A credible definition of sustainability is tough nut to crack. What's
credible to me might not be credible to you. I believe that Avery's threshold
of credibility is 'demonstration' while Ikerd's is 'feasibility'. There's a
difference between a definition and a credible definition. I may be a skeptic
but for me there isn't any credible definition without demonstration. What we
need is a solid demonstration, one way or the other.
The question only remains as to who will do the demo. It really is about
shifting paradigms but it's more than going back to intellectual zero. If you
have a million dollars in machines and a mortgage to match, a pardigm shift
threatens your livelihood. What we need is a paradigm soft-shift that lets us
ease-in as we amortize current investments.
So who's going to start the soft-shift? Where do you find somebody who holds
enough land to make a significant demonstration but isn't up to his neck in
risk? When you restate the problem the answer comes a little more easily.
Where can you find farmers who already have land but don't already have a big
There's a low probability of success when you cold call at the local agri-
business and ask them to switch over to yet-to-be-demonstrated sustainable
methods. On the other hand, if you go to developing nations and offer farmers
technical assistance and some financial support, you'll get a different
response. Furthermore, when you finally work the bugs out of sustainability
and it becomes competitve, the big boys will race you to the paradigm shift.
This has all happened before so we don't have to re-invent the process. Fifty
years ago Japanese industrial products couldn't be given away but today US
industry is (quite successfully) clambering to be like them. It didn't happen
over night. It didn't even start in Japan. It happened to Japan because US
industry had too much invested to consider change. You must admit that the
paradigm shift in progress is comprehensive and relatively soft (though not
If you want to try a new idea, show it to someone who doesn't have anything to
lose and has everything to win. I'm not selling anything but a potentially
credible definition of sustainability. If you're interested in seeing how we
approach the problem, look at 'http://www.ran.org/ran/ran_campaigns/amazonia/
coffee.html'. We were there last year and we'll be there next year because we
know it might take a while.
If you think this idea makes sense, drop me a note. Thanks for your time.
Bob Kane, North American Coordinator
Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics (SIAT)