In Yemen Land is Democracy! [Archives:2001/26/Law & Diplomacy]

June 25 2001

Irena Knehtl
Development is for the people, and by the people, otherwise it has no taste and no meaning!
The aim here is to rescue the rural world as the source of well being, and propose a democratic order, and economic model with the basic aim of edifying the population, both now and in the future, with healthy food for thought.
I should like to speak of food in a different sense, placing it in its cultural and historical framework. I want to show how democracy can be understood through food, and how it can be built with food as its objective.
Although the definition of human rights varies, one of the very basic human rights is the right to FOOD.
Every country has an awareness of its geography which in essence enables it to dominate it technologically. In other words, it is an awareness about its ability to exploit its geographical realities.
Over the last few decades the agricultural production has declined dangerously, and food imports have increased considerably. Food imports are not just a foreign exchange problem, they also make a country lose a sense of its own history, and geography. As a result people lose faith in their ability to control their own geographical environment. And further, people come to accept scarcity and poverty as inevitable facts of life.
Imports have a further adverse effect on agriculture, making people unaware of what it could produce. The peasants thus without actually moving from their land, are in essence expelled from their own history.
Agricultural surpluses distributed throughout the world are also distributed through the markets of the developing countries, over which the most powerful countries hold a monopoly. As it stands today, the Arab countries import 80 percent of their food requirement. It should be remembered that this situation can be turned into a very effective weapon.
One needs only to look at Yemen’s past in which it used to be an empire based on food. It provided sufficient food for the population as large as or even larger than the present one. People knew its geography, and conquered it technologically. They were aware of the countries rugged and mountain geography, and dominated it by growing a variety of traditional crops on terraces stretching far up the slopes. People relied on technical instruments, the terraces, and on human organization and collective work. There was thus a clear identification of society with the land that generated a feeling of security and continuity.
Societies thrive on food, and build their awareness of time and space through food. The great Moslem traveler of the 14th century, Ibn Battuta, writes in his Rihla: “The strength and well-being of any civilized society depends on the prosperity of its agriculture”.
The process of industrialization if not properly balanced, impoverishes the peasants, and consequently they start leaving the land. They arrive in the city with a feeling of insecurity. Since the land is linked to people’s dignity, such migrants naturally lose their self-respect. The liberality of their home land is replaced by the hostility of the urban environment, and the idea of society as a community is replaced by individualism, as a response to the hostile surrounding. History shows that the attempt to maintain financial relations through “carrousel” of new loans leads to worsening of the situation.
Vicious Circle:
The developing world faces excessive centralization in towns, and in most cases, in capital cities resulting in a great imbalance between industry , administration, and, consequently an increasingly depressed agriculture. Agriculture produces less because of food imports. The peasants, therefore, grow poorer, and migrate or leave the land. The industry in turn is weaker because it lacks markets for its products.
The only way out would be historical transformation in order to achieve a harmonious economic development.
A nationalist revolution seems imminent to revoke historical awareness, rediscover forgotten realities, accept terrace farming, recognize the value of native products, and community organization. Further, an identification of the society with the land again, restoring sense of security, and directing resources towards the model linked with food, i.e., agriculture and fisheries is the need of the hour.
Any revolution is only re-vitalization of one’s own history. The fundamental basis of any nationalism is the land. So a nation is in the true sense of the word, is known by its hold over its territorial integrity. Only recognition and awareness of this geography can enable us to be self-sufficient in food that the knowledge of geography can give us. Self reliance in food is also an affirmation of democracy, which recognizes the realities of the social organization. Our democracy must mean above all, the respect and upholding of the most important human right, which is the right of bread, which means PEACE AND FREEDOM. Bread is viewed not only as a means of satisfying hunger, it is a cultural symbol.
And now, when we are going to attain self reliance, let it be WITH OUR OWN BREAD. In Yemen, Land is Democracy.