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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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This is the fifth 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, and fourth posts.

Building alliances with farmers’ movements

Village meeting in rural Haiti

Haitian farmer voicing his opinion at a meeting near Saint Michel, Haiti in February 2011.

Many have criticized NGOs for focusing on technical approaches to supporting agricultural (even agroecological) development while failing to fully collaborate with farmer’s movements in promoting food sovereignty and changing policy. It is often a fair critique.

Farmers are important social actors in rural people’s organizations, articulating the interests of their members and giving them political voice. NGOs must identify effective means of supporting and strengthening them as autonomous political entities. Unfortunately, NGOs can easily lose sight of this and put themselves in the center of policy debates. As Bern Guri notes, “NGOs should try to strengthen farmers’ voices in the political process and not replace them.”

It must be emphasized that NGOs and farmers’ organizations are diverse and neither type of organization is immune to the challenges that tend to face any organization. Developing and implementing strategies that are effective, broadening and renewing leadership, remaining driven by values and mission, or avoiding overly centralized decision making and power structures, are just a few of these. Both must focus on promoting the interests of rural people and achieving food sovereignty, and there is ample opportunity for them to collaborate.

We have been involved with a number of NGO efforts over the years to collaborate with farmers’ organizations and movements, particularly in Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.  The goal has generally been to strengthen local agroecological pilot initiatives which can be scaled throughout existing networks. Unfortunately, these efforts often fall short of their potential impact. Farmer’s movements have in some cases demonstrated commitment to their genuine need for land rights and political influence, but expressed little interest in sustainable farming methodologies.  Meanwhile, NGOs, despite their best efforts, have failed to build adequate trust in negotiating their role in strengthening the community-level base of broader movements. Clearly, both political voice and appropriate farming methods are vital.  Changes in political policy are necessary; one can’t farm without access to land or if production is undercut by subsidized imports. But even with land and policy supports, successful farming still requires a locally led process of innovation for productivity and sustainability.

There is a need for NGOs and farmers’ movements to engage in honest dialogue: to examine common interests and what each brings to the table, to look for win-win opportunities that can be gained through collaboration, and to develop trust. This often happens by starting with small, concrete initiatives.

“Most leaders of Ecuador’s indigenous movements have worked closely with NGOs over the years,” says Steve Sherwood. “There has been a lot of productive collaboration. But many NGOs have become project-driven. And even many indigenous leaders have become urbanized. As they have gained power, they need to live in cities and get involved in politics. This has weakened the indigenous movements in some ways. Both indigenous leaders and NGOs need to get re-plugged into rural families and communities.”

“In Burkina Faso, limited movements exist to promote agroecology,” notes Fatou Batta. “Groups tend to be working in isolation. An agroecology platform does exist in Burkina, but it is not very strong. Those social movements tend to be stronger in Mali. So in Burkina we need to support efforts to pull things together and show the viability of these alternatives.”

In the words of Cantave Jean-Baptiste, “In Haiti, we are strengthening the base. We need to strengthen local peasants and their organizations to assume the roles of actors in leading their own development. We also facilitate them in strengthening networks across many communities, and to connect to the wider peasant movement organizations.”

Most of the local peasant organizations in Haiti belong to wider peasant movements and networks. While these networks play a vital role in Haiti’s development, they would be further strengthened by greater participation from their base groups, and better two-way flow of communication between the base and peasant network leaders. Jean-Baptiste notes that “sometimes the peasant organizations also need to do a better job of communicating with their own base. For example, while peasant movements were protesting and burning hybrid Monsanto seeds in Haiti in June (of 2010), I visited some of their base groups that had received some of those same seeds from the AID supported program. The farmers did not have adequate information about what to do with the seeds, or what the impact would be if they became dependent on hybrids. Some of the farmers were even eating the pesticide covered seeds as grain, which is dangerous.”

Peter Gubbels observes that “most members of farmers’ organizations in Ghana are larger scale commercial farmers. They are organized in associations around the production and marketing of specific commodities like rice, tomatoes, poultry, and cotton, and advocate for policies affecting their particular commodity. This includes seeking government subsidies for inputs, agricultural research, and trade regulations that prevent dumping or subsidized imports. Yet these groups are not representative of the mass of semi-subsistence peasant farmers, men and women, who are mostly illiterate, and who practice traditional agriculture with hand tools. Most members of the influential farmer organizations are oriented to agribusiness or industrial methods of production. So while their advocacy for trade regulations that prevent dumping, and for government subsidies for inputs and agricultural research is compatible with food sovereignty, their approach to production and sustainability often is not.”

Bern Guri believes there is an opportunity in Ghana to strengthen a movement from the bottom up. “We need to work through indigenous institutions, such as chieftaincies, which are closest to the people, and are legitimate and respected.” Chieftaincies have strong influence with rural people and control community land; therefore, they have the potential to change communities’ attitudes, promote agro-ecological innovations and revalorize local seeds and food crops. “We can support these indigenous institutions to build a mass movement. NGOs need to have the capacities to do that.”

– Part 6 will be posted on June 7.

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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PLD nurse with hand washing placard

Haitian nurse / PLD staff member showing placards used in teaching family health and sanitation measures.

Despite considerable obstacles, progress in Haiti over the past six months has been impressive.  We continue to focus on building the foundation upon which to create strong, lasting local institutions. This includes assessing existing local structures, promoting community development plans, strengthening priority activities to meet basic needs, and developing broad-based leadership where women and youth may participate equally in decision making structures. Since October 2010:

  • 341 new gwoupman (small solidarity groups of 8-15 community members who pool their limited resources) have been formed.
  • 1,258 village leaders have initiated training to learn to support locally-led development processes.
  • 46 democratically-elected village committees have been established to promote cooperation, help ensure continuity of the process, and fulfill a number of other important functions.

Also, due to the cholera outbreak that began in October, during the past six months we have paid special attention to community health. Since last October:

  • 227 new large family water filters and 273 latrines have been built.
  • 2,231 families have adopted water and sanitation (including hand washing, water treatment, etc.) measures to avoid cholera and other waterborne diseases.
  • 18 village health committees were formed. They promoted and supported the cholera prevention activities as well as workshops on HIV/STD prevention, which were attended by 3,594 adolescents and adults.
  • PLD staff and local health committees launched a massive campaign to aid victims, educate families about preventative sanitation measures and provide basic supplies (chlorine for water treatment and oral re-hydration solution).

Finally, great strides continue to be made with respect to agroecology and natural resource management. For example, during the past six months:

  • 1,182 farmers have been trained in critical soil and water conservation techniques.
  • 89,194 tree seedlings have been produced and have or will soon be planted.

These are just a few of the recent accomplishments in Haiti. Now that the cholera epidemic has abated somewhat, we are again shifting our focus back to creating strong local organizations, and we are placing increased emphasis on income generating activities (seed banks and micro-savings and credit) that have the potential to become self-financing mechanisms for local organizations. We are also working with partners with stronger capacity levels and those that have already transitioned out from being directly supported by PLD to build networks between peasant organizations and supporting them to increase outreach to neighboring villages.

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Farmers in eastern Burkina Faso learning to make zai holes using horses.

Farmers in eastern Burkina Faso learning to make zai holes using horses.

This is the third 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. Read the first and second posts.

Promoting Farmer Innovation and Agroecological Production

For NGOs sincerely intent on transforming rural communities, the starting point must be the people – not a technology, a particular crop, or even a specific sector per se (agriculture, health, microfinance, etc.) The question must be: how can we support rural people in generating wellbeing and overcoming poverty? We’ve learned much from decades of collective experience and trial and error in thousands of villages in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The key lessons are that authentic, community-led development is always holistic and based on strong local capacity, and that agroecological farming is a vital means for rural people to improve their lives. An increasing number of evaluations and studies are affirming similar conclusions (IAASTD, UNCTAD, various reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, etc.)[i]

Why is agroecological farming important for small-scale farmers? The primary reason is that it works. Farmers own the process – managing, adapting and creating it. It improves their lives– often reversing declines while doubling or even tripling production. The majority of small-scale farming work is now globally done by women, and as Fatou Batta says “women are often leaders in adopting agro-ecological practices because it is accessible, meets their needs and can lessen their workload. And in addition to farming, women are also the real link connecting improved production to better family consumption and nutrition.” Agro-ecological farming is economically, environmentally and culturally sustainable. It strengthens communities, local leadership (including  women) and local organizations. It improves the natural resource base that people depend on. Agro-ecological farming is an economic strategy for the poorest people to overcome hunger – to produce and eat a diverse and adequate amount of food and generate income.

In contrast, over the last 50 years we’ve seen countless programs focused on high-external input agriculture do the opposite. I am reminded of some farmers I visited in Guatemala’s highlands a couple of years ago. They had become contract farmers producing broccoli for “a company,” renting land each season and buying seeds, fertilizer and pesticides as prescribed. As we stood in their plot, our feet planted on soil devoid of organic matter, looking at broccoli plants dwarfed by a disease they did not understand, one farmer said, “At first it was a miracle, but now we are enslaved by this system. We make less money every year, and we have to calculate each year if we should plant again, or migrate. We are trapped. I would tell other farmers to farm another way.”

NGOs working to combat this trap created by many aid programs implement a strategy that supports small-scale farmers, local organizations and wider movements to learn about, innovate and expand the use of agro-ecological farming as a practical alternative to improve their lives. “We can’t transform the global food system unless farmers are able to expand the practice of sustainable farming and increase their control over how they farm,” says Peter Gubbels.

Agro-ecological farming means more than continuing the old ways or simply training men and women through a new package of sustainable practices and technologies. Some farmers practice both traditional techniques that are sustainable (seed saving, crop diversity, etc) and those that are no longer sustainable (slash and burn). Others adopt elements of industrial agriculture and reliance on external inputs. Farmers do what they think works for them, and we’ve seen both types benefit from transitions to more agro-ecological farming methods that are appropriate to their conditions: small plots, marginal and barely farmable land, fragile ecosystems, degraded soils, and isolation from services and markets.

What have we found are the most effective strategies for promoting farmer innovation and agro-ecological farming? In our experience, successful strategies revolve around allowing farmers to discover what works for them and spreading these alternatives through their social networks. Key methodologies NGOs can employ include:

  • farmer experimentation and innovation – on their own farms;
  • farmers identifying key limiting factors and testing a small number of alternatives to see what works;
  • strengthening farmer-to-farmer networks to spread successful practices;
  • focusing on seeds, soils, and water – managing, improving and making the best use of these local resources.
  • cultivating diverse, integrated farms

While specific technologies of necessity will evolve with local conditions and opportunity costs, as our colleague Roland Bunch has written, farmers’ capacity to innovate must remain a constant theme.[ii] This means people engaging in the creative, evolving act of farming and avoiding dependence on external inputs which uproot that capacity.

“In Burkina Faso, industrialized agriculture is expanding and being promoted by some political leaders,” notes Fatou Batta.“Village level farmers are not aware that when they sell land or give production rights for jatropha for biofuels, they and their children and grandchildren lose access. We’ve seen the importance of supporting people to learn what works locally, supporting agro-ecological approaches and resisting the pressure of some donors to promote a high external input approach, a quick fix, instead of listening to local people. Our evaluations have shown that the zai technique for water and soil conservation, nitrogen fixing trees, and short cycle seeds result in 50-120% increases in production. It is very high risk for farmers to depend on external inputs and distant markets, and drives them into poverty and off the land.”

In Ecuador, as in many countries, the majority of those managing family farms are women. Organizations like EkoRural are helping them strengthen local seeds systems through farmer field schools. Through discovery-based learning processes, they are supporting farmers in adapting to the effects of climate change that include depleted groundwater and altered rainfall patterns. Farmers measure the value of rainwater lost from their roofs and fields, and “harvest” it in simple storage tanks for future use and, most importantly, in their fields – as increasing organic matter in the soil allows for more water to be stored in it. The result is a positive cycle of increased productivity and innovation and significant improvements in family wellbeing, nutrition and income. Steve Sherwood says that in Carchi, a potato producing region heavily dependent on dangerous and highly toxic pesticides, “farmers have learned to maintain and increase their production using agro-ecological practices while reducing or eliminating the use of expensive and dangerous pesticides.”

– Part 4 will be posted on May 10.

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.

[i] The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), 2009; UNCTAD (February 2009).  Policy Brief No. 6 – Sustaining African Agriculture: Organic Production. See also: UNCTAD–UNEP (2008). Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. (UNCTAD/DITC/TED/2007/15);“The Contribution of Agroecological Approaches to meet 2050 Global Food needs,” International Seminar, Brussels, June 21-22 2010.  Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

 [ii] Roland Bunch and Gabino Lopez, COSECHA, “Soil Recuperation in Central America: Measuring the Impact Four to Forty Years After Intervention,” http://rolandbunch.com.

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This is the second 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. Read the first post.

Rethinking and Transforming the Role of NGOs

Representatives of various communities near Pignon, Haiti filling soil bags for tree seedlings. This nursery will produce 5,000 trees every year.

Representatives of various communities near Pignon, Haiti filling soil bags for tree seedlings. This nursery will produce 5,000 trees every year.

Many NGOs are doing valuable work, but having worked with NGOs for decades, we are aware of their limitations and problems. The case of Haiti is often illustrative of the problems with development assistance and the roles played by NGOs.

On January 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities. One major reason the devastation was so great in these cities was that Haiti’s underlying rural foundation had been greatly weakened. Rural farming communities had been systematically drained of resources for centuries by bad economics and politics, both domestic and international. The most prominent resource that remains in Haiti is the Haitian people themselves, (the majority of which is still rural and farming based)their tenacity and capacity for organized action. Years of rural migration to cities with inadequate infrastructure, housing or jobs contributed to over 250,000 people being killed in the earthquake. In the days following the earthquake, 600,000 displaced people fled back to the countryside – at least temporarily. Peasant communities and organizations responded by receiving, housing and feeding these people, depleting their own limited food and seed stocks. Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) helped channel a small portion of the emergency assistance following the earthquake to these rural organizations. They used the resources efficiently for both short-term relief and investment in the long-term solution of revitalizing devastated rural areas, as a foundation for Haiti’s future. “We are strengthening local peasant organizations so that they can be actors in leading their own development,” says Cantave Jean-Baptiste. “Over the last 20-30 years, we have seen that strong peasant organizations adopting agroecological farming, improving local seeds, soil management and so on, are key in Haiti and have been making long term improvements in rural communities.”

Despite the proficiency of peasant organizations, the clear need for decentralization in Haiti, and the demonstrated effectiveness of agroecological approaches; peasant organizations have largely been left out of shaping or implementing plans for Haiti’s recovery. Drawn up by international experts and a Haitian government with limited capacity or credibility with its own people, recovery plans only pay lip service to priorities like promoting agriculture and domestic food production, supporting family farming, involving peasant organizations and decentralizing the country. In practice, the implementation of these plans defaults to typical top-down interventions heavily biased towards the importation of what for poor farmers are expensive technologies. Commenting on the plans, Jean-Baptiste says, “I see seeds, fertilizers and tractors, but I don’t see farmers. Where are the farmers?” The plans are generally implemented by putting contracts out to bid to development companies and NGOs.

This example from Haiti illustrates the most frequent role NGOs play: implementing contracts for plans rural people have neither designed, nor agreed to. The world of official development assistance usually either misses the opportunity to work with rural people and farmers’ organizations, or works in opposition to their interests. Most aid money is strongly influenced by the paradigm of industrial agriculture which seeks to extend its model and inputs to small-scale farming. NGOs too frequently end up being the implementers of this agenda, and fit into service delivery and relief categories. Few strengthen the capacity of local people and organizations to transform their economies sustainably, and few support agroecological farming.

So what should NGOs do and not do?

In Haiti, “NGOs can play a technical role in supporting agroecological production, but they should also strengthen the capacity of local organizations to carry out their own development,” says Jean-Baptiste. “NGOs commonly respond to their headquarters and not to communities, and therefore have limited interest in coordinating with each other to learn what works.”

“In Ecuador, NGOs are a mixed bag,” says Steve Sherwood. “NGOs have become donor driven and project driven. This has limited their ability to be responsive to local needs and be creative. Project-based giving has hurt NGO effectiveness. For EkoRural, we try to keep our role as small as possible. We don’t try to find solutions for local communities, but find what is working, ask good questions, support local creative ideas, and facilitate exchange to help these to grow. Having limited financial resources forces us to be responsible and rely on local people’s leadership.”

“In Ghana and in most of Africa, most NGOs have a technical focus rather than linking to social movements. NGOs are supposed to be waging the war on food insecurity, but most are isolated entities,” says Bern Guri. “There are reasons:  they are struggling to survive and responding to donor demands, rather than working in coalition. In CIKOD we suffer from these challenges as well. We have our vision. I may think that one important way to encourage food sovereignty is through improved practices in communities, but some funders only support advocacy. This can create frustration.”

NGOs that want to strengthen community-driven change to create a healthy agricultural and food system and economy need to find ways to meet these challenges though:

  • Being responsive to the interests of rural communities and organizations, rather than to funders, while developing greater downward accountability to those communities;
  • Critically analyzing what kind of farming works for small-scale farmers in the developing world;
  • Connecting effective community-level action to wider policy reforms;
  • Developing alternative sources of funding when the donor community demonstrates limited willingness to invest in agro-ecological and farmer-led approaches with a track record of success;

Seeing their role primarily as strengthening local capacity for sustained change and working themselves out of a job, rather than delivering services.

— Part 3 will be posted on April 26.

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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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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