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Alternative Nobel Laureates meet in Bonn

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

On the 30th anniversary of the founding of the “Alternative Nobel Prize” – actually called “Right Livelihood Award” – many of the 137 Nobel laureates met in Bonn. IFOAM took the opportunity to honour in particular those laureates who were associated with organic agriculture. On 16 September, eight internationally renowned personalities and one organisation were presented to an audience of just under 200 guests. The aim was to encourage change, to become personally involved in the fight against the food and climate crisis. In fact, “The Crisis” was the title of a song sung by a trio that was well received by the audience. (Picture: Pat Mooney and IFOAM managing director Markus Arbenz)
The winners of the alternative Nobel Prize – unpretentious and quite ordinary people - gathered in the Gustav-Stresemann-Insitut where event, called “Visions and Inspiration for a Better World”, was held. The programme organized by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Farming Movements) included short addresses by the prize winners and discussions with the audience. “It’s a pity not more of us could come,” said an A-level student who, together with six other young people, took part in the conference. In all, 120 young adults attended a parallel youth conference run by Right Livelihood Awards in the youth hostel in Bonn. The group of seven were thrilled and in agreement: “It’s a great inspiration and a unique opportunity to see and hear such well known personalities.”

The event was attended mainly by representatives of organic organizations, church aid societies and disseminators of the organic message. The day-long conference, that was organized in collaboration with Bernward Geier’s company Colabora, opened with a speech by Frances Moore Lappé (picture above on left). The US American became known as long ago as the early 1970s, and before the Club of Rome published its “Limits to Growth”, for her book “Diet for a Small Planet”. Moore Lappé is regarded therefore as a pioneer of the environmental movement. Later she founded the Institute for Food and Development Policy (IFDP). In recent years she has concentrated primarily on the connection between hunger, underdevelopment and the lack of democratic culture, which led to the creation of the Living Democracy movement.
At the beginning of the conference, the founder of the Right Livelihood Award, Jakob von Üxküll (picture on right), on the terrace of the Gustav-Stresemann-Haus) addressed the guests and welcomed them to the conference.

Melaku Worede, a biologist from Ethiopia (picture on left), set up a seed bank that secured the huge genetic diversity of his country. He rescued many species and laid the foundation for resistance to the modern colonialism of the genetic engineering industry and to their attempt to secure genetic ownership rights.

Sekem is regarded internationally as a model project for sustainable management, an example of an environmentally friendly economy and human rights standards in Islamic countries. The alternative Nobel Prize was awarded to father and son, Ibrahim and Helmy Abouleish, from Egypt (picture). Sekem is a bio-dynamic agricultural initiative that was honoured for its development of a business model for the 21st century in which economic growth and profit are used for the benefit of people and the environment. Giving practical examples, Helmy Abouleish explained in his lecture why organic products are already competitive today. If the external costs are factored into conventional production and CO2 compensation payments are credited to organic farmers, organic products can become cheaper than conventionally produced food.

Hans Herren (picture), a winner of the World Food Prize, is the co-author of the world food report ISTAAD. Herren does not believe that the rise in temperature can be kept to 2° C in the coming decades and he assumes there will be arise of between 4° and 6° C. He said that, unfortunately, the wake-up calls had still not reached the ears of politicians worldwide. Solutions were being postponed, and the international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF had to abandon linear thinking for joined-up thinking. That would enable us to remedy the devastation that our economic practices have caused in many countries. Deserts will be turned into fertile land again, with flourishing, plentiful agriculture. How that can be achieved in practice is demonstrated by Herren in the foundation he created in Switzerland, Bio-Vision.

The Seikatsu-Club in Japan began as a small food cooperative run by housewives and developed into an organization with 1.5 million members. Numerous organic businesses and an alternative credit scheme were set up. The model project Seikatsu Club Consumers Cooperative Union not only supplies food to about two million customers but, as a food cooperative, has also enabled several hundred farms round Tokio to convert to organic. However, not by a long way does all the food marketed by the cooperative come from organic production. Many farms operate, as instructed by the cooperative, with only a reduced input of pesticides. (Picture: Three Japanese ladies presenting the concept of the Seikatsu cooperative).

Pat Mooney (picture top right) from Canada is regarded internationally as the leading specialist on the food crisis, the loss of genetic resources, biotechnology and genetic research. With worldwide campaigns, he denounces the increasing genetic uniformity of agriculture and proposes comprehensive alternative farming concepts. The focus of Pat Mooney’s work in recent years has been estimating the consequences of nano-technology and the converging technologies of genetic, biological, nano, cognition and neuro sciences and artificial intelligence. He said that in the meantime industry was boasting that it could ‘construct’ all the plants it needed in any way it liked. “For the first time God has got a competitor,” was his sober conclusion in view of the fact that there are already 1,663 patents on life forms in the case of 262 plant families. “It is simply unacceptable to grant the industry (in effect, six multinational concerns) this right to own genes,” the expert complained. (Picture: Bashkar Save was given the Rapunzel One World Award; he has trained three generations of organic farmers)

Vandana Shiva from India (picture: sitting next to Markus Arbenz / IFOAM and Andre Leu / Organic Federation of Australia) worked as a quantum physicist before setting up her Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology to support grass-root initiatives in India and to promote self-determined development paths. Today Vandana Shiva is regarded as one of the most important global activists for biodiversity and organic agriculture, and she plays a key role in the fight against globalization and genetic engineering. She is also regarded as the philosopher of eco-feminism.

Percy and Louise Schmeiser (picture) from Canada are farmers in the mid-west. They are Davids fighting the Goliath Monsanto to defend species diversity and the rights of farmers, and they fight against the injustice of the current patent law. After about ten years, Monsanto had to admit that its seed had contaminated other fields. By going to court, the Schmeisers were able to force the company in March 2009 to pay 640 US dollars – symbolic costs – for the destruction of genetically modified plants, and this has set a precedent in the fight against the giant seed company. Schmeiser reported that representatives of Monsanto were asked by the Canadian press whether accepting the costs was not an admission of guilt and a PR disaster for Monsanto. The reply was: “We’re not interested in public opinion; we’re only interested in business.” The logical consequence for Schmeiser: “The fight goes on.” (Picture: Percy Schmeiser being interviewed in the garden of the Gustav-Stresemann-Institut)

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) is the Brazilian movement of landless farmers. Because two-thirds of the rural population owns no land, MST is organising them into a mass movement under the slogan: “Occupy, Resist, Produce”. The participants fight by occupying land that is not being used, and they demand the legalisation of the new situation. Maria Salete Campigotto (picture: in the middle between Markus Arbenz and Bernward Geier from Colabora on right) is one of the first members of MST and is the education coordinator of the institute “Educar”, meaning to educate, that offers the children of landless farmers practical courses in organic agriculture.

As motivators for lifelong commitment to preserving the environment and creating a viable basis of life for all people in the world, the winners of the alternative Nobel Prize were thoroughly convincing in what they had to say to the audience. An especially warm welcome was given to those laureates already well known to the German audience and for whom they have special regard, like Vandana Shiva, Percy Schmeiser and Helmy Abouleish. The prize winners are by no means lone voices in the desert but the representatives of regional movements that, in their countries and in some cases worldwide, have already achieved a great deal. The day in Bonn proved once again that a different kind of world is a real possibility when sufficient committed people demand it, sometimes with vehemence, and actually put it into practice. (Picture: View of the audience)

To quote Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking we used when we created it.”

(Picture: During the conference, Thomas Cierpka from IFOAM answers online questions from participants all over the world, who were linked to the event in Bonn via videoconferencing. In the foreground on the left a mini video camera)

The publication of the 'IFOAM Declaration for Living Change' during the final plenary session was another highlight of the day: common convictions and demands, jointly formulated by the organizers and laureates, and endorsed by dialogue partners and moderators, serve as an appeal to embrace change. This Declaration, supported by committed speakers and participants, puts in the foreground trust in Nature's capacities, respect for humankind and the environment, the urgency of a sustainable development that respects biodiversity and social well-being. The Declaration can be signed by interested parties and is available for download in English and German here.

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