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Posts Tagged ‘local food systems’

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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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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Groundswell made a significant impact in 2010, and we have exciting plans for the year ahead. Our strategic objectives for 2011 are:

  1. Empower 500,000 people living on less than $1.25 per day to improve their lives.
  2. Consolidate and sustain: Consolidate strong partner programs for lasting impact in Haiti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali.
  3. Spread the results: Include new partners in two additional countries.
  4. Strengthen local food systems: Test and refine practical strategies for strengthening local food systems across five countries. We will launch a three-year action and learning process in Haiti, Ecuador, the US, Burkina Faso and Ghana by facilitating learning crossvisits among partners, identifying effective practices, testing them on the ground and evaluating and documenting outcomes and lessons.
  5. Build a learning community: Facilitate learning among Groundswell partners and allies on effective principles and practices for supporting rural social change.
  6. Strengthen the global movement: Support communities and organizations in the global north and the global south to connect in support of healthy farming and food.
  7. Tell the story: Document and share our work to influence rural development programs and policies.

Please check in often to learn about our progress and collaboration. Happy New Year!

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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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Cantave teaching farmers in Bayone

Cantave teaching farmers in rural Haiti.

Two months after the earthquake it is hard to imagine the future for Port-au-Prince.  About half of the structures have been reduced to rubble, and much of what remains standing needs to be rebuilt.  People are gathering rebar and scrap metal from the wreckage, piling it along the sides of street to create an informal market for resale.  Work crews of women and men in matching t-shirts are beginning to clear mountains of debris with brooms and shovels.  Tents fill sidewalks and lots.  One cannot help but wonder:  How will these people manage, what will they innovate, once the heavy rains soon bring torrents of water and refuse running down Port-au-Prince’s steep hillsides towards the ocean?  On the plane ride back to the U.S. I sat next to an orthopedic surgeon who had just finished a stint volunteering in a clinic.  He said that in many cases it was already too late to reset fractures; he had never seen a population with such fast healing bones.  Any ability to imagine the future arises mainly from the incredible, tenacious spirit of the people – working, selling their wares, laughing, playing soccer in streets, getting by or not getting by.

In the countryside, it is different.  After a week visiting the programs of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), Groundswell’s partner in Haiti, a positive future is easily imagined.  This is true even while rural communities face a history of grinding poverty, while the mountainsides are still scarred from landslides caused by hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and as communities receive a flood of over 600,000 people who have fled the earthquake’s destruction in cities.  A number of Haitians have commented that the country has always been two countries – the “republic of Port-au-Prince” and the rest of “outside” Haiti.  Now there is an opportunity to create one functioning country.

Read Steve’s full report.

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The past two years have been extremely difficult for rural families in Haiti. By many accounts, hurricanes/tropical storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, which occurred successively during a three-week period in August and September in 2008, resulted in the worst disaster to hit Haiti in more than 50 years. Crop damage was extensive because farmers’ fields were in full production when the storms hit; thousands of acres of crops and precious topsoil were washed away and many thousands of farm animals drowned. Not long after the storms abated, a prolonged drought gripped the island. Throughout 2009 rare and irregular rainfall severely limited the production of staple crops such as corn, sorghum and beans and left family and community granaries almost empty.

Haitian family working in organic garden.

Haitian family working in garden applying agro-ecological techniques learned through the PLD program.

In hopes of easing the decline in agricultural production, the Haitian Agriculture Ministry has decided to invest in repairing irrigation canals and purchasing machinery. Unfortunately, those investments are limited in scope and will only benefit the minority of farmers occupying flat areas.  “The majority of the farmers in the country work the steep slopes of the Haiti’s mountainous terrain,” said Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), a member of the Groundswell network.  “Tractors and other mechanized production are mostly useless in these communities.  And government programs rarely reach them because of their isolation and the bad roads.”

Contrary to the Haitian government’s approach, PLD is focusing on restoring and increasing local production by training small farmers in simple yet effective agro ecological practices and increasing their confidence in their own capacities to change their situation. While PLD’s programs are in their first year, the program team has decades’ worth of experience using these strategies to significantly increase and improve local production in spite of resource limitations and other obstacles.

Staff from PLD Haiti.

PLD staff. Front row (from left): Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Solange Marc Saint Hilaire, and Antoinius Cadet. Back row: Rochel Sylvain, Nicole Romain, Josu/ Desrosiers Allen.

During the first half of 2010, PLD’s immediate strategies include:

  • Widespread training for farmers in basic agriculture principles: PLD will train approximately 1,000 small-scale farmers in soil and water conservation, management of organic matter, seed selection and crop association to diversify and increase production. At least 100 of these farmers will benefit from more advanced training in order to become promoters who can spread successful techniques to other farmers in need.
  • Increase crop diversification: PLD will use participatory techniques to help farmers analyze their farming and land use strategies and assess which crops are most appropriate for local conditions. More emphasis will be put on root crops (cassava, sweet potato, yam) that are more drought resistant. Farmers will also experiment with shorter cycle varieties of corn and sorghum, which can produce harvests more quickly and are therefore less exposed to disasters like drought or floods.
  • Rain harvesting and efficient use of water: Farmers will work to identify sources of water for the dry season and innovate ways it can be harvested, stored, and used efficiently to produce vegetables. Through creative water harvesting using locally developed technologies made from locally available materials, farmers can mediate rainfall variations during the wet season, in particular the growing dry spells between events, as well as effectively extend crop production into the dry season.
  • Community managed seed banks: In the wake of the hurricanes and drought, access to quality seed is among the most limiting factors to the resumption of agricultural production. The problem manifests itself in three ways: availability, quality and purchasing power. Seed banks are a solution that addresses all three aspects of the problem. Therefore, seed banks are the farmer’s best guarantee that he/she will have high quality (because the farmer selects the best ones) seed when needed. Not only is crop production improved, but knowing where seed stock will come from allows the farmer to focus more attention on livestock husbanding and other income generating activities.

Cantave Jean-Baptiste added, “Our approach has proven its effectiveness time and again. The peasant organizations we are supporting are eager to work to improve the food security of their families and communities.  We hope other organizations will increasingly take notice and adopt this way of working. The food crisis continues to affect us in Haiti, and PLD staff and local partners affirm our desire and commitment to build a global network, to collaborate with our partners around the world in Groundswell, to learn from each other, and to work together towards building a better future for ourselves and our children.”

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