ARI intensifies its focus on food justice and peacebuilding to enhance its training and impact on the world.
Food is and always has been essential for all humans. Eating is an indispensable part of life for all creatures on earth. However, the meaning of food and the purpose of growing food has changed over the years. Farmers, in the past, primarily grew food for their families and their local communities. Only after feeding themselves would they sell the surplus. But now, many farmers grow crops to sell on the market so that they can buy food for their families. The main purpose is to earn a profit. Farming is then maximized by increasing the size of land and utilizing a lot of chemical inputs and technology. In this transition, food is transformed from being part of peaceful human coexistence to becoming an element of competition, even conflict, that may lead to violence.
At ARI, however, we promote peace and reconciliation through food justice.
Many of our graduates’ communities are in areas where war, conflict, discrimination, and other forms of injustice are rampant. Graduates are often engaged in the heavy physical, mental and emotional demands of peacebuilding. But although peacebuilding, along with healing and reconciliation, has always been an important part of life at ARI (indeed, ARI’s very foundation goes back to the goal of reconciliation and restoration from the destruction that Japan brought during World War II), we have not highlighted these themes in the Rural Leaders Training or during our community life activities in detail until recently.
We have now chosen a more intentional focus on reconciliation and peace-building in our training because we have access to abundant resources and a rich environment for nurturing leaders to address conflict situations. We also strongly desire to research and learn more intentionally how we can enhance our role in peace-building throughout the world.
Backgrounds of conflict
As I mentioned, many of the participants come from countries with conflict situations, countries such as East Timor, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Some come from ethnic groups marginalized in their own countries such as the Karen, Shan, Chin, and Kachin tribes in Myanmar. The roots and types of conflicts vary. In many of these areas, people are fighting for independence or more autonomy from their central governments. In Cameroon,
tension between English-speaking regions that demand independence and French-speaking security forces are escalating and the fight affects the daily life of the people. Terrorist groups continue to destabilize many areas of the world, especially in Africa and Asia.
Foodlife: Practice for peace
It is from this background of participants’ situations that we make ARI a safe place to learn nonviolent conflict resolution and to help members gain knowledge about living together in peace.
Conflicts, disputes, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings are all part of our everyday life. From the beginning, the ARI campus community—participants, volunteers, working visitors, and the staff—has been deliberately designed so that members learn how to address these emotions in healthy ways. Living, studying and working together on the same campus requires a great effort, and we slowly build up the skills for living together here and elsewhere.
ARI has one more unique feature that transforms members to be able to work for reconciliation and peace: Foodlife. Everyone produces crops, cares for livestock, takes turns in cooking, and shares meals in the dining hall as members of this community. Foodlife gives us the spiritual experience of connecting and reconnecting with each other despite everyday conflicts and misunderstandings. It generates opportunities to face, serve, appreciate, forgive and reconcile with each other, even without words.
Peace from the Soil – demonstrated by graduates
The work of ARI graduates after they return home varies, but many of their activities contribute to bringing peace and reconciliation through Foodlife-related activities.
Khaling Toshang in Manipur, India, is bringing conflicted tribes to one table by promoting food security as well as women’s and children’s rights. Fr. Josemarie Kizito in Uganda is managing a training center in a refugee camp equipped with farms and vocational training for refugees coming from neighboring countries. These are just a few examples, but Foodlife is the philosophical and practical base in many of these activities.
In summary, then, by securing food, vulnerable people regain dignity and fairness. And more importantly, safe food grown sustainably can bring peace to communities. We refer to all these actions of Foodlife-based peacebuilding as “Peace from the Soil.”
Tomoko Arakawa, ARI Director