IFOAM: Sadness, Joy
This blog is honestly more about the sadness I feel, living here, and the reasons we are feeling connected to Japan and South Korea and the Far East.
I was in South Korea for a week, visiting organic farms. They are trying to avoid dangerous chemicals, trying to avoid artificial fertilisers, and not adding 添加物 (tenkabutsu) chemical additives, and trying to save seed. I was impressed by their grains, especially by Heuksalim, a farm/company that we visited in central South Korea.
The only good food I was able to enjoy was at a Buddhist temple restaurant in Seoul, but even that felt slightly strange. I don't think that was the food that people actually ate at a temple, where they did their practice.
I felt so sad in Seoul, with the traffic jams, and the large BMWs and Benz and Lexus. Walking was faster. I was told that in Korea, the rich people cannot afford to buy a house, so they buy a large car instead. If that is true - I feel just sadness, and pain. The income gap just appears to be massive.
I learnt that I know next to nothing about South Korea, in spite of having visited the country several times. I also noted, that they care not at all about reducing electricity or petrol; in fact it felt like I was back in the early-1980s. While Japan has made a major effort to reduce electricity (setsuden) there was no such campaign in South Korea. As they import most of their fuel and also their food, how can they deal with the massive changes that we are facing?
In Japan, the organic movement started back in 1971, with the teikei relationship that connects farmers and consumers. It is called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and it also means the farms support the community. I was the moderator for a session that Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) hosted, with speakers discussing organic farming in Japan.
This was the first ever IFOAM conference in Asia, and I have no idea why it was held in South Korea. It was not easy to understand or comprehend if there really is a strong organic movement in Korea. My impression was that it is perhaps only available to well-to-do consumers in the large cities, and they mainly purchase imported, processed organic foods. I got no sense at all of a grassroot farmers' movement or any real government support. I was at loss at the conference to find any Koreans who could speak English, which added to the confusion. For example, the products sold at the conference market mostly seemed to be non-organic, and none of the sellers had any English materials or leaflets.
I was glad to meet Korean organic farmers in Heuksalim, who are at the front line of Korean organic agrculture. However, I learnt that the country still has no standards or rules or lables of their own.
Heuksalim farm in central South Korea: During the first 2 days of my visit, I participated in a pre-conference about organic seeds. This is an important issue as most organic farmers in Europe and North America generally use conventional seeds sold by commercial seed companies. We discussed the importance of saving seeds but also how to get public breeding schemes working that can provide healthy and biologically diverse seeds for a number of vegetables and grains. At the Heuksalim farm, they are engaged in efforts to save seeds of varieties that grow well in Korea, espcially millet and sorghum.
One of the most serious problems of organic agriculture in Korea is the lack of organic seeds. In the age of crises over food and seed sovereignty, preparing and researching organic seed remain one of the most important issues in Korea. Organic farmers must distinguish the seeds suitable for their land and exchange seeds and information and activities to preserve seeds must be widely expanded.