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Posts Tagged ‘agro ecology’

Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing maize seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing maize seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

This is the final 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, sixth, and seventh posts.

Transforming NGO roles to help make food sovereignty a reality

Haiti’s earthquake occurred in a just a few minutes, but caused a scale of destruction and death that shocked the world.  The global food earthquake has been playing out over a longer time frame and it impacts each context in different ways.  Tremors like food price increases periodically expose the scale of the devastation around the world to those who may not be living it daily.  The Haitian and the global tragedies have similar roots – centuries of marginalization and exploitation of rural people via economic and political systems that don’t serve their interests.  This has weakened the very building blocks upon which any strong society must be built – producing healthy food and communities, regenerating the land and environment, and allowing people to participate democratically in shaping their future.

In Haiti, as well as in Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Ghana and around the world, people are working to rebuild a healthy foundation from the bottom up.  There is a great need and opportunity for people to come together to continue to build on these efforts and to meet the challenges of the moment.  Along with family farmers; rural, indigenous and urban people’s organizations; governments and donors; technicians and political activists; people in the global South and North – NGOs also have an important contribution to make.  Yet NGOs must continue to challenge ourselves to focus on people-led development and to promote practical strategies that work: support for local innovation and sustainable, appropriate farming; strengthening the capacities of local leaders and organizations to manage their own change processes; strengthening local food economies; spreading successful alternatives via farmer-to-farmer and community-to-community sharing; and creating alliances with wider social movements to influence policy.  We all need to find ways to contribute to reconnecting healthy farming, healthy eating and healthy democracy.  This is the shared task of building food sovereignty together.

— This final 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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Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Coordinator, recently returned from a three-week trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali. He visited our programs there and met with key local partners and many West African farmers. This slide show captures some of what he learned.

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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 fourth 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 and third posts.

Expanding territory for agroecology

Women processing vegetables grown on agro-ecological village farms in eastern Burkina Faso.

Women processing vegetables grown on agro-ecological village farms in eastern Burkina Faso.

Bern Guri says that in Ghana, “isolated examples of small scale farmer agro-ecological production exist, but the government of Ghana doesn’t see what small farmers are doing as relevant, because they are focused on larger farmers. They see small scale farmers as holding back production. We need to shine a light on the successful examples, but also create a market. To do this we identify capacities that farmers already have for agroecological farming and strengthen them and spread them. We work to document and disseminate the good work already happening so people know that alternatives exist.”

A common critique of agroecological practices is that they always appear to work for a small number of farmers but are never widely adopted. Why is this often the case? There are a few possible reasons: a) farmers are not aware of agro-ecological alternatives; b) they are aware of them, but aren’t convinced that they work, or believe that something else works better; c) incentives (economic, environmental, social or psychological) push them towards ways of farming. NGOs must work together and with farmers to overcome these constraints and develop more effective strategies to scale agro-ecological practices across communities and regions—to expand the territory for agroecology and healthy local food economies.

The question of whether or not agro-ecological farming works for small-scale farmers in the developing world is perhaps the easiest to address. As noted above, broad experience along with a growing body of research and evidence demonstrates that it works for them on multiple levels. Even proponents of industrialized agriculture usually accept agroecology’s success on a small scale, but argue it is not viable on a larger one. Yet many farmers in the developing world are already adopting and practicing agro-ecological farming, and the only incentive they have to do so is that it brings them benefits—more food, less cost, an improved environment, healthier families and communities, greater resilience to shocks and so on. While there are a powerful set of actors with a major economic self-interest in promoting the sale of their agricultural inputs and technologies, the same is not true of agro-ecology. The only incentives for external actors to promote agroecology are social—reducing poverty and creating a more inhabitable planet.

So how can we spread awareness of agroecological farming among rural communities? What strategies can make these practices more effective, and how can we create incentives for using them, so that the territory for agroecological farming and local food economies is expanded?

Farmer-to-farmer and Community-to-Community – Nothing convinces farmers like showing them how they themselves can increase production on their own farms. Visiting farmers who have succeeded in the same conditions is a powerful motivator for them to learn as well. We have long employed these farmer-to-farmer strategies to reach a critical mass (30-40%) of innovative farmers in a community. Once such a critical mass is reached, successful practices tend to spread to others over time. The same strategy can be applied between communities. Cantave Jean-Baptiste notes that “we can also facilitate communities to visit and learn from each other, and to develop plans for action together.”

Capacity Strengthening – Managing, sustaining and further scaling these farming methods inescapably requires strong local organizations and networks of rural people. For NGOs, this implies some combination of working with existing community based organizations and strengthening their capacities for self-management. While NGOs often get stuck in a cycle of delivering services, some have developed strategies for strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations. In Haiti, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) has created a highly effective approach to strengthening local peasant organizations (which typically group 15-30 villages). The foundation of these inter-village associations are gwoupman, solidarity groups of 8-15 people who work, learn and apply agro-ecological practices together, pool savings for loan funds, and create and manage both seeds banks and tools banks. Representatives are elected from the gwoupman to form committees that coordinate activities within and across communities. This allows them to take on challenges individual farmers can’t manage on their own (e.g. controlling free-grazing animals) and increase their ability to access markets and advocate for health services and schools. In this way, PDL is strengthening the social infrastructure needed to scale sustainable farming and build local economies (they are currently working with 9 local peasant organizations representing over 148,000 people). Cantave Jean-Baptiste adds, “We are now working to create networks of these local peasant organizations so that they can work together and support each other. As an NGO, we need to facilitate communities and local organizations to learn from each other, work together and lead their own process of development.”

Action-Learning networks:  In eastern Burkina Faso, isolated examples of successful agroecological approaches exist, even under the very difficult Sahelian conditions that are currently being exacerbated by growing population pressure. But the spread of these “islands of success” through a wider adoption of agroecological practices is constrained by a lack of sharing and coordination among the local NGOs and community-based organizations responsible for the work. And there is no significant effort by the government or major donors to promote, invest in or spread these alternatives. In response, a new network of local organizations is emerging in the region to facilitate the sharing of knowledge of successful strategies and define action plans to replicate them.

Peter Gubbels believes that “we should invest strongly in farmer to farmer and community to community learning and exchange, particularly within agro-ecological zones where the climatic conditions, crops and farming systems are similar. Without practical examples of how successful agro-ecological methods can be taken to a much wider scale, it will be difficult to make a compelling case to other NGOs, the Ghanaian public and policy makers that this is a viable alternative to the industrial, export-oriented, Green Revolution approach to agriculture.”

– Part 5 will be posted on May 24.

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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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.

TRANSFORMING NGO ROLES TO HELP MAKE FOOD SOVEREIGNTY A REALITY

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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Ekorural, a Groundswell partner organization based in Ecuador, along with Wageningen University’s Communication and Innovation Studies Group, and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences recently won a grant from WOTRO, a division of The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research that supports scientific research on development issues, in particular poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

The project partners will explore how scientific insights can strengthen and complement the most promising positive deviance (i.e., uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies of farmers that enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite having no special resources or knowledge) in ways that address both people’s immediate and long term needs. Among other things, the work will seek to develop and test methodologies to identify and strengthen positive deviance in resource poor households that effectively respond to food security priorities. Building on earlier studies and recent stakeholder consultations, the project will focus on positive deviance in two strategic areas for enabling farming families to defeat poverty and hunger:

  • Creative utilization of water for food production in the context of growing climate variability; and
  • Strategic utilization of food production for family nutrition, in particular for assuring the health and well-being of vulnerable mothers and infants.

The re-positioning of agricultural science around endogenous potential in Ecuador holds global implications. The food crisis and growing international interest in local food as a means to addressing resource constraints and climate change guarantee that this project will be closely followed by serious foodies.

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