Article Series on South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange

Welcome to our homepage for the International Agroecology Exchange – Reflections from the US Delegation to South Africa

2017 South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange

In October 2017, seven delegates from the US representing farmworker and African-American farmer organizations participated in the second South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange. For 10 days, the delegates visited the provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo, and the Western Cape to meet with small farmers, farmworkers, Agroecologists, and organizers in the Food Sovereignty movement. Together they learned and exchanged social, political, and technical aspects of Agroecology. The 2017 Agroecology Exchange was co-organized by US Food Sovereignty Alliance members WhyHunger (NY), Community Alliance for Global Justice (WA), and Farmworker Association of Florida, and South Africa-based Surplus Peoples Project.  (Please read this press release for more background and see photos from the Exchange.)

Article Series

Starting in November and ending in January, members of the delegation will author a series of articles reflecting on different aspects of the Exchange. They will share how their trip to South Africa shaped new ideas, tactics, connections, and other means of continued engagement in the global Food Sovereignty movement, and how they’re bringing these insights to their local organizing.

The series will also include perspectives on Agroecology in South Africa after learning from on-the-ground practitioners involved in organizations including Surplus Peoples Project, Mopani Farmers Association, African Centre for Biodiversity, Ithemba Farmers Association, the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, Mawubuye, Trust for Community Organization and Education, Rural Legal Centre, and others.

Article Series November 2017 through January 2018

Update: Links to published articles:

  1. Restoring my Indigeneity: Reflections on South Africa Agroecology Exchange by a Queer Black Urban Farmer  By Dean Jackson, Executive Director of Hilltop Urban Gardens in Tacoma, Washington
  2. Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US  By Edgar Franks, Organizer with Community to Community Development in Bellingham, WA
  3. Thoughts on Intimacy with Food, Land, and Women from South Africa: “Where there are women you can never go wrong.” By Alsie Parks, Field Organizer for Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON)
  4. Justina’s Reflections on the US-South Africa Agroecology Exchange By Justina Ramirez, Community Leader with Farmworker Association of Florida
  5. En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras, In The Struggle There Are No Borders By Kathia Ramirez, Organizer, CATA (Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas/ The Farmworkers’ Support Committee)
  6. Farming with Influence By Shalon Jones, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives

Please help distribute these necessary analyses on the importance of Agroecological Farming!

Agroecology is an agricultural method based on the traditional knowledge of those who cultivate the land. Its practice is critical to addressing hunger, cooling the planet, and increasing communities’ access to basic resources such as land, water, and seeds. The increased corporatization of agriculture in Africa and the US sidelines small-and-medium sized family farmers in service to increased profits for agribusiness. The South Africa-US Agroecology Exchanges exists to directly confront this trend and to exchange experiences, tools, and strategies for resistance and to strengthen the Food Sovereignty movement.


Farming with Influence: South Africa Agroecology Exchange Article Series

By Shalon Jones, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives

Sixth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October 2017, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a US-South Africa Agroecology Exchange, representing the Mississippi Association of Southern Cooperatives alongside Mr. Ben Burkett.  With much excitement and anticipation, many thoughts ran across my mind. Although this was a journey to gain understanding, knowledge, and bring awareness, this experience was soon to turn into a revelation.

I was always a person who loved embarking on opportunities and enthusiastically willing to learn new things. My most recent work allowed me to engage with many individuals and families about healthy eating tips and how to break unhealthy eating habits growing up. In the province of Limpopo, after visiting the Maphata Herbs Project, organized by a member of the Mopani Farmers Association named Olga, I began to see the remedy was literally at home. I toured a beautiful garden filled with homegrown herbs and vegetables. All created for prevention and healing. While witnessing all the great things in Olga’s own yard, I began to think about my uncle, whose life ended due to prostate cancer illness.  Right in the midst of walking through the yard there was this thought: “If I had this knowledge, could we have prevented or helped him be with us longer?” Every part of the tour was filled with enthusiasm and love. Thinking about my work, I think about how I’ve been giving the communities I serve and even myself an injustice. Not only do we need to support local farmers but learn how to grow for ourselves. This will not only help us, but everyone connected to us.

Another impactful moment was with another female farmer, Ms. Rikhotso Tintswalo Mallina, a community resident and Mopani Farmers Association member that organically grows over 20 different fruits and vegetables. In spite of her lack of resources, Ms. Rikhotso has found ways to keep her garden flourishing with a variety of produce that not only feeds her family but the community as well.

Both of these farmers’ undeniable influence and compassion is appreciated throughout their villages and now has crossed over to the USA. While there were many more moments worth telling, both experiences have caused me to not use my current apartment living as an excuse not to plant.  Once arriving back in Louisiana, I planted broccoli, lettuce, and rosemary.

Now when I walk out my door I will think about who inspired me!  It was all because of our South African comrades inspiring us to continue to fight for what’s best! Ms. Rithotso stated, “when I met the MFA, I began to understand that it was possible.” I’m glad to say “when I met my fellow comrades, I understand that it really is possible.”

With much gratitude,

Shalon Jones

Delegates from the 2017 South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange are authoring a series of articles reflecting on different aspects of the Exchange. In the series, they share how their trip to South Africa shaped new ideas, tactics, connections, and other means of continued engagement in the global Food Sovereignty movement, and how they’re bringing these insights to their local organizing. Read the first article in the series by Dean Jackson here, the second article by Edgar Franks here, the third article by Alsie Parks here, the fourth article by Justina Ramirez here, and the fifth article by Kathia Ramirez here.

Revisiting the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s comprehensive report on Agroecology

Last year, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) published a full 88-page report on agroecology. The report provides a clear definition of agroecology and its effective application in various contexts across Africa. It features 15 case studies from farmers in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Togo, and Tanzania. Each provides evidence-based accounts of how using agroecology techniques has helped them increase yields, biodiversity, and climate resilience. In one case study, farmers in Pelungu, Ghana, had difficulty growing crops due to low soil fertility and high climate variability. However, a nonprofit introduced an orange-fleshed potato into the community which grew well even under tough conditions, helping to curb hunger and increase farmer incomes.


Image Credit: Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa


By tying together strong ecological evidence as well as commentary from some of the world’s foremost experts on agroecology, this comprehensive report argues for a vision of Africa’s future based on community-driven, agroecology practices. AFSA’s Agroecology Working Group and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement worked together to produce the book. Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Chairperson of AFSA notes, “What is special about this project is that it brings together the experiences and voices of small-scale producers who actually feed Africa, for all the world to see, hear, and learn from”. The book calls for no less than a complete transformation of our agricultural and food systems. The book, Agroecology: The Bold Future of Farming in Africa, is available as a free download at 

En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras (In the Struggle There Are No Borders)

By Kathia Ramirez, Organizer, CATA (Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas/ The Farmworkers’ Support Committee)

Fifth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel with 7 other comrades on an Agroecology Exchange to South Africa. This Exchange was a continuation of a process that had initiated in 2015 which was the same year that I was introduced to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Although there was much traveling, it was an amazing experience to see and learn from farmers, farmworkers, activists, and people in the community who are struggling due to the current food system.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to interpret for another delegate and feel the dynamic of how language is not a barrier to being able to relate across seas. The experience interpreting allowed me to relate and connect both with people in South Africa as well as to the stories that were shared with me from my same culture since I share a similar background to the delegate I was interpreting for. During our visit to Limpopo, members of the Mopani Farmers Association put together a cultural event just for us and once again, I felt the connection through dance and music despite our different backgrounds. It brought so much to mind for me: from appreciating the work that I am doing to learning more about my own culture from which at some point I have felt very disconnected.

When we arrived in Citrusdal, Cape Town and were hosted by the Surplus People’s Project, we honored International Rural Women’s Day through participating in a Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, and an assembly for the International Day of Eradication of Poverty. As members and allies of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, we participated on the last day and had the opportunity to share about our experiences and also had the chance to be part of a panel discussion, where we had both Farmer and Farmworker delegates sharing their stories. Among those on the panel were member organizations from The Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign. It was amazing to see how even though we joined these organizations on the last day of their three-day meeting, we were easily able to engage because our struggles are very similar. We were also very welcomed to engage when we participated in a meeting with Urban Farmers in Cape Town, and again, we identified some of the same issues that are affecting us although we are from two different countries.

Based on the work I do at the ground level as the Food Justice Coordinator with CATA- El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas- or the Farmworkers Support Committee, I was able to connect with the work of farmworkers in South Africa.

CATA is a farmworker organization that has been working to improve workers’ conditions for quite some time. During our stay in the Western Cape, we had the opportunity to be in dialogue and hear the stories of farmworkers with the CSAAWU [Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union] and the Rural Legal Center. The farmworker struggle is universal: as we were listening and learning about their experiences, it only reminded me of the struggles farmworkers face here in the USA. There are many parallels that vary from exploitation of work, intimidating the worker who speaks up, not acquiring proper health care when injured, discrimination, etc.

At CATA, we work with migrant farmworkers and the immigrant community many of whom are from Mexico and Central America. We see many injustices in their work lives but also their everyday lives. I am hopeful that we can create a global movement where farmworkers are on the frontlines advocating and fighting for a dignified life.

Seeing the perspectives of farmers as well as from farmworkers during the exchange was really important and I am very grateful for this opportunity. In order for us to change our current food system that is harming us all as people, small-scale farmers and farmworkers are essential to this process. During our stay in the Western Cape Region, we learned a chant that was shouted on various occasions and I would like to share with you all. It was a call and response type of chant.

Someone would shout AMANDLA! with their fist held high. Amandla is a Zulu and Xhosa word (2 of the 11 official languages in South Africa). Then, the rest of the crowd would reply with: AWETHU! It is said that it was used during the days of resistance against the apartheid system.

Amandla, meaning power, Awethu referring “to us” or the people.


Justina’s Reflections on the US-South Africa Agroecology Exchange

By Justina Ramirez, Farmworker Association of Florida community leader in Homestead, Florida

 Fourth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October 2017, I represented the Farmworker Association of Florida in a delegation of seven African American, Latinx, and Mexican farmers and farmworkers from the US arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the second South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange. For 10 days, they traveled around urban and rural South Africa to meet with small farmers, farmworkers, Agroecologists, and organizers in the Food Sovereignty movement to learn and exchange social, political, and technical aspects of Agroecology.

Farmers and farmworkers everywhere on the planet are going through similar struggles and fighting the same issues—mainly, the power and the violence of industrial agriculture. Their situation in South Africa is different than ours here in Florida in two big ways. First, they’ve been going through a major drought that has lasted since 2010. They’re struggling to keep their crops and their animals alive. Second, they have a lot of transnational corporations that are grabbing lands and sometimes stealing lands and the government supports the corporations, not its people. We struggle with transnational corporations here too but in a different way.

The people we met were so generous in the way they shared their wisdom, experience, struggles, and joys with us. It was incredible to see how they persevere in the face of systemic oppression.

I plan to teach my community how to make and use liquid biofertilizer to improve the health and vitality of our gardens and protect them from pests. Claudia from the Mopani Farmers Association showed us how to make it using leaves of the Moringa and papaya plants. We have these plants in all of our gardens and many of our homes! 

I’m so grateful to the organizers and our hosts in South Africa for this incredible experience! I know we’re going to find a way to unite our strengths and support each other as we struggle for food sovereignty here and in South Africa.

Thoughts on Intimacy with Food, Land, and Women from South Africa: “Where there are women you can never go wrong.”

By Alsie Parks, Field Organizer for Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON)

Third in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

Black women possess knowledge that comes from a deep place of knowing and nurturing.

“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.                   


Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US

By Edgar Franks, Organizer with Community to Community Development in Bellingham, WA

 Second in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

This past October I was part of the delegation sent by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to South Africa.  The delegation is part of a process to connect with groups throughout Africa with US-based Food Sovereignty groups to build an international analysis on the food system and to be in solidarity with one another.

During the 11 days our delegation was in South Africa, we were able to meet with many organizations throughout different regions, each with their unique struggles. Our delegation was small but represented many different sectors within the food system, including farmworkers, Black farmers, and immigrants; we all brought our own area or expertise to the trip and complimented each other well.

Even though every place we visited we learned a lot and were impacted by the amount of work and organizing that was happening, I want to share about the exchange that we had with the farmworkers in Robertson in the Western Cape.

Personally, I was able to connect to the farmworker struggle in the Western Cape, as there was a familiarity with the way issues and conditions were discussed. The analysis that was shared resonated with me profoundly considering that farmworkers here in the United States are also going through the same exploitation.

At Community to Community in Washington, we try to recognize that the struggle for farmworker justice is not limited to the workplace. Farmworkers’ lives are complex and have many intersections which is why we know that in order to achieve our goals – especially when it comes to transforming the food system – that we must go beyond just fighting for union contracts. Food Sovereignty for farmworkers also means being recognized as humans who are capable of leading ourselves. That is why we also organize for immigrant rights, climate justice, women’s rights, and food sovereignty.

In South Africa, farmworkers are some of the most marginalized. Conditions in their workplace or community have not changed much. Even as South Africa has transitioned from the apartheid government that had ruled since the late 1940s into a Black-led government headed by the African National Congress, economic justice has not reached the farm workers. Even though there are thousands of farmworkers, less than 4% are unionized. Workers face precarious conditions having to deal with labor brokers, abusive supervisors, physical violence, and sexual harassment. These conditions reached a boiling point in 2012 when thousands of workers organized a strike but were then repressed by the police.

It is under these conditions that The Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) which has been on the frontlines for over 10 years has had to organize. When the transfer of power occurred, there was an expectation that workers would benefit under a new government that was black-led.  Instead, only a certain few benefitted. Whereas in the past, farmworkers were hopeful that with the abolition of apartheid, that the government would be able to improve conditions, the condition under this new government remain the same. CSAAWU recognized that organizing with farmworkers needed to be deeper than just organizing in the workplace; they also have to organize in the community to respond to the numerous social inequalities that exist in the lives of farmworkers. The Union also organizes with immigrant workers who come from primarily Mozambique and Zimbabwe and face similar treatment as immigrants here in the United States such as wage theft and human trafficking by labor brokers.

CSAAWU partners with Mawubuye, which is a land rights movement. Recognizing that the path for freedom from exploitation is for farmworkers to have their own land and not have to sell their labor for exploitative wages. There was a period of hope under the new government in 1994 when there were talks to redistribute formerly white-owned lands back to black people. The goal was that by 2018 to have 30% of land that was owned by whites to be redistributed back to black people, but currently, only 5% of land has been redistributed.

Out of the 2012 farmworker strike, there was a list of 23 demands which came out of a series of dialogues.  Among the principal concerns is receiving a just wage. The farmworkers are asking for no less than 250 Rand for an 8-hour work day, which is almost equivalent to $16 in the US. Many of the workers are picking oranges for corporations like Dole, and in grape vineyards for wines that are for export to Europe and in some part of the United States. Hardly any of the fruits or vegetables picked are for local markets.

The issue of class was raised as well. From what I gathered from our conversations, in the past when the apartheid government was ruling, farmworkers felt that it was the racist government that was oppressing them. The “Boers” (White Farmers) were protected by the state and anytime workers threatened to organize or strike, they were immediately broken and arrested by the police. When Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa farmworkers felt that they were finally going to get justice. However, instead of seeing their conditions improve, the farmworkers saw only the creation of a black and colored middle class that was not too interested in making sure that workers had economic gains. If anything, the black middle class drove a wedge at true solidarity between poor people and the new black leadership. In essence, the middle class was functioning to protect white supremacy by keeping the farmworkers down.

Looking at the list of demands, they are almost exactly the same as the demands of US-based farmworkers. Seeing the demands and hearing the stories clearly pointed to how systemic racism and poverty are built into the agricultural industry. Workers in South Africa and in the US are facing a similar system of oppression. Whether it is getting paid by piece rate or not having kids in the fields, these are the same issues you see at any farm around the world. It is going to take a global farmworkers movement to transform the system and shift it away from the exploitative one that exists right now, to one that is humane and just. Food Sovereignty means that workers get to determine their conditions at work and in their community and that you can’t only have justice in the workplace, that you must also have justice in your community.

Restoring my Indigeneity: Reflections on South Africa Agroecology Exchange by a Queer Black Urban Farmer, Dean Jackson

First in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

Dean Jackson is Executive Director of Hilltop Urban Gardens in Tacoma, Washington

In October I was honored to join seven other delegates on a US-South Africa Agroecology and Food Sovereignty Learning Exchange. As a Black queer and non-binary person who is working to remember and restore my Indigeneity through the work I do in community and at Hilltop Urban Gardens, this trip held both personal and organizational meaning for me. My ancestors were forcibly removed from their homelands. The intergenerational trauma from that displacement and subsequent horrors and enslavement, Jim Crow Laws, sharecropping, and into modern day anti-Blackness, modern day displacement through gentrification and the ongoing fight against white supremacy and white nationalism stay in my consciousness as I work to live my life for liberation and freedom. In 2017 I also committed to finding Black joy and healing justice practices. This was my first trip to Africa and off the North American continent, and Hilltop Urban Garden’s first opportunity to connect with other food sovereignty and agroecology farmers internationally. I brought this all with me as I left Seattle-Tacoma International airport with my friend Xolotl Edgar Franks from Community to Community Development. I also brought the intention of coming open and ready to be filled with all that our South African comrades had to share with us.

Our first visit was to Sibhale Community Food Project in Soweto. SCFP grows food that is used for meals at the health clinics and shared with some of the families that visit the clinic. We met with the Project Coordinator, Calvin Moloto Makgaila. Calvin also helps people grow food at their homes and teaches children about the importance of nutrition. Since HUG does similar work in our community, I felt a special connection to Calvin’s work with SCFP. He’s an awesome agroecologist! We are staying connected through social media and I expect that we will nurture and grow our relationship in the coming years. Hilltop Urban Gardens holds an annual Beloved Community – Food Sovereignty Day of Action in our neighborhood in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s vision of radical transformation. This year we will be raising some cash for SCFP.

Sibahle Community Food Project – Calvin Moloto Makgaila

That same day we visited the Greenhouse Project in downtown Johannesburg. One of the things I learned is that after apartheid supposedly legally ended, and Black* people started moving into the cities, there was massive white flight from the city center of Johannesburg. (Sound familiar?) There are now many areas where white folks still own buildings but have disinvested financially. Because economic apartheid still continues, these largely all Black areas are in a great struggle. (Sound familiar?) Forty percent of the country is unemployed. I also learned that much like the United States, the best land was given to white settlers and Indigenous communities were forcibly removed to the poorest lands in the country.

I don’t claim that in 11 days I understand much. I got brief snapshots. My goal is to share what I learned and witnessed and, in some cases, give my analysis. I was surprised at the many similarities between post-civil rights era US and post-apartheid era South Africa. There’s much more to learn, process, and share.

*I’m using Black like we do in the US. It includes Black/African and Colored people which are the racial designations in South Africa.

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