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Plant Your Kūmara: Food and the TPPA

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“Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

On the eve of the controversial signing of the TPPA in Auckland, New Zealand—a highly debated move that will be met with protest around the country—I sit on my narrow patio, admiring our small, city garden, and think about the impacts of this agreement. I will be the first to admit that there are aspects of the TPPA that baffle me, that test me, and that make me feel, for lack of a better word, quite dumb. And I’m not alone. I’ve been in many conversations over the last few months where people have quietly confessed that they do not know enough, or that they do not understand enough, or that the TPPA simply confuses them. They know they are against it; they just don’t know why.

So, I sit here, looking at my small garden—a large feat in a concrete, city dwelling—and wonder, is it really as complicated as it seems? Last weekend, wanting to both learn more and to support TPPA opponents, I attended a hīkoi, a march, to deliver a petition to New Zealand’s Governor General, urging him to not support this agreement. Before the gates of Government House, a woman grabbed the microphone and spoke passionately about the potential impacts of the TPPA. As signs and posters shouted phrases like, “Don’t sign away our sovereignty,” and “NZ is not for sale,” or “TPPA, Backroom Dirty Politics,” I realized that perhaps the reason for my own ignorance regarding the TPPA has something to do with the enormity of it. “Think about any aspect of your life,” she said, “health, education, children, food. The TPPA will affect it all.” Then she ended with what perhaps became the simplest and yet most profound phrase of the day—at least for me—“Our movements matter. Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have room for kūmara (ʻuala, sweet potato) in my small garden, but I understand her point. Among the many aspects of our lives that the TPPA will impact, one is food, something that I am extremely passionate about, something that I feel is an avenue towards decolonization and sovereignty. To plant your own kūmara, the woman briefly explained, is to resist those large corporations that will and do seek to control what we put into our mouths. Therefore, resistance to the TPPA can be that simple: it’s about protecting our rights, our freedom, our sovereignty and, yes, even our right to choose and grow what will nourish us.

In her article, “Food, Farmers, and the TPPA,” Auckland University PhD candidate, Andrea Brower explains:

“There is a lot to loose [sic] in the TPP—control over land and resources, the tino rangatiratanga of Maori, affordable medicine, intellectual and cultural heritage, internet freedom, the ability to regulate the financial sector, tobacco laws…food and agriculture… it’s bad for farmers and local food security…”

As she further explains, other free trade agreements have had devastating impacts on local farmers and rural communities around the world when they were forced to compete with products from other countries. According to Brower, after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, “Mexico went from a country producing virtually all of its own corn to one importing nearly half of its staple food… Mexican consumers are paying a higher price for their (now GMO) tortillas…” Can New Zealand and other countries suffer a similar fate? It’s certainly possible. And with that, the TPPA may also impact New Zealand’s laws regarding Genetically Engineered Foods: “GE food labeling is only one of many food safety regulations that New Zealand may be forced to eliminate under the TPP agreement,” says Brower. When those laws are done away with, what then will we be putting into our mouths, what genetically modified crop from another country will find itself on our plates?

All of this makes me think. Perhaps planting kūmara, or even the small amount of vegetables that I have in my garden, is a movement—an action—that does indeed matter! It’s a small and subtle resistance, a small stand. Therefore, while I hope to attend TPPA demonstrations, marches, and protests, I will also plant my metaphoric kūmara because each of these movements is done with reason and intention. They have purpose in reminding us what we stand for and what we stand against, because we must know both.

As the sun shines down on my small garden, I look at the plants that I’ve already been able to pick and eat from, and I think, “This is a start.” Planting my own food, my own kūmara, will not solve everything. It will not prevent the signing of the TPPA tomorrow. But, it is an action that has purpose, an action that matters. In fact, even in countries devastated by war, by injustice, and by torture and brutality, where people are fighting for their lives, planting matters. In the country of West Papua, for example, planting kūmara is important. Last year, reporters from Māori Television’s, Native Affairs, visited West Papua—a country that has suffered human rights abuses at the hands of Indonesia, a country that deserves freedom and justice—and they recorded the words of one West Papuan who promotes, yes, the planting of kūmara, of sweet potato, because it forms the foundation of life: “The education of children happens in the garden. Men [and women] teach everything about life, the rules of life, behaviour, morals, even our aspirations, they are all taught in the garden.”

Therefore, perhaps it is in the garden, hands deep in soil, planting our kūmara, where we will not only learn about why we must stand against agreements like the TPPA, but where we will also show and teach future generations the values that we stand for, those that the TPPA threatens.

So go ahead and plant your kūmara, or whatever it is that you can plant, whether seeds or roots because our movements—even the small ones in city dwellings—must grow.

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Author: emalani

I write, read, dance, and study stories that span the Pacific. From my island home in Hawaiʻi, to the shores of Tahiti, to the mountains of Aotearoa, I travel over ancient pathways, sharing stories along the way.

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