4 New Year’s Resolutions for Agroecology Funders

By Rajasvini Bhansali, IDEX Executive Director

AFSA affirms the right of small farmers to have autonomy and control over their traditional seeds. Photo: Rucha Chitnis

The participants represented over 300 million people in Africa – farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, Indigenous peoples, consumers, youth networks, women’s networks, food processors, scientists, activists, funders and researchers – all concerned about the future of food and social justice on the Continent and globally.

So where was I?

Luam Kidane, IDEX’s Regional Director for Africa, and I attended Changing Food Systems in Africa: The Role of Agroecology & Food Sovereignty in Health and Nutrition Conference hosted by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in Addis Ababa between November 24 to 26 2016. Colleagues from Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somaliland, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe came together to dialogue about agroecology, land, nutrition, policy, seed, and health and to collectively analyse the threats and the opportunities ahead for food sovereignty on the Continent.

IDEX considers it a great privilege to be invited into such dialogue. As a US-based public foundation, we have a solidarity role to play in supporting the courageous people struggling for social transformation on the frontlines of food sovereignty and climate and economic justice movements the world over. This conference and the subsequent AFSA Annual General Meeting inspired some new year’s resolutions for funders:

AFSA members resist the industrialization of African food systems that has led to loss of biodiversity and displacement of indigenous peoples. Photo courtesy: AFSA
  1. Resource narrative change strategies.

The dominant narrative of industrial agriculture being the solution to feeding the world and ending hunger through increasing productivity through chemical-based agriculture and knowledge coming from the Global North must change. This narrative is reductionist, exclusionary, inaccurate and ignores the negative impacts on communities and culture. Instead, it is essential to resource efforts underway such as those led by AFSA that seek to resurface and continue building alternative African narratives based on sustainable and people-centered food sovereignty models  and rooted in generations of African farmers and their experiences. As pointed out at the meeting:

“Many of the farmers are women who evolved the African food system and nourished our populations before the industrial food system was imposed on us. Our focus ought to be on rural people who form the majority of Africa – people who have fed Africa through family farming systems – and their experiences. We have to also include consumers on the Continent as the industrial food system is affecting their nutrition and health.” ~Million Belay, coordinator of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)

If in the struggle for social transformation we are to be led by the analysis, nuance, and experience of partners ,like AFSA, we as funders also must heed  the challenges they have identified. For example, AFSA has pointed out the desire to cast greater influence on policy makers. While AFSA produces excellent case studies on agroecology, they are struggling to find resources to translate these materials into languages other than English, which are spoken in Africa. This is a simple ask easily mediated by a small grant.

AFSA will continue engaging with Africans and conduct research to understand the African food system and the impacts of industrial food systems on Africa. AFSA’s agenda requires resources for inclusive collaboration, strategy and documentation and dissemination.

  1. Fund at the place where siloed programs meet.

Agroecology and food sovereignty processes regard food not only as economic value but as cultural knowledge; as medicine; and as glue for social relations. As Bernard Guri of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development in Ghana reminded us at the conference, food production in Africa integrates elements of rights of nature, spirituality, democratic participation, peace, self-determination, sensuality, justice, and human dignity. To fund at these intersections is critical to ensuring that our actions do not unconsciously disrupt the ecological balance and social harmony of communities. Compartmentalized and short-term thinking has caused the many problems that face our food systems currently. It is going to be imperative that the solutions we resource are intersectional, integrated, and lead to long-term and sustainable change in food systems.

  1. Invest in collaborations and interdependence.

There is no silver bullet solution to the global food crisis. We know that corporate interests and disregard of local knowledge has led to monocropping, monoculture and an extractive global agricultural system. It is going to be important in this next phase therefore to invest in collaborative initiatives that nurture and promote the idea and practices of interdependence, not only amongst movements and organizations but in fact, throughout the ecosystem. Seeds, soil, land, food production, and market access are all interconnected aspects of the agroecological movement. The conference reminded us to add health, nutrition and cultural wellbeing to this mix. As was shared in Addis Ababa:

There is so much opportunity for south to south solidarity building. More reflection and alliance building is needed regularly and often. We must see to it that our struggles must resonate with the struggles of others around the world.” ~Mariam Mayet, Director of the African Centre for Biodiversity, South Africa

Pluralistic practices nudge us to remember that we are not in this alone and cannot possibly solve the world’s food problems through competitive and short-term goals. Solidarity, interdependence, collaboration and learning are going to be central to the solutions we most direly need. As funders we would do well to resource continual learning exchanges and alliance building opportunities, which follow the lead of organizers in the Global South who have been gleaning important lessons from facilitating such exchanges.

Rajasvini Bhansali (right) with Mariann Bassey Orovwuje 
  1. Model what we ask for.

There is a need to build funders’ internal capacity within philanthropic organizations to understand the nuances of the dominant narrative and the counter arguments for food sovereignty, so we can influence mainstream philanthropy in the Global North. For instance, though organic agriculture is often put together with agroecology, we have to make sure we have a solid grasp of the details, because there is a strong corporate influence in the organic sector. Furthermore, there is a formidable current in the organic sector, which still pushes for the growth of food as export, hurting African communities.

As philanthropists, we often have the honor of having a cross-sectoral perspective. It is critical that we are sharing information amongst ourselves and inviting funders interested in gender justice, environmental justice, economic development and labor rights to begin to see food sovereignty as “their” issue as well. I am delighted to be a part of two such magnificent funder collaborations that seek to model what we ask from our grantee partners– the Agroecology Fund and the Grassroots Climate Solutions Fund. Both collaborative funds aim to leverage the singular power of foundations into a collective effort to amplify, resource, advocate and build the power of people on the frontline fighting for food sovereignty and climate justice.

As IDEX, we are committed to learning from our grantee partners and being flexible and responsive. We are also committed to sharing our individual strategies across funding organizations so we can learn and build together in 2017.



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