By Heather Day, CAGJ’s Director
In August, AGRA Watch Co-Chair Bill Aal and I traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to participate in the 2nd Pan-African Seed Governance conference organized by AFSA (Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa). We’ve come home having learned so much about the battles farmers are facing in Africa, and the great work happening on the ground, to build peasant agriculture from the grassroots. See more photos of our trip in our Facebook albums here (conference), and here (Zanzibar).
We were honored to give a keynote in which we discussed AGRA Watch research (report forthcoming) about the Gates Foundation, AGRA and Microsoft’s troubling partnership to promote digitalization of agriculture and capture of land, seeds, and farmers’ knowledge for profit. We were also thrilled to host our first film screening on the continent of “Rich Appetites”!
We joined representatives from 27 African countries who collectively explored three themes: exploration of new biotechnologies and their implications for Africa’s seed sovereignty; the pivotal role of Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) in ensuring Africa’s food sovereignty; Forging continental synergies for robust seed sovereignty policies. In their final statement, the Seed Working Group of AFSA proclaimed, “Recognizing the role of women as seed custodians, the cultural-spiritual ties of seeds, and the foregrounding work of Peasants and farmers movements around the world, we have met to galvanize greater action for political and policy prioritization of farmer managed seed systems and farmers’ rights on the continent.”
In anticipation of Tanzania hosting AGRA’s annual AGRF forum, (we noted the huge billboard announcing the event on our arrival in Dar es Salaam), AFSA stated “we express our deep concern at AGRA and other corporate actors’ continued pressure to influence African government seed policies and biosafety regulations to increase corporate capture and control of seed on the continent”. AFSA hosted a powerful press conference last week rejecting the validity of the AGRA Forum: Read the press release, “No Decision About Us without Us!” and Watch the press conference.
We were so grateful to co-host our first film screening on the continent with MVIWATA, an incredible Tanzanian peasants organization with 300,000 members including representation from all over the country. We showed two episodes, ‘Seeds’ and ‘Money’, then heard reactions from a great panel as well as audience members. MVIWATA invited several community organizations including a socialist group who commented on how it would be important to hold screenings in peasant communities and not just in capitalist hotels-we agree! We hope to organize many more screenings and are heartened to hear that the films and companion guides are a valued resource in political education and consciousness raising on the continent! Watch and access free resources on the film website, richappetitesfilm.com.
Following the conference, we traveled to Zanzibar, where we continued strategy discussions (on the Indian ocean beaches!) with Frances Davies, our colleague with Zambian Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity. I was fortunate to be able to accept the invitation of Dr. Mwatima Juma, another conference attendee, to witness the amazing work happening at Msonge Organic Family Farm in Zanzibar, which she founded. Msonge is a “multi-enterprise farm, growing food for our own household use, sale to our local community through Pakacha Delivery Baskets, delivery to tourist hotels, and allowing room for events such as our weekly farm-to- table to spread the success of organic farming.” They also host regular permaculture trainings, and offer cooking classes where you harvest the food, learn to cook it together, and then enjoy your meal.
I arrived to find around 100 people gathered in a sunny opening in the trees, relaxing and enjoying a fiddle player, who I learned was playing taraab music. First we lined up for a coconut, top cut off to drink the fresh juice, and morsels expertly cut to spoon out. Then we were served the most beautiful food on a banana leaf, and I was fully satisfied, especially with the addition of ginger tamarind juice. Dr. Juma encouraged us to eat with our fingers – this way our body feels the food before we put it in our mouth, a beautiful sentiment!
Turns out that was only the appetizers. The amount of dishes offered, most made of ingredients grown at the farm, was stunning. SO many delicious things to taste! It included pilau, a traditional rice and meat dish made with Zanzibar’s many amazing spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, pepper), many veggie dishes, chicken, beef, fish, and lobster. Then multiple desserts and coffee – donut, rice ball, a coconut sweet, so yummy. I had ginger and lemongrass tea. A divine experience, don’t miss it if you go to Zanzibar (and it’s only $15)!
Next I had a wonderful farm tour! Our guide, Onesmo Adam, explained how they arrange deliveries of the food they grow via their own app, available on their website, and WhatsApp. They offer veggies, eggs, yogurt, coconut milk, chicken, peanut butter and the list goes on! The farm is also a training center in organic growing methods, primarily through a permaculture lens which means planning for fifty years ahead, ensuring there are areas set aside for birds and insects; it’s a system dedicated to People care, Health care and Fair Share.
The farm is divided into two sides, for sunshine and shade. He showed how they create network filters, how the rain can move top soil where there are alot of nutrients, so they catch that soil in holes where the rain water gathers, and then use that to plant seeds. They use intercropping to manage insects, for example mixing plants smells, and red and green plants as some insects are only attracted to one color or smell. Coconuts are used in lots of different ways, including the shells in soil to keep it moist and reduce the speed of weeds growing.
It was a fantastic trip! Now the work begins of integrating into AGRA Watch everything we’ve gathered from our partners and new friends!