Fund creation: a peasant strategy in the face of coming shocks
René Mendoza Vidaurre
A student in a class asked, “does the economy run the other areas, like social and political areas?
“Yes, “another student said, “money can even make monkeys dance.” Everyone laughed. The teacher took out a cardboard block on whose sides were written “economy”, “culture”, “politics” and “social”; the top surface said “religion” and the bottom one said “biology”. “What do you see”, the teacher asked a student; she read that side and said, “culture”; another student located on the opposite side said “politics”, and so on. The teacher wrapped up: “it depends on the side that you are reading, reality appears to you to be one thing or another, in the end it is all the same block, the same reality.
This story reminds us of the story about the five blind wise men and the elephant, who touch different parts of the elephant and each believe it is something else, but it is the same elephant. Things not only are interconnected, they are embedded in one another and are the same realities which are expressed in different ways. In this article we show variables that, connected to one another, warn us about disruptions, shocks, that tend to make events that threaten humanity worse. Having that image the question emerges about how to prepare ourselves in the face of these disruptions, specifically about how the peasantry and indigenous peoples can contribute their grain of sand in this challenge.
1. Tendences that warn us of possible shocks
In 1972 Meadows and his colleagues published a report for the project of the Club of Rome on the prediction for humanity. In this publication, guided by indicators on pollution, food, population, industrial products and non-renewable resources for 200 years between 1900 and 2100, they predicted the collapse of the world system in these current years. 50 years later this graph from 1972 from Meadows, et al (19972:124) was adapted by Earth4All (https://www.earth4all.life/), and its results are even more concerning: See graph.
All the variables of the graph have increased, except for the non-renewable resources; and here let us clarify what are not “resources”, they are assets that have agency, they are assets that once they are exploited, are slowly renewed over millions of years, for example, oil, natural gas, carbon, gold, water, etc. The population increased from 1.6 million in 1900 to 3.5 billion in 1970 and in November of 2022 it will be 8 billion, it will continue increasing some more and the decline will begin. Industrial production and food per capita grows and then goes down. Non-renewable resources (read assets) have already been dropping since 1970. Contamination will continue increasing until the years 2035-2040.
The graph shows how the belief that “growing is progress” leads to the fact that food, industrial production and population would grow to the point that their basis of assets forces them to stagnate and decline. If food gets scarce and health services get worse, there are more deaths, population decreases. In 1997 the scientists who pushed the Kyoto Protocol warned that the existence of planet earth was in greater danger year after year. Twenty five years later we see that the Kyoto accords were not implemented and what they said was going to happen is happening.
What do we have now? Finding ourselves in that tendency illustrated by the graph, in 2011 the world experienced a financial crisis, which was expressed in the price volatility of food and in political disturbances in the Arab world, from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh. Now in the midst of the pandemic (COVID 19), the war between Russia and Ukraine added gasoline to the fire: the prices for oil and food shot up. We should not be surprised that political disturbances might appear in different regions of the world, that this situation would be made even worse by climate change: floods, droughts, and crop losses. In May of this year India, a country called to cushion the scarcity of wheat from Ukraine, restricted its wheat exports because it experienced a mega-drought and wants to protect its population. In July of this year in Panama, precisely because of the conjunction of elements that we have described in this text, in addition to the raw inequality that Panamanian society suffers, there were prolonged political demonstrations. See? Everything is connected, the realities are diverse and at the same time all one reality.
Said another way, the disruptions that we might experience with prices, climate change and political disturbances, are going to cause food scarcity and intensify damage to nature, among other effects.
2. Disruptions in the countryside with global impact
When rivers rule
We had a commitment with peasant communities in 4 Eaquinas. It was 22 kms by foot and horseback. The rain kept falling and we were told that the Rio Tuma was howling. So we decided to take 250 km route around by vehicle. It took 5 long hours. At the end of the second day we were supposed to return, but the Rio Ubú and Palanón were roaring coming down the Musán mountain. Meeting together, Mencho pronounced, “Wait or stay, here humans are not in charge, the rivers rule!” We waited. We crossed the Ubú. We started into the Rio Palanón, which grabbed and dragged us 2 meters. It left us weak-kneed! Frightened, we recognized that really here t rivers rule.
This story takes us back to environmental, economic, social and cultural issues…When rivers rule, transportation is stopped, there are humans and animals who die, and the river transports the fertility of the soil which the rains wash away – rivers are assets, they rule. Excess rains make raising beans shaky which is increasing, milk become more watery, transportation stops, increasing costs of production and expenses. They are days and weeks when work is not done, more food is eaten and stress is heightened. The more a zone is one of mono-cropping agriculture, the more extreme become the floods and droughts, the more despotic and vertical are the structures of families and mediation. Migration takes off, family erosion worsens, religious fanaticism increases and the idea that “nothing can be done here” pulsates in human minds.
This “soup” boils up more with the variables expressed in the graph, the disruptions are near. Meadows et al (1972) predicted the decline in food by 2030, but the conjunction of elements that we just listed is advancing the food crisis by a decade; the curve that we see in the graph is a decade early. For the peasantry and indigenous peoples, the risk of the loss of food crops is real, they have experienced it many times, but now they tend to become more frequent and their effects harsher. Can something different be expected when there practically are no more forests and there is no land to mark out? Can something different be expected when mono-cropping agriculture sustained by commercial enterprises and financial institutions is crushing all peasant and indigenous agriculture, and corralling women in the kitchen more and more with less food?
Crop loss also has effects on the urban population that in Central America depends in large measure on peasant indigenous beans and corn, for example. And let us recall once again the image of the block, talking about crop loss has economic, social, environmental, political and culture sides to it…The underground movements of discontent will irrupt at any point. In this context the story “when rivers rule” brings to mind the popular saying that says “God is forgiving, but nature is not.”
3. We prevent or prepare ourselves in the face of possible disruptions
Crises give birth to ideas, changes and collective actions. Crises are overcome in groups, in solidarity connected with dozens of people and nature in its diverse expressions. We invite people who read us to produce ideas, change and act collectively. Here we begin that process with the following idea: creating funds to address the challenge of crop losses.
3.1 Type of “funds” that have functioned or now function
A first type of “fund” has been diversified farms and their forests. Historically indigenous and peasant families have diversified their crops, processed their food and even have made their clothing and footwear in the indigenous towns of Mesoamerica. This has been their way of ensuring their food through the year and their sustainability. If they lost the harvest of one crop, they were left with several other crops, poultry, pigs or processed food (cheese, dried fruit, marmalade). The forests (patches of trees) have been another “fund”, they provide wood for their homes, firewood for their kitchens, medicines, water, food…
These peasant and indigenous strategies have been praiseworthy practices, but limited to months and taken up by one or a few families; it is a practice which is more and more corralled by that logic of “whoever has, save yourself”. An improvement would be that entire communities store their food and take care of their forested areas, for example. These communities do exist, but they are fewer and far between.
A second type of “fund”, more institutional, functions in Alaska in the United States, a fund created in 1976. What does it consist in? Oil companies are charged for using a common good and for contaminating the planet, with this fund they have a fund of “dirty money” that they redistribute in equal parts to their citizens, year after year. In 2021, for example, each citizen in Alaska received $1,114 dollars. It is redistribution and not a gift nor social assistance. At the same time, it has something of equity because they charge the richest owners of those businesses; with this collection of “dirty money” they seek to disincentivize them from continuing to ruin planet earth. That amount of $1,114 is important for most people, for the wealthy it is nothing. Probably its biggest limitation is that that common asset which companies are exploiting does not belong just to the citizens of Alaska; but it belongs to all of humanity.
Inspired by this event in Alaska, the governments of Latin America (and other continents), in addition to the taxes that they collect, could create a fund based on charging oil, mining and wood companies that emit greenhouse gases and exploit assets that belong to societies. From this fund of “dirty money” they can redistribute each year by equal parts to all the citizenry of a country so that each person might ensure their food purchasing from the “peasant fund”; or, to do something better, they can provide those funds to each citizen through their forms of organization, be it churches, first tier cooperatives, associations, community organizations, neighborhood organizations, mutual benefit societies, small groups that can innovate in alliances with peasant and indigenous organizations in ways to confront food scarcity; this proposed way obviously requires maturity on the part of governments to not co-opt popular organizations as they have done in the past. The State can put some independent entity, for example, universities in each province, in charge of auditing those organizations. Let us recall, it is not a gift, it is a right of each citizen over common assets, and it is an obligation to financially penalize the companies that do damage to the common home. It is a realistic option even though we recognize it does not resolve the in-depth problem of the “common evil” of the oil industry.
The connection between both types of “funds” becomes strategic. If the peasant and indigenous “fund”, due to the tsunami of market elites and their own divisions, goes further into crisis and disappears, as they have disappeared in Europe and the United States, the food basis for humanity will be at serious risk. If the fund from “dirty money” makes the population connect with the peasant and indigenous “fund”, we will be starting to resolve the crisis.
3.2 Type of funds that should be organized
Where there is more experience in fund management is with associative organizations, particularly cooperatives, be they social funds, investment funds or educational funds. The principle of distribution of surpluses with equity is included in the statutes of cooperatives, this means that if a cooperative has 100 dollars of surplus, let us say 20% goes to a social fund, 10% to legal reserves, 20% to a savings fund and 50% is to be distributed among the members in accordance wi4th their contributions in cash, labor or in-kind. We recognize, nevertheless, that it is a minority of these organizations that follow this principle and do it effectively.
Of those cases where they do carry it out, what are the lessons in the management of those funds? They are the resources of the members (a percentage which is deducted from the surplus of the organization, collective activities like festivals to raise those funds, social premium for selling products within the framework of Fair Trade). They have precise rules for that fund to fulfill its purpose and not be prematurely used up. Examples of a social fund: could be something to respond to the death of a member or their spouse; providing an amount in cash and the casket; this keeps the family from going into debt over funeral costs. It could cover a daughter or son of a member with a university scholarship (fixed amount) for 5 years. In the case of it being a community store, a social fund so that members who reach the age of 75 would receive a set amount each month; this recognizes the contribution that the person made to society and provides a cushion for their loss of ability to generate income for their own support.
Starting from these experiences, an associative and/or community organization could create a food or seed fund for crop losses. That could include a seed and food exchange between communities and organizations that have different planting times. They could create an environmental fund to face disasters like floods and droughts. They could create an ecological fertilizer fund for buying “green fertilizer” (canavalia, pigeon peas or velvet beans) to systematically improve the soil where basic grains and perennial crops are grown. Each associative organization in the world can innovate in the proposed direction and enlighten the world with this path of prevention in the face of disasters.
Within the framework of the variables shown in the graph, energy and food insecurity is worse today, while the world economic recession knocks at our doors. Disruptions are becoming more frequent and require prevention strategies. A drought is not just a natural event, it is also a social, economic, cultural and political event. The same is true for floods, crop losses or political demonstrations. Everything is interconnected. They are the same realities which are understood better from the rural periphery, particularly when we get involved in processes that move “ at the edge of the table.” This understanding empowers us to take the next step.
The destruction of the planet by oil, mining and wood companies, or better said a world system dependent on fossil fuels, should be de-incentivized and societies compensated. Each inhabitant of humanity pays for its environmental, economic, social and political costs, which is why the societies to be compensated would be – in theory – all of humanity. This is possible if all governments of the world were able to organize those funds. Is it illusory? Undertaking these actions will help all of humanity to awaken to the benefit of their common home.
This global measure can be exercised on the micro level by organizations and communities that organize in concrete ways. Associative organizations which are democratic, transparent and equitable, can organize and manage different types of funds (social fund, food fund, environmental fund, seed fund…) which would cushion the disruptions to the benefit of their membership and their communities. “Time is greater than space”, says Pope Francis. With this he criticizes the fact that imperialisms seek to occupy spaces, while peoples begin processes; that nevertheless is more a western rationality that prioritizes time over space endeavoring to find quick profits, while the spaces where natural assets and the common home exist are made cheaper. The peasantry and indigenous peoples who organize to overcome that time and space division are starting processes of change in their own spaces conceived as their common home.
Having associative experiences and having in associative organizations a non-co-optable pugnacious counterpart, the initiatives of creating funds should be also taken up by municipal and national governments – I hope the “pink wave” of leftist governments in Latin America, having made their respective self-criticisms, and having freed themselves from their neoliberal leftism, would champion this proposal. Also financial institutions that generally have anti-ecological practices and are pushing the food crisis, can organize funds, let´s say deducting 0.5% of the loan amounts to their clients and 0.5% of bank earnings, to respond to the food crisis in specific areas, with complete transparency to the people who are the owners of those funds. Churches can do it in each neighborhood and community where they are found.
Creating and managing these different “funds” and connecting them with one another, could be the beginning of the end of the world crisis that we are already suffering. Consequently, communities that, precisely because of their multiple varieties, organize following the principle that the whole is greater than its parts, are communities capable of moving mountains to connect with one another and to deepen their bonds of solidarity.
 René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is an associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University and collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation, http://peacewinds.org/research/ . We write this article based on our immersion in rural organizations. Your comments are welcome.
 Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., Behrens I., William W., 1972, Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books. https://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf
 The climate also has more intense variations, see for example the heat wave these days in Europe and Canada.
 There are several groups in the world working for change. Earth4all, for example, is an international initiative that seeks change in the energy system that sustains the industrial economy: abandoning fossil fuels, changes in agriculture and transportation.
 Europe in the Middle Ages had large extensions of forests. From the XIII to XVI centuries they deforested. As an effect of that deforestation, lacking wood for cooking and heating, hundreds of people died from hunger and cold. Now we see in Europe that they have plantations of forests as a product of their reforestation.
 Vaclav Smil (2022), in his book “How The World Really Works” responds to the question about what makes the modern world work. Vaclav lists 4 responses concerning the big transitions of civilization: population, agriculture, energy and economics. There he reveals the total dependency of humanity on oil, which is the dominant development model in the entire world.
 The“pink wave” of leftist government is irrupting once again in Latin America. The first “wave” was in the decade of 2000, marked by the “raw material boom”, a wave that contributed little to democracy, took on a nefarious neo-extractivism and to a large extent co-opted popular organizations. The second “wave” has been coming since 2020 including Mexico, Peru and Colombia, now in a period of crisis and with popular organizations difficult to co-opt. If these leftist governments were self-critical, they would be able to take on this proposal and improve it in each country and promote it within frameworks of regional integration.