How natural are natural disasters?

Does drought cause famine? The question isn’t as simple as it might seem.

There is a tendency in Western governments, much of the international aid community, and mainstream media to view the social consequences of natural phenomena as inevitable. Unlike war, suffering and death in the wake of floods, earthquakes, and droughts is seen as tragic yet unavoidable. Capricious mother nature will have her way. Yet a cursory glance at mortality rates for earthquakes in the US versus China, or malnutrition rates for droughts in Australia versus Africa belie this assumption. In an article for the Washington Post, William Moseley asks Why They’re Starving in the Horn of Africa and critiques dominant approaches to famine prevention and relief. Deep structures at the heart of agriculture make or break the capacity of a community or region to weather nature’s unpredictable mood swings.


Seattle Times – Gates ‘band-aid’ approach

A thoughtful Seattle Times article questioning the Gates Foundation’s focus on bio-fortification (using GE and conventional breeding to increase nutrient content of crops) to combat hunger in Africa. AGRA Watch’s own Phil Bereano, cited in the piece, points to research concluding that crop variation as well as decreasing water and chemical use are more effective and sustainable approaches to conquering hunger. Nutrient ‘Band-Aids’ don’t solve the underlying problems – no matter how chic and shiny said Band-Aids might be!

The Making of Farmer-Consumers

Farming is production at its most fundamental. Today it is often claimed that the agricultural revolution was humanity’s most transformative innovation. And whether you see the first seed sown as our original sin or as the beginning of civilization there is little debate over one fact: farming irreversibly influenced the fate of humanity. It was the prerequisite for the growth of cities, the division of labor, and for so much subsequent history.

Farming is also human agency at its most unadulterated. The knowledge acquired by the world’s agriculturalists—how to harness the powers of nature for our nourishment, how to select and save the best seed for the following year, how to foster fertile soil and channel life-giving water to crops—all this became vital and empowering. With the development of farming, humans became active agents on this earth in new, more powerful ways than ever before.

Historically, food production has been the source of most subsequent forms of production: without farming there would be no freedom from the incessant search for food; there would little art or architecture, no surplus to feed doctors, politicians, and teachers. Even today, with a diminishing portion of the world’s population involved in farming, most within the development community agree that a robust farming sector is almost always necessary for sustained economic growth.

And yet many of the same politicians and development economists who acknowledge the importance of a sustainable agricultural sector also treat farming merely as a means to industrial ends. Agriculture becomes the slave of industry, exploited to feed the voracious appetite of urban factories with raw materials, financial capital, and displaced farmers themselves. In this model, it is often forgotten that farming is the source of nourishment for each and every human body; it is the essence of production and not merely a tool for capital accumulation.

It is strange then that modern farmers—the archetypal producers—have been reduced by the economic and technological hegemony of agribusiness to the status of consumers. The past century has witnessed a steady penetration of farming by capital—formerly self-reliant farmers coaxed and pressured into purchasing expensive inputs such as fertilizer and seed held by an increasingly small number of transnational corporations. This capital-intensive agriculture leads to a vicious cycle of debt and dependency from which it is difficult to escape. Today, food producers at all points along the spectrum, from large poultry farmers in America to small potato farmers in the Andes, have been significantly disempowered by corporate heavyweights.

Agribusiness has long sought to consolidate corporate power over agriculture, gaining ground with hybrid seeds and chemical inputs manufactured during the mid 20th century. The most recent way in which these companies reduce food producers to consumers is through genetically engineered (GE) seed. As the promoters of this technology are eager to point out, humans have been manipulating seed for millennia, selecting desired characteristics and bringing these forward for the next generation. However, these corporations fail to acknowledge that there is a crucial difference with GE: this seed manipulation takes place not by farmers on the land but instead by scientists in the lab. These companies, moreover, appropriate seed developed by farmers over thousands of years and then ‘improve’, patent, and sell it back to the same farmers as an original product, claiming sole authorship. Labeled biopiracy by critics of GE, it is an action that clearly illustrates the dynamic between seed corporations and farmers.

Philanthropies and their private sector partners are also seizing on the growing hunger and climate crisis to push GE on small farmers in the developing world, particularly in Africa. This ostensibly well-meaning effort to foster development is based on several questionable practices and assumptions including a failure to acknowledge the deleterious history of farmer debt and dispossession, environmental degradation, and social stratification that has long accompanied this capital-intensive agricultural paradigm.

The word ‘farm’ comes from the Proto-Germanic word ferhwo meaning ‘life force’ or ‘being’ and is related to the Old English feorh meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘life.’ Etymologically this reflects the vital place of farming as a source of human productivity. Yet today, in a global economy geared towards limitless growth, consumption is king and even farmers, the original producers, are rendered sterile, manipulated into becoming consumers on their own fertile lands.


Kenyan Leaders split on bid to import GM maize

Differences continued to emerge among leaders over whether the country should import genetically modified crops.

Medical assistant minister Kazungu Kambi and Belgut MP Charles Keter warned against the importation of GM maize, arguing that it had negative effects.

“We do not want our people to eat GM maize because it has bad effects on their health. We totally are against it,” said Mr Kambi.

However, Agriculture secretary Wilson Songa said the country could not run away from GM technology.

“The technology is coming, there is no stopping it,” he said.

Boost production

Dr Songa said maize production in the country would double if the country adopted GM crops.

“Before we fully introduce the crop, it will go through the necessary agro-research analysis through Kenya Agricultural Research Institute,” he said.

He argued that a farm with GM crop could produce as much as 40 to 50 bags of maize per acre unlike the current case where only 30 bags were produced.

Kenya produces about 32 million bags of maize yearly while the consumption has shot up to 38 million due to rise in population.

The agriculture secretary noted that if the country adopted the technology, production would shoot up to about 64 million bags.

A 90kg bag of maize is currently going for Sh4,500, up from Sh1,200 three years ago.

Speaking during a Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security meeting at Intercontinental Hotel, Dr Songa said the country could not be competitive if it stuck to the old traditional methods of farming.

He cited South Africa, where farmers used three to four pesticides on a GM crop while in Kenya farmers used more than 15 pesticides before a crop matured.

Source: Daily Nation

African Small Farmers Declaration–La Via Campesina (International Peasants Movement)

Shashe Declaration 12-20 June 2011
Africa Region 1 of La Via Campesina, Masvingo, Zimbawe

We are 47 people from 22 organizations in 18 countries (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Central African Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Portugal, USA, France, and Germany). We are farmers and staff representing member organizations of La Via Campesina, along with allies from other farmer organizations and networks, NGOs, academics, researchers, interpreters and others.

We have been meeting at the Shashe Endogenous Development Training Centre in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe to plan how to promote agroecology in our Region (Southern, Eastern & Central Africa). Here we have been privileged to witness firsthand the successful combination of agrarian reform with organic farming and agroecology carried out by local small holder farming families. In what were once large cattle ranches owned by three large farmers who owned 800 head of cattle and produced no grain or anything else, there are now more than 365 small holder peasant farming families with more than 3,400 head of cattle, who also produce a yearly average of 1 to 2 tonnes of grain per family plus vegetables and other products, in many cases using agroecological methods and local peasant seeds. This experience strengthens our commitment to and belief in agroecology and agrarian reform as fundamental pillars in the construction of Food Sovereignty.

Threats and Challenges to Small Holder Agriculture and Food Sovereignty

Our region of Africa is currently facing challenges and threats that together undermine the food security and well-being of our communities, displace small holder farmers and undercut their livelihoods, undermine our collective ability to feed our nations, and cause grave damage to the soil, the environment and the Mother Earth.

These include local and regional manifestations of the global food price crisis and the climate crisis that have been produced by runaway neoliberal policies and the greed and profit-taking of Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Cheap subsidized food imports brought by TNCs, made possible by misguided free trade agreements, lowers the prices we receive for our farm products, forcing families to abandon farming and migrate to cities, while undermining local and national food production. Foreign investors, invited in by some of our governments, grab the best farm land, displacing food producing local farmers, and redirecting that land toward environmentally devastating mining, agrofuel plantations that feed cars instead of people, and other export plantations that do nothing to build Food Sovereignty for our peoples, and only enrich a few.

At the same time, uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from Developed Countries and from the global corporate food system based on long distance transport and industrial agriculture are changing the climate in ways that directly affect farmers. Our lands become more arid, with water ever more scarce, we face rising temperatures, and increased extreme weather conditions like severe storms, floods and droughts. The dates of the rainy season have become completely unpredictable, so that nobody knows when to plant anymore. The changing climate is also implicated in epidemics of communicable diseases of humans, crops and livestock. All of this hurts farming families and affects food production.

We face TNCs who want to force GMO seeds into our countries, whether or not we currently have GMO bans, and agencies like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) who conspire with TNCs like Cargill and Monsanto and with our governments to buy off national research and seed systems in order to sell GMO seeds. These seeds threaten the integrity of our local varieties and the health of our consumers. The same companies even manipulate regional farmer organizations to push GMOs, and we call on such organizations to resist being used in such ways.

While our soils, agroecosytems and forests are ever more degraded by industrial agriculture and plantations, and local seed biodiversity is lost, the costs of production under the conventional “Green Revolution” model are more expensive and out of the reach of small holder farmers. The price of chemical fertilizer on the world market, for example, has risen more than 300% in the last few years.

Faced with this bleak situation for small holder agriculture and Food Sovereignty in our region, as members of organizations belonging to La Via Campesina we take the following positions:

Positions of La Via Campesina in Africa Region 1

We believe that…

• Agroecological farming as practiced by small holder farmers, and Food Sovereignty policies, offer the only reasonable and feasible solutions to these multiple challenges facing our Region.

• Only agroecological methods (also called sustainable agriculture, organic farming, ecological agriculture, etc.) can restore soils and agroecosystems that have been degraded by industrial agriculture. Even chemicals do not work after severe degradation, but with agroecology we can restore soil organic matter and fertility, along with functional agroecosystem processes and services like nutrient recycling, soil biology, natural pest control, etc. We have seen that small holder agroecological systems have much greater total productivity than industrial monocultures, with little or no purchased inputs, reducing the dependency and increasing the autonomy and well-being of rural families while producing abundant and healthy food for our peoples. Global research by La Via Campesina demonstrates that Sustainable Peasant Agriculture Can Feed the World, based on endogenous knowledge and agroecology.

• The global food system currently generates between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions, almost all of which could be eliminated by transforming the food system based on the principles of agroecology, agrarian reform and Food Sovereignty. Sustainable Peasant Agriculture Cools the Planet, and this is our best solution to climate change.

• In order to adapt to a changing climate we need the greater resiliency of diversified agroecological systems (and water conservation and harvesting, watershed management, agroforestry, ground cover, etc.) and the genetic diversity of local peasant seeds and peasant seed systems. We demand that our governments withdraw support from the corporate seed industry with it’s standardized and often genetically modified seeds, and instead support peasant seed systems based on recovering, saving, multiplying, storing, breeding and exchanging seeds at the local level.

• Our national education and research systems are heavily biased toward the very industrial agriculture practices that are killing our planet and contributing to the failure of Africans to feed ourselves. We demand the reorientation of research toward farmer-led methods and agroecology, and the transformation of curricula at primary and secondary schools levels, and in higher education, to focus on agroecology.

• We call for an end to trade liberalization and the renewed protection of domestic markets so that African farmers can receive the fair prices that will enable us to boost production and feed our peoples.

• We call on governments to create comprehensive programs to support agroecological farming by small holders and to rebuild Food Sovereignty, including genuine agrarian reform and the defense of peasant lands from land grabbing, the reorientation of government food procurement from agribusiness toward purchasing ecological food at fair prices from small holders to supply schools, hospitals, institutional cafeterias, etc., as a way to support farmers and to provide healthy food to children, sick people and government employees, and programs of production credit for small holders engaged in ecological farming instead of subsidies tied to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

• At the COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico, the governments of the world (except Bolivia) met to conduct business with TNCs who traffic in false solutions to climate changes like agrofuels, GMOs, carbon markets, REDD+, etc., instead of meeting to seriously and effectively reverse global warming through real emission reductions by Developed Countries and the transformation of our global food, energy and transport systems. We demand that our governments behave more responsibly at COP-17 in Durban, South Africa, refusing to sign agreements imposed by the North and by TNCs, instead supporting the Cochabamba Principles on the Climate and the Rights of the Mother Earth.

Commitments of La Via Campesina

While we demand that our governments act in all the ways mentioned above, and will turn up the pressure on them to do so, we will not wait for them. Instead we pledge to continue to build agroecology and Food Sovereignty from below. We pledge to take the following practical steps:

• We will build organizational structures in La Via Campesina at the regional level to support our national member organizations in their work to promote agroecology among their member families. This includes regional training programs, exchange visits, the production and sharing of educational materials, and the identification and documentation of successful cases in the region so that all can learn the lessons they offer. Among the structures we will build is a network of agroecology trainers and practitioners in La Via Campesina in our Region.

• We will promote the creation of agroecology training programs and schools in our organizations, and farmer-to-farmer and community-to-community agroecology promotion programs.

• Through our own organizations we will promote the creation and strengthening of local peasant seed systems.

• We will document the experience in Zimbabwe of agrarian reform and organic farming by beneficiary families, as successful steps toward Food Sovereignty that we who are in other countries can learn from.

• We will work to “keep carbon in the ground and in trees” in the areas under our control, by promoting agroforestry, tree planting, agroecology, energy conservation, and by fighting land grabs for mining and industrial plantations.

• We will engage and pressure governments at all levels (local, traditional provincial, national and regional) to adopt Public Policies that favor agroecology and Food Sovereignty.

• We will build a powerful small holder farmer and peasant voice to be present with other sectors of civil society at COP-17 in Durban, and at Rio +20 in Brazil, with the message that we oppose false solutions to climate change and demand the adoption of the Cochabamba Principles. We will insist on Small Holder Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty as the most important true solutions to climate change.

Africans! We Can Feed Ourselves with Agroecology and Food Sovereignty!

Sustainable Agriculture by Small Holder Farmers Cools the Planet!

No to the Corporate Food System, GMOs and Land Grabbing!

Yes to Agrarian Reform and an Agroecological Food System!

Globalize Struggle! Globalize Hope!

NEW Radio Stories!

Many thanks to UW Bothell students Deni, Monica, and Brittany (and professor Amoshaun Toft) for working with us last quarter to create their own unique radio stories for the AGRA Watch campaign!!

Story-telling is a powerful organizing tool with the potential to shift mainstream discourse and build movements, and we have really appreciated this opportunity to begin exploring that potential. Check out the story descriptions and follow the links to listen below!

The Green Revolution: A Blessed Welcome or Cursed Method

In this story, UW Student Deni Proto outlines the history of the green revolution in Africa and how the current green revolution, promoted by AGRA, can be understood in a historical context.

Listen to mp3 here (8:19 min, 8.0 mb)

Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen

It seems only logical that when helping someone, one would listen to the person receiving the help.  How else is the problem supposed to be truly addressed?  Unfortunately this simple courtesy is not being given to the small scale African farmers.  It cannot be denied the agricultural system in Africa is in need of positive change. Large groups such as AGRA (Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa) have formed to address this issue. Unfortunately they are ignoring the voices of the people they are supposed to be assisting.  UW student Monica Hawkins went out to find more information on the alternatives methods of farming which are being posed by these farmers.

Listen to mp3 here (7:01 min, 6.7 mb)

A Better Way

This piece, by Brittany Foster,  features interviews with Travis English and Joshua Machinga, the founder of Common Ground, whom Travis interviewed while doing research in Kenya and is geared toward drawing the audience to action, giving them advice on how to give or volunteer in areas of equality, education and employment, and bio-intensive agriculture.

Listen to mp3 here (6:54 min, 7.3 mb)

AGRA Watch Event April 2: “We Are the Solution!” African Women Speak Out on Grassroots Solutions to Hunger and Poverty

“We Are the Solution!”  African Women Speak Out on Grassroots Solutions to Hunger and Poverty, Sat April 2nd, 6:30 – 8:30pm
Location: University Friends Meeting, 4001 9th Ave NE, Seattle 98105, link to map here

AGRA Watch presents Fatou Batta, Groundswell International Co-coordinator for West Africa and member of the Strategic Steering Committee of the We Are the Solution! Campaign

Please join us for an exciting evening with Fatou Batta exploring Food Sovereignty in Africa.  Fatou is from Burkina Faso and as West Africa director of Groundswell International has documented rural women’s traditional agro-ecological knowledge. She is also active in the “We are the Solution! Celebrating African Family Farming” campaign of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).   This campaign is led by 12 women’s farmers organizations in Africa who assume leadership in the international campaign to build alternatives to the “Green Revolution” in Africa while carrying out village level activities for food sovereignty.

Batta will be joined by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center (PANNA), and co-author of an important recent United Nations global survey of agriculture and poverty, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

The evening will be moderated by Bill Aal, Co-Chair of AGRA Watch, a campaign led by Community Alliance for Global Justice to work in solidarity with the We Are the Solution! campaign and others in Africa to urge the Gates Foundation to cease funding a new “Green Revolution” and instead fund small-scale alternatives.

Event Co-sponsored by Creatives 4 Community/GroundUP, EcoPraxis, HUG – Hilltop Urban Gardens, Just Garden, Sustainable Ballard, Tools for Change, Village Volunteers, WA Fair Trade Coalition and Witness for Peace Northwest

Batta and Ishii-Eiteman will be in Seattle for the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference.  For information and to register, click here.

For more info, please contact
or call CAGJ: 206-405-4600