Sneak peek! This is an excerpt from our upcoming publication “Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty.” This story featuring Magha Garcia, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica and Anne Frederick,Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action(HAPA, is one of many that lift up the voices of women (farmers, farmworkers, food chain workers, etc.) fighting for food sovereignty around the world. Enjoy and look out for the new publication when it is released on March 1st!
Magha Garcia is an eco-farmer and environmental activist in Puerto Rico. She is a member of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica , a grassroots group of farmers and allies who advocate for agroecology and are members of the Latin American Chapter (CLOC) of La Via Campesina. Magha also challenges agribusiness with the group Nada Santo Sobre Monsanto, a collective of multiple organizations, representatives of civil society that includes farmers, students, consumers, scientists, professional associations, teachers, and lawyers who have come together to defend the right to healthy food, free of transgenics.
Anne Frederick is the Executive Director of Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action which works to catalyze community empowerment and systemic change towards valuing `āina (environment) and people ahead of corporate profit. She farms on a homestead on Kaua’i. She is also the co-founder of Hester Street Collective in Lower Manhattan, New York, where she worked alongside communities on issues of urban planning and public spaces.
Magha: Due to their tropical climate, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are ideal places for the biotech seed companies like Monsanto. They can get three to four cycles of seed breeding per year. Location, shipment system and infrastructure, educated and well trained workers, and no government oversight are all factors conducive for GMO crop proliferation in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico we have a long history of all sorts of experimentation since the U.S. invasion in 1898, but more intensively after the 1930s. Our status as a “non-incorporated territory” or colony allows the U.S. government and the corporations it supports, especially the biotechnology industry, to use us as they please. Monsanto first came to the island in 1983 when they bought the AgroSeeds Corporation. Then in 1996, Monsanto officially changed their name to Monsanto Caribe and since have grown tentacles that are woven into our communities, the public and private educational system, academia, the private sector and especially our local government. The two main functions of Monsanto Caribe are agricultural biotechnology and plant breeding experiments. The main crops they are experimenting on are corn, cotton, soy, rice, papaya, tomatoes, tobacco and sunflower. As “territories” Hawaii and Puerto Rico experience more experimentation than any of the other U.S. states.
Anne: Hawaii is particularly appealing to agribusiness because of its 12 month growing season so we have the greatest concentration of test sites, compared to the mainland. In 2014, we had 1,387 field test sites, compared to California which has around 75. Since 1987 Hawaii has hosted more cumulative genetically-engineered (GE) field trials -- 3,243 -- than any other state. In 2014 alone, 178 different GE field tests were conducted on over 1,381 sites in Hawaii. And the seed industry’s footprint here is 24,700 acres, so that gives you a sense of the density. The area planted in seed crops has grown tenfold since 1982 while land growing vegetables and fruits, excluding pineapples, has declined more than 50% since the late 1990s. Often those test fields are directly adjacent to residential communities and we’ve had cases where a school has had to be evacuated because all the kids got sick. The seed companies would claim it was something else. They’d say it was a weed called stinkweed here that made people sick. Multiple EPA scientists have said there’s no way it could’ve been the stinkweed.
Magha: As in most countries worldwide, the main chemical used to control weeds here is Round Up. It is used by companies, municipalities, landscapers and homeowners to "resolve" the constant growing of weeds. Since Monsanto stated that it is "safe" for people, it is used freely and without any concern by most people. Despite an overwhelming amount of contrary evidence, their false propaganda is still working well. Today, we not only have Monsanto in Puerto Rico but also 10 more agricultural biotech companies including Pioneer, Syngenta, and DuPont. Without any government oversight or regulation, it is easy for ecologically criminal corporations to thrive here. In our case, those experiments are in open fields and our government fully supports them, facilitating privileges like free water and tax breaks, while small scale farmers can barely survive. In the last 10 fiscal years the biotech industry received $519.7 million taxpayer dollars from our government. In addition, they received unique tax rates, exemptions, incentives and wage subsidies.
Anne: Hawaii currently imports, anywhere from 80 to 90% of its food, and we’re particularly vulnerable on Kauai because we have one port where all the food comes in and if that port were to shut down, as it has in the past due to a hurricane or a dock worker strike, that’s it. We have a limited amount of food on the shelves. Food security is a real issue here and we have huge swaths of agricultural land that’s been used to test chemicals rather than grow food. There is a major need for increasing our food sovereignty here. There are people who are interested in farming but the industry and the landowners have such a hold on our local government that it’s been really hard for anyone to make headway over on the west side of the island.
Magha: In the last four years, the main initiative to confront and expose Monsanto or related companies in Puerto Rico is publicly expressed by the annual "Millions Against Monsanto" march. The collective Nada Santo Sobre Monsanto (NSSM), as an umbrella organization, is inviting the public to collaborate on improving effective strategies against Monsanto & Co. This year their efforts led to the rescuing of public land to create gardens. They also showed documentaries to address related topics like transgenic crops, health risks, agroecology, and food sovereignty amongst others.
Anne: The issue area where HAPA has been most active to date is in fair and sustainable food systems -- in particular, advocating for better protections for the people and the environment here on Kauai from the impacts of pesticide use. We do organizing, advocacy and education work -- trying to educate the community about decision making processes, about opportunities to weigh in to effectively advocate. We sent a delegation of communities – spokespeople -- to Switzerland to meet with and speak to the Syngenta shareholders. Gary, our board president, got the organization we work with over there to buy one share of Syngenta stocks so they could get Gary into a shareholders’ meeting. He delivered a very powerful message to the shareholders there about what’s happening and what they’re supporting in Hawaii and specifically on Kauai. We brought over another board member who is a Hawaiian mother living in the homesteads directly adjacent to where Syngenta sprays, whose daughter’s hair has tested positive for 36 different pesticides, including 9 restricted-use pesticides.
We’ve been doing a lot to try to advocate for the governor to mandate and fund data collection and coordination of government agencies on the impact of pesticides. We brought a group of mothers from impacted communities to the governor’s office to meet with him and make a case for implementing the findings in his own report. We continue to provide public education about what’s going on right now with the court cases. We had hearings at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Hawaii. We were able to raise awareness about that and livestream it, continuing to work with our partners to identify other areas where we think we can have some wins. So one of our campaigns is to try and ban chlorpyrifos, which is one of the chemicals the EPA has already said it’s going to ban and is heavily used here.
Magha: There's still a lot to do but there is an increasing number of people who are helping spread the message. Organizations like Boricuà, CLOC, Via Campesina are in a continual educational process, spreading the message. On a personal level, I believe that it is best for people to grow as much of their own food as possible in order to boycott and avoid the GMO industry.
Anne: We are continuing to organize and develop our community leaders who are on the frontlines of impacted communities and find opportunities for them to develop their leadership. That led us to develop another area of our work which we call ‘reclaiming democracy’ because what we found is that the industry has such a hold on our local government and elected officials, that it’s almost impossible to pass any legislation regulating the industry at all. There’s a tremendous need to get fresh blood into our local government and to encourage people who are not part of the status quo to step up and run for local government. So we started a candidate's training program that includes leadership development, campaigning skills, some community organizing skills. So again trying from another angle -- how do we encourage people that want to make a difference in their local community to step up and enter local government and try to run for office? It is a nonpartisan program and we can’t endorse any of the candidates but we can at least provide skills and training.
Magha: Puerto Rico needs allies outside of our island to help us denounce the atrocities, abuses and severe risks of the agro-biotechnology industry. Puerto Rico is in the middle of a complex financial crisis. The current debt is $73 billion. The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Justice Department decided that we have to pay a debt that was created by our government. Since we are a non-incorporated territory we cannot claim bankruptcy. In order to find a solution to this “crisis,” they imposed a Fiscal Board that will govern our country. This board has absolute control over the finances and many other financial and business issues. Their main purpose is to make sure that the investors will get their money back by all means possible. Meanwhile the only ones investing in Puerto Rico are the biotechnology corporations. Last week, Bayer of Puerto Rico announced that they are investing $17 million to remodel their main branch and create a new one. Monsanto is also consolidating and investing more in their facilities located in the South of the island. We have no doubt that the 11 biotechnology corporations will be fully protected by this board.
Anne: The most heavily impacted communities happen to have the highest density of Native Hawaiian residents. A lot of mothers who live in these frontline communities have stepped forward and said “This is not okay for our children to be doused in pesticides; this is unacceptable.” I think they have been some of the most powerful voices, especially Native Hawaiian mothers like Malia Chun on Kauai who’s been a really vocal critic of the industry and a very powerful voice. A lot of companies claim to be these major job providers but actually it’s a pretty small amount. You talk to plenty of Hawaiians over there and they all just say that [the jobs that are created] are not worth the contamination of our land; we have to look more long-term at the future of āina. The seed company has been really successful in using this issue to drive a wedge in our community and there’s this ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality -- “don’t threaten your jobs, don’t make waves.” That’s why voices like Malia and other mothers who are Native Hawaiian are so important in the movement. And stepping up in our small communities is really challenging. I think here is where relationships are so important. People don’t like to jeopardize relationships or talk out against their neighbor, so people are very reluctant to speak out about the industry publicly. The ones who do put themselves out there become exhausted and it takes a toll. Also, there have been cases where people have stepped forward and shared their stories and were not happy with the media’s use of their story.
On the north shore of Kauai, we have a lot of organic farms and generative farming practices and then the west side is literally like a food desert. So there are folks on the west side -- like one of our board members, Josh Morre, and some of his partners who are trying to start a youth farming initiative. Similarly there’s an organization on Oahu called Mao Farms which has a similar mission of youth leadership development, growing the next generation of farmers, and trying to create pathways in local agriculture. There’s definitely work happening; it’s just hard because those projects tend to be relatively small and we don’t have the political will to incentivize them or to get them on state land. So even though there’s discussion at our county and state level of increasing food production, it seems like the policy has to catch up to our goals of increasing food production. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people just kind of doing it -- just trying to create the solutions outside of working with government. I think we could be doing a lot more to incentivize that here. For instance, last year we hosted a food justice summit, with the help of the Pesticide Action Network, where we brought together four women working on food sovereignty projects and battling the impacts of the agrochemical industry in their home countries to speak about their struggles and lessons learned and to share and exchange with Hawaiians and with the local food movement here. That was really powerful. I think that it’s helpful to share what’s happening in Hawaii because people think of Hawaii as this tropical paradise where you come for your honeymoon. Yet we are ground zero for pesticide testing. Pesticides are actually going into the water here, this pristine beauty that we think is Hawaii is actually not the case; our ecosystems are in distress and sharing that message is really important.
“I feel that that’s the revolution; a just way to live, a way in harmony with not just with the environment—with people, with everything around us because we are nature, we are a part of nature. Agroecology for me represented the most harmonious way to create that way of life.” - Josué Lopez
On November 11th to 13th, social activists and farmers from La Via Campesina member organization Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico, El Proyecto Agroecológico El Josco Bravo, and other activist collectives organized the Campamento Agroecológico de Formación Política [Agroecological Encampment for Political Formation] at the Siembra Tres Vidas farm in the mountainous municipality of Aibonito, located one hour south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The encampment’s 25-plus participants brought activists and farmers involved in agroecology projects throughout the island, as well as participants in other social struggles, such as the Campamento Contra la Junta and Jornada Se Acabaron Las Promesas. I participated in the three-day encampment as a representative of WhyHunger, to develop our understanding of the current context in Puerto Rico and to learn more about the organizing work happening on the island around agroecology.
The goal of the encampment was to bring people together to work and learn with one another and study agroecology as a tool of struggle within the current political context. The methodology of the encampment consisted of farm work in the mornings, followed by facilitated discussions on topics including the agrarian history of Puerto Rico, agroecology as a tool for social struggle and gender dynamics within social movements. Those facilitated discussions were followed by more informal conversations around a campfire, during which the participants further discussed ideas generated throughout the day. Tasks such as cooking and cleaning were shared among teams of participants during the encampment, and one team also assumed the task of note-taking during discussions. Towards the end of the process, they synthesized the ideas generated into a draft declaration that was then edited and approved by the encampment’s participants.
I had the great privilege to listen and participate in the rich dialogue and debates that took place that weekend. In thinking about how the conversations in the encampment compared to similar conversations I’ve participated in the U.S., I noticed that, similar to the way many conversations and work around food justice, food sovereignty and agroecology are grounded in an analysis of how U.S. historic and structural settler colonialism and racism have shaped and continue to manifest in the food system today, the conversations during the encampment about the need for agroecology were grounded in Puerto Rico’s history and current status as a colony and their own struggles for self-determination and decolonization.
That history begins with the Taíno indigenous people, who cultivated root crops like cassava, sweet potatoes, squash and corn in mounds called conucos. With the brutal colonization of the island of Borinken by the Spanish in the late 15th century, many Taínos fled to the interior of the island as the Spaniards introduced plantation-style agriculture in the lowlands. This form of agriculture was dependent on the labor of enslaved Taínos and Africans to produce crops to export to the Spanish Empire’s metropole. With the acquisition of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American war, the focus on the production of cash crops (sugar, coffee, tobacco) for export continued, with little support for jibaros/as, the islands peasant farmers who mostly farmed the mountainsides. Following World War II, small-scale agriculture in Puerto Rico declined further. Largely unable to access land and credit, neglected rural populations migrated to the newly industrialized cities in Puerto Rico and the United States in hopes of better opportunities and higher salaries. The introduction of the food stamp program in the 1970s transformed the diets and consumption patterns of Puerto Rican consumers, who began purchasing more imported and processed food at supermarkets rather than from local markets. Today, more than 80% of food consumed on the island is imported.
These processes resulted in the mass exodus from the mountains and the disconnection of many in the subsequent generations from the land and agriculture, and well as the widespread loss of jibaro/a growing techniques and peasant seeds. Luckily, a back-to-the-land movement similar to that of the United States grew in the 70s and young people returned to the mountains to start organic farms. Many of these folks built relationships with the few remaining peasant farmers and learned how to farm Puerto Rico’s tropical mountainsides. Those returning farmers and the jibaros/as they learned from now make up Organización Boricuá’s most senior members.
(Photo of the Huerta Resistencia in at the protest camp San Juan against the junta. Among other things you can see okra, basil, lemongrass, oregano and a small papaya tree growing)
At over 25 years old, Organización Boricuá has played a huge role in growing the agroecology movement in Puerto Rico. Through Boricuá’s network, farmers and other supporters of agroecology organize monthly work parties to provide support for farmers across Puerto Rico. Additionally, Boricuá has been able to mobilize in support of campaigns such as resisting Monsanto’s presence in Puerto Rico, as well as the successful fight to prevent the spraying of the Naled insecticide throughout the island in response to Zika. Members of Organización Boricuá promote agroecology through exchanges, events, and trainings, such as the training program offered by El Proyecto Agroecológico El Josco Bravo. A number of encampment participants had gone through that training program and were actively looking to establish farms, yet they encountered many of the same barriers that exist for many beginning farmers in the U.S.; issues with land access, financial barriers, and a lack of support from the government.
One participant, Josué Lopez, had recently started a cooperative farm and hoped his experience would inspire others. He and some friends who had been involved in Puerto Rico’s student strikes in 2010 and 2011 became interested in agroecology as a way to achieve food sovereignty for Puerto Rico, and as new way to live; “I feel that that’s the revolution; a just way to live, a way in harmony with not just with the environment—with people, with everything around us because we are nature, we are a part of nature. Agroecology for me represented the most harmonious way to create that way of life.” Josué and his friends, who didn’t have much money, pooled their resources and purchased some land to start a farm; “it’s a difficult landscape, but that gives us inspiration, you know? Because it’s what we can do . . . the perfect conditions will maybe never arrive, and if we sit around waiting for the perfect conditions to build our revolution, I think it will never happen. We create the conditions. And if we can give this example of working that land and living there and making an agroecological project that teaches in those conditions, no one has any excuses.”
The farm was created for the participants personal consumption and to sell surplus to meet their living costs, but Josué was clear to point out that their “vision isn’t necessarily to generate more money than conventional agriculture, but to allow us to require less money in order to live . . . we know we don’t control this monetary system, we know we don’t control this economic system, and if we are totally dependent on this economic system we will always remain enslaved.”
Josué offers a good example of the connections between those involved in the agroecology movement with other social struggles in Puerto Rico.
Like Josué, many of the encampment’s participants had been active in the student strikes of 2010 and 2011 and developed their radical politics through that process. Additionally, many participants in the encampment were also involved in the current protest movements against the PROMESA bill and the federally-appointed fiscal control board (colloquially known as la junta), which has been granted the authority to unilaterally restructure Puerto Rico’s finances in the wake of the debt crisis. Given the recent developments regarding the PROMESA bill, I was expecting the current debt crisis to be a central theme of the discussions. However, I came to understand that to many of the participants, the junta was not understood as a completely new situation for Puerto Rico, but merely a more explicit manifestation of Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the continuation of the process of colonization that began over 500 years ago. This analysis was evident when I returned to San Juan and visited the protest camp against the PROMESA bill and the junta in front of the federal court building. Signs, banners, and messages painted on the sidewalk presented their current struggle against the junta within a global narrative of colonialism and anti-colonial struggle. The messages connected the fight for a self-determining Puerto Rico to current struggles against police violence against black, brown, and indigenous people, to the fight of the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the middle of the camp across the street from the federal court building, protestors had cleared a strip of land in the sidewalk and created a small garden, where they were growing herbs, vegetables and fruit with a sign reading ‘Resistance Garden: for an agroecological Puerto Rico.”
The conversations of the encampment also reflected upon the internal dynamics of the agroecology and other movements. Conversations around the campfire addressed the need for focused outreach to groups whose voices needed to be a part of discussions around agroecology and food sovereignty. Additionally, during discussion on gender and patriarchy, the participants agreed that the participation and contributions of women and non-binary folks to social movements—the agroecology movement included—needed to gain more visibility. During the self-critical conversations of the agroecology movement, many positive attributes were discussed. Magha Garcia of Bosque Jardín Pachamama, made the observation that the agroecological movement in Puerto Rico is the only place she’s seen multiple generations organizing together; “I started as an activist in 1980, 81, and it was always either the young folks or the older folks, each one in their batey [a Taíno word for a gathering or meeting place] as we say in Puerto Rico.” Magha explained that the agroecology movement has produced a historic moment for social struggles in Puerto Rico where she’s seen “two and three generations all sitting and sharing and that has allowed us in some way to draw this social continuum . . . in that sense, now we are sharing the same batey.”
Though the encampment was short, the mixture of group farm work with thoughtful discussions, reflection, delicious shared meals and laughter, created the conditions for the kind political education and relationship-building necessary for developing strong social movements. The encampment left participants (myself included) feeling inspired and renewed, and with a collective statement outlining a shared analysis and steps forward for Puerto Rico’s agroecology movement. In times like this when strong social movements are greatly needed, meaningful processes like Organización Boricuá’s Agroecology Encampment for Political Formation are essential for building and sharing the practice and politics of agroecology as well as building bridges to other social movements.
This is a repost of an article originally written and published by GRAIN.
Could your pension be pushing small farmers off their land?
Around the world, farmers are losing their lands, often violently, to large companies and speculators who see farmland as a lucrative investment. But what are the complex mechanisms behind these processes? Could your pension fund be contributing to land grabbing in places like Brazil?
This animated video shows how a global farmland fund, managed by US financial giant TIAA-CREF, used a complex company structure to avoid restrictions on foreign investment in farmland in Brazil. It then acquired lands from a Brazilian businessman who has used violence and fraud to grab large areas of farmland from small farmers and indigenous peoples in the Brazilian states of Maranhão and Piauí. This video is intended to pressure pension funds to publicly disclose the names and locations of the farmlands they have acquired across the world and to stop speculating on farmland.
Struggles over land and resources are intensifying in Brazil, where 150 environmental activists have been murdered since 2012, many of whom were fighting to protect the lands of small farming communities. It is important for us to expose the actors and mechanisms behind this violence and say STOP to farmland speculation and land grabbing.
If you have a pension, contact your pension manager to say you do not want your savings contributing to land grabs and farmland speculation!
This article is a report back on the 8th Annual Food Sovereignty Prize that was originally published by the Community Alliance for Global Justice. Photos by Colette Cosner, Feed the Hood, Johanna Lundahl and Community to Community Development.
Last week, representatives of over 20 organizations gathered in Seattle and Bellingham for several days of dialogue, action, and celebration of the growing food sovereignty movement. The Encounter, co-hosted by Community Alliance for Global Justice and Community to Community Development, was a national gathering of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA). On Saturday, we honored Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Farmworkers Association of Florida as recipients of the 8th Annual Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the USFSA.
As an alternative to the World Food Prize awarded the same weekend in Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize recognizes that transformation of our food system comes from the grassroots, frontlines, and communities building power – not corporate, biotech, and Big Ag industries focused on profit over people and the planet. Coming together for the Prize and events was an opportunity to reflect on strengthening our organizing and advocacy for agroecology, food as a human right, dignity for workers across the food chain, and community-led solutions to hunger and climate change.
With banners and signs reflecting messages of the movement in the center of a circle, folks gathered Wednesday night and Thursday at the WA State Labor Council to discuss the current political moment of the USFSA and the new methodology being proposed for building up grassroots leadership and regional structure in the Alliance. Present were both members and non-members of the USFSA, including the local hosts and local groups Got Green, UFCW 21, Washington Fair Trade Coalition, WA State Food Systems Roundtable, WA Sustainable Food and Farming Network; and groups throughout the US: CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee (NJ, MD, PA), Climate Justice Alliance, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (MI), Dreaming Out Loud (D.C.), Family Farm Defenders (WI), Farmworker Association of Florida (FL), Food First (CA), Grassroots International (MA), National Family Farm Coalition (D.C.), Presbyterian Hunger Program (KY), Rural Community Workers Alliance (MO), Soil Generation (PA), Southwest Organizing Project/Project Feed the Hood (NM), US Friends of the MST (IL), VietLead (PA), and WhyHunger (NY). International groups included: Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and La Via Campesina.
In the roundtable meetings, including an added final session on Saturday, important issues around defining “grassroots” and “grassroots-support” organizations and their roles, regional autonomy, and value of the USFSA were discussed, as well as lifting up the interconnected struggles between AFSA and USFSA.
Gates Foundation Action
The gathering would not have been complete without an action and visits to local organizing and food justice work. On Thursday afternoon, attendees and other activists mobilized outside of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise issue with the Foundation’s deep ties to the World Food Prize, which includes significant financial contributions to half of the 2016 winners and nearly $1.5 million in funding since 2009. Gates exports a model of market-based, high-tech agricultural investments and genetic engineering and biotechnology. In an interview with Humanosphere on the action, Bern Guri, Chairman of AFSA who came to receive the Prize on its behalf, says: “Food sovereignty is about farmers’ communities being in charge, being able to produce the food they want to produce, to be able to use the seed that they want to grow, to be able to share their seeds among themselves, to be able to use the technologies that they believe work for them.”
Food Sovereignty Tours
The next day, the attendees traveled to Skagit Valley to be welcomed by Community to Community Development and farmworkers’ union Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) with a presentation on the recent victories of winning an historic union contract as the state’s first indigenous-led farmworker union and getting to the contract negotiation process with Sakuma Farms, which sells to the world’s largest berry distributer, Driscoll’s. Ramon Torres, President of FUJ, shared the history of the organizing and the hopes for the future, followed by a tour of the Sakuma fields and labor camps where farmworkers live. A surprise visit with one of the main plaintiffs of the law suit against Sakuma happened just before folks drove to Bellingham to meet with a local co-op that supported the Driscoll’s boycott.
Saturday’s weather forecast of the “storm of the century” caused a shift of plans, despite the mild outcome. A tour of the Beacon Food Forest remained in the program, where folks visited the local urban forest garden working to improve public health and food access.
Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony
The main event of the Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony was cancelled at Town Hall due to the threat of wind storms and power outages, and relocated to the home of CAGJ’s Director Heather Day, where the show went on in a more intimate setting, and was livestreamed on Facebook.
The ceremony opened with storytelling from Roger Fernandes, a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indians, sharing about the connection of food to our ancestors, our people, and those yet to come. After a keynote by John Peck, representing La Via Campesina, the 2016 recipients were awarded, both giving enthusiastic and powerful remarks: Elvira Carvajal on behalf of Farmworker Association of Florida, and Bern Guri on behalf of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. The evening concluded with a lively reception, music, and celebration.
Taking back control of our food system!
In a time of increasing corporate domination of agriculture, nutrition, and food systems worldwide, as seen by the recent $66 billion proposed merger of Bayer and Monsanto, the strength and visibility of the global movement for food sovereignty becomes ever more important. In the US, farmworkers continue to struggle for better working conditions, living wages, and dignity; poor, working-class, and people of color continue to organize for food justice and access; and advocates of family and small farmers continue to push for fairer policies. Together, we are all working to take back control of the food system at every level – from saving seeds to supporting farmworker unions, from people-of-color led initiatives addressing community self-reliance to international solidarity against corporate control of seeds and agriculture. Onward, together!
"Everything the people have comes through struggle." WhyHunger supported the Assembly of the Poor (AOP) through our International Solidarity Fund and went on a site visit to learn from the villagers about their struggle and how they are fighting for food sovereignty. Below is a personal account and pictures from Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau's experience.
When the peasants in Chongtuko village were forced out of their homes and off their farms in 1993, they had nowhere to go. The Thai military wanted their land to use as a training field, and the villagers did not know how to solve their problem. After years of landlessness, they joined the Assembly of the Poor (AOP), a national social movement linking rural peasants and forest dwellers with urban workers and coastal fisherfolk pushing for social justice and food sovereignty. Through AOP, in 1997 they pushed the provincial government to allocate 256 acres of land in the forest for the villagers, who moved in and called their new village Kokedoi.
They set up small farms within the clearings and harvested the wild foods from the forest. They set up a small market along the road, where all of the villagers set up stalls. The villagers, who are peasant farmers and not shopkeepers, had to overcome their shyness and modesty to support themselves in the market. They found out that forest products, which are rare and are hard to harvest, sold really well. Now their market is thriving.
But their success has not come easily. For many years, they faced constant threats and attacks from a logging company that wanted to plant and harvest eucalyptus trees. The company moved in illegally and began to plant industrial eucalyptus on the land where the villagers were growing food and harvesting wild vegetables from the forest. They insulted the villagers and threatened them, and they put pressure on the provincial government to force the villagers out.
The pressure that the villagers were under was so bad that they decided they needed to block the entrance to the forest. In the middle of the night, they moved their entire village – 88 families’ homes – from beside the road to the center of the forest, where the company was trying to cut down the eucalyptus trees. Because of this heroic maneuver, their homes, their fields, and the forest was saved.
It did not come naturally for the villagers in Kokedoi to live in the forest. In fact, when they were first planning their village, some of the families wanted to cut down all of the trees, creating more land for them to plant. But others in the community wanted to protect the forest, and they argued that since so many of the middle class, urban people in Thailand blamed environmental problems on peasants and said that poor people cause deforestation, the villagers of Kokedoi should prove them wrong. They also pointed out that the logging company wanted to destroy the forest, so they needed to protect the forest. They became creative and learned how to sustain themselves from the forest vegetables, the fish that lived in the ponds, and the bullfrogs that lived in the mud and riverbeds.
However, the confrontation with the logging company continued and worsened. At one point, the company even hired assassins to kill the leader of the village, Uthai. Through the support of the Assembly of the Poor, as well as the courage of the villagers, Uthai and the people of Kokedoi survived and held onto their land. They did not give into the pressure, and eventually the assassin actually approached Uthai and told him that he had been hired to kill him but would not go through with it because of the strength and courage of the community. I asked Uthai how he was able to face that danger and what he was thinking. He told me, “I thought about leaving the village, but I realized that this would not solve the problem and would have hurt and weakened the village.” It was only because the people in the village supported him and guarded him that they were able to survive.
They also did it for their kids, to ensure that their children had a good life. If they gave up their land again, they worried what would happen to their kids. Now, they are learning agroecological farming, because chemicals used in industrial agriculture hurt the forest and will kill the forest vegetables. They have traveled to other villages that are members of the Assembly of the Poor, through its Alternative Agriculture Network, and they are experimenting with new crops and new markets.
As I was leaving, the villagers reminded me again the lesson of Kokedoi: everything that they have, they have because of struggle. They showed their flags for the Assembly of the Poor proudly, which hung next to their bustling market.
Hunger is not solved by sympathy or by charity. Hunger and poverty are the results of oppression and powerful interests, and they are only ended when the people who are the most impacted stand up, often in the face of life or death threats, for their human rights and dignity.
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
Doctor Norman Borlaug the Father of the Green Revolution founded the World Food Prize in 1986 to promote the work of scientists and agricultural organizations that promote the production of food through technology. Over the years the prize has been given to dozens of top agricultural scientists and organizations which have pioneered biotechnological solutions for increasing food production, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Yet the solutions and science honored at these ceremonies aren’t solving the hunger problem in our world.
The Food Sovereignty Prize begun in 2009 to champion social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world working to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet. Food Sovereignty means that people should be able to grow, eat and sell their own food in the manner they choose. Members believe that increased dependence on technology, as heralded in the World Food Prize honorees, in the form of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds is not the answer to hunger and food production. Control of the food system by large corporations is not the way to protect the environment and decrease hunger and poverty. Access to land, clean water, native seeds and fair markets as well as protection from land grabs and state-sponsored violence are what small farmers need. Millions of small farmers have embraced agroecology, a method of growing food sustainably that combines the best of traditional agriculture with many of the best new agricultural breakthroughs that are affordable and safe for the environment, the food and the farmers. It is a way of life in which whole communities come together to share resources and learn from one another.
The Food Sovereignty Prize celebrates the achievements of organizations that have succeeded in growing food and promoting economic and social justice often in the face of oppression and violence from large landholders and repressive governments.
This year, the Eighth Annual Food Sovereignty Prize will honor The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), which brings together a number of different constituencies: small farmers, pastoralists, hunter/gatherers, indigenous peoples, women, youth, consumer networks, people of faith and environmental activists in the fight for food sovereignty. Small farmers and the poorest of the poor have a strong voice in the Alliance for Food Sovereignty against land and water grabs and for a more just system for its members. As Bern Guri, AFSA chairperson, noted in the official press release, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”
Also receiving the prize is the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). Farmworkers all over the U.S. have been unjustly treated for years and those in Florida have suffered from low wages, unsafe working conditions, sexual violence in the fields and illnesses from agricultural chemicals. FWAF has helped farmworkers to gain control of the economic, social, health, workplace and political issues they face such as racism, pesticide exposure, environmental contamination and economic exploitation. It has brought people together in communities to practice agroecology and bring healing to the communities through good food and herbs.
SEATTLE, WA, August, 31 2016 – The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is pleased to announce the honorees of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize: the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). The honorees were selected for their success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet.
Lauded as an alternative to the World Food Prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger and is recognized by social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world. The 2016 honorees are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system, including false solutions of biotechnology that damage the planet while exacerbating poverty and hunger. Their programs and policies support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system.
“Hunger is not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” said John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member. “Small farmers have had the solution to hunger for millennia in agroecology and food sovereignty.”
“The Borlaug and Gates Foundations and multinational corporations like Monsanto promote biotechnology because they profit from it. Ask the millions of farmworkers, family farmers and family fishermen feeding their communities what they need and they will tell you: access to land, clean water and their own seeds,” noted Diana Robinson, Campaign and Education Coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.
About the Honorees
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) was founded in 2008 by a group of activist networks and launched in Durban, South Africa, during the 2011 alternative people's climate summit, organized to counter the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference Of the Parties 17 talks (COP17). AFSA brings together organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and hunter/gatherers; indigenous peoples; youth, women and consumer networks; people of faith; and environmental activists from across Africa. Together they advocate for community rights and family farming, promote traditional knowledge systems, and protect natural resources. In the face of increased corporate agribusiness interests threatening their food systems, including massive land and water grabs, the criminalization of seed-saving practices, and false solutions to climate change such as so-called "Climate-Smart Agriculture", AFSA unites the people most impacted by these injustices to advance food sovereignty through agroecological practices, policy work and movement-building efforts.
Bern Guri, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s chairperson, noted, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”
For AFSA it is clear that the way forward will allow food producers, supported by consumers, to take control of production systems and markets to provide healthy and nutritious food. Facing the many ecological, economic and social challenges in today’s world requires an urgent transition to agroecology to establish the ecologically sustainable, socially just and nutritious food systems of the future, and it can be done through the collective, inclusive and democratic co-generation of the knowledge held by farmers, consumers, researchers and African governments, who are meant to serve the interests of their (farming) populations.
The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), founded in 1986, has a long-standing mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues affecting their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment in which farmworkers are treated as equals, not exploited and deprived based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status. As members of the world’s largest social movement, La Via Campesina, FWAF is building collective power and a unified force for providing better living and working conditions, as well as equity and justice for farmworker families and communities. This includes building leadership and activist skills among communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, racism, exploitation and political under-representation while lifting up women’s wisdom and leadership.
"Farmworker families pay the greatest price in the corporate food system of today. They work in fields of poison and exploitation so that people can easily access cheap foods,” explained Elvira Carvajal, Farmworker Association of Florida's lead organizer in Homestead, Florida. “We have a vision to bring together the community around the art of healing with good food and herbs, which is part of our culture. We practice agroecology in the community by sharing the knowledge we bring from our grandparents, our mothers, our families, our ancestors. The meeting of cultures that happens in the gardens, where we grow our own food without chemicals, and sharing plants and traditions and knowledge across generations is a beautiful thing. I am proud of our own people practicing food and seed sovereignty."
US Food Sovereignty Alliance members Community to Community Development and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the 2016 Honorees and Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities and actions. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 6pm at Town Hall at Eight and Seneca in Seattle.
For event updates and more information on the prize and this year’s winners visitwww.foodsovereigntyprize.org, follow the Food Sovereignty Prize at facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
About US Food Sovereignty Alliance
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups that upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. The Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system, believing that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner. Learn more at usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org
At WhyHunger we strive for cross-collaboration among programs, understanding that as we build a movement to end hunger and poverty it is critical for domestic and international organizations to build solidarity. This often involves finding a way for food justice and food sovereignty organizations to build relationships and learn from each other. As a staff member who helps facilitate these encounters I often learn a lot, but I don’t always think about the opportunity I have to engage with partners personally as a fellow farmer.
I am an urban farmer at La Finca del Sur Urban Farm in the South Bronx in New York City. We are a women of color led farm that grows healthy food for ourselves and our community in a neighborhood where outside forces and corporations have flooded our neighborhood with cheap, unhealthy processed food. Our name -- La Finca del Sur -- translates to Farm of the South which is referring to multiple Souths. Most of us live in and around the South Bronx; most of us have a familial heritage in the Global South; and lastly, South is in solidarity with the women of color who make up the majority of farmers in the Global South. The reality of who farms in the world is not often the narrative that is highlighted, and part of our work at La Finca del Sur is to reframe that narrative and center the power around the people who grow, nourish and care for families and communities all over the world.
In June I had the opportunity for my WhyHunger and La Finca worlds to collide, when I showed one of our Global Movements program partners, Nelson Mudzingwa from the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), around La Finca del Sur during his trip to the US. Nelson said this would be an opportunity to exchange knowledge between farmers. My first thought was how could we, urban farmers who have only been growing for 7 years, possibly have something to teach someone who has been farming much longer and more intensely than we have? But sure enough, as popular education theories state, everyone is an expert in their own experience. We were able to share our method of planting in raised beds which, as Nelson commented, could be a new way for ZIMSOFF farmers to grow root vegetables (they currently use a different technique using potato sacks to grow root vegetables). We have to use raised beds because New York City soil is contaminated, but this practice lends itself to other uses. I learned about different integrated pest management techniques and how using almost any plant that has a strong odor has the potential to repel pests for other plants when they are grown in the same plot.
What stood out more than practical techniques was our conversation about the spiritual and cyclical aspect of farming. How our ancestors continue to help us because as indigenous farmers they worked the land and even in their death their bodies provide our soil with nutrients. In New York City that link has been broken because our soil is so contaminated with environmental pollutants that we can’t plant directly in it. That sickness of the soil, as Nelson put it, and the loss of the connection to the land is mirrored in the sickness in our lives in the form of chronic disease and health disparities and the loss of connection to growing our own food.These are an extension of our unhealthy food environment. And as we try to remediate the soil and go back to growing our own food we reconnect to our culture, our ancestors and our health.
My encounter with Nelson re-emphasized that growing food in each of our corners of the world using traditional organic practices are in and of themselves acts of resistance and self-determination. For ZIMSOFF, the struggle is to maintain sovereignty of their land, water and seeds. For La Finca del Sur, it is to disrupt the unhealthy food environment and reconnect to our culture. What’s so powerful when farmers come together is that we find commonalities in our truths that growing is about so much more than food, its life.
The World Social Forum, held this month in Montreal, brought together thousands of activists, organizations and social movements working to build a sustainable and inclusive world, to learn, strategize and share knowledge with each other. With so many organizers, farmers, activists, students and change makers in one place, it was easy to see the collective strength of the movement and the potential for the type of transformative social change that our world needs. The power of this potential was crystal clear at a briefing held by Quebec’s Union paysanne and La Via Campesina on the struggle of small-scale farmers in Quebec.
Union paysanne, or Peasant Union, was formed by a group of concerned farmers, consumers and activists that have been organizing in Quebec since 2001 to advocate for agricultural reform across the province. The goals of the movement – clearly articulated in their policy platform – include defending the rights of small scale farmers and organic production, advocating for access to land, food sovereignty and fair trade principles, and combating the corporate control of seeds, land and access to resources, including the refusal of GMOs and dependency on industrial agriculture. As Benoit Girouard, president of Union paysanne and a beekeeper and farmer explained, the main issue in Quebec is “the fight for access and control of our local resources for the local people.”
For years, Union paysanne members have been organizing to break the monopoly of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) over the representation of farmers in Quebec. As Stephanie Wang and Laurence Barchichat, new farmers and coordinators of Union paysanne declared at the briefing, “Quebec cannot guarantee its food sovereignty without having a sovereign peasantry. The union monopoly of the UPA is a major obstacle to human-scale, respectful agriculture.”
The law in Quebec requires mandatory participation by small-scale farmers and producers in the UPA, which supports heavy regulations that make it hard for small farmers and producers to sell at markets and to have a viable, sustainable lifestyle in agriculture. According to Union paysanne, only 1% of the population in Quebec now works in agriculture; meanwhile 80% of agriculture land is not being cultivated because new, small-scale farmers and young farmers face restrictions to buy or access land. Most of the land is being shifted to large scale, corporate mono-culture facilities that are producing soy and canola. These and other barriers make it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.
Dona Sofia and children: ""I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES." Photo credit:WhyHunger
This post first appeared in EcoWatch.
The Kaqchikel women—one of 23 Mayan cultures in Guatemala—are fighting to protect their collective intellectual property rights to their traditional Mayan textile designs. Led by the Women's Association for the Development of Saquatepéquez (AFEDES), an organization with a membership of more than 1,000 indigenous women and supported by an association of Mayan lawyers, hundreds of Kaqchikel women artisans of all ages took their case to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City this past June. They are asking the court to push the Guatemalan Congress to enact new laws that would protect their intellectual property rights over the intricate woven designs that have become ubiquitous in the tourist markets and are a direct reproduction of their heritage and cultural identity.
Reproduction of the Mayan textiles has become increasingly controlled by just a handful of companies that hire Mayan women and pay them very little (around 10 quetzales or just more than one U.S. dollar) for a design that might take days, even weeks, to weave. The products are sold at a much higher cost to tourists and textile buyers around the world. But this isn't just an economic issue to the indigenous women who flooded the courts this spring. Dressed in their traditional hand-woven blouses known as huipils—each design emblematic of the life in their particular community and worn every day by these women and their children as they work, play and go to school—they argued that the real value of these iconic textiles is the preservation of a way of life and the protection of a living culture.
In a recent field visit to accompany and support AFEDES and their efforts on behalf of indigenous women's social, cultural and economic rights, the AFEDES' Director Milivan Aspuac explained to me and my colleagues from WhyHunger that at its core their struggle is to protect the very heartbeat of Life. According to the Mayan Cosmovision, everything is connected and human beings are charged with engendering reciprocity, solidarity and harmony in all of the elements—physical and spiritual, matter and energy—that make up Life. The story of Life and the principles of their Cosmovision are revealed in the designs of the vibrantly-colored textiles that women have been creating for thousands of years—each one unique and representative of a particular time and value-system of a particular community. Protecting and preserving the way in which these designs are reproduced and the huipils worn (from adult to child, from generation to generation, from community to community) is to protect, repair and preserve Life.
There is much Life to repair in this mountainous region of Guatemala in the department of Saquatépequez, home to one of the tourist meccas in Central America, the carefully restored colonial city of Antigua which is a designated World Heritage Site. Since 1993, the AFEDES members have been organizing indigenous women throughout this state to join them in their efforts to envision a way of life that aligns with their Mayan Cosmovision while not wholly rejecting a modern world. Decolonization and reclamation is at the heart of their strategy to confront the gender, economic and racial oppression that has left them in extreme poverty and is slowing appropriating their culture. We saw evidence of the strategic ways in which AFEDES confronts oppression that reflect the holistic, complex and at times heartbreaking circumstances of women's lives. As Milvian explained: "AFEDES can't work only with food sovereignty or economic development or violence against women—we have to work on all these fronts because that's the reality of women's lives." The struggle is arduous, the losses are many, but with each win against the oppression that the women of AFEDES describe as patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism, one more strand of colorful cotton can be woven back in to their story.
Resisting Patriarchy: Self-Worth and Power in Numbers
The struggle to end violence against Mayan women in the village of San José Pacul is at the foundation of the organizing work that AFEDES does in this village and dozens of others just like it. Angelina Aspuac, one of AFEDES' organizers, tells us, "The main issue here is machismo." Sofia's story, who Angelina introduced us to, is representative, she said, of many of the Mayan women who have now come together to pool resources, share assets and work together to collectively improve the quality of their lives. "I never thought of becoming a wealthy woman," Sofia said. "The idea at the start was to start a community bank to make small loans." She explains that the men stepped in soon after and started to dictate what the loans should be used for and yet the women were still held responsible for paying the money back. Not alone in her predicament, Sofia's husband would confiscate the loan money she had intended to use for investing in a small cottage industry to make enough money to send her kids to school. She endured regular beatings and became isolated when he forbid her to attend any more of the women's meetings. Since she couldn't pay back her loans, she couldn't bring home any more funds for him to spend or invest in his own failed ventures. Eventually Sofia made the very difficult decision to separate from her husband despite the fear of retreating further into poverty. She left their home with their seven children and no money. She was emboldened to take her life in her own hands, she said, because she had the support of other women in AFEDES.
AFEDES has established "safe houses" for women when they report domestic abuse to the local police and their claims are dismissed. The police will often say the beatings are justified because the women did not prepare good food or did something else that provoked their husbands. AFEDES has become a space that abused women can retreat to for emotional and legal support. AFEDES is stretched thin in their attempt to attend to all the women who show up on the doorstep of the safe house. The organization does not yet have enough legal or counseling capacity to thoroughly support each woman's case. But they can listen to every woman's story with integrity and compassion and connect them to other women in their community for support. This is the first and often the most important intervention, one of the AFEDES organizers named Justiniana told us. Learning to value themselves and the other women in the community is a core aspect of the consciousness-raising work that AFEDES brings to the organized groups in each village. The issue of self-care is a part of that. "It's important that women learn to take care of themselves so they have the energy to do the work of preserving and protecting Life," she explained.
As colonialism ushered in western values, women began to be seen only as useful for work in the kitchen and the fields. Because of AFEDES the women have been able to organize, receive training in agroecology and homeopathy, learn a new trade and participate in leadership development. They recognize their own value and now their families and communities recognize their value. Sofia concluded her triumphant story with the following: "I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES. I don't have a lot of income, but I have a community and my children are going to school. My children are behind me and supporting me. My children know that I have skills, knowledge and value. Because my children know that I have value, they come to recognize their own value and their own power."