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African Faith Leaders, Civil Society Decry Locals’ Exclusion in World Agriculture Policies

Poster announcing the Fourth African Union-European Union Agricultural Ministerial Conference/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

Members of Our Land is Our Life Alliance, an entity that brings together various African civil society organizations (CSOs) and faith leaders, have decried the exclusion of local populations in the implementation of agricultural policies that affect the continent.

In a joint statement shared with ACI Africa, leaders of the CSOs and faith groups appeal to African and European Agriculture Ministers under the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) organizations to ensure African people’s real concerns and needs are fully addressed in their Ministerial action plan.

The members of Our Land is Our Life Alliance made their appeal at a conference on Monday, June 21 ahead of the June 22 Ministers’ conference that brought together AU and EU agriculture officials to discuss progress on the action agenda on agriculture adopted in July 2019.

The Deputy Secretary General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Fr. Germain Rajoelison, makes reference to the nine-point agenda the Ministers agreed on in 2019 in a bid to strengthen rural areas and the food supply chain in Africa and says that the action plan does not work for the Africans.

“We have been looking at the on-going implementation of the nine-point agenda adopted by the AU EU Agricultural Ministers in July 2019, and we contest with grave concern that the local communities that we and the Civil Society groups represent have not had a meaningful place in the process,” Fr. Germain says in the statement shared with ACI Africa Monday, June 21.

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He adds, “We are of the opinion that the EU-Africa partnership must be about its people and not run top-down defined priorities and agenda by the EU and AU institutions. We are worried that only agri-business people are part of the implementation process and farming communities engaging in improving and sustaining their rural livelihoods are left out.”

Fr. Germain who heads SECAM’s Justice, Peace and Development Commission notes that it is the farming communities that the partnership is meant to serve, underscoring the need to include members of these communities in policy formulation.

“As a Church connected to the local communities, we would like to see an inclusive approach specifically creating spaces for meaningful participation of the local rural communities,” the native of Madagascar says, and adds, “We insist that sharing of power is the key to allow the agency of local communities to be part of the political process.”

Fr. Germain warned of “a systemic crisis that threatens our Common Home”, in reference to what Pope Francis has clearly elaborated in Laudato Si.

This is a crisis, according to the SECAM official, that needs to be addressed “with a transformative cooperation, solidarity and a model of partnership able to put the livelihoods of the most vulnerable communities at the center of analysis as well as at the core of identifying solutions.”

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One of the key issues in the AU and EU’s action agenda on agriculture adopted in July 2019 is the need to enhance opportunities for sustainable production and intraregional and continental trade in agricultural products in Africa.

In a conference on Monday, June 21, members of Our Land is Our Life condemned the approach taken by the agricultural Ministers, saying that it leaves behind issues such as pesticide poisoning of farmers and the land rights related to African vulnerable groups such as women.

Our Land is Our Life coordination group is composed of leaders of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), SECAM, CGLTE-OA (Global Convergence of Struggles for Land and Water in West Africa), Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA), Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), and The Pan-African Institute for Citizenship, Consumers and Development (CICODEV).

Anne Maina, the National Coordinator of Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, for instance, has challenged what she refers to as false solutions being pushed in Africa like genetic engineering, the green revolution and toxic pesticides.

Ms. Maina notes with concern that the use of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs), which she says contain particularly high levels of acute or chronic hazards to health and the environment has increased over the years.

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“These HHPs have been proven to be mutagenic, carcinogenic and cause endocrine and reproductive disorders. Further, most have been found to be highly toxic to pollinators like bees and aquatic animals,” Ms. Maina says.

She adds, “These toxic pesticides are threatening the health of farmers, farm workers and consumers, and globally have caused 385 million unintended acute pesticides poisoning in 2019.”

“When the Ministers discuss increasing agribusiness, food safety, and improving environmental sustainability, are they ensuring that European companies are not exporting highly hazardous chemical pesticides to Africa that are banned from sale in Europe? And that priority is given to African governments effectively regulating and prohibiting toxic pesticide use?” the official of Biosafety Association of Kenya poses.

She goes on to say, “There must be an end to pesticide poisoning whether working on farms or eating the produce on our plates.”

The Kenyan official says that in the East African country, for instance, the volume of imported insecticides, herbicides and fungicides doubled within four years from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018, with a growth rate of 144 percent.

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She says, in reference to the worrying statistics, “There is an urgent need to stop any trade of HHC, and to inquire into this illegitimate trade and put it high on the agenda in the African European partnership to work towards preventing any harm done to African people and their environment.”

On his part, Dr. Million Belay, the General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) decried the commercialization of land in Africa countries, a trend he says robs future generations.

“Stop the commoditization of Africa’s natural resources, bought and sold by multinational corporations and local elites,” Dr. Belays said, and added, “Future generations need enough productive land and living soil to nourish and provide livelihoods for their families and descendants, and maintain their cultural integrity.”

AFSA brings together small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishers, indigenous peoples, faith communities, consumers, women and young people from across Africa to create a united voice for food sovereignty.

Dr. Belay who also serves as a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) notes that food is revered in most African communities, and discourages multinationals from over-commercializing it.

“In Africa, food is a basic human right, not a commodity in the hands of a select few who determine prices through their food industries. Food defines our culture and heritage; a source of nutrition and health, a medicine, a ritual, a celebration,” he said.

He calls upon European and African policymakers to accelerate the transformation to sustainable food systems through supportive policies and financial incentives that protect and enhance food producers’ access to land, seeds, water, credit, and local markets.

Addressing the issue of land rights in African countries, Massa Kone, spokesperson of the CGLTE-OA highlighted the rise in land grabbing, which he equated to an excessive violation of human rights under the guise of investments.

The aim of CGLTE WA is to support struggles for land rights and to ensure that collective rights are respected.

Mr. Kone provides the example of the Segou region of Mali where 20,000 hectares of land were granted to an economic operator under the guise of investment in agriculture supported by the African Development Bank (ADB).

He says that of the 20,000 hectares, more than 800 hectares were dispossessed from the communities in inhumane conditions that led to imprisonment, deaths and several people leaving the countryside.

The CGLTE-OA official notes that after the land was developed and factories constructed, people in surrounding villages are regularly sickened by the chemicals used in the factories and that the ecosystem of the area is in danger of disappearing.

“This year, these villages have been the victims of floods never seen before in their history,” Mr. Kone told participants at the June 21 conference.

In her statement on women land rights, Lungisa Huna, Co-Director at Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) condemned the perception of land as an “economic factor.”

Ms. Huna called on Africans to say no to the commodification of land that she said converts what is by tradition a public common good into an asset that only elites and rich can afford.

She said that at RWA, a regional movement with over 100,000 rural women members in ten countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, land is considered as “a place of belonging, as a common territory, as our identity, our heritage and most importantly as life.”

The social and human rights activist called on governments across the continent to provide subsidies that support women’s land rights and agricultural rights prioritizing food production.

“Women must have the same land and decision-making rights, under community control, not controlled by chiefs alone,” Ms. Huna says, and adds, “The AU, EU and SADC’s commitments to gender equality must not result in ‘paper policies’ and ‘paper rights’, but have to be implemented.”