Every year on the 17th April we join the global movement of small farmers to mark the International Day of Peasant’s Struggle. It is a day to celebrate the men and women who, despite severe repression, produce 70% of the food we eat from less than a quarter of the world’s land.
This year these celebrations carry extra poignancy. The destructive global impact of industrial agriculture- source of mass deforestation and over 50% of global GHG emissions- is one of the key drivers of the coronavirus outbreak we are currently living through.
We face urgent choices about our food future. Going ‘back to normal’ after the crisis is over just isn’t an option.
Fortunately for us all, millions of small-scale farmers around the planet have never forgotten how to produce food in harmony with nature using agroecological methods. The alternatives we need already exist.
To celebrate the International Day of Peasant’s Struggle 2020 we share stories from three growers in our global network of partners and allies who are part of the global movement of small, agroecological farmers that represent our food future.
Here you will meet:
- Margaret Kagole, a smallholder farmer from Uganda, one of Gaia’s global partners.
- Fred Groom, co-founder of open-pollinated seed producers Vital Seeds in the UK.
- Maria Loretha, a farmer and community leader from Likotuden, Indonesia.
Though they hail from vastly different parts of our living planet, Fred, Kagole and Maria have much in common. They all remind us that small-farmers feed the world and cool the planet, and that a food revolution must start with seed.
Please share their stories today- #StayHomeButNotSilent on peasant’s rights!
Margaret Kagole – Custodian of Life
“It is so important to revive the indigenous seeds now because these seeds have kept with us for generations. We have lived with these seeds and our grandparents have lived with these seeds. They were so useful and so nutritious, but now, with the introduction of hybrids, we have seen that our indigenous seeds can disappear and are going extinct. As a result we have seen persistent hunger in many parts of this country”, says Margaret Kagole, a custodian of indigenous seed in Buliisa, western Uganda.
Through community dialogues facilitated by The Gaia Foundation and our Ugandan partners, over the past 5 years, Kagole and a group of women from her community have begun the process of reclaiming their indigenous seed heritage.
Their work began by searching high and low with their elders to get hold of half-forgotten varieties. Some years on, they have now formed the Tulime Hamwe Mbibo Zikade Women’s Group, dedicated to seed saving, and started a community garden where they cultivate and test out indigenous varieties they have recovered, building up seed stocks to be shared with communities in the surrounding area.
Together, Kagole and her fellow custodians are putting seed back at the heart of community life and building their resilience to climate change and community nutrition in the process.
“We think reviving our indigenous seeds will go a long way to curbing such calamities because they are many in number and type”, says Kagole. “They are pesticide and herbicide free, both of which we believe contribute to the effects of climate change because they dry and poison the soils. Reviving indigenous seeds will help us achieve food security and food sovereignty.”
This work is documented in a new film from The Gaia Foundation and partners- Custodians of Life: Reviving Culture and Nature in Uganda’s Great Lakes.
Fred Groom- Vital Seeds
“The more I work with plants the more in awe I am of them, particularly their many and varied reproductive strategies. Plants perform miracles, and by far the most miraculous thing they do in my opinion is produce seeds”, says Fred Groom, co-founder of Vital Seeds, one of the UK’s newest seed production companies.
Vital Seeds produce organic seed that is open-pollinated, meaning pollination of the plants, vegetables and flowers Vital Seeds grow is done by insects, birds, winds, humans, or other natural mechanisms.
Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals in these interactions, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse and therefore more resilient to shocks from weather or pests.
This diversity is sorely needed in our food system today. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 75% of global crop diversity was been lost between 1900-2000. Our food system is rapidly losing the resilience that starts with growing a wide diversity of seed varieties.
“I started Vital Seeds in 2018 in response to the severe lack in availability of UK-grown organic seed. I was shocked when I found out how little seed is produced in the UK and how most ‘local’ organic food is produced from seed shipped half way across the planet,” says Fred.
“There are very few companies specialising in organic and agro-ecological seed in the UK so it seemed there was definitely a need for more. My dream is to improve existing varieties and develop new ones specifically adapted to ecological growing systems, although this is a very long term goal as it can take many years to breed new varieties.”
Maria Loretha- Seed Hero
Community leader Maria Loretha spent months travelling around the remote villages of East Flores talking to elders, before she eventually found the indigenous sorghum seed varieties that used to grow prolifically in this region of Indonesia.
This ancient crop – now known for its superfood qualities – had all but died out as successive governments encouraged farmers to grow white rice and maize instead. However, these commercial varieties did not work in East Flores where the volcanic rock makes it difficult to maintain moisture. Despite increasing amounts of chemical fertilisers, the rice and maize failed and the local families were left hungry, in debt, and faced with the prospect of having to leave to become migrant workers.
In response to the dire situation, Maria Loretha organised local women to plant 30 acres of sorghum using the old seed varieties she had collected from the elders. The experiment has now proven so successful that it has now expanded to other parts of Indonesia. For the women of Likotuden, the old sorghum seeds have become a route to independence, allowing them to feed their families and break free from a reliance on chemical fertilisers and subsequent debt.
This story is told in our We Feed the World photographic exhibition, which has amplified Maria’s story, and that of many other small farmers from Burkina Faso to the USA, to a global audience of over 50 million.