I have been doing a lot of thinking and research about abundance nowadays. This concept unifies within a single theoretical framework certain ideas about information technology, information economy, natural resources, agriculture and the environment. That’s quite a span.
So far, I’ve finished three pieces about it. The first, “Challenging media: poverty amidst abundance“, was published January 2008 on the WACC journal on development. The second, “Undermining Abundance“, which is strictly speaking, still a draft until the reviewers issue a final acceptance, will be hopefully published as a chapter in the forthcoming book From Intellectual Property Rights to Access to Knowledge. The third, “Studying Abundance“, is also a draft which I just submitted for review. This last piece extends the previous one by looking more deeply into the classification of abundance as well as mechanisms for managing abundance.
I’m excited about the new insights being generated by this direction of research. I think the results will have a lot of impact in practical work.
Consider the implications, for instance, if the poor managed to change their mindset and started to grasp the significance of the abundance around them, which they can tap if they wanted to. That is a very empowering notion! Instead of being paralyzed by the existing mindset of powerlessness, they can be energized by the realization that they can do something about it. Now.
What is it that they can do now?
Let’s start with the urban poor. Most of Metro Manila’s urban poor are immigrants from rural areas. Often, they are from peasant families who have abandoned their farm (usually leased from a landowner). More often, they left families behind who are still on the land. The jobless in the city are probably better off going back to the farm.
One key to abundance is land. Specifically, soil and water. With a few hundred square meters, you can grow enough vegetables to lead a healthy life. You need a few thousand more square meters, to fully support the food needs of a whole family. I am not ready to assert at this time that a hectare would suffice. Maybe more, but most probably less.
The mindset is the major obstacle that prevents people from going back to the land to live off the soil. They think they must eat meat every day, rice three times a day, white polished rice at that. They consider their life miserable if they can’t even buy such simple joys of life as a cool refreshing drink of cola and some biscuits or potato chips on the side. They consider a diet of unpolished rice or root crops an embarrassing mark of poverty and wouldn’t be caught by neighbors having a meal of sweet potatoes or cassava.
So, they sell to the market for giveaway prices their sweet potatoes, cassava, coconuts, and other extremely nutritious foods, so they can buy themselves and their children softdrinks, potato chips and a taste of life “out of poverty”.
The rural poor are actually in a better position to get out of poverty than the urban poor, because the former still has access to productive land, even if it has to be leased from the landowner. In truth, landowners need farmers to work for them, because they wouldn’t do the work themselves. And even if they wanted to, they couldn’t. The area they own is just too big for them to work on alone.
As long as a family has access to land, and has the mindset that gives it the vision to see the potential abundance the land can give and the knowhow to realize this potential abundance, they need not go hungry and they can live a life of sufficiency. A change in mindset is the key.
Obviously, I need to prove these assertions. I need to show, at the very least, that I myself can live off the land.
My wife and I had been looking for a piece of land to practice these ideas. We were ready to relocate to her remote upland village in Tagkauayan, Quezon. But the peace and order situation in the area has become untenable, make impossible living experiments such as what we intend to undertake. So, we are still searching.
In the meantime, I continue to explore the implications of the concept of abundance.