Archive for March, 2011

Report on Groundswell's February 2011 monitoring and support trip to Haiti.

Report on Groundswell's February 2011 monitoring and support trip to Haiti.

During the week of February 13 – 19, 2011, we traveled to Haiti to meet with Partnership for Local Development (PLD), Groundswell’s main partner organization in Haiti, to observe and assess the work undertaken during the past year, strengthen PLD’s Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) system, and collaborate to adjust strategies and plans for the future.

We had the opportunity to meet with two of PLD’s current partner organizations, the Peasant Movement of Saint Michel in Artibonite Department and Bailly in the district of Bahon in the Northeast Department, as well as an emerging peasant organization in Saint Raphael, where PLD is expanding its program activities.  We also met with the Peasant Organization of La Victoire, a strong, long-time local partner in North Department that is now helping other communities to organize. The last day in Port-au-Prince we met with like-minded NGOs to discuss collaboration.

Please take a few minutes to review the report.

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Woman watering field in village in Burkina Faso.

This field in Burkina Faso is flourishing thanks to agroecological farming methods.

This is the first post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. It was a collaborative effort by Steve Brescia (Groundswell’s International Director), Fatou Batta (Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa), Peter Gubbels (Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa), Cantave Jean-Baptiste (Executive Director of Partnership for Local Development), Steve Sherwood (Specialist in Rural Innovation at EkoRural), and Bern Guri (Director of the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development).

Later this year the full text of the article will appear in a book titled “Food Movements Unite!”, which is a collection of essays by food movement leaders from around the world that all seek to answer the perennial political question: What is to be done? It will provide a sector by sector road map for bringing the tremendous transformative potential of the world’s food movements together into a powerful transnational force capable of ending the injustices that cause hunger. “Food Movements Unite!” is being edited by Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, and Annie Shattuck, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley.


Ecuadorian farmers harvesting traditional potato varieties in Carchi, Ecuador.

Farmers harvesting ancestral, native potatoes in Carchi, Ecuador.

We know that agroecological farming works for family farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and that they represent the great majority of the world’s people who face extreme poverty and lack adequate food. We know farmers need net beneficial relationships to markets, and that it is necessary to create policies that support rather than undercut the wellbeing of rural communities.


How can NGOs best contribute to making food sovereignty a reality? We will attempt to answer such questions through drawing from our practical experience with prominent food movements in Haiti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Food sovereignty is unquestionably a powerful framework for organizing responses to the dysfunctional global agrifoods system. Linking local, democratic control and decision making to the foundational economic activity of all societies—producing and eating food—is a powerful agent of change on many levels. But what does the concept mean to a farmer watching for rain while planting seeds on an inaccessible mountainside in Haiti; a peasant organization in Burkina Faso looking for strategies to shorten the hungry season; or potato farmers in Ecuador trying to escape their dependence on expensive fertilizers and toxic pesticides? Bern Guri of Ghana says food sovereignty in his country means “people having access to sufficient food and nutrition, but also being able to have control over their own food system, producing what they eat and eating what the produce.” If NGOs are to play a useful role in these people’s lives, they must develop practical strategies to help them achieve their personal goals.

Peter Gubbels provides some broader analysis:  “For many years, Ghana has been seen as a model country, because it has been greatly influenced by the policies of the World Bank and other proponents of the neo-liberal economic paradigm. As a result, Ghana largely neglected its own food security. There is an alarming trend toward large scale export crops such as exotic fresh vegetables, pineapple, agro-fuel, and mangoes, and corporate control of resources for production. It is well documented that Ghana’s policies provide insufficient protection against imports from countries with generous subsidy regimes, resulting in Ghana importing a significant proportion of its staple rice and basic grains. This left the Ghanaian population – particularly the poor, most of whom are rural people – highly exposed to the spiral in world prices during 2008. The food crisis did finally stimulate the Ghanaian government to abandon its non-interventionist position and start investing in agriculture. Unfortunately, Ghana’s response is to modernize agriculture and increase productivity based mostly on a ‘green revolution’ approach, which has been tried many times in Ghana and never succeeded.” In this context, Gubbels believes that “working for food sovereignty in Ghana means promoting agroecological methods of production, enhancing biodiversity and local control of seeds, ensuring fair prices for small scale farmers, strengthening markets and processing links between peasant producers of healthy local food and urban consumers. It also means organizing and advocating for an alternative to green revolution approaches based on the principle of ‘African solutions to African problems’.”

So what are some practical strategies that NGOs can use to achieve these goals?

  1. Transform the role of NGOs in the intended participants’ lives
  2. Promote farmer innovation and agroecological production
  3. Expand territory for agroecology
  4. Build productive alliances with farmers’ movements and strengthen their base
  5. Advocate  policy reform without neglecting crucial practices
  6. Take advantage of new opportunities (health, urban-rural linkages, and climate change)

None of these strategies speak to the quick-fix mentality of many donor agencies, multi-national corporations and politicians. To thrive they must be rooted in local contexts and led by local people.

… look for part 2 on April 12.

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Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Even before Haiti’s earthquake, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) and Groundswell International were working to strengthen peasant organizations to regenerate rural areas as the foundation for Haiti’s future.  Since the earthquake, we have redoubled our efforts.  Our recent visit to the rural communities where PDL is working reinforced again two essential ingredients to lasting change in Haiti:  sustainable agriculture and strong local peasant organizations.

PDL began supporting the community of Bailly, in the Northeast Department, in October 2009.  Two months after the earthquake I visited Bailly (March 2010).  At that time, PDL had supported local people to form about 80 gwoupman (solidarity groups of 10-15 women and men), and we witnessed the gwoupman open Bailly’s first community-managed savings and credit fund.  Some 110 people deposited 3,500 gourdes (US$89) on that day – about 82 cents per person.  They established their own interest rates at around 27% a year- far below the rates of 250% and above normally charged by money lenders.  When I returned to Bailly a couple of weeks ago (February 2011), this same savings and credit cooperative had grown to 329 members with 78,000 gourdes (US$1,934) worth of savings.

Even in a year that saw an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, and upheaval around elections, the people of Bailly are making progress.  We met with community members who described their advances, reading from notebooks where they keep data on their activities.  After the earthquake we supported the people of Bailly to replenish their seed stocks – which were depleted in feeding people who had fled the destruction.  By using sustainable agricultural techniques, farmers increased their production. They then formed seed banks and repaid the seed borrowed, with interest. As the rainy season now approaches again, they have 19% more seed stored than when they started.  Here is a summary:

Type of seed Number of beneficiaries Seeds (April 2010) Interest generated Seeds (Feb 2011)
Beans 661 664 cans* 92 cans 756 cans
Pigeon peas 288 298 cans 41 cans 339 cans
Peanuts 103 1,021 cans 255 cans 1,276 cans
Corn 76 76 cans 10 cans 86 cans
Black eyed beans 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Beans (another variety) 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Total 1,268 2,159 cans 412 cans 2,571 cans

* a local measurement, approximately 1 lb.

The gwoupman have organized coordination committees in nine villages, and in March 2011 these committees will hold an assembly to elect leaders, make plans and formally establish the Union of Peasant Gwoupman of Bailly (IPGB in Creole).  The goal of PDL and Groundswell is to strengthen organizations like IPGB so that they can continue to improve life, grow enough food and generate prosperity. That means linking organizational strengthening and community leadership to practical activities like soil conservation, seed selection, grain storage, and community health promotion.  The UN reports that at least 3 million of Haiti’s people will require food aid in April and May.  PDL and Groundswell are working with rural communities to change that. Haiti’s farmers can feed themselves and the rest of the people of Haiti. They have done it before, and with a little help, they will be able to do it again.

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Fatou Batta holding baby in Burkina Faso village.

Fatou Batta, Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa.

Today, the 100th International Women’s Day, is the perfect time to honor Fatoumata Batta, Groundswell’s Co-Coordinator for West Africa. Fatou has made immeasurable contributions to the health and wellbeing of women in her native Burkina Faso as well as women-led initiatives across West Africa.

Fatou is presently leading a Groundswell program in eastern Burkina Faso that aims to strengthen a nascent network of local community based organizations and local non-governmental organizations in order that they might scale out proven agroecological practices and improve the food security of 29,500 rural families. This work focuses on improving the capacities of women farmers and strengthening women’s organizations to work collectively to improve income generation, food security, nutrition and gender equity.

At the same time, Fatou represents Groundswell on the steering committee of the “We are the Solution! Celebrating African Family Farming” campaign of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). Fatou and representatives of 15 organizations and networks of organizations of rural women recently met in Dakar, Senegal, where they worked to finalize and validate a strategic and effective framework for a three-year campaign on food sovereignty, organic agriculture in Africa and the role of women farmers. This campaign will help ensure that rural women’s associations in five West African countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Republic of Guinea, and Senegal) have the tools they need to preserve, improve, promote, and share their traditional agricultural knowledge and position it as a viable alternative to the “new green revolution” interventions, such as AGRA, that African farmers’ organizations are concerned will have similar long-term negative effects in Africa as they have in Asia and Latin America.

Women program participants watering their crops.

During a field visit in February, Fatou took this photo of women program participants watering their crops.

Finally, on April 1 and 2, as a panelist at a session on Food Solutions at the Pacific Northwest Funders Conference in Seattle, Fatou will share her experience with the “We are the Solution!” campaign as well as the major issues and challenges facing small-scale farmers in West Africa. Fatou’s voice at events like this one provides donors and participants with a well informed, African perspective on a proven, people-centered approach that enables rural women farmers and their families to improve their wellbeing as they regenerate their natural resources base and build a sustainable future.

After the conference, Fatou will stay in Seattle for two days (April 3 and 4) to meet with local groups interested in local food systems, agroecology, and sustainable development in West Africa. If you want to invite Fatou to speak to your group or attend a meeting that is already planned, please write us at info@groundswellinternational.org.

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