- Raj Patelresearch professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a journalist, activist, author and co-director of the documentary The Ants and the Grasshopper.
We look at a groundbreaking new documentary on the climate crisis and the global food system, “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” which follows the journey of a Malawian farmer as she tries to end hunger and gender inequality in her village and tackle climate change in the United States. “In this film, what we’re trying to do is decolonize the view of how it is that we fix the climate crisis and the health crisis by foregrounding the wisdom of peasants from around the world, whether they’re in the United States or from Malawi,” says co-director Raj Patel.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we end today’s show with a groundbreaking documentary on the climate crisis and the global food system. The film is called The Ants and the Grasshopper. It follows the journey of Anita Chitaya, a farmer and activist in Malawi with the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project, as she tries to end hunger and gender inequality in her village and tackle climate crisis in the United States. This is the film’s trailer.
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] I have this gift. I do reach people. How can you allow your partner to suffer with too much work?
NARRATOR: A Malawian activist…
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] It rained for us maybe three times a year. All the crops dry out.
NARRATOR: …is on a mission.
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] Soil, Food and Healthy Communities taught us that it was climate change, because of what they’re doing in places like America. If you want someone to change, you go to their doorstep with your problem.
NARRATOR: Anita Chitaya and her friends are traveling across America…
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] I feel like I’m dreaming, and I wonder when I will wake up.
NARRATOR: …to meet farmers and community leaders.
ESTHER LUPAFYA: God said, “You can increase like sand.” But he never said, “Spoil the atmosphere.”
FARMER 1: I don’t see it as an issue. That’s my problem.
NARRATOR: To talk about climate change.
ESTHER LUPAFYA: How are you seeing the climate affecting your farming?
FARMER 2: We see it more as a political agenda.
FARMER 3: And it would take a global catastrophe to do a complete 180.
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] The truth takes long to spread, while the lies spread fast here. But I still have faith.
NARRATOR: From Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, and producer of Life Itself and City So Real.
ANITA CHITAYA: [translated] There are so many ants, but only a few are lifting the grasshopper.
NARRATOR: The Ants and the Grasshopper.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for The Ants and the Grasshopper.
For more, we are joined by the co-director, Raj Patel, in Austin, Texas. We spoke with him about his new book with Dr. Rupa Marya, titled Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice.
Your film is now making its way through film festivals. It’s interesting it comes out at the same time as Inflamed, COVID, the climate emergency. Talk about the theme of this film and why you did it.
RAJ PATEL: Well, I mean, if there’s a connection — and I think there’s a very deep one — it’s that if we are to address the climate crisis, if we are to address the origins of COVID and the rage of the pandemic, we need to engage in a kind of decolonization. That’s what Rupa and I were talking about. When we’re thinking about deep medicine, what we mean is to repair the bonds that have been severed by colonial capitalism, bonds between human beings, bonds between humans and the rest of the web of life.
And what Anita Chitaya and her colleagues in the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project are doing is learning certain kinds of agroecological farming techniques on the land, but also learning that you can’t end hunger without addressing gender inequality, and addressing not just inequality within the home, but inequalities between countries.
And so, her journey to the United States was one that really wanted to put in the frontlines the wisdom of communities of people of color and the solutions that they’re coming up with, because, you know, too often when it comes to thinking about how are we going to solve this problem, either we medicalize it, and we’re like, “OK, take an injection, everything’s going to be fine,” or we point to sort of individual therapies, or we have white saviors going to the Global South saying, you know, “If only you have more wind turbines, everything is going to be great.”
But, in fact, some of the best technologies, some of the best solutions for addressing the climate crisis and the health crisis are coming from frontline communities, whether in the United States — we have a scene in the film with the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s Malik Yakini, where he’s talking about the steps that frontline communities in Detroit are taking, and that resonates very directly with the kinds of ideas that are coming from peasant movements from around the world.
And so, in this film, what we’re trying to do is decolonize the view of how it is that we fix the climate crisis and the health crisis, by foregrounding the wisdom of peasants from around the world, whether they’re in the United States or from Malawi.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another scene from The Ants and the Grasshopper that you just described, where Anita Chitaya meets with the frontline communities in the U.S. who are fighting against the climate crisis and its catastrophic impacts. Here, Anita and Esther visit Malik Yakini, as you said, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, founding member of D-Town Farm in Detroit.
MALIK YAKINI: So, that’s the other thing, is we’re creating a model of democracy. Our organization thinks capitalism and white supremacy is a terrible way of defining human relationships, and so — and patriarchy, as well. So, at the same time that we and many other people are working to dismantle these oppressive systems, we’re creating these models of how we might relate to each other that’s more equitable. Then society begins to shift.
We use regenerative practices here that don’t contribute much to global warming. This is a rainwater retention pond. And we’re able to capture tens of thousands of gallons of rainwater in here. And then we run it back down through the fields using drip irrigation tape. And this is our solar energy station.
Many farmers would like to not participate in the industrial style of farming, but they feel trapped. They don’t know how to survive without the use of lots of petroleum and extremely large amounts of water. We have to show how that can be done, so farmers can even see that there’s a possibility of doing it and still earning a living.
ESTHER LUPAFYA: Yeah, that’s very true, because you cannot tell someone without showing what is the alternative.
MALIK YAKINI: That’s right. That’s right. Just like we’re planting seeds in the ground, we’re planting seeds in people’s consciousness.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from The Ants and the Grasshopper. We just have 15 seconds, Raj Patel. Why did Anita want to come to the United States with her message from Malawi?
RAJ PATEL: Because she believes that we can change. And I think the message of the pandemic and of this moment is not only that we must recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all, but there is the possibility of change and that it’s never too late.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to do Part 2 of our discussion with you, as well as Rupa Marya, about the book Inflamed. This is a critical discussion. Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice. Thank you so much, Raj Patel. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.