A Different Way to Fight Hunger: Agroecology and the Food Sovereignty Prize

It starts from the bottom up, listening to the needs of small farmers all over the world but also listening to what they already know, what resources they already have and then how they can be better organized to make the most with what they know and can learn.
10/08/2015 11:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

There is a certain mindset which says that science and technology have all the answers, swooping in from above to solve every agricultural problem that is preventing us from feeding the world, especially in the face of an ever expanding population, climate change and global warming. They will solve the growing problem of hunger and starvation throughout the world with a series of tech-fixes that will save millions of lives. Trust us they say. We are the smart people and we are here to help you, just do as we say.

This top down series of tech- fixes has been the dominant method of development for decades. Science and technology experts know what to do and all that "poor" farmers need to do is follow their lead. Many of these experts are well meaning and dedicated. Many others are just out to make a buck, or more likely a fortune. And their top-down, technological, agribusiness-led development approach is neither feeding the planet, nor befitting communities or the environment.

There is another way. It starts from the bottom up, listening to the needs of small farmers all over the world but also listening to what they already know, what resources they already have and then how they can be better organized to make the most with what they know and can learn.

Agroecology is spreading through farmer-to-farmer and community-to-community dialogues and learning exchanges. It relies on the knowledge and experiences of millions of small and medium sized farmers who grow food and take care of the land. It is a continuing dialogue of learning and practicing agriculture. More than that, it is an empowering way of life that brings together whole communities of varying sizes as well as ethnic and religious backgrounds. It empowers women in ways that have changed centuries of gender bias and exclusion.

Agroecology is the backbone of a larger movement known as Food Sovereignty that supports the democratic control of food systems and the right of all people to grow, consume and sell healthy foods of their choice For example, it resists governments and agri-businesses forcing farmers to grow rice in parts of India that have traditionally grown millet or forcing farmers off their land through illegal deals between corrupt governments and ranchers or mono crop conglomerates that result in "land grabs."

The 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize is honoring two peoples organizations dedicated to making change and bringing justice from the grassroots in the bottom-up approach, despite fighting against the dominant development model that was destroying their communities.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives has worked since 1967 in 16 States in the U.S. to keep lands in the hands of family farmers, in this case primarily, but not exclusively, black farmers. Black farmers have withstood decades of discriminatory and racist practices by the US Department of Agriculture, which finally settled for billions of dollars with farmers and their families who were forced off their land. Today, only .4% of farmland in the U.S. is operated by black farmers; over 98% is operated by whites.

To deal with the threats to farming families posed by the government, the Federation promotes land-based agricultural cooperatives, where it provides trainings in a variety of skills and helps farmers survive and stay on the land, especially through fights for justice in local courthouses, state legislatures and in the halls of Congress.

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), an organization of the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people in Honduras, protects the economic, social, and cultural rights of 46 Garifuna communities along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. Connected to both the land and the sea, sustaining themselves through farming and fishing, the Garifuna people defend against land grabs for agrofuels, tourist-resort development and narco-trafficking that seriously threaten their way of life, along with rising sea levels and the increased frequency and severity of storms due to climate change. OFRANEH has been doing this a long time, defending the land, oceanfront, fishing and farming of 46 Garifuna communities on the Atlantic coast of Honduras since 1979. This has always been an uphill battle against racism, poverty and violence but it has become even more dangerous since the recent coup, land grabs and the escalation of violence throughout Honduras.

Both of these organizations have struggled for decades against oppression from their governments and large agricultural companies. They have pioneered excellent agricultural practices, fought for their rights and produced nutritious food for people. OFRANEH and the Federation, by their story of their struggle, show again that "Black Lives Matter," that black peoples will not be targeted and victimized and their stories ignored and voices silenced.

There is another way to fight hunger. It is not through the latest tech solution or the latest chemical toxic concoction, but it does utilize science rooted in ecological principles, community participation and democratic management. This 'other way' and the leaders who are organizing their communities to reclaim their right to determine how their food is grown and who benefits from it will be honored next week, when the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and OFRANEH accept the Food Sovereignty Prize in Iowa. Another affirmation that ending hunger is about justice, community power and equity, and not a quick, technological fix.

If you can't make it to Des Moines to attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony in person, tune into the livestream at www.foodsovereigntyprize.org on October 14th at 7 p.m. CT!