COVID-19: in search of a new chronicle

by Pavel Partha | Published: 00:00, Jul 03,2020

 
 

The world’s most expensive bottled water, Acqua Di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani. — Acqua di Cristallo

THE current critique of capitalism acknowledges the significance of nature-grounded livelihood than the neo-liberal corporate hegemony. It has been proved that the basic condition for human’s survival is food and the food comes from the nature and not from corporate companies such as Coke-Pepsi, Ford, Prado, General dynamics, H&M, Nike, Monsanto or Syngenta. It has been the soil, rivers and forests which have provided food for humans and other life forms. Maize or wheat grow from the soil and later they reach the plates of corporate companies so they can do business with the food items in the name of Pizza-Hut, KFC or American Burger, etc. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the aggression of the multinational companies seems to have stopped as they could no longer continue with their production lines. Now, it is evident that the people show no interest in counting any losses incurred by the companies for their failure to sell Ford car, gold, diamond or other luxurious gadgets. People around the world have proved that they can survive without such corporate luxuries. Inevitably, the question arises whether people need the production lines of the multinational companies. What are the need and interest in constructing industry after industry, destroying the natural settings of the mother earth?

The time of novel coronavirus has compelled us all to understand that multinational companies serve only the interest of the rich. Industry-based production is now at halt and Ford, General Motors and Tesla also shifted their focus on producing more masks and ventilators. Yet, ordinary people are largely unmoved to the situation, but they are gravely concerned about food insecurity. During lockdown, people have crowded kitchen markets not to go hungry. Everything is at a stop during the pandemic, but agricultural and family-based farming are uninterrupted. This is a significant lesson that the pandemic signals us to decide which of the two we need to salvage to save the earth. The industry-based production or the natural resource-based livelihood? Any pandemic can halt industrial production, but the natural system continues. It is important for us to acknowledge the basic lessons we have learnt from the current pandemic — to emphasise the production systems that nurture and embrace natural resources.

 

Eroded rivers, soil and forest

WE ARE sent on a ‘general holiday’, the Bangladesh version of lockdown, but farmers continue to labour. In boro season, they harvested rice. Women grow vegetable in their homestead, fisher folks continue with their work in the wetland, mawalis collected honey and wax from the Sunderbans and tea workers are at work. Small ethnic community people are busy collecting food and vegetables. The creation of nature does not stop. It continues to lead and support its primary users amidst the pandemic. However, do mainstream policies acknowledge the significance of nature? Do we hear voices of natural resources users who have worked throughout their life to strengthen and strengthen food security? Should we not listen to their concerns and needs? Should the new generation not be encouraged to get involved in the production system that depends on nature? In a post-COVID-19 time, should we forget the contribution of the nature made in the crisis? In future, there may be other crises, but who will protect us and stand besides us that time? It is the nature and its elements. We should, therefore, emphasise the importance of nature in and its contribution to our life and family, and social and state ties. The diversity of nature can only come to our aid in a similar future crisis.

 

Declining agriculture land

FARMLAND is not only the agricultural production site, but is a living document of human settlement and agricultural civilisation. It is the site of social solidarity and symbol of unity of people of different classes and races.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the Agriculture Information Services and the agriculture ministry said that total cultivable land is 8505278.14 hectares, the are of irrigated land is 7124895.41 hectares and the area of cultivable fallow land is 204366.24 hectares. Related departments have been asked not to leave any land uncultivated. It is ironic that every year Bangladesh loses 1 per cent of its agricultural land. A law on the protection of agriculture land was drafted in 2015, but it is yet to be made into a law. The law needs to be passed and enforced as losing agricultural land means losing means to produce in a nature-based production system.

 

Shrinking wetland

BANGLADESH’S landscape is dominated by wetland, but the wetlands are shrinking because of unplanned development. Haor areas known as wetland occupy a sixth of Bangladesh’s total land. Besides, there are beel, canal, baor, streams, ponds, khari and other forms of wetlands. These disappear by the day. This leads to losses of wetland flora and fauna. Fisherfolk, boat drivers, bedes and bagdis and communities dependent on wetland for their livelihood are forced to become day-labourers. The wetlands are a source of food, but in the name of development, we kill wetland and destroy the source of protein. It is now the right time to protect the wetland with proper legislation. The government should firmly decide that it will not allow encroachment on wetland.

 

Bleeding forest

A SIGNIFICANT role of forest too is highlighted during a health emergency. There exist different forms of forests such as the Sunderbans, coastal forests, garjan forest, village forest, swamp forest, hilly forest, sal forest and reed forest, etc. We have diverse forests but we have treated them so inhumanly that they now bleed. We kill forest animals and sell them. We make furniture destroying trees and we legalise the intervention of multinational companies in the name of extracting minerals. However, forests saves lives of many. It is the forest that has saved human lives during cyclones — Sidr, Aila, Bulbul or Amphan. In the name of power plant establishment, railway construction, industries and other sorts of development project, we have destroyed many forests. Who will, then, provide us with oxygen? Our minds are still preoccupied with the colonial forest law of 1927. We pledge to free our minds of colonial thinking and save forests but do we really act on our pledges? The government must take steps to save forests, the ecosystem and biodiversity without any delay.

 

Stolen genes, indigenous science

AT THE advent of Green Revolution, native seeds and genetic resources were stolen by multinational comapnies. During the pandemic, jute farmers have been anxious about the supply of seeds because the seeds come from India. Not just for jute seeds, farmers also face the seed crisis for most of other crops. Bangladesh has not been successful in making the state-run seed agency such as Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation self-reliant and effective. In the past, we have slowly allowed multinational companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto, Cargill, etc to control the seed system. We did not recognise and acknowledge indigenous science in mainstream policies. Our native genetic resources and local knowledge have been stolen in the name of research and bio-prospecting. The Cornel University and Monsanto promoted bt brinjal in our country. More importantly, we have failed to take Syngenta to court for the ways it has betrayed farmers gradually through tomato seeds. In this time of hardship, rural women’s seed banks are still in effect. They exchange chillis, gourds, leafy vegetables and wax gourd seeds among themselves. It is time to strengthen the seed sector. The government should come forward to establish the ownership of and rights of farmers to their seeds and genetic resources. Indigenous science and native genetic resources are the only saviours in such a time of crisis.

 

Restoring dignity of farmers

FARMERS are constantly neglected every day. They lost their historical identity and association with the agricultural sector. They are forced to become day-labourers, apparel workers and rickshaw pullers away from the food production system. They are now left to count the many ways they can sell their labour. During the outbreak, when displaced farmers returned to their villages, they are faced with a new crisis. They are treated as carriers of the novel coronavirus. Despite the stigma, the farmers kept their farmland alive. It is their intense labour with which they sow seeds and harvest to activate the food production. In the budget, the government has announced incentives for the sector. We are afraid that there are reasons to doubt that share-croppers, farm labourers, landless and marginal women may not have access to the incentive. Yet, they are the people who lead the agriculture sector. The government and mainstream policy-makers still could not nationally recognise the farmer identity, treat them with the dignity they deserve. Consequently, no children of farmers or new generation in rural areas are eager to become farmers. In is now or never. We must restore the dignity of farmers and reclaim the sector from the grip of profit-seeking agro-industry. We now know that a nature-based production system coupled with indigenous knowledge and resources can help us to survive such crisis. A public acknowledgement of the significance of such system will encourage new generation to take up farming.

 

In need of a new chronicle

The world’s most expensive bottle of water, Acqua Di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani, is priced at £41,335, because of its hand-made 24-carat gold bottle, inspired by the work of the Italian artist Amedeo Clemente Modigliani. Does this water do anything to save lives of people during a pandemic? If not, what is the use of this commodity? Who needs this? The answer is: the world is still divided between 80 per cent and 20 per cent, but the 20 per cent has thd control and ownership of most resources. There is war, weapon and wildlife trade. All these are symbols of neo-liberal violence. It is proved that this neo-liberal theft scheme and luxurious life is of no use when it comes to the mother earth during the COVID-19 pandemic. This luxury does not feed the poor and cure patients. In the post-COVID-19 time, should the world be different like the way we have managed without industrial production of Ford car or in the absence of neo-liberal luxury.

Will the new generation abandon the attraction of neo-liberal life? Will they choose a new chronicle to write for the post-COVID-19 world? A significant number of young people are infected with COVID-19 and at the same time, it is the young people who joined the rally to care for the people who are ill and hungry. So, today’s youth can change the neo-liberal hegemony and create a new chronicle that emphasises the future rooted in and deeply linked with the nature.

 

Pavel Partha is a researcher on ecology and biodiversity conservation. The article is translated by Silvanus Lamin.

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