Celebrating 30 years of our struggles: Sharing and reflecting our struggles towards Food Sovereignty in the Southern and Eastern Africa

(Morogoro, May 19, 2022) “In today’s world where corporates are trying more and more to alienate peasants from their food systems, pushing them to depend on unsustainable programs like green revolution, commercialization of agriculture, and privatization of life itself, it is the time to think about how Food Sovereignty is a response, a solution, and alternative to the current trends. Our struggle of Food Sovereignty is the future of our generation and that of our grandchildren”, Speaks Elizabeth Mpofu the then General Secretary of La Via Campesina during the World Food Sovereignty Day 2021 organized by La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa (LVC SEAf).

Joining the world in commemoration of 25 Years of Food Sovereignty, on the 14th October 2021 LVC SEAf organized a virtual meeting where LVC members from within and outside Southern and Eastern Africa region shared their experiences towards the collective construction and envisioning of the concept of food sovereignty

Experiences from Southern and Eastern Africa on the Struggles for Food Sovereignty Campaign. The Case of MVIWATA and COPACO-PRP

Experiences from within the region came from the Democratic Republic of Congo through COPACO-PRP represented by Melanie Lasom and Tanzania through MVIWATA represented by Stephen Ruvuga.

Sharing MVIWATA’s experience in Tanzania, Comrade Ruvuga said, in Tanzania, like in most of the African countries, the agriculture system emanates from the colonial system and is perpetuated by the neoliberal systems. “We consume what we do not produce and produce what we do not consume. This is the context that we operate and that is why the campaign for Food Sovereignty is trying to challenge this situation. We have remained as raw material producers for European market. Being a raw material producer has led to the eviction of peasants on their land and criminalization of their traditional farming practices in general.

Furthermore, he added that the current marriage of politicians, technocrats, multi-national corporations and researchers leads to un-dignification of peasants. “They just see peasants as markets for chemical fertilizers, GM crops, and industrial pesticides. Our work as MVIWATA have shown results on stoppage of GMO trials, but we are also aware that we are still far from winning this struggle”.

The struggle over land for peasants in Tanzania is alive and ongoing where narratives that if agriculture is to advance, Agribusiness models and large-scale farming in the name of agri-investors should be given priority at the expense of peasants.

To us, Food Sovereignty is the way to go. Unity and solidarity of the peasants is more important now than ever. And lastly, we need to be very carefully on the alliances we form on our struggles.

From COPACO-PRP by Comrade by Melanie Lasom; she shared that in DRC the dominant narrative is Food Security. Likewise, millions of families living in conflict zones. With the frequent outbreak of Ebola and currently the COVID-19 further weakens and affects peasants across the country.  The presence of armed groups, the armed forces and the malnutrition, land evictions, COVID 19, Ebola and the high prices of industrial inputs, the problem of post-harvest losses, poor access to markets as a result of poor roads, are among the crisis that impoverishes peasants.

Asked on what COPACO-PRP is doing to achieve Food Sovereignty, Melanie said COPACO is doing a number of interventions including holding policy dialogues with policy makers, media campaigns against the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides while promoting agro-ecological farming practices. Awareness campaigns on family farming, farmers’ managed seeds and seed banks and advocating for territorial markets for peasants in rural areas are the focus areas of COPACO-PRP. Fighting against exploitative financing mechanisms and having numerous exchange visits for knowledge and practices sharing among peasants are the interventions in campaigning for food sovereignty.

Experiences from other regions of La Via Campesina and our networks. The Case of La Via Campesina South Asia and Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)

Experiences from La Via Campesina South Asia were shared by Kannaiyan Subramaniam from India and the General Secretary of Indian Coordination Committee (SICCFM) who started by noting that India has the largest food programs in the world, yet its peasants are among the most impoverished by such programs in the world.

“Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and Bilateral Trade Agreements are rapidly growing world-wide and that these are the very instruments of corporate power that controls the food system, criminalization and impoverishment of peasants.

We have Agri-agencies worldwide with millions of obligations and guidelines, but they have nothing to do with ending hunger and malnutrition. We have to know that the UN agencies’ mandates cannot be enforced by the member states by force, but WTO guidelines can be implemented by force”, said Comrade Kannaiyan.

He added that Food Sovereignty should be a collective struggle of all the peasants worldwide. “We have to organize the struggle against the World Trade Organization (WTO), and it is not just a symbolic struggle, it is a struggle that we cannot live without. The struggle must continue from grassroots to global level,” said Comrade Kannaiyan.  

Adding to what Comrade Kannaiyan said, Mama Elizabeth Mpofu said this is the war that we need to unite and fight together. That the campaign on food sovereignty is very important to us and it is a way to determine how, when and what to produce for our betterment. She added that it is our noble duty to fight for policies that recognizes our production systems. Elizabeth added that for us Food Security is the full answer to our needs, as it doesn’t really assure all the elements for sustainable nutrition matters and the context of peasant communities at local level. Food Sovereignty is something that we want to fight for from now and forever. She remarked that, Food Sovereignty is all about what peasants do on their day-to-day life, their traditional knowledge, practices and environment conservation using their knowledge and resources.

On the other hand, Million Belay Ali representing the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), started by noting that there are numerous narratives of deception on lines of increased production, high yield and pest resilience that come from funders, researchers and government officials. “So, our struggles are really huge and wide”,

Mr. Belay said that on one side AFSA fights and on the other side it proposes solutions. AFSA fights against corporatization of agriculture and the solutions it proposes lies on farmers’ managed seed systems. He further said that under the context of food production, they propose agroecology, because agroecology is transformative in all spheres be it on social, environmental and economic aspects.  

He added that AFSA has 4 working groups. These are Climate Change and Agroecology Working Group, Resilient Seed Systems and Agroecology Working Group, Land and Agroecology Working Group, Citizens and Agroecology Working Group. Comrade Belay said that recently AFSA is working on the territorial markets. “Territorial markets are embedded on the landscape and culture of the people. There are so many positive signs. We are also campaigning for defunding of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which has failed, is un accountable and corporate controlled agency” said Comrade Belay.

The discussion was concluded by response from Comrade Ruvuga responding to the question on how foreign debts have affected peasants and their movements at large He noted that it is very unfortunate that, Africa is full of puppet leaders. In the Pandora papers it is very evident on how African leaders have embezzled public funds that could have helped to address challenges faced by peasants.

Comrade Stephen finally remarked that Food Sovereignty Campaign will definitely suffer just like the way our economic systems in African countries are suffering, however despite the suffering, still that is the very reason why we need not to give up as it is the only way through to the current exploitative systems in agriculture and all other sectors.