Food And Hunger: Which Prize Takes The Prize?

CAGJ and Community to Community are co-hosting the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize, working closely with US Food Sovereignty Alliance members across the country, including WhyHunger, whose co-founder authored this piece on the fundamental differences between the World Food Prize, and the Food Sovereignty Prize.

Below is an excerpt from Bill Ayres’ article. It was originally published on The Huffington Post.
billayres-piece
Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Food And Hunger: Which Prize Takes The Prize?

By Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Co-founder and Ambassador

“Doctor Norman Borlaug the Father of the Green Revolution founded the World Food Prize in 1986 to promote the work of scientists and agricultural organizations that promote the production of food through technology. Over the years the prize has been given to dozens of top agricultural scientists and organizations which have pioneered biotechnological solutions for increasing food production, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Yet the solutions and science honored at these ceremonies aren’t solving the hunger problem in our world.

The Food Sovereignty Prize begun in 2009 to champion social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world working to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet. Food Sovereignty means that people should be able to grow, eat and sell their own food in the manner they choose. Members believe that increased dependence on technology, as heralded in the World Food Prize honorees, in the form of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds is not the answer to hunger and food production. Control of the food system by large corporations is not the way to protect the environment and decrease hunger and poverty. Access to land, clean water, native seeds and fair markets as well as protection from land grabs and state-sponsored violence are what small farmers need. Millions of small farmers have embraced agroecology, a method of growing food sustainably that combines the best of traditional agriculture with many of the best new agricultural breakthroughs that are affordable and safe for the environment, the food and the farmers. It is a way of life in which whole communities come together to share resources and learn from one another.”

Read the entire article on The Huffington Post.

Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture

If you aren’t familiar with agroecology, this infographic is a great introduction.

soil-to-sky-full-version

The UK based Agroecology Group released this infographic called Soil to Sky, created by The Christensen Fund. The graphic follows the impact of industrial agriculture compared to agroecology, on soil, food, water, communities, and the atmosphere.

 

 

Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for Africa

Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for AfricaIn mid July the African Center for Biodiversity(ABC) published Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and Not the Green Revolution for Africa, a comprehensive report on the consequences of the Green Revolution push in Africa, based on it’s fieldwork done in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe over the last three years.The report asserts that the promotion of increased synthetic fertilizer use in Africa for enhancing soil fertility is a short term fix, and is actually harmful in the long term.

Interventions pushing for high tech solutions such as genetically modified seeds, increased pesticide use and increased use of synthetic fertilizers have been spearheaded by fertilizer g
iant Yara, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa(AGRA), an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The ABC believes that, “the obsession with increasing adoption and uptake of synthetic fertilizers on the continent seems to be more about opening up fertilizer markets for multinational corporations, and stimulating commercial output markets than about identifying and responding to the specific needs of farmers in their socio-ecological context.”

Continue reading “Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for Africa”

Cover Crops: A Simple Solution to Degrading Soil Quality

Photo Credit: Food First

Roland Bunch, a researcher and activist for Food First, published a report focused on fact that in Sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farmer’s lands have gotten smaller on average due to population increase and growing amounts of wasteland. This decrease in the size of farms has resulted in the decline of the practice of letting a large portion of such land lie fallow for years at a time, while farmers are able to feed themselves and their families with the rest of it. Without letting their lands have a rest, Bunch says, the soil quality which has held steady for some 3000 years is now declining from overuse. 

In his report, Green Manure Crops in Africa: A Report from the Field, Bunch detailed his agroecological approach to educating smallholder farmers about the use of green manure, also known as cover crops(GM/CC), which can be grown in tandem with the farmer’s regular crops. Bunch found that the right green manure/cover crop for the specific region can return nutrients to the soil while growing usable foods for local communities.
Bunch has been investigating the use of planting crops that can fertilize the soil since the early eighties. Working with an independent group of agronomists from Brazil, he has led an effort to put these methods on the agendas of prominent development agencies. He was also very important to the introduction of the campesino a campesino(farmer to farmer) movement in Central and Southern America; cover crops were a central part of that movement.

Smallholder support at the Crossroads: Diminishing returns from Green Revolution Seed and Fertilizer Subsidies and the Agro-Ecological Alternative

Zimbabwe-report-2016On April 30, 2016, The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) released a report on the the impacts of the Green Revolution on small-scale farming and related socio-ecological contexts. The research is part of a three year multi-country initiative that engages farmers, farmer associations, farmer support organizations, extension workers, scientists, donors, and government officials. Following initial conversations with Zimbabwean civil society organizations (CSOs), the report works to highlight the potential areas for further work with regard to seed policies in the region.

The full report can be found at http://acbio.org.za/wp
-content/uploads/2016/04/Zimbabwe-report-2016.pdf

Impact of Organic Agriculture on Food Security

The Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization committed to
providing accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues,
recently conducted a study assessing the growth of global organic
agricultural practices and their impact on food security and the
environment.
Laura Reynolds, a researcher with Worldwatch’s Food and Agriculture
Program, is quoted in the report stating “Although organic agriculture
often produces lower yields on land that has recently been farmed
conventionally, it can outperform conventional practices—especially in
times of drought—when the land has been farmed organically for a longer
time…Conventional agricultural practices often degrade the environment
over both the long and short term through soil erosion, excessive water
extraction, and biodiversity loss.”
The report details the ways in which organic farming could contribute to
sustainable food security (by improving nutrition intake, enhancing
biodiversity, reducing vulnerability to climate change etc…) and also
examines the necessity of implementing sustainable methods of food
production to address the world’s growing demands.
For more information regarding organic agriculture and to review the Worldwatch Institute’s full report, please visit
http://www.worldwatch.org/achieving-sustainable-food-system-organic-farming.

Bill Moyers and Vandana Shiva Discuss the Global Consequences of GMOs

ImageCheck out Bill Moyers’ interview with Vandana Shiva as they discuss the consequences of GM seeds on small-scale farmers and the environment, as well as the impact that globalization has had on the food industry so far.
Shiva founded a movement to protect native seeds in India, and has been a leader in the global struggle against GMOs. She explains what seed privatization means in India and the rest of the world, and covers the actions of Monsanto, Cargill, and the Gates Foundation.

Donors and governments sidelining sustainable farming methods in the new ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa, Christian Aid warns in new report.

HEALTHY HARVESTS: The benefits of sustainable agriculture in Africa and Asia
A Christian Aid report, September 2011

Read the whole report here: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/Healthy-Harvests-Report.pdf

Executive Summary:

This report argues that smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia can improve agricultural productivity, food security and livelihoods by adopting sustainable approaches that utilize resource-conserving technologies and that draw upon their own knowledge.

 

Many thousands of communities in countries such as India, Cambodia, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and Kenya are already benefiting from sustainable farming but they need more support and, above all, these approaches need to be scaled up.

 

 

 

Seventy per cent of the world’s nearly 1 billion hungry people are smallholder farmers and the rural landless. Marginalised smallholder farmers have long been locked in a cycle of low productivity, lack of assets and services and weak market power. In addition, they face a number of newer challenges. Many crop and livestock producers are deeply vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Land degradation and groundwater depletion are increasingly posing a threat to food security and the livelihoods of rural people. Meanwhile, scope to expand agricultural production into new lands is increasingly limited, and competition for existing farmland is increasing too: from foreign investors, industry and urban developers. Rising food prices since the onset of the global food crisis of 2007 to 2008 have posed a further challenge to smallholder farmers who tend to be net food buyers and who also have to meet the costs of rising fertiliser prices.

This report asks the question: what kind of agriculture can address poverty and hunger in a world in which the climate is changing, food demand is growing and land, soil and water resources are increasingly under pressure; and in a way that preserves the natural resource base for future generations?

 

In recognition of the challenges facing agriculture, donors and governments have in recent years made welcome new political and financial commitments to smallholder farming, especially in Africa. However, as this report outlines, the solutions for Africa advocated by donors, governments and the initiatives of private foundations have tended to centre around the promotion of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which are costly for farmers and very often resourcedepleting. This drive for a new ‘Green Revolution’ for Africa has tended to sideline more sustainable, farmer led approaches. For example, recent input-subsidy programmes in Africa have brought significant short-term benefits in certain cases, but they are looking increasingly unsustainable and risk sidelining investment in greener alternatives. And our research identifies concerns that the agro-dealer networks funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are selling ever more quantities of agro-chemicals to farmers, thus marginalising the space for alternative approaches that are more sustainable.

The experience of Asia’s Green Revolution holds some very important lessons for policy-makers globally. There is no denying its achievement in lifting yields and reducing hunger, especially from the 1960s to 1980s. But this process of change began to stall in the 1990s and this is posing major challenges for Asian governments today. One cause is the heavy burden on the natural resource base of the widely-adopted, intensive monocropping system. Soil degradation has meant farmers have had to increase the quantity of fertiliser used in order to maintain their yields. This has in turn affected their profit margins and is one factor behind increasing levels of farmer debt. There have been a range of other serious consequences of the Asian Green Revolution (for example, the loss of on-farm biodiversity, social inequalities, and the dangerous effects of pesticides on the health of farmworkers), which should give governments more than a pause for thought.

We define sustainable agriculture as a way of producing food that balances the economic, social and environmental aspects of farming.

It is an approach that minimizes or avoids chemical inputs, uses resource-conserving technologies and materials available on the farm, and draws and builds upon the capacity of farmers and community organisations. These principles are already being successfully adopted by farming communities in Asia and Africa, including with the support of Christian Aid partners.

A growing body of evidence – both academic and data and analysis available from development programmes – demonstrates that such sustainable approaches can be highly effective in boosting production, incomes and food security; supporting soil and water conservation, on-farm biodiversity and crop health; improving resilience to natural disasters and climate change; lowering greenhouse gas emissions; and empowering communities. For example, in

Cambodia, the adoption of new growing techniques for rice, which minimise the use of agro-chemicals and water (known as the ‘system of rice intensification’) has helped increase yields for farmers from an average of 2.5 tonnes per hectare to 3.7 tonnes per hectare. In Zimbabwe, Christian Aid partners ZimPro and the Dabane Trust have assisted over 3,000 households to adopt conservation agriculture. This enabled farmers to increase significantly their yields of sorghum, millet and maize – helping to improve household food security. And in other countries, farmers have been able to cut back on pesticide use by adopting natural methods of tackling pests. This has delivered both income and health benefits.

However, these approaches remain severely under-supported. To scale them up governments and donors need to significantly re-balance their current focus on quick-fix, external input intensive ‘solutions’, towards a much greater support for sustainable, agro-ecological approaches. This should come through a re-balancing of government subsidies towards resource-conserving technologies and by building these approaches into revived public research and extension programmes that place smallholder farmers, their associations and networks at the centre of decisionmaking. National seed laws should primarily focus on promoting farmers’ rights and access to seeds of their own choosing, be they modern or local seed varieties. They should also enshrine the right of farmers to freely breed, conserve and exchange traditional varieties. Governments will also need to increase poor people’s access to land and smallholders’ security of tenure – both are important pre-requisites for rural food security and the adoption of sustainable agriculture. Governments need to encourage and harness the potential of the private sector to play a role in supporting sustainable farming, while also putting in place appropriate regulations, for example to ensure that private agro-dealers do not replace government extension service as a source of advice on inputs for farmers.

This must also be accompanied by initiatives that enable the creation of, and access to, markets that return fair prices for small-scale producers, and global trade policies that safeguard the position of domestic producers in national food systems.

 

Yes! Magazine features Fatou Batta, Burkina Faso farmer and AGRA Watch partner we held an event with in Seattle in May 2011

Women Farmers Feed the World

In West Africa, women’s resistance to the new Green Revolution shows that the question of agricultural sustainability is also a question of equality.

By Christa Hillstrom

http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/women-farmers-feed-the-world

It’s harvest season in Burkina Faso. Throughout the West African nation’s rural regions, small farmers—mostly women—are harvesting millet, rice, and sorghum to feed large families. After a full day gathering grains, each wife will continue the work, tending her own small garden to feed her children.

The harvest marks the end of the “lean season,” the dangerous months after the year’s food supply has dwindled and the next crops have not yet arrived—a time that leaves many women foraging for their children.

West Africa—and much of the rest of the world—is facing a food crisis. Nearly one billion people are hungry, according to the World Hunger Education Service, and farmers throughout the Global South are experiencing escalating anxiety over the appropriation and control of land, seeds, and farming techniques by foreign governments and corporations—manifested in “land-grabbing,” seed monopolization, genetic modification, and the imposition of high-tech, water-, chemical-, and energy-intensive monocrops.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a Gates Foundation-funded initiative based in Nairobi and spearheaded by Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the U.N. It’s a multimillion-dollar project that seeks to increase food production in Africa by implementing vigorous Western-style agricultural techniques, promising high-yield results for food-insecure populations.

According to the Gates Foundation and other supporters, it’s an African-led endeavor, modeled on the previous Green Revolutions of Latin America and the Indian sub-continent but placed in the hands of Africans. It sounds like a good idea.

But a growing movement of local farmers—largely led by women—argue that the surest path to food security is securing food sovereignty. It’s a concept that was put forward in the early 90’s by Via Campesina, an international alliance of peasant, indigenous, and women’s organizations that advocates for communities’ control over how food is produced, and who gets to eat it.

The original Green Revolution, beginning in the 1940’s, pushed widespread use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment whose expense was out of reach for most peasant farmers. Critics point out that years of water-intensive farming has depleted water tables, while increased use of chemicals has severely damaged soil in some areas. And while new seeds and tools may bring higher production in the short term, many Africans fear the consolidated control corporations exercise over the food supply, the precarious dependence on large amounts of water and energy inputs, and the environmental toll such methods may eventually take.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), sponsored by the U.N. and published in 2009, found that the adoption of agrochemicals and monocropping, among other technologies, have harmed more than the land. They’ve also hurt local communities and economies, benefiting transnational corporations with “near-total control” of food production.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, lead author of the IAASTD report, emphasizes instead the importance of agroecological farming, an approach that supports localized farming and draws on traditional agricultural knowledge. It not only considers productivity, sustainability, and resilience, but also equity.

This is good news for women. Women, according to Ishii-Eiteman, make up a huge percentage of the world’s small food producers (who, she says, together grow about 70 percent of the food supply). They do the most to get food on the table, and they’re usually the last to eat it.

Fatou Batta works with Groundswell International, an organization that partners with small-farmer groups across the world, including in Burkina Faso. She’s helping to lead a broad grassroots alliance that shows that small farmers‚ and especially women, can feed the world if we give them the resources to control their food, and the right to eat it too.


 

Fatou Batta photo courtesy of Groundswell International

Fatou Batta.

Photo courtesy of Groundswell International.

Christa Hillstrom: Let’s talk about food sovereignty. How do people in West Africa understand this concept?

Fatou Batta: In our context, it is related to the type of food we want to eat and produce, and having the ability to produce what we eat. It seems that in the U.S., food justice is much better understood than food sovereignty.  But in our context, controlling the production of what we eat is key—not just get something that is imposed.

Christa Hillstrom: You talk about equity—economic equity, gender equity—as a key ingredient of sovereignty. I think a lot of people don’t think equity when they think about food security. They think of resilience, sustainability, and high yields. Why is it important to include equity in building long-term security in food production? How does that bring women into the picture?

Fatou Batta: First of all, it’s a question of rights. Women are key in producing food. They are working on the farm, they’re producing through labor, and when it comes to using food, they are the last ones to be able to eat it. It’s important to make sure those who contribute to producing the food also have access to eat equitably. In the family, usually males have the right to eat first. I think it’s unfair. It’s discrimination. So if we’re talking about the right to food, we have to be looking at the gender imbalance.

Christa Hillstrom: Could you give an idea of what it’s like to be a woman farmer in West Africa?

Fatou Batta: The way it works is, there is land for the whole family. On that land, it’s the head of household—the man—who manages it. But the labor is largely produced by the women and children. In many places in Burkina, the woman has a small plot of land with which to produce something like okra because she has the responsibility of feeding the family using extra ingredients. The whole family produces staples like millet and sorghum. But they still have to make some type of sauce—like a soup with vegetables. This is the responsibility of individual women.

Christa Hillstrom: So each wife is producing for her own children.

Fatou Batta: Yes. And usually her plot of land is completely depleted and will not yield much. During the rainy season, she will go in the morning and work with the husband and children [and other wives] on the large plot of land, the land for the whole family. She will spend almost the whole day there. The time for her own plot would be in the afternoon when the sun goes down. After the work on the large family land, she will go to her own land to work there before she goes back home, and—after collecting firewood—cook for the whole family. The work burden on her is large.

Seasons of Hunger

Christa Hillstrom: You mentioned the lean season, when women must often forage to feed their children because stores from the harvest have run out.

Fatou Batta: From the harvest, which occurs between October and November, until February or March, people usually have something to eat. But from March until the next planting period, this is the hardest part: The food is finished and it’s hard to feed everybody. This is the time we call the hunger season. It could last five, six, or seven months. One family may run out of food after just three months, meaning that for the next nine months they are food insecure.

Christa Hillstrom: So into this situation comes a new push toward an African Green Revolution. What do farmers think about this?

Fatou Batta: The Green Revolution requires using a lot of water. What will happen in case of a drought? Farmers believe it’s better for them to go from what they know, what they have been using for years. They still have in mind what happened in Asia and Latin America with the Green Revolutions there, and they see it as something they cannot control—they fear dependence on all of these pesticides, chemicals, and imports.

Traditionally, farmers control their own seeds—and share them. Women are the keepers of those seeds. But with AGRA, all of this is going to be out of the farmers’ control. This is why we are doing this whole campaign, saying, “We are the solution.” The solution cannot come from elsewhere. It’s already there.

Christa Hillstrom: Supporters of the Green Revolution technologies argue, you have these dangerous lean seasons, and these new seeds can produce more food to eliminate hunger. What do local people say to that?

Women are those who store the seeds and can protect traditional seeds. If you take their seeds, it’s like you’re taking their soul away.

Fatou Batta: First of all, it’s not yet evident the new seed will produce. It’s dependent on fertilizer, pesticide, and new technologies. Plus, here people rely on the rainfall—there is no irrigation. If you cannot control the water, what will happen if you apply the chemical fertilizer and then there is no rain? You could lose everything. So even if these new seeds can double the yield, there are some necessary environmental conditions that are not always met.

Plus there’s the cost. Most small farmers cannot afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides because it’s very expensive. But farmers have a way of selecting traditional seeds to see which ones are really performing, knowledge that has come down through generations. They do their own selection of what seeds are really good for what context and what seeds can be resilient to drought.

So we all agree that it’s important to increase productivity, but there are some necessary conditions to make it environmentally sustainable.

Seed / Money

If you don’t have control of your life, it’s like you are lying on someone’s mat and at any moment you can be thrown away.

Christa Hillstrom: It seems like seeds are much more than just tools for food production. What role do they play in culture?

Fatou Batta: Women are those who store the seeds and can protect traditional seeds. If you take their seeds, it’s like you’re taking their soul away. Whatever improved seed you give them, they will still keep the traditional seed because it reflects their culture. They don’t want to get rid of it. Under the Green Revolution, it’s something that might no longer exist.

Christa Hillstrom: It sounds like this culture of commodity from outside is invading something on a spiritual level—companies come in and patent seeds, take ownership of them, and it kills something.

Fatou Batta: Yes, it kills something. In terms of culture, it kills something. In terms of local knowledge, it kills something. Putting farmers in debt because they depend on a corporation, in our culture, is like you lie down on the mat of someone. That’s a cultural image. If you don’t have control of your life, it’s like you are lying on someone’s mat and at any moment you can be thrown away.

Christa Hillstrom: You’ve said that women who are illiterate may feel like they don’t have much to teach, but these are also the women with the traditional knowledge and farming experience that we’ll need in coming times. What’s an example of that knowledge?

Fatou Batta: Because women are central to food security, they have developed strategies to feed their families in case of things like crop failure. They collect firewood, and they know what is in the bush, what types of species. They learn what can and cannot be consumed. When there is hardship, they will go back to the bush to collect what can be consumed—some leaves, some roots, some fruit.

The shea nut tree is a bank for women. It takes a long time to grow, and they use the nuts to make butter. Traditionally, that’s a main source of fat. The shea nut butter is also medicinal, and the nut can be sold for money. It is a coping mechanism during the lean season. When the rain starts, during planting time, the food in the family is usually gone. But in the bush the shea nut fruit is ready and they can eat it.

What we’ve observed happening now is that through all this technology imported with the Green Revolution, large areas of land are being converted to cash cropping. They cut down the trees and destroy vegetation. This means that women are losing their back-up sources of income and food. Some of the species don’t exist anymore in some parts of the country.

An Alliance for a Farmers’ Revolution in Africa

Christa Hillstrom: Traditional coping knowledge is critical to hang on to. How are local people—many of them illiterate—preserving and sharing strategies that go against the grain of agricultural principles of monocropping, genetic modification, and chemical farming, especially if they’re not writing it down?

Fatou Batta: What is being done is through exchange visits. Groups of women visit each other and share their knowledge about using natural resources and techniques. They bring ideas back and try them through experimentation. You visit one farmer who experiences similar problems and difficulties, and she has tried something that really succeeded. You bring it home and learn from it.

Christa Hillstrom: Sounds like “We are the Solution” could be a transformative campaign, if it can survive what it’s up against. What sort of support do you need to give the small farmer movement a real shot at flourishing?

Fatou Batta: I think it requires alliances—getting together and developing advocacy and also making pressure on our leaders. We need to say it’s important to invest more in sustainable technologies. Because of the activists nowadays, the debate is happening within the farmer network, and they’re trying to hold our leaders accountable.

Christa Hillstrom: So what gives you hope that it can really take root?

Fatou Batta: What is still working is the bond, the relation between people and communities—the solidarity.

Christa Hillstrom: Whose face do you see when you look at the big picture?

 

Woman Farmer in West Africa photo courtesy of Groundswell International

Photo courtesy of Groundswell International.

Fatou Batta: Many, many, many cases: A lady whose husband migrated and left her with six children to feed. But the land her husband’s family gave her was not good land. That’s normal—women get land that’s not good land, completely degraded. Then they work to improve it. She worked hard. She improved her land based on techniques she learned from one of Groundswell’s partners, a local organization that trained her on how to improve the land using some organic manure, etc. The first years were hard, but finally she was able to produce, and now she is completely self-sufficient.

Christa Hillstrom: What would you like to say to the powerful proponents of AGRA?

Fatou Batta: The willingness to feed the poor is good. But the strategy is not a good one. It’s completely the opposite of what can work. Just listen, really listen, to small-scale farmers—because they are the ones who feed the world.

De Schutter – the case for Agroecology

The budding field of agroecology represents a synthesis between ecology and agronomy. Embracing traditional, local knowledge as much as modern science it has already produced impressive results in the field: increasing crop yields, lowering input costs, enhancing soils, and combating deforestation. Yet despite these proven benefits, agroecological methods are scorned or ignored by most food policy makers. Why neglect such a promising toolbox? In a recent article, Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, makes the case for agroecology and identifies the political and economic obstacles to expanding its implementation. The solution to hunger is not to continue the toxic trajectory of the original Green Revolution or rely on an expensive and hazardous ‘gene revolution,’ as promoted by AGRA.  The world can not afford to choose between productivity and sustainability—we need both, and fast. If given a chance, agroecology has the potential to  produce abundant food, sustain livelihoods, and safeguard the environment.