By Alsie Parks, Field Organizer for Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON)
Third in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series
“Innate agrarian artistry is the womanist praxis of using deep-rooted knowledge as a creatively healing, ancestrally honoring, and community self-determination act of land-based resistance, “ is a statement collectively written by Black Women farmers, activist, and scholars Kirtrina Baxter, Dara Cooper, Aleya Fraser, and Shakara Tyler.
I carried this wisdom and deep knowing within before reading the words that articulated the truths I’ve felt and held in practice, gifted to me from my motherline. Acknowledging that the motherline of all Black folks part of the diaspora trace back to Africa is a precious process of reclamation and explorations of identity. So, the opportunity to journey to South Africa with our delegation, there as part of a learning exchange, I carried this wisdom with me as I ventured onto lands never touched and without expectation. My understandings of the U.S. Deep South and the Global South are ripe with connections as motherland.Traveling to Limpopo and visiting with the farmers of the Mopani Farmers Association resonated most with my freedom dreams and longings for home sourced from spirit, ancestral memory, and motherline. The preparation of traditional family dishes. The exchange of plants and herbal remedies. Mamas, daughters, and granddaughters all tilling the fields. Tactical organizing through stirring the pot and turning the soil. Stories shared on the rivers drying up and celebrating the rain. Seed saving techniques I’ve never seen before. Gathering up clay for my altar. With each hand held, open arms extended, and knowing looks of love. The generosity is what heals and sustains us. The actions and rituals are what we have to practice. All wildly affirming.
The Mopani Farmers Association is made up of 1,300 farmers across villages in the District. Their land is communally stewarded and tribally governed. The lived experiences of the Women, of the families in this region, were something I wanted to give careful consideration and collect stories to share. With 80% of the members as Women, nearly every farm we visited offered an indication of how innate agrarian artistry was being practiced and shared reverence for the Women, the mothers, was woven throughout the organizing methodology of the association. As well, the belief that foundational in their work to empower community members was through a “cultural way of relating to our land and environment”.
On the executive committee was an elder affectionately known as “Mama” and considered the “organic intelligentsia” of the organization. This consideration acknowledges the wisdom that women offer to all of life’s work, but especially with respect and concern for nature and how we approach organizing in our communities. Her guidance and generosity were clearly foundational for the Mopani Farmers Association and the ways she brings people together and teaches was an honor to witness. With the Mopani Farmers Association there was clear leadership from women elders as the main demographic of farmers but also uplifting the divine wisdom held was woven into all the spaces, from meetings, farm visits, and cultural offering spaces. Sharing this wisdom was embedded intentionally into every experience offered to us. Each farm visit we took invited us into the care and consideration women had for the land they tended and the seeds they saved.
Our hosts shared the critical issues of the area, unemployment, land access, access to water, lack of support, crime, and sustenance. The impacts of climate change being their biggest challenge, bringing new pest and diseases, rivers drying up, animals dying, 20-year-old fruit trees no longer producing, a drought like they haven’t seen in the past 100 years. This experience left me with something to consider deeply, the social and political responsibility to curb climate change because it is compromising the ability for our sisters and brothers abroad to live.
One of my most significant learnings is that there seemed to be intention and practice that created places for Women and youth to offer their inherent brilliance and contributions and spaces that let them to shine. Promote women strongly. Create spaces for youth and Women to generate their own ideas and develop as leaders and transform organizations. This is necessary if we truly want to organize to build viable, vibrant, land-based futures.