Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finding a Successor

The passing on of a business, especially a farming operation to the next generation is always a delicate and critical endeavour.
The transition to a new leader has to made considering his/her qualifications and not on purchasing power. Although I own a majority of shares in our farming and export company, I do not consider a business as an a asset to be sold like a commodity, but rather as a social organism with in which a very large number of people are involved.

Some calculations will give a picture of the magnitude of that involvement:
There are around 100 persons working in the company, and some 200 farmers supply us with their produce. We can safely assume that each of these 300 persons have an average of 8 dependants, so that we are talking of at least 2,400 persons covering their daily material needs directly through our activity.
In addition to that we should not forget our local merchants, suppliers of services and industrial goods. Extending the chain we are linked with shippers, traders, wholesale distributors and retail stores ending with the main persons for which we in the end all work: the Consumer !
We produce besides various other products, an average of 105,000 Kg Bananas per week all year round. Assuming that the average buyer consumes 0.4kg bananas per week we are talking about serving 262,500 consumers! I see this whole process as an economically interwoven and interdependent fabric, a positive part inside the global economy.

When asked if there is some successor in sight I like to joke that he/she is still being formed in our Kindergarten. Obviously I do not have another 20 years before retiring and realize that it is time to search more actively for someone to take over, finding the right person however is not an easy task.
Our daily business operation is completely managed by our long established local administrating staff, all of them also shareholders of the company.
Although they certainly could continue operating without me, in the long term this could be questionable without a leadership having some of the specific elements I have been able to contribute.

The person we are looking for should have the following qualities:
A philosophical grounding in Anthroposophy, specifically in Biodynamic agriculture and socio-economic “Threefold” concepts.
Other important factors are:
* Leadership and social abilities, farming and technical skills, a sense for business management and understanding of international (organic) markets.
* A affinity for latin culture, self-sufficiency and much tolerance and ability to live in a rather culturally undeveloped “third world country”, (for some time that may have its romantic charm).

I am confident and hopeful that eventually the right person will be found and that our endeavour is destined to continue, and maybe this blog may be the vehicle to that end !

Friday, May 9, 2008

The end of cheap food.

Already 80 years ago Rudolf Steiner and Albert Howard, the pioneers of Biodynamic / Organic Agriculture foresaw the disastrous effects Industrial manufacturing approaches to agriculture would have.
11 years ago the World Food Summit issued the “Declaration of Rome” with urgent warnings and recommendations regarding the future food supply.
The powers in charge turned a blind eye at such warnings, because they called for uncomfortable attitude changes.

Since the times of Adam Smith a fundamentally flawed “Capitalistic” ideology has emerged, namely that “monetary profit” should be the primary goal of economic activity instead of providing the material necessities of man.
The socialists where aware of this and developed a equally flawed “communistic” ideology.
The underlying cause of such ideologies is the result of the limitations of materialistic thinking.
This approach resulted in a tremendous boost in industrially produced goods, however, when applied to non industrial goods such as agriculture, education and healthcare they had the disastrous results under which we suffer nowadays.
The industrial approach to farming with external inputs increased volume production, with a serious decline life-quality of foods produced, as well as the destruction of natural soil fertility.
On the social level; especially after the opening of the american West and the global trade with cheaply produced grains caused the decline of farm-prices in Europe forcing impoverished farmers of the land into the slavery of factory work and this phenomena is unabatedly continuing today.

The availability of cheap food for the urban centres has been a priority of all governments, and we can see today a global panic fearing food shortages and mass rioting.

I have no doubt that Biodynamic Agriculture can feed a much larger world population than we have now.
The obstacles however are enormous, we would have to change many of our habits, decrease our excess protein consumption (meat), desist of driving our cars with bio-fuels and most difficult of all, is to create incentives for people to stay or even return to farming.

In any case the times of cheap food are gone, it should never have been cheap to begin with, which would have avoided the suffering we are going to face now.