26 September 2011
Our first "business" day in Berlin was full of meetings at the DBV: Deutscher Bauernverband. The DBV is the German equivalent of AFBF: American Farm Bureau Federation. Much like AFBF, the DBV is organized into county associations that make up state organizations, which in turn form the national farm group. We were welcomed to the DBV by Dr. Helmut Born, the General Secretary of the DBV. After coffee with Dr. Born, we sat in on the start of the DBV's weekly staff meeting. It was -- of course -- in German and I quickly realized that I was not understanding nearly as much as I wanted to! Oh, Rosetta Stone -- you should have taught me more agriculture & political terms! I really did not need to know "Der Kaffee schmeckt schleckt": The coffee tastes bad!
A highlight of the day was our morning session with representatives from several political parties. It was an excellent introduction to the German political system. In Germany there are several parties which influence politics. This diversity results in a need for parties to work together to create policy and pass legislation. It also forces organizations like DBV to be responsive to interacting with multiples parties so as to ensure their voice is heard. Laws are written by the parliament only, but can be requested by the government (similar to our executive branch) or the Landers (which are the states of Germany). When a German votes in a parliamentary election, he votes twice: once for the chosen candidate and once for the party of choice. These votes result in a complex equation that dictates who will serve in the parliament.
The political party representatives that we met with were from the CDU (largest party, conservative, and party of the Chancellor Angela Merkel), the Liberals (a party which harkens to the original meaning of the word "liberal" and is thus now considered conservative), and the Greens. Oh, the Greens. The party that loves organics and fear! The Greens reached a new level of popularity with Lander (state) elections in the spring . . . that happened to occur shortly after the nuclear issues caused by the tsunami in Japan. Fears over nuclear accidents led to a popular movement to ban nuclear power in Germany. The Greens led this effort, which will force renewable energy to the forefront. While this is a good thing for farmers (thanks to solar power on farms, windmills in the countryside, and the agricultural popularity of biogas), it creates a situation where less power will be produced within Germany, but the level of demand will probably stay the same. This may force the Germans to purchase more power from Russia and France -- both of which rely heavily on nuclear!
The woman from the Green Party was very well-spoken in sharing her views on agriculture. She was opposed to nuclear power due to the potential for accidents. She was opposed to windmills since they ruin the view of the countryside. She was opposed to biogas that operates from corn, as her constituents complain that corn is abhorrent in the landscape of Germany. She was opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as one study from Argentina hypothesized that they were negative to humans. She would only acquiese to the usefulness of biotechnology in medicine -- never food or farming. She believed that 3rd World nations did not need the advances of science through GMOs, but could feed their people if they wasted less and had more local farms. I would personally have a hard time telling my friends from Somalia -- whose countrymen are dying by the thousands from starvation -- that they just need to waste less food.
I will absolutely give credit to the Green Party representative that she was firm in her beliefs and dedicated to them. She was quite pleasant and had a charming personality. We simply had very different beliefs. Her view of American agriculture as being "industrial" was based on the notion that American farmers specialize and hope for a profit . . . two things that I see as excellent attributes of agriculture! Diversity is a good thing, just as specialization is a good thing, and profit is always a good thing! If a farmer has no interest in profit, that is certainly acceptable -- but then it is a hobby, not a true career.