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Archive for June, 2010

The article below was posted on Food First’s website. It covers the recent international seminar “The contribution of agroecological approaches to meet 2050 global food needs”, which brought together agroecology experts, decision makers at national and international levels, and representatives of farmer organizations. The event was held in Brussels on June 21 and 22 under the auspices of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Olivier De Schutter. Mr. De Schutter makes an airtight case for a global policy shift toward agroecological production.

Right to Food: “Agroecology outperforms large-scale industrial farming for global food security,” says UN expert

Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

BRUSSELS (22 June 2010) – “Governments and international agencies urgently need to boost ecological farming techniques to increase food production and save the climate,” said UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, while presenting the findings at an international meeting on agroecology held in Brussels on 21 and 22 June.

Along with 25 of the world’s most renowned experts on agroecology, the UN expert urged the international community to re-think current agricultural policies and build on the potential of agroecology.

“One year ago, Heads of States at the G20 gathering in Italy committed to mobilizing $22 billion over a period of three years to improve global food security. This was welcome news, but the most pressing issue regarding reinvestment in agriculture is not how much, but how,” Olivier De Schutter said.

“Today, most efforts are made towards large-scale investments in land – including many instances of land grabbing – and towards a ‘Green Revolution’ model to boost food production: improved seeds, chemical fertilisers and machines,” the Special Rapporteur remarked. “But scant attention has been paid to agroecological methods that have been shown to improve food production and farmers’ incomes, while at the same time protecting the soil, water, and climate.”

The widest study ever conducted on agroecological approaches (Jules Pretty, Essex University, UK) covered 286 projects in 57 developing countries, representing a total surface of 37 million hectares: the average crop yield gain was 79%. Concrete examples of ‘agroecological success stories’ abound in Africa.

In Tanzania, the Western provinces of Shinyanga and Tabora used to be known as the ‘Desert of Tanzania’. However, the use of agroforestry techniques and participatory processes allowed some 350,000 hectares of land to be rehabilitated in two decades. Profits per household rose by as much as USD 500 a year. Similar techniques are used in Malawi, where some 100,000 smallholders in 2005 benefited to some degree from the use of fertilizer trees.

“With more than a billion hungry people on the planet, and the climate disruptions ahead of us, we must rapidly scale up these sustainable techniques,” De Schutter said. “Even if it makes the task more complex, we have to find a way of addressing global hunger, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources, all at the same time. Anything short of this would be an exercise in futility.”

The experts gathering in Brussels identified the policies that could develop agroecological approaches to the scale needed to feed the world in 2050. They based their work on the experiences of countries that have pro-agroecology policies – such as Cuba or Brazil – as well as on the successful experiences from international research centres such as the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, and on the programmes of La Via Campesina, the transnational peasant movement, which runs agroecology training programmes.

“We can scale up these sustainable models of agriculture, and ensure that they work for the benefit of the poorest farmers. What is needed now is political will to move from successful pilot projects to nation-wide policies,” the UN Special Rapporteur said. In conclusion, he announced that he would ask the Committee on World Food Security – what should become in time the ‘Security Council’ for food security – to work during its October session on the policy levers to scale up agroecology. “This is the best option we have today. We can’t afford not to use it.”

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10,000 Haitian farmers protesting Monsanto

10,000 Haitian farmers protesting Monsanto's hybrid seed "donation"

On June 4, some 10,000 Haitian farmers marched in Hinche to protest the use of hybrid seeds and chemical pesticides, and specifically Monsanto Corporation’s recent, controversial “donation” of $4 million worth of hybrid seed, which are being distributed through the WINNER Project under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development.

Farmers sent a powerful message to both Monsanto and USAID by burning the hybrid seed, which they rightfully fear will create dependency and negatively impact their food sovereignty by undermining local production of native seeds.

Burning Monsanto hybrid seed "donated" to Haiti

Farmers stand up to Monsanto by burning its hybrid seed "donation"

In support of this movement of peasant farmers, on June 14, Groundswell joined with 20 other organizations to urge USAID to “… to heed the requests of small holder farmers by not sending hybrid seeds,” and instead to support Haitian agriculture through “… programs that further erosion control, soil conservation, environmental rehabilitation and food production.”

Read the complete letter sent to USAID.

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On June 10 and 11, Christopher Sacco from Groundswell International joined nearly 600 farmers, activists, nonprofit representatives, green entrepreneurs, and social investors for the Slow Money National Gathering held at Shelburne Farms, a 1,440-acre working farm, environmental education center and National Historic Landmark located on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont. The conference sought to connect investors with innovative farmers and healthy food businesses, and to lay the groundwork for the emerging Slow Money Alliance’s efforts to design “…capital markets that go beyond extraction and consumption all the way to preservation and restoration… starting with food and soil fertility.”

Bill McKibben, the author of The End of Nature and founder of 350.org, gave the keynote address. McKibben spoke about the forces that have been set in motion during the past 100+ years’ of industrialization and particularly during recent decades of rabid capitalism. Despite his dark environmental forecast, he saw the success of his 350 and local food movements as a hopeful sign that we might avert the worst of climate change and other environmental disasters. Mr. McKibben ended his speech with the announcement of a Global Work Day on 10/10/10, when he and thousands of supporters will participate in activities  – creating community gardens, installing solar roofs, reforesting barren land, etc. – that will help staunch the flow of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. This would be a great day to plan a Groundswell Garden Party!

In addition to McKibben, numerous green entrepreneurs shared their experiences. Among them were Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Gary Hirshberg, Founder and CEO of Stonyfield Farms, and Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds. While their businesses and stories were different, they all expressed the urgent need to rethink business as usual; Salatin, Hirshberg and Stearns have all built successful businesses while making contributions to local and national healthy food systems rather than exploiting the planet and the people who buy their products. For example, Mr. Salatin, whose fourth-generation farm provides healthy food for more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets, and 50 restaurants located within four hours of his fields, told young entrepreneurs that producing healthy food, building customer loyalty and being a good steward of the land are far more important to business success than brand marketing. Gary Hirshberg echoed Salatin’s advice, pointing out that his competitors cannot figure out how he keeps winning market share without pouring millions into marketing. Healthy food and human relationships are his secrets!

While the event’s purpose was primarily to connect investors to U.S. farmers and local food businesses, all those in attendance shared our desire to build healthy food systems. After talking with many participants, it was clear that Groundswell can help connect international partners with the growing U.S. healthy food system movement that is gaining strength thanks to events like the Slow Money National Gathering.

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Women leaders attending planning workshop in Burkina Faso.

Women leaders attending Groundswell planning workshop in eastern Burkina Faso.

Earlier this year Groundswell International received a grant to support a participatory planning process with rural community-based organizations in the eastern part of Burkina Faso in order to develop a three-year plan to improve the wellbeing of tens of thousands of rural families and to scale-up proven, people-centered solutions to poverty.

Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa, Fatou Batta, based in Burkina Faso, led the design and implementation of the planning process in that country, with significant support and collaboration from our other West Africa Co-Coordinator, Peter Gubbels, who is based in Ghana. The process has now been successfully completed, with more accomplished that we had originally planned with the minimal resources available (less than $8,000).

Fatou and Peter employed a highly effective and participatory methodology, allowing for quality participation, input and ownership by local people. Comparable planning processes by other organizations often cost between $50,000-100,000. The result is a young, enthusiastic network of local organizations with a plan to spread agroecological practices in order to overcome poverty and hunger and to strengthen women farmers’ wellbeing and leadership.

Read a summary of the Burkina Faso planning process and program plan.

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