Economic Conversion: Caring for Our Common Home

Despite the challenges facing those who pursue an agricultural life, we are compelled to reiterate that farming is a noble vocation. Farming produces the most basic and fundamental form of wealth – food – and improves our world in doing so. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates; it allows families to stay on the land, creating for themselves a decent life, which in turn carries out an essential service to the common good.

The agricultural leader who aspires to this vision can help create an economic system that is a worthy expression of our most noble human qualities – striving intelligently, boldly and responsibly to promote a sustainable and equitable quality of life on the land. Agriculture has always meant work, and it cannot be forgotten that historically such work was been seen as drudgery and low in social standings. But an enlightened and right-minded economy can overcome such dismal conditions. Again, we are inspired by the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home:

We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replaces human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. (§128)

In this reflection on agriculture and food production, we tried to encapsulate this complex and interrelated world system and do justice to economic and environmental concerns. Our starting point was that we can no longer single out just one objective, namely maximize production. Our faith perspective calls us to ensure that the agricultural system which delivers those abundant yields meets society’s other needs, such as the maintenance of public health, the safeguarding of rural employment, the protection of the environment and contributing to overall quality of life. We are compelled to raise big questions, and we now ask agricultural leaders to not excuse themselves in addressing these. We have no doubt they can devise a more sustainable approach to agriculture. The real challenge is to do so while recognizing the wider social and cultural aspects we have identified.

We believe this can be achieved by bringing together competing voices around a common table and offers a common prayer for our brothers and sisters worldwide, who pray for their daily bread and the forgiveness of sins. Only then, we believe, can business leaders, agriculturalists, economists and experts in ecosystem services begin to go beyond their circumscribed fields and provide a comprehensive valuation of agri-food systems. We can only hope this leads to the full environmental and social costs across various food production systems, allowing policy makers to make better informed decisions.

We have argued that the exceptional power of agri-food corporations in the marketplace and their dominance over public policies must be curtailed. Public policy and the marketplace are meant for the common good, and part of that is a transformation of production patterns towards ecologically sustainable and climate-sensitive practices. At the same time, public policies must encourage moderate and nutritious consumption. These objectives are met, in part, by:

  1. Promoting equity and fairness all along the supply chain. Small-scale food producers play a vital role in community and regional food systems, and their access to and ownership of natural resources, especially land and water, must be protected to a reasonable extent.
  2. Promoting nutrition education and ensuring the production of nutritious foods. The cost of food is not just the price marked on a product. Poor nutrition – undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and obesity – leads to life-long impacts, such as stunted physical growth and cognitive and impairments.
  3. Advocating and implementing ambitious climate action. Climate change impacts us all, from the poorest households to the largest company’s supply chain. We praise those in both public and private sectors who have taken action, such as integrating climate risks and adopting low- to zero-emission practices.

These actions brought about by an “economic conversion” is inspired by a spirit of solidarity. The virtue of solidarity propels individuals and communities to go beyond their narrow selfishness or enclave mentality, and to care for their neighbors, their regions, even the world. Solidarity moves us beyond blind self-interest and private advantage; solidarity reminds us that we are social beings. In solidarity, we are joined in a greater body of being and the fruitful sharing of common desires. For rural life, the principle of solidarity motivates us to care for the earth and the greater bio-community in which we ourselves are just a part. Solidarity in this sense means a stewardship of the land as we recognize that creation is a web of life in which we all cling together.

[Continue to next section: Continuous Conversion: Religion in Dialogue with Agriculture]