Free the soil

Between the 17th and the 25th of September, we participated in a climate action against a chemical fertilizer company called Yara. They are one of the largest chemical fertilizer companies in the world and for sure top three in Europe. Yara was chosen as the objective for this action as a representative of the industrial agriculture industry, since the main goal of Free the soil is to put light on the impact industrial agriculture has on the planet. As part of this climate action, we also participated in the four day long camp, which they called an Agriculture and climate justice camp in which there were workshops twice a day, every day from the 19th of September until the 22nd. The Climate action was on the 23rd and the 24th of September.

Yara and Industrial agriculture

So first a little about the industrial agriculture. Our interest in this subject started in India one year ago. For those of you who did not follow our blog from the start, me and August went to a farm in India called Navdanya which is created and funded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, who is a climate activist, but on a whole other level. Her main goal is basically to free the soil from the multinational companies and to free farmers from the claws of companies just like Yara, or Bayer or Monsanto, which pull farmers in to use their products (precision farming tools, chemical fertilizers/pesticides etc) which in the long run deplete the soil and make the farmers dependent on their products; hence they are forced to purchase their products, and for many farmers this result in debt when these products in the end cost more than the farmers make. When you put chemical fertilizers on your soil, and pesticides on your plants, you must increase the amount of chemicals you use every year to keep a high yield, because the pesticides kills everything, not only the insects which they are meant to kill, but also bees, spiders and other creatures vital to the ecosystem, that help the plants through their life cycle. Synthetic fertilizers upset the natural balance in the soil and, if not applied carefully, can result in loss of nutrition (read plant food) and leakage into the groundwater, hence polluting an area larger than the field itself. These products basically robs the soil of its own ability to regenerate and the result is that all the micro organisms in the soil die, along with worms and bacteria and fungi that are crucial for the well being and growth of the crops. These products kill the soil and leaves it empty of all life. This impacts the entire food chain, no animals will live in this polluted area, but we, the humans, we eat what comes out of there…

Organic produce

So speaking of climate change, between 44% and 57% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from industrial agriculture, if you take emissions from land-use, deforestation, processing, packaging, transport, storage and production of chemical fertilizers/pesticides are taken into account. The production and usage of synthetic fertilizers alone is responsible for up to 10% of global GHG emissions. This is because creating these synthetic fertilizers requires loads of fossil gas, through the Harber Bosh process, in which nitrogen from the air is fixed with hydrogen gas from fossil gas to produce ammonia. Ammonia in turn is used in synthetic fertilizers. We participated in another action in Göteborg against fossil-gas, and that’s where we learned about this action. The more I learn, the more I realise that no crisis is separate from another; in our time of major change, all of the problems we face as one people share a root cause. Think about it for a second. What’s the common denominator? On that note,I just want to mention that within those 44%-57%, livestock is responsible for 80%, or 90% of ALL CO2 emissions in the world. Livestock is also responsible for 35-40% of methane emissions (methane is about 20 times more dangerous as a green house gas than CO2) and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions (chiefly from the use of nitrogen based fertilizers), which brings us back to Yara.

Yara was created 1905 in Norway but was called Nors Hydro back then. According to Wikipedia, they have sales in 150 countries and facilities on six continents. The Norweigan state owns some percentage of the company and big people like Modi, the prime minister of India is also found among Yara’s shareholders. Modi has an interest in Yara since Yara bought up one of TATA’s chemical plants in India.  

The patent of synthetic fertilizers has expired, meaning any company can produce nitrogen based synthetic fertilizers. Because of this, Yara is trying to gain control of the market though other means; one thing that they are doing is buying up the entire supply chain, everything from the mines where they extract potassium (P) to the shipping company that ships the potassium to Europe and so on. Where they cannot buy up a company in their supply chain, they create contracts to ensure that they are favoured by these companies. Examples of these companies they have a favourable contract with, are Pepsi Co and McDonalds. These two companies then pressure their suppliers to use Yara’s products.

Yara is active in lots of think-tanks and lobbying organisations. They lobby for increased fracking (check out my last post about fossil gas here) and for more imported fracked gas. They are lobbying for “development” in Africa, especially through creating Growth corridors, where they identify “vacant” land and start industrial agriculture on this piece of land. One might assume that such a project is to increase food supply locally, but no, the produce from these growth corridors are used for ethanol or exported elsewhere. There have been cases where governments have used military power to force local farmers, who previously used the land to feed their families, to vacate the land, in favour of companies such as Yara. From a capitalist view, these farmers who use the land to feed themselves and their children, are unproductive, since they are not contributing to the economy. As capitalism wants it, it is better for the economy if the farmer grows food (using synthetic fertilizers and the precision farming tools that goes with it, pesticides, herbicides and a massive irrigation system) and then sell this food for export, and then buys his own food in the market, preferably imported from Europe. Any sane person can tell that this is Insane. Seizing land like this is called land-grabbing and it is also happening in Asia, more specifically in Myanmar, Indonesia and India. One can draw a parallel to the Enclosure act in the UK, where common land was enclosed by the nobility (aka taken form the regular people) where the commons were then forced to work the land that they previously worked for themselves, for the nobility. If you are interested in growth corridores, why not read between the lines in this EU-commissioned report on the subject: ISPC Development corridors 

Yara also gives out a prize to journalist which, according to them, have reported with excellence about farming (read industrial farming). This prize was previously called “the African food prize”.

One last thing about Yara, check out their website. Their slogan is “Responsibly feed the world and protect the planet”…  It is a perfect example of “green washing”, which means that companies are washing them selves green, trying to change their image, perhaps changing their logo from a red one to a green one, making them appear greener, more environmentally friendly, even though they haven’t made any real changes to their products. In these times of fake news, fake videos, fake everything, there seems to be no repercussion for lying.

Industrial agriculture is killing the planet, is the reason behind the devastating fires in the Amazonas jungle, the deforestation in Indonesia, the death of corral reefes (due to overfertilization and nutrition leakage witch in turn leads to increased algae, wich suffocates the corrals, and because of unnatural erosion due to deforestation; dirt that suffocates the reefs), it is the reason behind the massive death or bees, collapse of ecosystems world wide, loss of biological diversity, poisoning of table water, streams and lakes and depletion of the soil, our most valuable resource, our mother. And the worst thing is that when you look closer the rabbit hole just keeps going. If we would shift to a more diverse, locally focused, and ecological agricultural practice,we could live in harmony with nature and halt the destruction of our planet that we are currently in the middle of.  

Agricultural and Climate Justice Camp

SO. Enough about that. Now lets talk about how amazingly fun it is to join an action like this!

The field during build-up

We arrived on Tuesday the 17th of September, two days before the camp officially started. The camp is located in a small village called St. Margarethen 80 km north of Hamburg. A local farmer let us use a small part of his field for the camp, where we with 40-60 other people put up a dozen tents, toilets, sinks, decorations, bridges, signs, a whole little village in the middle of a windy field. We even made our own electricity using a portable solar power station. The priest in the village was kind enough to let us use the church’s community building, where we made food three times a day, before the camp officially started and the collective that were going to cook for us arrived.When the camp was finished, we had a Crêpe place, a pizzeria, a bar and a baker. Everything is donation-based, meaning you pay what you can. During build up, everyone is given an assignment, or joins a team. I joined the woodworking crew consisting of Dachs, and we made the camp handicap-friendly with bridges crossing the trenches that cut through the field.

Cooking potatosallad à mas

On the 19th me and August made lunch for about a 100 people together with our friend Mats (who we met first in Malmö and then in Göteborg during the other actions we did this summer. Click HERE to read that post) and parts of the Crêpe crew from Lyon, and Sabine and Sasha. Sabine and Sasha live in the area, close to Brunnsbüttel, and we spent a lot of time with them. They even invited us to their home, where we could take a well needed shower and sleep under a roof (and had an excellent breakfast).

Sabine & Sasha
Our tent

Every day there were about 8 workshops offered, four at ten and four at three o’clock. Yes, four at the same time, so you had to pick one! The quality of these workshops blew our minds! I’ll upload my notes from the workshops I attended in a separate post, because I think all of you should get a chance to learn what I learned. The workshops me and August attended dealt with Degrowth and capitalism, land-reform and collectivisation strategies, science behind chemical fertilizers and how to grow without them, The Chemical cartel and how to bring them down, there were soil test and field trips around the area, and then in the evening there were a fishbowl debate every evening. Amazing. All services in the camp (the pizza, bakers, solar power, crêpe place…) were offered by collectives from all over (North-western) Europe, but the collective that I appreciated the most was the Blabla collective. This is a translating collective, meaning they go around on multilingual events and translates! They have radios and microphones and anyone who speaks two of the languages spoken at the event can help with translating. Sometimes we had two people sharing the job. Because you have to translate real time, meaning there is not a long pause where you can translate, the translation has to happen directly. The official languages of Free the Soil is english, german, french and danish. Other nationalities were represented, but you cant have it all. On the radio we had, you could tune in the the language you wanted, 70.1 for english, 82.3 for german and so on. Amazing!

And I must mention the cooking collective. I don’t remember their name, but they made amazing food for over 600 people every day! All vegan and rich and complete in its nutritional value. They asked for seven euros a day as a donation, for three meals and coffee/ tea all day.

The crepe place

I have a love for crêpes. So I ate a lot of them, and spent most of my money there. I even worked a little in the crêpe stand, learning how to make them; a trade I could continue with perhaps. Both the crêpe place and the pizza place had this participatory concept, where you could help out and learn.

On the Saturday, when we’d been there a few days already, the villagers came by to make our acquaintance. It’s very important to get the local connection, and since most of the farmers in the region used Yara’s products, or worked in the factory , everyone were very happy that they came to drink, sing and talk with us. They were amazed by the donation philosophy that were practiced, and astonished (and maybe a little appaled) by all the activists who were destroying their fingertips with needles to make it harder for police to identify them in case of arrest.

In one of our fishbowl discussions, a local cow farmer joined. He expressed how difficult it is to be ecological when the consumer isn’t willing to pay for it. There were a few farmers in our ranks but it was great that a local farmer, a foot soldier of the industrial agriculture, came to share his views with us. One fun thing (to me) was when one girl mentioned that people can subscribe to a box filled with the harvest of that week, as a way to cut out the middle man, and guarantee income. The farmer replied that if he were to do this, he’d have to send recepies with the box, because people today doesn’t know how to cook! “What am I to do with this funny vegetable?”

To shift from chemical to ecological farming takes three years. Three years of bad harvest means loss of income which in turn makes it very difficult to a professional farmer. Few think of the money they might save when they go ecological, but three years is a long time. I would love to have more farmers using industrial practices join the discussions on Free the soil or here, in the comments, because I have many questions, and would see how some of my ideas could resonate with someone in this field.

The action

Yara factory and the turquoise finger! The steam you see in the picture is from cooling the above mentioned Harber-Bosh process

The goal of the action was to block Yara’s factory, to prevent them from doing business as usual, to disturb their production a little, and show the world that this is an issue to start caring about. Our affinity group consisted of Sasha and Sabine, Mats and Oscar and Lina. It was a good group. We were in the blue finger. We started the march of six km to the factory at 9 in the morning. We had an enormous police escort but they were nice. They drove slowly after us when we marched, and at one point I had to tie my boots and fell behind the group. The convoy of police vans stopped to let me tie my boots and then to catch up with my group. It was good that they were so nice, because I think there were more police than protesters. I have never seen so many police in one place in my life!

We settled outside one of the entrances to the factory, and played music, danced, read, played cards, and talked in the sunshine. Food and water and coffee was delivered to us and the food was amazing. It wasn’t a very eventful day, some people wanted to mess around a little with the police, so they went to block the entrance the police used to get in and out from the Yara complex. No one got arrested. In the evening me and August got kinda tired of being there, the atmosphere had changed a little and people were becoming restless, so we decided to go with Sabina and Sasha to their home. There we got to shower and sit in front of a fire place! They have a lovely, rather big house almost by the coast. They have a garden and a beautiful view over nature and grazing sheep. In the morning we got an amazing breakfast and we hung out for some time before we all went back to the camp. Well back in the camp we learned that some people had broken through Yara’s fences and gotten into the area, and forced Yara to shut down the Harber Bosh process! Still, no one got arrested. Someone climbed an electrical pole and put their hammock up high, some people chained themselves to the roof of the factory. There was some fun stuff going on during the night, and I think it was good that a few individuals took action. It gave more weight to the whole blockade. And that was basically the end of the action. August stayed a few days more to help take down the camp, while i went to Paris on the 26th.  

August went to Dijón to meet Matéo who we spent time with in India, at Sapna ranch and at Goa Sunsplash, but he didn’t take any pictures. I wont make a post about my time in Paris/Normandie, either, so instead I just give you some of my pictures here:

Police at the end of the Tecnho parade in Paris, perhaps waiting for the yellow jackets

Lots of love,

Linnea & August.

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