occasional, it's not usually for freshly grown food. I always prefer to go to a place where I can get freshly grown food. So that, the viability of these things for me is, I think it's just extremely important. Not just here in New Mexico but nationally and internationally. I do believe it's a right of people to have good food to eat.

PATERSON: Although supermarket chains proliferate in the malls of America, Loesak and her customers are part of a counter-trend. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of grower's markets increased about 40% in this country during the past 3 years, supporting an industry that generates more than $1 billion in sales each year. And the United States is not alone.

VOICE: I brought two ways of, that we can make, shape our tortillas. In Mexico the ladies just go back and forth until it gets to the right shape...

PATERSON: At this year's North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association Conference in New Mexico, smaller growers from throughout the continent met to exchange ideas and skills. In one session Canadians, Anglo-Americans and Native Americans watched a tortilla making demonstration by a Mexican-born organic corn farmer. Nancy Huck, a farmer from western Canada, says that meeting other producers from across the border is more valuable than trading commodities.

HUCK: Well, for instance if I want to know where a supplier is, then I'll come and I'll ask somebody, where do you get your balls? Or where do you get your jars? Where do you get your pumpkin ideas? This is where, talking to people, sitting on the bus with them, sitting in conferences, they'll tell you where they get them, their ideas. You know, free trade has been mainly for big business and it seems to be somewhere where you can't have access to it. And this type of direct farm marketing has made contacts. I mean, people have gotten to be friends and will travel back and forth to each other. And on busses you can tell they have been together for a number of years and you know, what have you been doing this last year? Tell us.

JOHN CRADDOCK: The saying is that if you go on the road tour, which is immediately precedes the conference, you should get enough good new ideas from that to pay for the price of your, your, to pay for the price of the tour. I don't know if I've always. The first one I think I paid for four tours with the ideas I got. It was in Oregon. Coming down here to New Mexico the countryside is so different and I've never seen so many chiles in all my life.

PATERSON: Canadian farmer John Craddock views the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association as a valuable opportunity to acquire greater expertise in a changing business environment.

CRADDOCK: When it gets into the big commodity trades, I am not involved in that. I am a small grower and so I try and tailor my growing to what my customers, I have to tailor my growing to what my customers want. And I mean, some things they want I can't possibly give them. Some things, some of their requests are eminently reasonable and I can work that into my organization and I can follow the trends. Things that are really big this year, sometimes in two years time you can't give them away. You can see that coming when you're dealing with the customer. So you're dealing much more on a local level and for instance when we went to Illinois, I think people in Illinois must eat their own weight in donuts at least once a week. A farmer from Washington told me he tried to sell donuts at his stand in Washington State, and he wound up giving them away. Because of the influx from California muffins are in, doughuts are out.

VOICE: I mean, this is so versatile. You can make them really thick and put some cheese or some other stuffing inside.

PATERSON: A twelve-year-old organization that brings together Canadian and U.S. producers, the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association represents a segment of farming that is operating largely outside international trade pacts, such as NAFTA and GATT. While farmers worldwide are getting fewer and larger in order to produce mass quantities of food for the global supermarket, others like the ones at this meeting are building alternatives. But with basic meat and grain marketing now controlled only by a score of multi-national corporations and farming costs still rising, the question remains: Are mom and pop-style operations still viable in the world economy?

GRANT: I was speaking to one of our vendors who was telling me that she's a farmer and she's only doing this brokering that she's doing to support her farms. And she said, you know, for the last 20 years the prices of inputs have gone up, the prices of supplies have gone up, the prices of gasoline has gone up, and the prices, the wholesale price of my produce hasn't gone up hardly at all. She's a pomegranate grower of all things.

PATERSON: Sarah Grant is an organic farmer and the editor of the Farm Connection Newsletter in New Mexico. She argues that increased production costs which are driving traditional farmers out of business world-wide, are leaving producers no choice but to maximize their income by cutting out middlemen food distributors and supermarkets.

GRANT: What they can do, is they can be a person. And they can provide service and they can provide education and they can provide a face to whatever it is that they're selling. And that's, I mean it's a really big deal, because in this country right now we have got incredibly inexpensive food. And people who are just thinking about their dollars as just something that they exchange at the supermarket and that's it are going to go to the supermarket and they're going to see really cheap produce and they're going to buy it. What they have to stop and realize is what they're paying for and what they're not paying for. And when they buy directly from a farmer they know exactly what they're paying for. They can go out to the farm, they can see the way the farmer is living, they can see the way the farmer is growing and they can know what it is they're buying.

(Background audio of persons speaking Spanish)

PATERSON: Throughout North America different farm groups are attempting to carve out their own niches in a complex marketplace. One result of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations was an unexpected convergence of interests between some Canadian, U.S. and Mexican farmers. Initially meeting to oppose the pact with groups such as a Washington, DC-based rural coalition, they agreed to explore ways of defining their own economies and avenues of economic cooperation.

MAN PRAYING: ...the good life again, Father God, and help us be more mindful....

PATERSON: In 1995 U.S. and Mexican farmers gathered at a rural coalition meeting on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. They held this ceremony of the land at the foot of sacred Navajo rocks, where a Navajo rancher led the visitors in prayer.

WOMAN SPEAKING OVER A PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM: If you are interested in agriculture issues, could you come right now to that spot and....

PATERSON: Inside the conference hall, participants discuss ways of creating direct farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-consumer partnerships that sidestep commodity brokers and multi-national processing companies. In a sense they are grassroots trade pacts christened outside official channels.

RIGOBERTO CONTRERAS: (speaking Spanish)

PATERSON: Rigoberto Contreras, a representative of indigenous peasant groups in Oaxaca, Mexico says sales of his state's coffee to European consumer groups are on the upswing. The commerce is an important source of alternative income for farmers, whose crop prices have been usually determined by big-time traders at the commodity exchanges. The demand is so great that Mexico has now become the world's largest producer of organic coffee.

ARMANDO CORDOBA: (speaking Spanish)

PATERSON: Armando Cordoba of Chihuahua, Mexico, arrived with other farmers who were looking for direct partnerships to sell their blue corn. Cordoba says Mexican producers have had trouble getting paid for their produce from U.S. commercial processors and distributors. He says organizations like the U.S. Rural Coalition represent a better chance for doing business.

CORDOBA (via a translator): We were offered 18 cents a pound for our corn and discovered it selling at $1.00 a pound in supermarkets here. So we are trying to figure out how the rural coalition and the other organizations can get our product directly to the consumer. Perhaps we'll get the price we want and the consumer will benefit from a better price too.

LORETTE PICCIANO HANSON: Every year when we gather as the Rural Coalition, we always include a ceremony to go back to the land and recognize our connection with the land and with each other....

PATERSON: The Arizona conference was one of the first steps in a developing cross-border relationship between U.S. and Mexican farming communities. Plans were made to send indigenous Mexican corn to the Navajos and Mexican vegetables to African-American processing cooperatives. While the talk was of day-to-day survival, coalition director Lorette Pichano-Hansen spoke about the values underlying the gathering.

HANSON: Yesterday we did not pass our resolution because I think we've already affirmed it as a group, in support of the struggle of the people of Chiapas. Because they really call the attention of the world back to what's important. And it's really very simple: the land, food, the health of the people, living in communities, being connected with each other, and caring for the earth. And we support their call not only for the people of Chiapas but for everyone on the whole Earth.

(Background audio of persons speaking Spanish)

PATERSON: Today, more than 22 Mexican producer organizations are working with the Rural Coalition. In 1997 they are launching a campaign called People To People Alternative NAFTA. Initially the idea is to market $13 million of Mexican products, including chili peppers and sesame seeds. Advertising will be done on the Internet. Although high technology will bring Mexican farm products directly into U.S. homes, organizers say they hope the effort will allow centuries-old agrarian communities to survive.

(Background audio of persons speaking Spanish)

PATERSON: With the onset of warm weather, farmers markets in the town and cities of North America will once again be a common sight, giving opportunity to farmers who otherwise might go out of business. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 20,000 U.S. growers are now doing the majority of their business at farmers markets. If recent trends are any indication the future of these institutions on the continent appears promising. For Common Ground, I'm Kent Paterson reporting.

MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, a report on India's 50th anniversary.

PRAKASH SHAH: And the objectives of course of independence was economic growth with social justice and provision of security for the people of India.

MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.


MARTIN: India celebrates its fiftieth anniversary since independence in August of this year. In the first of an occasional series about this celebrated event, Mary Gray Davidson talks to India's Ambassador to the United Nations about the significance of independence to him.

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: India is a country of 950 million people. That's one-sixth the world's total population, speaking over a thousand languages and dialects and crowded into an area one-third the size of the United States. August 14, 1947 is a date emblazoned in the minds of those old enough to remember the day India became independent. Prakash Shah, India's Ambassador to the United Nations, was just a boy at that time, but he has not forgotten that day that marked the end of more than a century of British rule.

SHAH: I remember though I was only 7 years old at that time. There are certain things that remain in the memory. I was in Bombay. I was born and brought up in Bombay which was the major center of the Congress struggle for independence. In fact it started from there. One of those, most of the, a number of leaders, particularly Mahatmas Gandhi came from Bombay State. So we had this great upsurge of enthusiasm. I remember going to the major gathering of people to celebrate it. Not amongst the crowds but in one of the houses, from which you could witness all this. And there was nothing but long, thick crowds and streams of people. One didn't understand fully the significance of independence, but one was totally carried away by the enthusiasm and the feeling of the people with whom you are, like your family or your elders or your uncles and others, who had gone through a whole lot of trouble and sacrifices to achieve this. And so as I said, one didn't know what it would mean for the future. For my future, an individual at the age of seven you don't analyze those things. But there was no doubt that it was considered by me as an event of great significance because for everybody around me it was event of great significance.

DAVIDSON: And of great happiness.

SHAH: And of great happiness, of great joy, of great expectations.

DAVIDSON: Despite India's extremes of poverty and wealth Shah believes the country can still be proud of the progress it has made in both its economic growth and in democratization.

SHAH: And the objectives of course of independence was economic growth with social justice and provision of security for the people of India. In other words, what we are saying is that these are the challenges that we faced when we became independent. Some of these challenges have become, have been solved in the 50 years, but then other new ones have come up. But the basic parameter of these challenges remains the same: economic growth and development, but not economic growth in the sense in which it may be projected in the market situations such as more profits, more money, more wealth. These are important. But in a country like India social justice must go hand-in-hand with wealth, creation of wealth and creation of money and of economic growth.

DAVIDSON: And that is a challenge for India is it not? Especially given the growing population of the next century?

SHAH: It is. The population problem is a part of the economic growth and social justice question. I mean, if we had a constant population or a diminishing population then quite clearly economic growth and creation of wealth would solve the problem. The relationship that we have to establish is because of the fact that we have an increasing population. At the rate now which we have brought [population growth] down to 1.8% from the original 3+% during the independence. That is a great achievement. And all these achievements that one is talking about, whether current economic growth issues, let us say 6 or 7% of annual growth in GNP. Or 10 or 12% of growth in industrial production and constant 3-4% growth in the agricultural production. These have to go along with another challenge that a country like India faces, is one other countries don't face, and that is to maintain a politics of democracy and secularism. In a number of smaller countries or a uni-religious, mono-religious, mono-ethnic or a mono-nationalist country these problems are not important in terms of economic growth, development. In India, it's very important. I mean one of the great achievements of the 50 years of India's independence is that we have been able to not only maintain but promote and continue a democratic tradition as far as governance is concerned. Now this is another thing which is very difficult to maintain, as we have seen in a large number of countries. And I think this is a lesson that India can provide to a whole lot of countries, that we have not....

DAVIDSON: That is what I was going to ask.

SHAH: We have not subordinated democracy or people's participation to what may otherwise be seen as material wealth or growth.

DAVIDSON: Because I have wanted to ask what lessons India could teach to many of the newly emerging states in the world.

SHAH: Yes, this is one of them. The second of course is slightly more, shall we say, interesting. I won't use the word controversial. Because there is as we noticed, as you noticed, the post-Cold War world order began to emphasize a different meaning to self-determination in the sense that a whole lot of countries in the initial stages began to believe that self-determination must now be the only way to solve the world's problems. And self-determination began to be articulated. Self-determination by anybody, any group, which believes that its rights are not guaranteed or are violated. And as a result of that what has been happening is ex-Yugoslavia for instance, because any ethnic group, any national group, any religious group, in any country, comes up and says I want a separate country because that is what self-determination is all about. And you give it to them. You are making two major problems for the world. One is the kind of things we are finding in ex-Yugoslavia. The cost of dividing countries. The costs, international cost, humanitarian cost, and perhaps a cost of very long-term hostility in that part of the world as a result of these divisions. This has already been projected in African unfortunately amongst the tribal groups or ethnic groups. And we see Burundi and Rwanda and eastern Zaire, which really is in some ways, each group is saying we are different. We are not parts of countries. We are different. And if we are different we are to fight with each other and we'll establish our own little homes in terms of nation-states or whatever it is. What India has tried to show in these 50 years is that however big that, however big these groups are, whether they are religious groups, or whether they are ethnic groups or national groups or linguistic groups, there is a national identity within which all of us can stay together provided you give space to each one of them. There will be injustices. There are injustices even to majorities. But these injustices must have a way of being articulated, discussed, talked about and a solution to be found, which is in the larger interest of the nation because the larger interest of the nation also promotes the interests of individual groups. But if these individual groups are allowed to form their own nation-states and you split up things, it is not necessarily that these groups are going to gain and certainly not necessarily that the entire federal structure is going to gain.

DAVIDSON: Yes, dealing with intolerance is going to be a challenge for the entire world in the next century. One cannot recall India's independence, however, without also remembering the sadness that immediately followed those heady days in 1947. The days of violence when Hindus and Muslims separated the sub-continent into the two countries of India and Pakistan. Pakistan became mostly Muslim and India became mostly Hindu.

SHAH: There was at the time of the division, because there were many, many people in India who felt that this was a mistake and that that mistake of creating a country purely, as Pakistan was created, purely from the point of view of religious unity, really hit at the basic secular traditions of India. But people quickly recognized the reality of the situation. So fine, there are these two countries, India and Pakistan, carved out of the original India. Good or bad, that's the reality. We are prepared to stay with it, we are prepared to deal with it. There was of course a further subdivision of Pakistan as you know, into Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971-72. Which only vindicated what India has been saying, namely that religion is not necessarily a basis for national, for a nation-state concept. Because Pakistan was based on religion and yet it split up because people from one part of Pakistan, though of the same religion, did not feel that they were getting a fair deal from the other part of Pakistan. That's how it split up. But it is not an issue at all in the minds of the people. We know that they are countries, they are our neighbors, we have a lot in common with them, our common destiny increasingly has to be recognized on all sides so that the only solution now is to increase cooperation with them, as a bigger country for India to try and accommodate some of their interests. And as, at the same time, as a bigger country to make it clear to them that in the interest of India, in the prosperity of India lies also your prosperity.

DAVIDSON: Prakash Shah is India's Ambassador to the United Nations. For Common Ground, I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

MARTIN: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To order or to share your comments, write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Suite 500, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Our e-mail address is When ordering transcripts or cassettes ask for program number 9722. To order by credit card call us at 319-264-1500. Again tapes are $5.00 and transcripts are free. Be sure to ask for program No. 9722. The phone number again is 319-264-1500. For Common Ground, I'm Jeff Martin.

B.J. Leiderman created our theme music. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1997, The Stanley Foundation