Last week I had the privilege of being invited to a strategy workshop of the Alliance of Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. AFSA is a pan-African coalition comprising of farmer networks that represent small holder farmers, pastoralists and indigenous groups committed to realising food sovereignty in Africa.
The strengthening of this alliance is vital at a time when multinational companies are increasingly seeking to tighten their grip on African agriculture and its natural resources. Africa has been the target of institutional and rich government initiatives which, regardless of their spin, are actually about increasing corporate control of the African food system , the latest is the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Meanwhile, destroying the way of life of ecologically sustainable and productive small scale farmers – who already feed 70% of the world’s population.
For many centuries, farmers across the world have been able to save seeds which they use to plant the following year but new seeds laws in some African states threaten this very basic freedom. AFSA members are fighting the impending new laws which expedite the transfer of rights to breed, trade and exchange seed, away from small farmers and into the hands of multinationals. In other words, criminalising the farmers’ age-old tradition of saving and exchanging seeds and maintaining seed diversity.
AFSA members also articulated the threats of land-grabbing and extractives mining which is denying small scale farmers access to land to grow food and resources around the land such as water.
Other threats such as the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), spread of industrial models of agriculture and increasing influence of corporations on government policies were also identified. Although the threats to small scale agriculture are many, the delegates were also able to share their inspiring, positive stories of resistance. For example, one delegate told me about COPAGEN’s (Coalition for the protection of African genetic heritage) anti GM campaign in Benin – which has successfully won two moratoriums on GMOs and they are now working on a third. A farmer from Mali told me about ‘We are the solution’ campaign which is led by rural women in six countries of West Africa. Women are the main food producers in Africa and this campaign helps to build capacity to help women fight for food sovereignty.
There was no room for despondency at the workshop. Instead, delegates left with a resolve to fight back and a reaffirmation to promote the positive alterative of food sovereignty at every level – with farmers, civil society and governments.
We stand in solidarity with our African brothers and sisters.