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Archive for June, 2011

Dear Friends,

It’s not just our vegetables that are growing this summer… Groundswell is too!

Family with locally harvested vegetables in Burkina Faso.

There has never been a more important time to invest in people and their local solutions. Agroecology and community-led development are overcoming the food crisis, ecological degradation and other problems.

Two Central American NGOs, Vecinos Honduras and FUNDENOR (Guatemala), have both begun the process of becoming partners, and the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD), in Ghana, has submitted a partnership application.

All three organizations share Groundswell’s commitment to working with rural communities to build sustainable agriculture and local food systems from the bottom up, and we look forward to collaborating with them at our global conference this July in San Luis Obispo, California. In addition to representatives from these new and prospective partners, our partners from Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Haiti, and Mali will attend, as will a number of guests and presenters who support agrecology and local food systems in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Our growth is only possible because of your generosity. So far in 2011, institutional and individual supporters have donated nearly $300,000 to Groundswell!

Now we have an incredible opportunity for you to double your investment in Groundswell. The Swift Foundation will match, dollar-for-dollar, the next $25,000 in individual donations. All you need to do is check the “Match my gift!” box on our donation page or write “match my donation” in the comments section of your check.

Thank you for your support. There has never been a more important time to invest in ecological agriculture and sustainable local food systems.

Sincerely,

Steve Brescia
International Director

Cantave Jean-Baptiste, PDL

P.S. Our influence is growing as well… Cantave Jean-Baptiste (pictured on left) has been invited to represent Groundswell and our Haitian partner PDL at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting to be held in New York this September.

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This is the seventh post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth posts.

Taking advantage of new opportunities: health, urban-rural linkages, and climate change

Traditional Granary in Burkina Faso

Traditional granaries like this one are found throughout rural Burkina Faso.

“In rural Burkina,” says Fatou Batta, “we promote community-managed grain banks to increase food security. Farmers sell at a better price and have local access to less expensive food during the hungry season.” As in many countries, farmers typically sell to middle men after harvest when the price is lowest, and then need to buy back from those same middle men when the price is highest. Community grain banks help them break the cycle. In Haiti, farmers typically pay exorbitant annual interest rates of 250-500% on loans from local money lenders—just to obtain seeds and tools to plant at the beginning of the agricultural cycle. We support them in setting up their own savings and credit groups, seed banks and tools banks to liberate themselves from this debt trap.

But we need to go beyond helping rural communities stop the drain of resources, and support them in achieving prosperity. As Steve Sherwood and his colleagues in Ecuador have discovered, “we need to think about agriculture and food as an integrated system. The choices we make about how we eat are key. Working only on agriculture has excluded farmers from the wealth of urban people. Ecuadorians spend $6-8 billion a year on food. How can we bring this consumer wealth to bear on transforming rural landscapes?” Urban consumers, many of whom are low income and need better access to healthy food at reasonable costs, can be the “funders” of small-scale agroecological farming production.

Andean farmers at a Ekorural-sponsored seed fair in Ambuquí, Ecuador.

Andean farmers at a Ekorural-sponsored seed fair in Ambuquí, Ecuador.

To promote this, EkoRural and other organizations in Ecuador have been supporting the emerging canastas comunitarias movement: a type of community-supported agriculture arrangement. Low income, urban consumers have formed groups to buy food wholesale and thereby lower its costs, and are now are directly connecting to small-scale farmers and building buying relationships with them. “We found an example that works and expanded on it,” says Sherwood. “This started with one group. We worked with them to think critically about nutrition per dollar spent, and gradually about how to promote the rural landscapes and communities that we want through what we buy and eat. We promoted critical thinking through cross visits and building relationships between urban and rural people. This has now grown into a canastas movement that has gone from a few groups to all major cities in Ecuador.”

In Ghana, Bern Guri notes that “we need to demonstrate the health implications of our traditional foods. When the Director of Health in Ghana bought local millet porridge on the street and emphasized the health benefits in the media, the market for these products boomed. The government could promote this. They could create a policy that 1% of all food served in restaurants must come from traditional food. Right now restaurant food is imported. We could target urban consumers, youth and school feeding programs, linking them to traditionally grown foods from small scale farmers. It would help promote young people’s tastes for these local foods.”

The need to respond to climate change presents another opportunity for pushing back against industrialized agriculture. “We can link efforts to adapt to climate change to the promotion of people-centered food systems,” says Peter Gubbels.  “This is possible because most solutions to adapt to climate change in rural communities require agroecological approaches, rather than those based on industrial agriculture.” Emerging payment mechanisms for carbon sequestration for soil high in organic matter and agro-forestry may provide opportunities and additional incentives for farmers.

– Part 8 will be posted on July 5.

This segment and the rest of the article 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.

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This is the sixth post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. Read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts.

Advocate policy reform without neglecting crucial practices

Ekorural community workshop in Galtes, Ecuador.

Ekorural community workshop in Galtes, Ecuador.

Social movements in Ecuador are powerful and have had notable success in reforming major policies. Indigenous people represent the majority of Ecuador’s population and are effectively organized into local, second level and national organizations. They have demonstrated their political power by shutting down the country through strikes and even bringing down governments. The indigenous movements form a significant arm of the social movement for progressive reforms to the constitution and other laws.

“There have been important policy achievements in Ecuador,” says Steve Sherwood of EkoRural, “such as the passage of a food sovereignty law and a law to eliminate the use of highly toxic pesticides. The Colectivo de Agroecologia, which EkoRural is a part of, is a network that brings these actors together, including linking urban consumers with small scale producers. They have helped to draft and shape the food sovereignty law. It was an important landmark for us to see that it was possible to influence policy, but it also showed us the limitations of policy. Policy is just on paper. Practice depends on what people do.”

Companies representing the interests of industrialized agriculture still manage to insert themselves into the process and highjack the debate. Recent history has proven that changing policies alone is not enough. “We are supportive and are trying to influence policy. But if we do not influence what people and families actually do, how they produce and consume, then we will not have achieved enough.”

Peter Gubbels highlights the challenges created by the Ghanaian government allowing subsidized food to be dumped in the country. “This has to change if there is to be a people-centered food system in Ghana! Strengthening local food systems first requires both fair and protective trade policies that enable local farmers to sell their food production to Ghanaian consumers. There are many low-cost, economically feasible policies that Ghana could promote to improve the production, marketing and processing of local food crops. For example, government policies could support decentralized milling of locally grown rice to meet consumer expectations. They could make appropriate credit and small-scale irrigation accessible to semi-subsistence, peasant producers for dry season gardening. Appropriate forms of crop insurance for small scale farmers could be developed. Ghana should also explore systems to ensure that peasant farmers obtain a reasonable price for food crops, and promote marketing at the local and national levels.”

– Part 7 will be posted on June 21.

This segment and the rest of the article 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.

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The Ikidia Saving for Change group holds a weekly meeting in Domba, Mali.

The Ikidia Saving for Change group holds a weekly meeting in Domba, Mali. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America.

In August 2010, Groundswell launched a three year program – Saving for Change Plus Agriculture (SfC Plus Ag) – in partnership with Oxfam America. It responds to requests for agriculture training by many of the 350,000 women in Oxfam’s Saving for Change community finance groups across Mali. They wanted to learn how to solve their other most pressing problems: low agricultural production (caused mostly by rapidly deteriorating soils) and water scarcity (both for domestic use and agriculture). Through SfC Plus Ag, 26,000 women living 200 rural villages in Mali are learning to sustainably improve their agricultural production by introducing simple technologies to improve soil fertility (using nitrogen fixing trees and cover crops), seed quality (short cycle seeds), and water management.

Below are excerpts from Groundswell’s Mali program coordinator’s, Roland Bunch, second progress report covering November 2010 through April 2011.

“The domestic water problem is basically caused by the fact that the water tables in central Mali are sinking at the rate of something like a meter every year, meaning that old wells and pumps no longer reach the water.  All too often, when the villagers try to dig the wells deeper, they encounter a layer of impenetrable rock, meaning that they have to find some other place to sink a well.  In time, of course, the water table (except within a few kilometers’ distance from the major rivers) will sink so low that hand-dug wells and hand pumps will no longer be feasible.  Then a truly serious water crisis will grip the nation.

Replenishing water tables is fairly easy, especially if it is done by adding organic matter to the people’s fields.  This process will soften the soil, make the surface rougher, and prevent crusting, thereby allowing perhaps 50% of the area’s rainwater to percolate through the soil, rather than about 15%, as is the case now.  This increase in infiltration would go a long way toward stopping the constant sinking of the water table.

But adding organic matter to the soil is also the key to raising Mali’s agricultural productivity.  For centuries, if not millennia, African farmers maintained the continent’s soil fertility by fallowing the land—that is, allowing the land to “rest,” so that the forest would grow back and drop its leaves on the soil surface, thereby dramatically increasing the organic matter in the soil.  Because of population growth and the resulting decrease in land per family, farmers all over Mali, in the last two decades, have been forced to quit fallowing the land in order to have enough food to eat.  As fallow periods were  gradually reduced from the traditional ten to fifteen years to eight years, to five years, and now most recently, to zero to two years (with most farmers having abandoned fallowing all together), the soils have been mined of their organic matter, and productivity is dropping by ten to fifteen percent a year.  Widespread famine will be the inevitable result, unless we act fast.

The action to be taken is the use of green manure/cover crops (gm/ccs, which are basically any plants, including trees, that fertilize the soil).  These species of plants can be grown in farmers’ fields as the farmers plant their crops.  Thus, in effect, instead of having one area of land in crops, and another being fallowed, farmers can have fallow species right in their fields.  That is, they can produce crops and fallow their land at the same time.  We call this technology “simultaneous fallowing.”

Thus, fortunately, the easiest and most efficient way of maintaining rural Malians’ access to water over the long haul, as well as the easiest and most efficient way of maintaining their soil’s productivity, is to increase the soil’s organic matter content.

This is, of course, a simplified description of all the myriad factors involved, but the basic truth is nevertheless accurate: both the water and food production problems of Malian women will largely be solved through one and the same action: adding organic matter to the soil.”

Read excerpts of the rest of the report, which is organized according to the program’s main measurable objectives: introduction of appropriate short-cycle seeds, improved water management, improved soil fertility, and capacity building.

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