by Danielle Nierenberg
Farmers in the twenty-first century are harnessing both scientific and traditional knowledge to create solutions to the problems they face every day. WhyHunger, a nonprofit organization that harnesses grassroots action to combat poverty and hunger, recently released a new report, “Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty into Action,” describing the potential of agroecological solutions through community perspectives.
The publication was spearheaded by WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program. Working with international social movements and civil society organizations, the program links domestic work on hunger and poverty to global movements for food sovereignty and the basic rights to food, land, water, and sustainable livelihoods.
The report tries to make a case for increased support of agroecology by featuring the voices of community activists and champions of food justice in both developed and developing nations. The leaders describe the social, political, cultural, nutritional, and spiritual meanings of agroecology from their own perspectives and experiences. “We envision this publication will serve as a tool for popular education among grassroots organizations in the United States and abroad,” says Alison Cohen, Senior Program Director at WhyHunger.
These networks represent the individuals most negatively affected by the industrialization of agriculture, and also provide access to the farming populations that could benefit most from a shift to agroecology. As Amarilis Guamuch, the Director of the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), a women’s movement based in Guatemala, explains, “We have been threatened by globalization and mercantilism. Through agroecology, indigenous women are leading a different way of life. We grow healthy food, sell it to others and, more important, we are generating more knowledge and saving the seeds.”
WhyHunger identifies a need to increase the number of people and places impacted by agroecology, recognizing that funding, research, training, and supportive policies will be vital to the success of peasant-led agroecology.
Increased funding for social movements’ priorities will be necessary from both the public and private sectors in order to realize the objectives of grassroots organizations in the developing world. Support for the rights to land, seeds, and water of local communities will also be crucial in providing smallholder farmers with the basic resources they need. Population growth in the developing world and climate change are likely to heighten competition among small farmers for these precious resources; “agroecology is the only way to solve the problems of hunger and the climate crisis,” says Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) of Haiti. According to WhyHunger, democratic reviews of free trade agreements will also be important in protecting farmers’ rights to multiply, store, and share seeds.
The report further calls for substantial government commitment to technical assistance for farmer-led research of agroecological practices, imploring the public sector to move away from policies that subsidize international agribusiness.
WhyHunger reports that basic infrastructure of roads, schools, and other services still lacking in many rural communities, and could be improved through more substantial public sector commitments.
The publication also emphasizes participatory decision-making. According to Janaina Stronzake, a member of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, “ownership and possession of land may be individual or collective, but always with participatory and local decisions about what, how and when to produce. Every place in the world must build its own agroecology.”
Janaina and the other social movement leaders featured in the publication are working to build these place-based networks, by scaling out agroecological solutions. Through peasant-to peasant exchanges and training, advocacy for supportive policies and increased funding, and dissemination of farmer-led research, grassroots leaders are already working for substantial change. WhyHunger hopes there will be increased dialogue, awareness and support for the leaders and communities who are fighting to reclaim their rights and food systems.
Dena Hoff, a Montana farmer and member of the National Family Farm Coalition, expressed the multifaceted potential of more holistic farming, saying, “We need agroecology for healthy soil, healthy food, and healthy communities. Agriculture has to be integrated, and it has to be local. Accountability is built into local food systems for good food, healthy land, and just labor practices. Farming needs to respect the people who work the land, as well as the land itself.”
Food Tank is excited to be collaborating with the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) supported by the Externalities Working Group of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food during 2015 to highlight farmer-led solutions to protect natural resources, increase incomes, and improve livelihoods.