I feel I need to mention that at times I might have some details of certain situations I describe as incorrect or incomplete. I should have been clear about this much earlier so my apologies for this late disclaimer. Despite my improving Spanish language abilities, I am still not able to fully understand all that is said and of course I lack context, background information to certain social phenomena I recount.
I attended my 1st public forum recently. You might think why spend a blog entry describing this event. Well as is typical in all that we do here, practically each time there is a first of anything, it is a memorable experience, a cultural experience. Perhaps common to others who have spent time in a big city in a Latin American country, but not to us.
The event was entitled. It was in effect the launch of the Sistema de Guarantia Participativa (SGP), a program to certify organic small scale producers that uses a participatory model. It was 10 years in the making thus a long term process of many discussions and meetings.
This event I believe was to present the program to the public and to lobby all levels of government to adopt/recognize this program as law, a legitimate alternative to what is the current process available to organic producers.
From what I understand, the first and longest existing organic farmers market in Lima is that which is found in the upper class neighbourhood of Miraflores. It has been around for several decades. It was started by a key member of RAE, the partner organization I work with, Fernando Alvarado. Not sure how long ago but it must have been several years now, there was a conflict between certain individuals and Fernando left this market to set up another one in La Molina. It appears that the Bioferia Miraflores has developed an exclusionary vision where they seek to be the only legitimate organic market, essentially seeking to corner this market niche. Fortunately the city is so big this is an absurdity. This market requires of its producers that they seek organic certification from a third party for profit international company. The standards applied are those from the international community which certainly is not problematic. But what is if you can imagine is the cost to become certified – exorbitant and thus prohibitive. Thus the reason for the development of the SGP, and to have a made in Peru certification process.
So back to the event. It was held in an auditorium in the city centre, taking a bus for the 1st time through a larger section of La Victoria, the district of my address, very much a lower class neighbourhood. When I got there, there was a requirement to register oneself which of course is not uncommon at events in Canada. However you needed to show official government identification which is what is called a DNI for Peruvians (a national identify card containing at this time quite basic information being quite low tech compared to what some countries now have as their national ID cards). I normally would then be required to show my passport as of course I don’t have a DNI card. Well I don’t carry my passport with me for obvious reasons.
It turns out if I understood correctly that the auditorium was in a government building thus the reason for the level of security. But it does seem that it is common that you must bring such ID to public events – lesson learned.
We were eventually let in simply because organizers of the forum knew us and vouched for us. It was a nice and cozy auditorium, lightly air conditioned so fortunately I wasn’t freezing – hadn’t thought about that (we end up freezing in the movie theatres always – the only time we are cold, even the cold drinks aren’t cold). It turned out to have a full house which was encouraging. As is classic in much of Latin American culture, the event began an hour late.
As is also common at forums everywhere, there was a panel of speakers seated on the stage who in turn spoke a few words for the 1st part of the forum. There were several politicians, elected members of the congress, all wearing the standard black suite although not all wearing ties. Many were not from the governing party, but rather small parties being more progressive than the 2 major right wing parties.
And so the speaking began. I was pleased that most could actually keep their comments quite brief since I am learning that folks here when they have the ‘stage’ can really do a lot of talking, again not necessarily anything unique about this. First was an elected government official although I don’t think he was from the governing party. Next was the president of one of the key organizations behind this initiative, the ANPE-PERU – Asociacion Nacional de Productores Ecologicos del Peru. I have difficulty understanding this fellow, having previously attended a meeting where he was present. However I did catch at one point that he was repeatedly saying, por favor … (please). I think he was essentially pleading for the government to adopt this SGV as law or regulation. He was actually brought to tears so clearly was he so passionate about the difficulties small organic producers face in having viable businesses that provide a livelihood, and how the SGP would greatly benefit these farmers. Next was a woman representing consumers. She too spoke passionately and I might add very clearly so I could understand her. Side note: I have to say that if I don’t take notes I just can’t remember much of what is said since I am concentrating so much at the time of listening just to get the point being said but that I then don’t commit it to memory since I am onto the next thing being said. Oh well at least if I get the gist of it I am okay for now.
Part way through the speeches, another politician came up to the stage arriving quite late, a very young looking fellow. At this moment, the current speaker stopped talking, waited for this man to greet everyone individually on the panel and then take his seat. Only then did the speaker continue. I didn’t think too much of this until later. Eventually this latecomer also gave a speech, a very impassioned one. I thought wow I like this. However then I learned that he was a member of the ruling party, and this is what politicians do here. I guess if only they took action and commitment with passion in the way they speak with passion.
Part way through the proceedings, there was a procession of folks up onto the stage, including several women in more or less traditional dress carrying baskets of fresh produce. These were then presented to the politicians on stage. I thought what a cool gift/thank you, but then also a bit awkward since how would these guys and I mean men – no women politicians to speak of – would take this produce with them. I couldn’t help but feel that this food needed to go to folks who really needed it.
Eventually the young politician guy ends up leaving before the end of the proceedings. And guess what happens. Everyone stops doing whatever they are doing. As he walks down the steps of the stage and down the aisle to the exit, he waves and smiles and everyone claps!! Holy shit. The protocol just oozed ickyness, folks feeling they need to suck up to the politico. Okay that was a bit harsh but you get my point. Alas status is so important here and one has to play the game. Those who know me will know I have a wee bit of a problem with that, wee being an understatment of course.
In the end I did enjoy the impassioned speeches since it was such a contrast to the reserved boring speeches we see in Canada. As is usual, another 1st in Lima. I just have to remember to bring my passport.