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.
In March, a group of social movements, grassroots organizations, and civil society organizations met in Tunis to oppose the G8 “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.” The New Alliance, which was launched in 2012 by the G8 and has been implemented in ten African countries, is based on the simplistic and familiar idea that corporate investment in agriculture will increase yields, and that this increased production will alleviate food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. The alliance marginalizes small-scale farmers and local markets by encouraging investment and empowering already powerful corporations to ease export controls and tax laws, change seed laws, and acquire public land for private use, while threatening biodiversity and soil fertility.
AGRA Watch and its partners know that solving the problem of malnutrition in Africa is not as simple as unleashing “the power of the private sector,” and that addressing food and nutrition insecurity in Africa requires the promotion of a community controlled agricultural system based on human rights and food sovereignty.
To learn more, read this statement, which has been endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including CAGJ, and calls on governments to stop the G8 “New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition in Africa.”
An example of the Alliance’s problematic tactics is demonstrated in a study recently published by the Oakland Institute, GreenPeace, and Global Justice Now, which discusses one of the Alliance’s showcase projects, a rice plantation in Tanzania that has negatively impacted farmers, surrounding communities, and the ecosystem.
New Report from the African Centre for Biodiversity Investigates the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) ProjectPosted: June 8, 2015
Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a project financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the tune of US $85 million. The project attempts to increase production of maize in Sub Saharan Africa through the provision of drought resistant maize varieties. The program has two major components: a conventional hybrid maize breeding program, and a program that focuses on creating GM drought-tolerant maize varieties. In addition, the project is working to establish acceptance of GM crops throughout Africa.
In a recently published , AGRA Watch partner, the African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) indicates that WEMA and other Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) projects provide only false solutions to the impacts of climate change on agricultural production in Sub Saharan Africa. To support this argument, the ACB cites insignificant yield increases from the use of GE crops, and the problems associated with the privatization of Africa’s seed systems, which WEMA and other CSA inspired projects depend on.
The report opens by providing context regarding the divergence of opinion when it comes to promoting agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa; It describes the environmentally sustainable, socially just, and democratic approach, which has been termed “food sovereignty”; while the alternative, “Climate Smart Agriculture” is described as “an updated green revolution model that relies on expensive and ecologically harmful inputs, GM crops and the ever increasing commodification of social and ecological relations.” WEMA is a prime example of “Climate Smart Agriculture,” and the ACB feels that it other CSA inspired projects will provide insignificant yield increases and have detrimental impacts on the continent.
In concluding, the report provides suggestions as to how the Gates Foundation and other donors should support agriculture in Africa; they suggest investing in the long-term monitoring of socio-economic and environmental impacts of hybrid and GM maize varieties, the prohibition of funding for GM crop research in Africa, increased interaction between farmers and the research sector, public-sector led research into crops that are naturally suited for dry climates, implementation and research of agroecological production, and transparency when it comes to access and benefit sharing of Africa’s rich biodiversity.
Read the report to learn more!
In February, Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) released a report investigating the strategic efforts by the US government, its sponsored programs, funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and agribusiness giants such as Monsanto to force GM technologies on the African continent. While these powerful players claim that GM technologies are key to addressing food insecurity in Africa, AGRA Watch and its partners know that this is not the case and fear that such technologies will harm African communities and the environment.
The report goes into detail discussing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s aggressive promotion of GMOs in Africa. It provides statistics detailing the Gates Foundation’s biotech funding, which has gone largely to projects working to genetically modify staple food crops, as well as to projects that promote the importation, planting and commercialization of GMOs in Africa. Additionally, the report devotes a section to discussing the dangerous power that philanthropic projects can have in affecting the legal environment to suit the private sector. It uses the Gates Foundation and its funding of GM maize and banana projects as case studies, and discusses the many civil society concerns with both projects. The report notes the deception and pressure that the projects use to facilitate the private sector’s takeover of Africa’s food systems, and the resulting loss of food sovereignty, biodiversity, and small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. The report also cites the open letter sent by AGRA Watch partner, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, to the Gates Foundation as an example of civil society’s opposition to these projects, and encourages more action like this.
The report concludes by noting that despite the efforts of programs that undermine democratic processes and use public resources to fund private interests, small-scale farmers’ movements and African civil society can maintain a just food system by promoting policies that support food sovereignty.