4 New Year’s resolutions for agroecology funders

By Rajasvini Bhansali, Thousand Currents Executive Director

This blog originally appeared on the AgroEcology Fund blog.

As a US-based public foundation, Thousand Currents has a solidarity role to play in supporting the courageous people struggling for social transformation on the front lines of food sovereignty and climate and economic justice movements the world over – those focused on agroecology, land, nutrition, seeds, health, and policy. Inspired by our friends at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and their members, who collectively analyze the threats and the opportunities ahead for food sovereignty on the Continent, I offer some new year’s resolutions for funders to consider:

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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 must change. A narrative that centers increasing productivity through chemical-based agriculture and knowledge coming from the Global North 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 members that seek to resurface and continue building alternative African narratives based on sustainable and people-centered food sovereignty models, rooted in generations of African farmers and their experiences. As described by Million Belay, AFSA’s coordinator:

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.

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 throughout 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 reminds us, 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.

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

  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. Therefore it is going to be important in this next phase 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. We need to add health, nutrition, and cultural wellbeing to this mix. As Mariam Mayet, Director of the African Centre for Biodiversity in South Africa describes:

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.

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.

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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 Thousand Currents, 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 2018.

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