At the US Food Sovereignty Alliance Assembly earlier this month, CAGJ activists were inspired by stories of how agroecology is essential for a community to achieve food sovereignty. Jesus Vázquez of Organisation Boricua said, “Food Sovereignty without agroecology is just a slogan, agroecology without food sovereignty is just a science,” speaking of the interconnected nature of the two concepts, and the necessity of simultaneously working towards a food system that embodies both. CAGJ’s belief in agroecology was reinforced a few weeks ago when the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), in which many of our close partners are active, released a powerful new statement on agroecology.
AFSA views agroecology as the antithesis of industrial agriculture systems. It recognizes the holistic nature of agroecological farming practices: i.e. where farming works with nature, builds soil, strengthens knowledge of traditional practices by small-scale family farmers, and increases food sovereignty. ASFA’s statement recognizes the gradual nature of shifting African agriculture away from conventional farming practices towards agroecology. The statement notes that agroecology “is about starting with what’s there now; it’s about building the soil as a living organism and taking advantage of the incredible work of trillions of micro-organisms; it’s about managing pests through natural practices starting with increased biodiversity; and it’s about focusing knowledge developing at the local level.”
AFSA boldly calls on African governments and policy makers to take a number of actions that will ultimately embrace agroecology in both regional and national policy. It asks a crucial question: “Does Africa want to take its farmers down the industrial agriculture route just because there is money on the table?” Or will policy makers take action towards a sustainable solution?
AGRA Watch supports AFSA’s statement on agroecology in Africa, and views agroecology as the viable, and critically important, alternative to a second Green Revolution on the continent.
Earlier this month, the Boston Globe published a piece that discussed the connection between Harvard Kennedy School professor, Calestous Juma, and the agrichemical giant, Monsanto. In 2013, Juma, who was a former head of the Cartagena biosafety negotiations and is an outspoken supporter of the use of GMOs in international development, received emails from Monsanto, which made clear the corporation’s strategy to win over the public and lawmakers by garnering support from academics.
In the emails to Juma, obtained via a public records request made by the US Right to Know, Eric Sachs, Monsanto’s head of regulatory policy and scientific affairs, suggested topics for potential policy papers, provided a summary of what those papers could say, and even suggested headlines. Monsanto encouraged Juma to write a paper called “Consequences of Rejecting GM crops,” and shortly thereafter, Juma published a paper titled “Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology.” Juma claims that he did not perform new research or change his views for the company, and that he was not paid to publish the paper. Regardless of the effect that Monsanto’s emails had or did not have on Juma, it is unquestionable that the corporation is attempting to influence academics in order gain public support and ultimately increase the profitability of their products.
Gaining support in the public debate is one thing, but doing so by secretly targeting individuals who have been heavily subsidized by the public in establishing their current level of prestige and respect is another. Yet again, the agrichemical industry is using public resources to gain an advantage in the market, and AGRA Watch feels that this is unacceptable.
In a recent report titled “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs,” Gary Ruskin, Executive Director of the U.S Right to Know, an organization that works to expose the failures of the corporate food system, outlined 15 things that Big Food is trying to hide from the public. Among other things, the report discusses the agrichemical industry’s history of dishonest behavior; their use of PR tactics similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry; their ability to control politics, science, and farmers with their massive amounts of money; and their ceaseless pursuit of profit at the expense of consumers.
While outlining the things that the agrichemical industry is working hard to conceal, the report also discusses the things that consumers are trying to uncover. It discusses a growing lack of trust among potential consumers, and the resulting potential regulatory policies that could have negative effects on the industry’s profits, such as the mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. The lack of trust also puts the industry in a position remarkably similar to that of the tobacco industry of the 1950s to 1980s. Ruskin describes the similarities between these two industries by saying that each industry is “a powerful and profitable industry facing doubts and questions about the health risks of its products.” He goes on to say that the agrichemical industry’s response to their being in this position has also been similar; they are “creating a strong political and public relations defense, as well as lobbying efforts to turn back any policy or initiative that would curtail their profits.”
It is clear that the agrichemical industry works extremely hard to ensure that their products are viewed in a positive light. However, AGRA Watch and its partners do not trust companies whose business models depend on them concealing their impact on human health and the environment. Ruskin concludes his report by saying, “We have a right and a duty to demand truth. We have the right to know what is in our food, and how it affects our health.” AGRA Watch agrees.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Des Moines, Iowa, United States – September 1, 2015
Black US Farmers, Honduran Afro-Indigenous Share Food Sovereignty Prize
In this moment when it is vital to assert that Black lives matter, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance honors Black and Afro-Indigenous farmers, fishermen, and stewards of ancestral lands and water. We especially commemorate them as a vital part of our food and agriculture system – growers and workers who are creating food sovereignty, meaning a world with healthy, ecologically produced food, and democratic control over food systems.
In 2015, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance’s two prize winners are: the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in the U.S., and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. The prizes will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015.
THE FEDERATION OF SOUTHERN COOPERATIVES
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives strengthens a vital piece of food sovereignty: helping keep lands in the hands of family farmers, in this case primarily African-American farmers. The Federation was born in 1967 out of the civil rights movement. Its members are farmers in 10 Southern states, approximately 90 percent of them African-American, but also Native American, Latino, and White.
The Federation’s work is today more important than ever, given that African-American-owned farms in the US have fallen from 14 percent to 1 percent in fewer than 100 years. To help keep farms Black- and family-owned, the Federation promotes land-based cooperatives; provides training in sustainable agriculture and forestry, management, and marketing; and speaks truth to power in local courthouses, state legislatures, and the halls of the U.S. Congress.
Ben Burkett, farmer, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives director and National Family Farm Coalition board president, said, “Our view is local production for local consumption. It’s just supporting mankind as family farmers. Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the right of every individual on earth to wholesome food, clean water, air and land, and the self-determination of a community to grow and eat what they want. We just recognize the natural flow of life. It’s what we’ve always done.”
THE BLACK FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION OF HONDURAS (OFRANEH)
The grassroots organization OFRANEH was created in 1979 to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of 46 Garifuna communities along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. At once Afro-descendent and indigenous, the Garifuna people are connected to both the land and the sea, and sustain themselves through farming and fishing. Land grabs for agrofuels (African palm plantations), tourist-resort development, and narco-trafficking seriously threaten their way of life, as do rising sea levels and the increased frequency and severity of storms due to climate change. The Garifuna, who have already survived slavery and colonialism, are now defending and strengthening their land security and their sustainable, small-scale farming and fishing. OFRANEH brings together communities to meet these challenges head-on through direct-action community organizing, national and international legal action, promotion of Garifuna culture, and movement-building. In its work, OFRANEH especially prioritizes the leadership development of women and youth.
Miriam Miranda, Coordinator: “Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty. There is a big job to do in Honduras and everywhere, because people have to know that they need to produce to bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest. We need to become producers. It’s about touching the pocketbook, the surest way to overcome our enemies. It’s also about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land.”
The Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on the evening of October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Food Sovereignty Prize challenges the view that simply producing more food through industrial agriculture and aquaculture will end hunger or reduce suffering. The world currently produces more than enough food, but unbalanced access to wealth means the inadequate access to food. Real solutions protect the rights to land, seeds and water of family farmers and indigenous communities worldwide and promote sustainable agriculture through agroecology. The communities around the world who struggle to grow their food and take care of their land have long known that destructive political, economic, and social policies, as well as militarization.
The USFSA represents a network of food producers and labor, environmental, faith-based, social justice and anti-hunger advocacy organizations. Additional supporters of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize include Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Des Moines chapter and the Small Planet Fund.
For event updates and background on food sovereignty and the prize winners, visit www.foodsovereigntyprize.org. Also, visit the Food Sovereignty Prize on Facebook (facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize) and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
Adam Mason, State Policy Organizing Director
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Lisa Griffith, National Family Farm Coalition
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
Food Sovereignty Ghana, recently published a press release outlining its concerns with a recent action of the USAID, which they feel is an attempt to deceive citizens of the developing world. This organization of Ghanaian activists reveals that USAID’s workshop, “International Biosafety Short Course for Policy and Decision Makers in Ghana and Nigeria,” which was offered at the end of July, had nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with lobbying regulators to disregard biosafety protocols and relax risk assessment standards with regards to the use of GMOs.
Food Sovereignty Ghana claims that the USAID is working on behalf of “Monsanto and its friends in the Agro Chemical industry” to implement standards such as “Substantial Equivalence” and “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), which will enable the corporate takeover of agriculture in the developing world, just as has happened in the US.
AGRA Watch, like Food Sovereignty Ghana, believes that the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity must not be ignored and that public awareness and participation, risk assessment and management, and the socioeconomic impacts of GMOs must continue to inform policies regarding the use of GMOs.
On August 7th the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) appealed to South African Agriculture, Water Affairs and Forestry Minister the decision to release Monsanto’s genetically modified maize for sale to farmers in South Africa. The particular variety of seed is supposed to drought tolerant, a claim that ACB disputes. According to ACB, the approval was based on information provided by Monsanto, and there have not been any assessments of food safety, environmental, and socio-economic impacts to confirm or challenge Monsanto’s conclusions. This kind of decision making with limited assessment is typical of GM approval processes in South Africa, and this appeal will test the administrative justice and procedural fairness of GM decision-making practices in South Africa. ACB was also excluded from access to the field trial data, and there is no independent or peer reviewed data available for the drought resistant GM maize. Additionally, ACB is concerned about the socio-economic impacts GM maize would have on smallholder farmers. ACB’s work has demonstrated huge economic risks of beginning to use GM crops rather than non-GM varieties and open pollinated varieties that are adapted to farmers’ agro-ecological and current farming practices. Read ACB’s full press release here.
This strain of drought resistant GM maize is part of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. WEMA is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Monsanto is providing maize germplasm for WEMA’s implementation. The project is currently being implemented in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique. AGRA Watch has been working with ACB and others raising concerns about the release of GM crops in Africa. For example, we gave a joint presentation on WEMA’s flaws at the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol held in Nagoya, Japan in 2010. AGRA Watch will continue to stand in solidarity with ACB throughout the appeal.
Earlier this summer Friends of the Earth published a report titled “Spinning Food,” which details how the industrial food industry is working to manipulate public opinion and understanding about the food system, and is undermining public knowledge about the benefits of diversified and ecological food systems. The industrial food sector is spending millions of dollars each year to change the public discourse around food and agriculture through funding front groups and using money to influence the media.
Corporate efforts to spin media coverage is a direct response to consumer demand for organic, chemical-free, non GMO foods, and concern about industrial agricultural practices. Rather than respond to these market pressures, the industrial food and agricultural sector is attempting to change the conversation around food and alter public understanding and thus, consumption. Corporations are using a few key tactics to achieve this goal: deploying front groups that appear to be working in public interest but are funded by the industrial food industry, targeting women, infiltrating social media, attacking the credibility of scientists, funding “native advertising” on media and news venues, and using third-party allies. Through these tactics, the food industry is spinning five key messages:
- “Organic is no better than conventional and not worth the money.”
- “Organic food advocates are elitist food nannies.”
- “U.S. meat production is safe, efficient and does not overuse antibiotics.”
- “We need GMOs to feed the world.”
- “The science is settled — GMOs are safe.”
“Spinning Food” concludes by providing recommendations to the media, the general public, and environmental, public health, and food advocates. It provides examples of what each of these groups can do to combat food industry spin. By reading the report, individuals and organizations alike can become more informed consumers of both food and media. Find the full report here.