Located almost in the middle of the country, Goesan is a natural wonder of deep valleys cushioned in forested hills and mountains. The landscape looks very calm and tranquil with small tarmac road-meanderings through the pine forests and petering out into very neat, sparsely placed homesteads. Also in harmony, are the people of Goesan, who are very humble, very hospitable and one with their serene surrounding.
As the world responds to the global food challenge, there is growing concern and anxiety that agricultural intensification that thrives on heavy reliance in synthetic farm inputs is hurting the ecosystems and general biodiversity including human beings who are exposed to and consuming more poisonous food. This concern has triggered a wide movement of farmers, consumers, government authorities and civil society organizations committed to devise alternative food production systems that work in harmony with the natural ecosystems and produce more, safe and nutritious foods.
One of the proven sustainable food systems is ecological organic farming, which relies on none or minimal use of external synthetic inputs, harnesses the use of locally available farm inputs and indigenous knowledge to sustain the health of the soils and looks at multiple interactions with ecosystems and entire biodiversity.
Championed globally by IFOAM – Organics International, the organic food industry has been growing in leaps and bounds over the last decade and a half with the global food market reaching all time highs at $81.4 bn as of 2015 down from $17.9 bn in 2000. In the same period, the world has seen unprecedented growth in the number of certified organic farmers and certified land under organic farming.
There has been varying response in different places to ecological organic farming and/or a general shift toward sustainable food production systems. Many national governments continue to blindly promote conventional food production practices instead of agro-ecological practices or better still sustainable intensification.
However, there are many governments that have demonstrated progress and leadership for sustainable food production systems. One of them is the Goesan County of Korea.
Goesan County has in the recent years taken a deliberate effort to mainstream organic farming. In September 2015, the Goesan Declaration by ISOFAR Organic 3.0 Scientific Symposium ‘Organic 3.0: Innovation with Research’ took place in Goesan County. The objectives of Goesan Declaration include revitalizing agriculture, developing modern sustainable food systems, and achieving environmentally benign community development. The scientists share the belief that the organic approach is an appropriate strategy to achieve bigger goals for our food systems and to renew agriculture worldwide. To achieve these goals, ISOFAR through the Goesan Declaration developed strategies under four main challenge areas; i) feeding the world ii) human induced food challenge iii) ethical conflict in agriculture and iv) quality and health of food.
Goesan County has also embraced the Asia Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA) with the official launch in September 2015 and supports the ALGOA Organic Foundation Course (OFC), which has become an annual training in Goesan. Meanwhile, the first graduates of the ALGOA Organic Foundation Course have formed the IFOAM Asia Organic Youth Forum which was launched in October 2016 in China with a two-day organic foundation course attended by over a hundred participants from 7 Asian countries.
And very recently, after a successful five-year run of the Organic Leadership Course (OLC), the flagship program of IFOAM Organic Academy, the Goesan County Local Government, in April 2017, supported the first OLC Master Class that took place in the beautifully-remote countryside of Goesan County in the middle of rolling forested hills and mountains. The Academy runs the OLC in all regions around the world through an intensive, one-year course that ‘empowers participants to assume greater responsibility in finding organic solutions to address the world's environmental and social challenges’. The master class therefore, brought key OLC alumni from 18 countries around the world for a higher organic leadership fellowship to harness the diversity of experiences, expertise and initiatives and create a global network of passionate organic professionals from the myriad fields of research and academia, civil society and activism, agroecology and organic farmer institutional development, organic markets and value chain development, advocacy and policy, open knowledge and open data, among others.
Fellows of the 2017 OLC Master Class in Goesan, Korea
At the end of the OLC master class, there was general appreciation of what the fellows were doing in different parts of the world and how it could be leveraged to drive to the organic movement forward. Discourses on the development narrative especially in Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America and how the organic food industry could serve as a catalyst for the next sustainable development agenda ensued.
Away from supporting these amazing leadership initiatives, Goesan is also home to some of the most fascinating organic food system initiatives in the world! One of these is Hansalim, an organic producer and consumer cooperative and the biggest and most successful of the kind in Korea and possibly in Asia and the world. Han and Salim are native Korean words, which literally mean ‘Save all the living things on earth’. Hansalim’s philosophy is that the ‘producers farm and produce products believing human and nature as well as the urban and the rural area is connected with the string of life. And the consumers use the products understanding the mind of producers’.
Established in 1988 as a humble cooperative, Hansalim has since then grown in leaps and bounds. In 1989, the Hansalim manifesto was announced and it set out to ‘spread the view of the world of life’. Hansalim has since the years influenced several actions including peace movements and environmental campaigns. Through the ‘save Korean wheat campaign’, Hansalim worked relentlessly to restore the indigenous Korean wheat seed that was disappearing and led anti-fluoridation and anti-GMO campaigns. The cooperative also established the Heuk Salim Institute and the Moshim and Salim Institute in 1993 and 2002 respectively and both institutes have succeeded in pursuing environmentally friendly research for sustainable food systems.
Today, Hansalim, now a Federation, has inspired innovation and leadership in areas where corporations couldn’t or wouldn’t. They in 2013 commissioned the Anseong New Distribution Center; a truly sustainable plant with food processing unit, bottle recycling, and solar energy generation that produces over 600,000kWh of energy a year that supplies over 170 households. Through the Asian People’s Fund for mutual benefit (APF) that Hansalim established, they have been able to support social initiatives like opening daycare centers in rural areas and supporting disaster emergencies in Haiti, Pakistan and Japan among others.
Spending time in Goesan interacting with Hansalim producers and consumers and visiting the production plants and consumer outlets in rural Goesan and Seoul respectively, listening the perceptions of local people about Hansalim and consuming their philosophy of mutual benefit and seeing all things to be in harmony, leaves you overly inspired that human beings are on the right course to restore and save Mother Nature!
The writer is an alumnus of the Organic Leadership Academy