Elizabeth Mpofu, Co-founder of ZIMSOFF and General Coordinator of La Via Campesina
Presentation prepared for AGRA Watch Webinar and Report Launch: “The Struggle Over Agroecology: Mapping and Mobilizing against the Gates Foundation’s Influence in African Agriculture” August 8, 2020
Elizabeth’s presentation is shared here, as she was unable to share all of her remarks in the webinar due to poor internet connection.
Agriculture continues to be one of the dominant sectors supporting developing countries’ population of and its economic growth with most of the population living in rural areas especially rural small holder women farmers. Agriculture is a source of income, employment, food security and nutrition, diversified and health food systems based on agroecology and food including seed sovereignty. These are all embedded in agroecology principles, seed and food sovereignty in which women movements recognizes that agroecology and food sovereignty lies with the values of women in deciding their own farming practices, seed they want to use and deciding their own consumption patterns.
At the heart of agriculture is the issue of seed whether local/farm managed seed systems by small holder farmers’ own initiatives mostly by rural women feeding millions of people across the Global South. Agroecology, food sovereignty and use of farm managed seed systems by small holder farmers have proved over the years that they are sustainable, protect the environment, promote a diversified nutritious and health food systems and they are resistant to harsh climatic conditions despite being rejected by most governments. Small holder women farmers have been promoting indigenous land management systems such as use of manure and composts, zero-tillage, water harvesting, contour ridging, land regeneration, resuscitation of agro-forestry, dry and wet lands.
- Agroecology and food sovereignty have been under threat from corporate agribusinesses and the continued support of industrial forms of agriculture or the Green Revolution from our own governments and western philanthropists such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who have also alluded to the fact their Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has been a failure.
- This is highlighted in the in the 2019 research report by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung titled False Promises: The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa.
- Over the years farm input support programmes, advisory and extension services have been promoting industrial agriculture based on hybrid seeds, use of synthetic fertilizers and agro-chemicals neglecting small holder farmers own initiatives is local seed multiplication, seed sharing and exchange including agroecology and food sovereignty.
- Other threats emanate from weak inclusive budget processes that are not gender sensitive and limited opportunities among rural small holder farmers with regards to access and control of land including low cost rural financing especially for rural women small holder farmers.
- Lack of support towards farmer led R&D in seed and sustainable agricultural practices, farmer to farmer extension services such as the ones given to farmers through the Agroecology Schools led by La Via Campesina and sustainable climate change adaptation strategies through Agroecology and Food Sovereignty.
- Some of the indigenous women seeds are now being eroded due to the increase in corporate hybrid seeds and GMOs through the Green Revolution without proper research on people’s livelihoods, the environment, animal, plant and soil life.
- Environmental degradation through the continued usage of synthetic fertilisers and agro-chemicals.
- The introduction of climate smart agriculture without clear research on its sustainability on peoples livelihoods and the environment.
Opportunities and Recommendations
- Small holder women farmers especially rural women farmers have been at the fore front in the struggles for agroecology, seed and food sovereignty.
- In this regard, there is need to make a deliberate effort on farmer led research and development on local seed, open-pollinated varieties, food sovereignty, seed production and management in particular farm managed seed systems, agroecology, and diversified, nutritious food and health food systems including biodiversity.
- Strengthening collaboration among indigenous and peasant women leaders and their organisations, and developing their collective capacity to advocate for their rights and a way of life that respects and restores Mother Earth and her resources.
- These women small holder farmers believe that there is a huge variety of women’s seeds in Sub Saharan Africa and women are the custodians of the seeds that have been used for centuries by their grandmothers.
- What needs to be done is to ensure that the women as seed custodians continue to multiply, preserve and save their seeds including sharing of these seeds to ensure that those regions that do not have similar seeds can be able to produce too.
- Evidence has shown that these seeds are highly nutritious and are needed if we are to have sustainable and healthy food systems in our families and communities.
- These seeds are not expensive to produce and acquire as well as being able to resist harsh climatic conditions in times of erratic rainfall patterns and can produce even with little rains as compared to corporate hybrid seeds and our governments are even promoting and supporting these seeds though their farm input support programmes.
- This needs to be scaled up in our communities and the whole country to ensure that these seeds survive the onslaught from corporate hybrid seeds through Agroecology schools, seed and food fairs, exchanging and sharing of seed such as through the Zimbabwe Seed Sovereignty Programme and the Good Food Festivals.
- Harsh climatic conditions have led to more uptake of farmer led own initiatives through agroecology and usage of indigenous seeds the backbone of seed and food sovereignty.
- Water harvesting techniques, resuscitation of forests and wetlands, sustainable land and water usage by women small holder farmers in most rural areas.
- There must be deliberate efforts in supporting women farmers practicing agroecology and food sovereignty to boost production through clear agricultural policies such as access markets, as well as credit facilities and advisory and extension services as well as research are needed to improve yields.
- Scaling up agroecology schools for farmer to farmer extension services based on agroecology practices and food sovereignty.
- Farm input support programmes targeting drought tolerate crops or indigenous seeds.
- Support of women who are seed custodians of traditional crops that are highly nutritious.
Agroecology and food sovereignty have proved to be sustainable agricultural practices by small holder farmers especially rural women farmers and peasants, indigenous groups, fisher folks, pastoralists and mountaineers. The small holder women farmers continue to challenge male dominance, inequalities, gender imbalances and the conventional forms of agriculture promoted by huge industrialists, agri-businesses and multinational companies.
Women continue to play a pivotal role in promoting agroecology practices and this has been supported by the rise in feminist agricultural economics whereby rural women and peasant movements have started to rise up in demanding recognition of the role of women in promoting sustainable agricultural practices embedded in agroecology and food sovereignty including usage of traditional crops/ farm-managed seed systems. Sustainable land and soil management lies in rural and indigenous soil regeneration innovations through agroecology such as use of manure, compost, bio-fertilisers, crop rotation, mulching and mixed cropping. This will ensure that soil fertility and moisture content are restored and maintained.