Advocating for African Farmers

Interview with AGRA Watch Co-chair Janae Choquette!

Paul K. Haeder / Down to Earth NW Correspondent

For Janae Choquette, it’s a no-brainer to support small-scale agriculture because solutions are local-based and then set into motion through local experts.

She’s co-chair of AGRA Watch, a program organized by Seattle’s Community Alliance for Global Justice, which is monitoring and trying to grow public support for using smaller-scale, sustainable farmers in the Alliance for a Green Revolution instead of larger multinational corporations.

The 22-year-old has pitted herself and AGRA Watch against the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Monsanto, which are both promoting the very noble concept of bettering the world’s food supply.

Choquette recently shared why she’s involved in this effort and why different ways should be found to get smaller farmers involved.

Not many 22-year-olds want to work part-time for no or little pay to focus on social and environmental justice. Any advice for teens interested in this path?

Organizing has shown me that people are powerful when they come together, and being an organizer has helped me find my own power to effect change. Here, I’m surrounded by community, something that’s been eroded in our society, which supports me in my growth and evolution as a human. I am constantly developing skills and gaining new understandings from the inspiring people around me. By dedicating myself to the liberation of all peoples and living things, I am accountable to my privilege as a direct beneficiary of many forms of systemic oppression.

Give an ‘elevator speech’ about AGRA Watch.

The Gates Foundation’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA, is a package of “solutions” to hunger, poverty, and climate change being imposed on the African continent by outsiders with almost no public knowledge or participation. Besides the fact that this is undemocratic, these solutions more likely will make things worse. For example, the industrial model of agricultural development promoted by AGRA, while profitable for transnational corporations, has failed farmers, consumers, and the environment here in the U.S.

What do you see yourself doing with regards to social justice in the next 10 -15 years?

I see all of the crises we face as being inter-connected and rooted in a systemic crisis of capitalism, so it’s hard to focus on any one facet. While I’m concentrating on food right now, in the past my organizing targeted U.S. militarism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. No matter what my specific focus, it’s important to continue making connections between seemingly disparate issues and to position anti-oppression at the heart of my work.

Social justice colleagues in other countries put their necks on the line, and fight in the streets, or at least protest and are ready to be jailed. Why can’t we see this here with youth and others?

In many ways, the stakes are much higher for other regions, where resisting the continued colonization and exploitation of their lands and peoples is a matter of life and death.

In the U.S., though our “development” has come at the expense of the rest of the world and marginalized communities in our own country, we have been able to largely distance ourselves from the violence of neoliberal globalization. It doesn’t help that we don’t have a mainstream culture of dissent to begin with, or that our anger is often manipulated and misdirected (i.e. anger over the recent economic crisis being funneled into racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment).

The ‘message’ is being silenced, and controlled by fewer mainstream and corporate ideologues. Is that a place AGRA Watch needs to finesse?

Beyond corporate control of the media, the growing power of industry to define academic and scientific research agendas and bury results they dislike, as in genetic engineering, is alarming. We are paying attention to the Gates Foundation’s heavy funding of media in recent years, from U.C. Berkeley’s journalism program to the Guardian and ABC. While AGRA Watch tries to access mainstream media coverage, we are aware of the limitations, and emphasize grassroots, creative avenues of outreach in our campaign and shifting public discourse.

What makes you cynical? Hopeful?

We’ve reached a crossroads in human history. The global economic crisis is being compounded by a looming environmental crisis of unfathomable magnitude, and capitalism is beginning to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. Though some might not agree with my analysis, I think very few people would dispute that change is going to happen.

What makes me cynical is that the dominant system and ideology that brought us to this point of crisis is so deeply entrenched at every level. Our minds are thoroughly colonized, and shifting public consciousness is generally a gradual process. At the same time, the imminent threat of widespread ecological devastation we face as a species makes slow change utterly inadequate, and I’m afraid we won’t act fast enough to avert catastrophe or at least be poised to rise from the ashes.

Yet as foreclosures forge brutally ahead, unemployment rises, and food banks struggle to meet skyrocketing demand, many in the U.S. have been shaken by our current situation, by failures of a system they trusted, and are looking for different answers.

Whether we can effectively provide these is another question, especially as fear is cultivated to keep people divided, but I believe love is stronger than fear, and that the vast majority of people are united by a common interest in transforming systems that fail to meet our most basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This is a powerful basis for building a movement toward a better world for all, if only we can tap it.

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts.

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