Modern urban humans are so conceited! Everyone thinks that the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies, such as the Amazonians, must be so terribly primitive as to be irrelevant and doomed to extinction. And peasants, people actually still tilling the Earth with other than a quarter-million dollar piece of machinery, are likewise at least silly if not irrelevant. Yet, the fact is that the peasants still constitute around 80% of the Earth’s population, and without them the rest of you would starve within weeks.
Due to the high population of humans on today’s planet, around 5 billion at last count, hunter-gathering is not feasible for everyone. Yet, it is not urbanization which makes possible the survival of so many people, it is the peasant cultivator. It is the growing of crop plants which supports this massive, some would say far too massive, population. For that reason, the lives of today’s cultivators, the small farmers, the “peasants”, is worth examining.
For one thing, despite their nominal adherence to institutionalized religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, most of the world’s rural agrarian folk live in a culture rich with earthly nuance...they practice magick, they listen to the voices of the Earth, they live in a symbiotic relationship with their seeds and plants, and they cooperate and interact with each other as did all our ancestors not only back in the pre-imperial farming days but further back into the palaeolithic. The farmers in the most traditional areas hold in their hands as well not only this cultural legacy, but the actual genetic resources which will be required to preserve our species on this planet in the future; they have the traditional seed varieties which will grow without insecticides, industrial fertilizers and with resistance to weather vicissitudes, diseases and pests.
But the farmers of the world are not living in an agrarian paradise by any means. Few are the regions where greedy landlords, disinterested or malicious governments and ill-motivated global economic forces are not threatening the farmers’ ability to survive and persist. Our efforts must include the preservation of ancient seed varieties and traditional cultural practices as well as the attainment of justice for the humans involved in our food production. This entails, of course, not only such accomplishments as the achievement of economic justice for farm laborers in such places as California and Nigeria, but also intense efforts to convert the dominant agribusiness system of plantation production using ecologically disastrous techniques into something more attuned to the earth, to the needs of the humans whose labor makes production possible...into something organic and, we could say, “peasant-friendly”.
Grow your own! Let your local politicians know what you think of their endless prevaricating on the banning of dangerous pesticides! Support the Farmworkers Union! Try not to buy agribusiness products, whether from Texas or Indonesia! Dream of the day when we will again live mostly in the small agrarian villages envisioned by Jefferson, with the social justice and equality propounded by Marx, with an integrity of our labor as preached by Gandhi...