Dedication to Lutz

Dr. José LutzenbergerWe are dedicating this film to the wonderful Dr. José Lutzenberger, a dear friend, colleague and inspiration to The Gaia Foundation and African Biodiversity Network, in this, the tenth year since he died.

Lutz, as he was affectionately known, advocated strongly for small-scale farmers and vociferously challenged the agri-chemical industry for whom he had once worked. He was a brilliant orator with a reputation for being outraged by injustice of any kind. He is considered to be the “father of Brazil’s environmental movement”.

The message in Seeds of Freedom echoes that which Lutz fiercely championed in his life; that we need regenerative agriculture to repair the damage done to the soil, water and biodiversity through chemical agriculture. Agro-ecological farming practices must shape the future of agriculture, which requires many small farmers sensitive to the needs of their ecosystem. Farmers and consumers around the world must join forces to stand up to the ever-increasing corporate control of seed and reclaim control of ecologically sane and socially just local food systems, which celebrate and enhance diversity and subsequently, the resilience and the autonomy of farmers.

A Brazilian agronomist with a degree in chemical engineering, Lutz worked for BASF chemical company until he realised he was “peddling poisons”. He was troubled by the unchecked production and use of pesticides, and once asked the owner of an industrial plantation of apples if he wasn’t afraid to eat the apples after they were sprayed with pesticides. The owner replied that he didn’t eat the fruit himself but only sold it to other people. It was after this encounter that he left his well-paid job at BASF and dedicated the rest of his life to supporting small farmers and mentoring many of today’s environmental leaders in Brazil and further afield.

He led a vigorous and successful campaign against pesticides, encouraging Brazilian farmers and peasants to use less poisons and turn to more regenerative methods of production. Lutz had a deep knowledge about soils, ecological systems, organic fertilizers, and plant health. He was a devout scientist with a very clear holistic understanding of Gaia Science, from a planetary to a microcosmic level. He demonstrated clearly in his work how socially just systems unfold when we abide by ecological laws, as an inherent quality:

“One cannot separate social and environmental justice. They are two sides of the same coin. The poorer you are, the more you depend on a healthy environment, because you have no buffers. It is those of us who have buffers, who forget that whatever we consume, be it food, petrol, housing, materials  – everything  – ultimately comes from the Earth. If we only take and do not put back, regenerate, we will end up squabbling with each other for the last remnants of sustenance, as sick people on a sick Earth. “ – Dr. José Lutzenberger

He received many honours – including the Right Livelihood Award – for his work in defence of the environment. Lutz also accepted, briefly, the role of Secretary for the Environment, hoping that he could achieve something by being in a governmental position. This did not last long,  and he resigned when he realised that even for the first Rio Summit, corporate interests would rule the day. Instead, he appeared at a parallel event at the Earth Summit, and gave a passionate speech warning of the dangers of corruption, prevalent in the corporate paradigm because it is driven by the need for endless growth and profit, rather than the good of the larger Earth Community.

Lutz is remembered especially for his scathing critique of agribusiness and modern farming methods, denouncing that “The modern farmer is only a tractor driver or a poison sprayer. He is only a tiny cog in an enormous and highly complicated techno-bureacratic structure that begins in the oilfields, goes through the whole chemical industry and the huge agribusiness industry – I’d rather call it the food-manipulating, denaturing and contaminating industry – which ends up in the supermarkets”.

The following extracts from Lutz’s 1998 publication ‘The Absurdity of Modern Agriculture – from Chemical Fertilizers and Agropoisons to Biotechnology’, bear particular relevance to Seeds of Freedom and serve to remind us that the challenges we are facing are not new. What the film brings to the forefront is that we must act now to prevent further degradation of traditional ecological agricultural systems. These have stood the test of time over thousands of years, because they abide by the laws of the ecosystem and work with Natures rhythms. Because of this, they have the resilience to respond to the many challenges which future generations will come to face.

“The conventional argument in favour of the methods of modern agriculture is that they are the only efficient way of solving the problem of world hunger and of feeding the masses that are still to come with the population explosion. But this is an illusion. Of course, traditional peasant methods could be improved with the scientific knowledge we have today of how plants grow, of soil structure, soil chemistry and soil life, as well as of plant metabolism and so on. But the improvement need not be in the direction of gigantic monocultures, highly mechanized and with all the paraphernalia of commercial fertilizers and synthetic poisons, with agricultural produce being transported all around the globe.”

“Modern agriculture has stepped outside of the logic of natural living systems. All natural ecosystems have automatic internal feedbacks that, from the very beginning…make environmental conditions improve until a climax of maximum sustainable biological activity is achieved. Our modern agricultural ecosystems do the exact opposite, we then impose feedbacks (agri-chemistry) that increasingly degrade the environment and impoverish biodiversity.

“The main issue here is not so much whether our food will become of inferior quality and even harmful – even though it may – but…it is a question of adding up still more structures of dependency, of domination over remaining farmers and limitation of choice for the consumer.”

Lutz’s youngest daughter, Lara Lutzenberger, accompanied him in much of his environmental work over the years.  She has committed herself to carry on promoting regenerative agriculture and ecological education through Fundaçao Gaia, the organisation which Lutz founded. She has also created a wonderful legacy to Lutz’s life at his beautiful farm, demonstration site and learning centre Rincão Gaia, near to Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil.