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Posts Tagged ‘Canastas Comunitarias’

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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Farmers at an Ekorural-sponsored seed fair in Ambuquí, Ecuador.

Farmers at an Ekorural-sponsored seed fair in Ambuquí, Ecuador.

In January, with financial support from the Mary Tidlund Foundation, Groundswell and Ekorural began the process of strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations in six marginalized rural communities in Ecuador to lead their own development process. The six communities – Tzimbuto-Quincahuán, Santa Ana, Galtes, Unalagua, Chirinche Bajo, and Compañía Baja – are located in fragile and degraded highland Andean ecosystems (between 8,200 – 11,480 feet above sea level) in the provinces of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, where climate change is altering rainfall patterns and groundwater availability and increasing the challenges for smallholder agricultural production.

During 2011, the program will directly benefit 120 families, mostly led by women. In addition to strengthening local organizational and leadership capacities, it seeks to strengthen local seed systems (improving the quality, reproduction, storage and distribution of seeds), and to create ‘canastas comunitarias’ (local food systems) that connect small-scale farmers to urban consumer markets, which helps to increase incomes of families in rural communities while providing low-income urban families with access to healthy, affordable local food.

Women farmers participating in a farm tour in Tzimbuto, Ecuador.

Women farmers participating in a farm tour in Tzimbuto, Ecuador.

During the past three months Ekorural staff and local communities have worked together to achieve significant progress:

  • EkoRural has invested a significant amount of time in building the capacity of its partners and the local team on technical issues and processes. This includes an integral process of capacity building and participatory research on each community farm, exchange visits, and other activities.
  • Two leadership workshops were held in Cotopaxi with the participation of women’s groups from three communities. We have highlighted the importance of social change and people-center development as a means to empower communities.
  • A set of 40 genotypes, mostly originated from Ecuador’s National Institute of Agricultural Research’s (INIAP) germplasm bank, were multiplied in the field and separated in tour sets after harvesting. Currently, they are growing at different altitudes in four areas to ensure successful multiplication. We have emphasized the developing and strengthening mechanisms of self-sustainability, such as revolving credit funds, seed money, etc.
  • Special attention has been paid attention to recovering native Andean crops that are suffering from genetic and cultural erosion. Mashua tubers, oca (Oxalis tuberosa), jicama (Pachyrhizus tuberosus) and melloco (Ullucus tuberosus C.) have virtually disappeared from the local farming system, despite their high nutritional value and apparent appreciated cultural relevance. Our strategy sees farms as natural germplasm banks of equal or greater importance than those maintained by state-run agriculture agencies.
  • Community leaders (especially young women and men) have participated in several biodiversity and seed fairs with our support.
  • In the community of Tzimbuto, Province of Chimborazo, a five-potato variety set, with nutritional contents and local phenotypic characteristics, was harvested.
  • Field staff, technical team, producers and consumers have participated in a series of events, including tours and exchange visits, meetings, workshops, talks, etc., concerning agro-ecological, solidarity economy initiatives and food sovereignty.

Ekorural and its partners are at the vanguard of the local food system and food sovereignty movements in the Andes. The success of this program is yet another example of their inspiring, innovative approach to empowering Andean people.

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2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

In the Andes, there have been fundamental changes in production patterns as a result of the different processes of land reform in the region and “agricultural modernization”. Today, the environmental context and local culture are no longer the main determinants of production systems, but rather the habits of unknown consumers and their food demands are determining what farmers grow and when and how they grow it. This has shaped current production systems, usually characterized by monoculture, total farm mechanization and dependence on agrochemicals to offset their ecological ill effects.

The 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) questions common assumptions about the link between agricultural production and economic welfare and family nutrition, and provides evidence that externally driven systems – such as those that have increasingly displaced traditional systems in the Andes – often result in unfair prices, social inequality and environmental degradation. The report calls attention to proposals that allow us to overcome our conceptual barriers with respect to production and supply, consumers and producers, urban and rural populations, and the circulation and exchange of goods.

Woman washing vegetables early on market day.

Woman washing vegetables early on market day.

Ekorural, Groundswell’s partner in the Andes, recently completed its own research on food systems in the Andes, which confirms the important influence consumers have on agricultural production systems and indirectly on the wellbeing of rural families. On account of these findings, Ekorural’s work now operates based on the underlying assumption: In order to transform Andean agricultural systems to be more productive, equitable and sustainable, we must not only look at rural areas and agriculture but also at urban areas, because consumers drive agricultural development.

During the past two years, Ekorural has identified, aligned itself with and committed to supporting unconventional initiatives, such as Canastas Comunitarias, that have developed around the theme of healthy food and people through the alternative circulation of agricultural products. The Canastas and other similar short-circuit food initiatives, under which you might find country fairs, CSAs, farm shops, community food baskets, etc., are a great opportunity to transform agriculture, heal the environment and live healthier lives.

People are the decisive factor for agriculture and represent an opportunity for change. What people buy and where they buy it strengthens different types of agricultural chains, and influences how healthy (or unhealthy) the agricultural system is. Follow Ekorural’s lead, support your local family farmers!

Learn more about Ekorural and Canastas Comunitarias.

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