Farida Akhter is a tiny woman by American standards. Her hair is streaked with gray and her face etched with lines created by long years of compassion and concern. Akhter lives halfway around the globe in the emerging nation of Bangladesh where she engages rural women in a variety of grassroots movements.
The battles she fights are familiar to environmental activists around the world, but in Bangladesh — a nation roughly the physical size of Oklahoma yet with a population of more than 160 million people — the stakes are even higher.
Third world, developing nations are prime targets for exploitation by multinational corporations. In addition to abundant natural resources, Bangladesh offers a plentiful, low-cost workforce with few government regulations and minimal enforcement of the regulations that do exist.
In an interview with the Transcript in January, Akhter expressed concern about genetically modified organisms and the potential loss of crop diversity. Bangladesh is a tropical country with year-long growing potential for various crops and great diversity of vegetables. Akhter said large multinational companies have planted tobacco and GMO eggplant for export on land that once grew food for this highly populated nation.
Akhter has written extensively about the role of women in food production. Her concerns with protecting sustainability, diversity and how GMOs affect food supply are the same issues expressed by Oklahomans and others throughout America.
“Control over seed is the lifeline of the farming community,” Akhter said in an essay on seed generation. “Women are the ones who conserve, propagate and germinate seeds. The loss of seeds from the household also meant the loss of power for women.”
Because GMOs are protected by patents, those who own the seeds control vast acres of cropland and thus, the food supply. To increase profitability and productivity, industrial agriculture introduces monoculture crops at the expense of diversity and, some say, nutritional and other quality values.
Akhter’s essays are compiled in the volume, “Seeds of Movements: On Women’s Issues in Bangladesh,” published by Narigrantha Prabartana, the only feminist bookstore and publisher in Bangladesh.
Much like the farmers documented in the film, Food, Inc., Akhter argues that chemical-based, mechanized agriculture has led to unsustainability for people living in rural areas by limiting diversity and depleting the soil of its nutrients.
“Agriculture is not just an industry to be seen as an input-output model. Agriculture has to comply with natural cycles,” Akhter writes. “Modern agriculture has boomed the production in quantity, but destroyed its content.”
Even while farmers in Bangladesh are becoming more mechanized, large corporations are taking over huge segments of land for profit rather than feeding the Bangladeshi people, she said.
“The battle for food security is now going on. This battle is between the companies trying to monopolize the food production with unsustainable methods,” she said. “The global trade in food is taking over the subsistence farmers and threatening their existence. …
“We believe that food security can only be ensured if it is in the hands of farmers, especially the middle, marginal and poor farmers as they constitute the majority of the food producers.”
Akhter’s voice carries a message that resonates around the world as monoculture farming and industrialized chemical agriculture are factors environmentalists attribute as draining the land of resources from soil content, to water used in irrigation, to vanishing honeybees.
– By Joy Hampton, The Norman Transcript