July 4, 2012 After Rio, "It's the hunger, stupid"

The apartment of consul general Paul Commenenda and his wife Sabina gives you a beautiful view over Ipanema beach and the lake behind it. Ipanema means ‘bad water, water you can’t fish in’ in Tupi, the native language. Last year, loads of death fish were taken out of the lake.  We are more familiar with ‘The girl from Ipanema’, a girl “full of light and grace”, but also a song about life passing by and the loss of youth. In short, the perfect spot for the Dutch delegation to end the Rio +20 Conference.


Paul and Sabina have organized a delicious breakfast and everyone gets to share their disappointment with each other and demand a statement of State Secretary Joop Atsma. The discontent on the achievements of the Conference is indeed strong. One representative tells how she saw how some youngsters left demonstratively. Atsma replies irritated that leaving is never an option, it is foolish. But what is wise? Daniel Mittler, Director of Greenpeace, on the final statement that was signed by the heads of states that were present:


“This is a tragic document, an insult to our children and an abject failure of our governments. We are facing a future of pollution, plunder and destruction.”


Louise Fresco, head of the Dutch delegation, gives us an introduction speech, focusing on the things we could still do. We should stop subsidies that work counterproductive, she states, and change those that rewards the polluter. And while the Conference’s final statement may be disappointing, the Dutch actions and initiatives where a great experience for everyone. We should take that home with us, the experience, not the text of the declaration.


Louise’s introduction is followed by speeches of representatives from Avalon, Cordaid, Hivos, Milieudefensie, NCDO and Oxfam Novib. Like Ban Ki Moon, they all emphasize the importance of support for small-scale ecological farming, which plays a key-role in the fight against hunger and destruction of the environment. Avalon’s Martien Lankester, medical doctor and farmer in Friesland, tells us:


“In the future, the best doctor will be the farmer who can make our planet healthier again”.


No Fight No Victory in Rio

It is the exact topic of our new trailer film that we showed on the Conference, in cooperation with our Swiss friends from Biovision. Still now, more than a billion people suffer from hunger. The short film shows how we –despite disastrous decisions and circumstances-  can find many inspiring examples all over the world of people who fight hunger in a sustainable way. 


We had already filmed scenes in Brazil about the successful ‘Fome Zero’ project that includes ecological farming, and in Ethiopia, where fields that were destroyed by the war are being put into use for farming again. Mario from Brazil who fought for years to own a piece of land for his family, is one of our heroes. “No fight, no victory” he says in the film, a remark that highly impressed the Conference members.


Afterwards there is a debate with Sebastian Treyer (Science Po), Patrus Ananias (Former mayor of Belo Horizonte where he started his war against hunger), Ambassador Leiro from Norway (UN, FAO, IFAD, and the World Food Program), Kanayo F. Nwanze (International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD) and Hans Herren, who worked in Brazil and Ethiopia for years. Kanayo F. Nwanze successfully summarizes the core idea of the film:


“It’s great we’ve seen examples of smart agriculture. We need a new green agro-ecological revolution that includes small-scale farmers as partners, therefore land tenure issues must be solved, low input crops the focus of attention and consequently ecological product chains.”


The next evening, Biovision organizes a diner where I meet a lot of old friends: Vandana Shiva, who said she will support our film (like she did with Silent Snow), Sue Edwards, who helped us in Northern Ethiopia, and Patrus Ananias, the former mayor of Belo Horizonte, who we interviewed on the Fome Zero project. He was Misister of Social Development and Fight against Hunger (MSD) afterwards and now teaches at a university, as “priorities had changed”. Nevertheless, he still hopes that the world will copy elements from his successful project.


Vandana Shiva: “The evidence is clear: the smaller the farm, the more the food output; the more biodiverse the farm, the more nutritional output; the more ecological the farm, the less the cost of farming. The people need nourishment, the planet needs nourishment, profits feed corporations.”


The ‘A Taste of Change’ diner was prepared by a top chef from New York: Domenica Catelli. Everyone was there, with impressive stories. Among them Liberia’s Minister of Environment, a researcher in Sustainability from England, and a Chinese/Dutch filmmaker who created a series of ecological films which are broadcasted in many African countries. Silent Snow will also become part of that series.


Silent Snow in Rio

A couple of weeks ago, Silent Snow was screened on the CinemaAmbiente Film Festival in Turin, Italy. Maggie White from the World Water Forum had seen the film there and approached me with the plan to show it in Rio as well. It was quickly arranged with a few emails and phone calls under the Italian arcades and now I’m on my way with an English and Portuguese version on a two hour travel from the Conference Centre to the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) where the film will be screened.


Silent Snow should have started at 4:30 as another program was scheduled at 6:30. It’s five now, but traffic is jammed. I call Andre every minute, the organizer, and his reactions get more pessimistic every call. “Are there any visitors?” I ask him, as I have absolutely no idea to what kind of event I’m heading. “It’s packed” is Andre’s comforting answer. By now, it’s 5:30 and Andre suggest we should maybe show only a part of the film.


Sometimes the traffic moves for a second and the estimations of the bus driver vary between 10 minutes and half an hour. Everyone in the bus feels for me. Then I see the MAM in the distance and jump out of the bus together with a girl that shows me the way. We run all the way to the park behind the museum, close to the beach, where the film will be screened. As it turns out, everything has started late, so I’m right on time. “Well, this is Rio” someone says. A remark I hear more the rest of the week.


One of the advantages of our late start is that the sky we see from out the glass roof of the pavilion has turned almost dark. At least a hundred people have showed up and more keep coming in while the film has started. After a quick dinner I return to the screening and receive a long applause and positive reactions from a full theatre hall.


We have to leave the hall directly after the screening, but every downside has its upside. Sitting in very comfortable beach seats, we meet with the audience. Many people thank me extensively on this beautiful place and invite me for film festivals (Silent Snow will be screened in Rio again on Sept 5th). I meet people like Pierre Johnson, who is developing an online world map that shows all environmental issues. He received subsidy for his plans and is very willing to join forces with us.


It’s quite late when I finally would like to go home, but the park is still crowded. There’s music everywhere, people talking, and a never-ending row of slowly bypassing cars next to the MAM. I’m trying to get a cab, but see none. Then suddenly one stops right in front of me, together with three enthusiastic Americans. They saw the film and offer to make a large detour to get me to my hotel in Copacabana.



Was it useful to come all the way to Rio this week? In my last blog I already wrote about the numerous projects that were actually impressive. Maybe Louise Fresco was right. Anyhow, my films had been quite a success; they received support from all over the world. After a lot of impressive lobbying, Biovision had actually managed to get attention on ‘sustainable small-scale holders’, and got the topic included in the Conference’s final declaration. And NoFightNoVictory was included in a news program on Swiss television. Ban Ki Moon’s statement was hopeful as well:


“All food systems have to become sustainable and we demand greater opportunities for smallholder farmers – especially women – who produce most of the world’s food, to empower them to double their productivity and income.”


Together with Sara I visited Flamengo park a few times, a place where people from all continents gather to have discussions, sell products and demonstrate. It was beautiful to see Ehete Welde Maryam dance on music from so many different cultures. Activists from all over the world gave us advice for our film and publicity campaign. Many of them new initiatives and websites that could help us and promised to sent us short films to put on our website. Because just like Silent Snow, NoFightNoVictory’s website should become a centre from which we send out our story into the world, to schools, television channels, and cinemas.


One more time Kanayo F. Nwanze:  “Those who make the food we eat go hungry, but without them, the world would go hungry.”


Sara had also got into contact with the Angolese Capoeira in Rio, and took me with her to see it. In the film she will not only explore inspiring stories on the fight against hunger, but will also research the roots of this dance, which was once brought to Brazil by African slaves. I see how the rituals of attach and defense are carried out with so much respect for one’s opponent. Afterwards we discuss about it while we sit under a tiny plastic roof that protects us from the pouring rain. Capoeira is about resistance, freedom, and the struggle for a better life. In Brazil, there are even a couple of ecologival Capoeira projects. Sara will write about them, they will fit well in our film. Someone asks me what the main topic of the film is. “What’s it all about?”. Sara’s friend answers immediately (loosely quoting Bill Clinton ) “It’s the hunger, stupid!”.  That’s the big scandal: there’s enough food in the world, but too many don’t have access to it.


More info: www.nofightnovictory.org





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