Amid concerns that many African countries have continued to implement policies that are detrimental to the agricultural ecosystem, leading to rising level of severe hunger across the continent, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Faith Leaders, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), among other groups have asked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and other foreign donors to stop funding harmful industrial agricultural policies on the continent.
According to a report by the United Nations, severe hunger in Africa increased by 25% in 2020. About 250 million people living in Africa are said to be severely hungry, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the whole world.
In a move to mitigate the impact of hunger and harmful legislation on Africans, SAFCEI, a multi-faith organisation and other collaborators demanding for action on eco-justice have asked foreign donors to shift funding to more effective and sustainable agroecology initiatives in Africa.
The groups made the call at a virtual press conference, monitored by The New Diplomat, Tuesday.
Executive Director, SAFCEI, Francesca de Gasparis, in her opening charge stated that aggressive approach to farming practices has negatively affected small scale farmers in Africa.
According to her, ‘elitist farming’ has undermined the rights of the small scale farmers who are growing crops to feed Africans.
While calling on the BMGF to support regenerative farming rather than industrial farming approach, Gasparis also urged African governments to outlaw any piece of legislation which negatively affects the local ecosystem and the agricultural sector on the continent.
She noted that attention should be focused on having “a local economy that creates greater food security for all,” and not on efforts that only serve the interests of big corporation aiming to exploit local farmers and further push them into poverty.
In her words, “…it is not sustaining communities, and it’s not creating a resilient environment, in terms of the challenges of climate change. We also have seen from the foundation’s investment in the Agro approach that they’re encouraging a high input-high output approach this corporatization of farming. This idea that you can bring a business model that will actually strengthen and enrich individuals, small scale farmers but what is actually happening instead is that we see an elitist farming practice coming out.
“People are becoming landless, there’s an emphasis on cash cropping, which is bad for nutritional health and bad for our environment. And thirdly, we’re seeing this aggressive approach to farming practices which is breaching the human environmental barriers. We know that we are running out of wild lands of parts of the earth that has not been impacted by human action and human intervention, when we push into ecosystems we erode biodiversity and resilience. We unload our community’s wealth, our natural wealth, our natural heritage, the knowledge that we have around medicinal plants.
“What does a healthy environment mean? a healthy environment means healthy people. So why are we doing this? We want you to ask the Gates Foundation who are asking them to listen to faith leaders who are calling on them to start to listen to small scale farmers in Africa to center the approach truly around the needs of small scale farmers, and first of all, that is around engaging in dialogue with people, such as the faith leaders who are witnessing and who are experiencing what’s happening when we have a top down approach and industrialize approach to farming.
“So, what do we want to see, we want to see support for a regenerative farming approach, it means to support ecosystems, to stop promoting the toxic use of pesticides and herbicides, we don’t need synthetic fertilizers in biotech. It’s not necessary. We also want to see a shift of investment into interventions and technologies and support for this agro ecological approach for a regenerative model, which means that we’re working in harmony with the ecosystem, instead of against it, and really to go back to encouraging African governments to do the same to stop the corporatization of seed laws, which really are undermining small scale farmers rights. They’re undermining the knowledge base that we have seen passed through generations within communities of seeds, of practices of, cultural approaches to farming, to growing food, to eating.”
Also speaking, Bishop Ishmael, a representative of the Faith leaders, in his keynote address stated that hunger is one of the threats to life.
According to the Bishop, hunger is both “debilitating and demeaning to any individual’ and as such the church has a role to play because it is ‘the salt of the world.”
Speaking further, Ishmael said hunger cannot be eradicated in Africa until local communities, and small scale farmers are carried along in key decision making that affects their farming activities.
He called on the Gates Foundation to ensure the inclusion of the realities of the small scale farmers by supporting the farming methods suitable to them. This, according to him will help the farmers own the project and grow their own food. He also explained that efforts to meaningfully eradicate hunger will not be successful if small scale farmers are dependent on donors like Gates Foundation alone.
In his words, “Hunger is the distress associated with the lack of food. It is a situation that negatively impacts on the integrity and dignity of any individual, family, community, or nation. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) consider the hunger is one of the serious threats of security and development. It is listed second after poverty, ahead of such threats as health, environment personal community and political things. It is both debilitating and demeaning to any individual, even to all life. And it is that point where the church comes in, because we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
“The edition, Zero Hunger is also listed second to poverty in the world the agreed global sustainable goals that were adopted by the United Nations in 2015, but is the world able to feed his people? that is the question that we must ask. Sister Mary Henry King argued that we have got enough resources, and we have gone to scientific knowledge to feed the whole world. I don’t believe any one of us can dispute that. And she went on to say, what we seem to lack is the sense of urgency, a sense of impatience, compassion and the conviction that we can and we must do it.
“However, it must be noted that feeding the world without destroying the environment is becoming increasingly difficult, and it will eventually become impossible under the continued growth of the world population. While agriculture is designed to eradicate hunger, he does it just so at the expense of the destruction of the environment, some extent causes degradation depending on the farming method used. This is also where agriculture production is highly delicate. The commitment by the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation is commendable. The foundation has so far the desire to eradicate hunger by 2023.
“However, its sustainability is questionable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the recipient who are the poor people in the ‘Zero hunger’ scheme will find it difficult to own the process. One author, Brandon argued, no filter is more important in people’s ecological development, motivation, value judgments, they even make is aimed about themselves. It has a tendency to create a syndrome of dependency and the environment suffers is large tracts of land might need to be cleared so that you can produce as much as possible the high output that foundation is talking about.
“These projects are likely to stall when these are handed over to the local communities due to the high cost of equipment maintenance, and the high cost of inputs. Any efforts to meaningfully eradicate hunger must of necessity involve the communities in decision making from the planning phase. Otherwise this initiative would suffer the same fate as olther donor funded projects and programs.
“The question we need to be asked whether aid to Africa and in particular to the poor people is aid that is going to help people to leave without hunger, I think, is the face, based organizations. We would rather give the foundations the farming methods, so that we can feed the people in our community. The advantages are many. And the first one is that people are willing to own those projects and the sizes that are recommended by this method are small enough that people are able to be able to cultivate and to be able to find inputs on their own, even if they have some help in the beginning, but they are going to be able to manage, even when there is a route towards their small plus, because they can recommend abroad, of the size of 69 meters by 16 meters, which is small enough to cultivate and to buy enough seed for themselves, and a little bit of fertilizer. This module actually encourages that organic manure is used so that people put their own compost heaps, so that they can grow their own food.
“We have used this method in different parts of the grasses when I was a few in active realist ministry and it was wonderful. It is not funded heavily by outsiders. It creates this feeling that we can, they can do it, and they will be able to do it. And as defense based organization. We have got this mandate to feed the whole world and we have a mandate to make sure that everybody is well fed. And we believe that it is our duty to actually negotiate and engage the Bill and Melinda foundation so that they may begin to understand where we are coming from and that we are interested in feeding everyone.”