Community Alliance for Global Justice and Community to Community to Host Food Sovereignty Prize 2016

August 23, 2016
23 Aug 2016

CAGJ is very excited to announce that we will co-host the Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony in October 2016! Community to Community and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the Prize Honorees, and our Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities, including the ceremony to award the prize. The ceremony will take place the evening of Friday October 14 or Saturday October 15 – Stay tuned!

The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.

Community to Community and Community Alliance for Global Justice are both proud recipients of the prize. Community to Community was awarded the prize in 2014, and CAGJ received Honorable Mention the first year the prize was awarded, 2009, when La Via Campesina was awarded the prize.

To get involved in hosting the prize, please contact CAGJ!

Live Stream 2015

August 23, 2016
23 Aug 2016

Black Farmers’ Lives Matter: The significant contributions of Black Farmers in America

October 15, 2015
15 Oct 2015
By Heather Gray

The 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize will be shared by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation) and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. The prize will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. Thankfully, this prize honors the important work of family farmers throughout the world.

The Food Sovereignty prize was first awarded in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize (also taking place this week in Des Moines, Iowa) founded by “the father of the Green Revolution,” the late Norman Borlaug. While the World Food Prize emphasizes increased production through technology, the Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, champions solutions coming from those most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. In honoring those who are organizing to reclaim local food systems, the commons and community self-determination, the Food Sovereignty Prize affirms that nothing short of the true democratization of our food system will enable us to end hunger once and for all.(EcoWatch)


The theme this year is “Black Farmer’s Lives Matter”. This is indeed true!

Black farmers have fed their communities and have always generously done so during and since the end of slavery. Much food has almost always been shared with those in need. But the production has been diverse and with a wealth of traditional knowledge through the generations as is true with family farmers throughout the world.

In the late 1990s, I conducted a research project for the Federation that included interviews of farmers throughout the South. I was amazed at the abundance and variety of produce grown by Black farmers. Even if they grew a huge acreage of monocrops, they also tended to maintain an important tradition of a diverse production of fruits and vegetables somewhere on their farm. When farmers have talked with me about the crops they grow, regardless of their struggles, on a consistent basis I have witnessed a gleam in their eyes. It’s as if farming is indeed a spiritual experience regardless of who you are or where you are from.

Mississippi farmer Braxton Bullock with his cabbage

Yet this on-going productivity has never been easy, largely because of southern and national politics, along with the growing industrial systems in agriculture that continue to threaten the integrity of our important family farmer sector.

In fact, since the end of the Civil War in 1865 and prior to that as well, Black farmers have made significant contributions to agriculture in America.

The Freedman’s Bureau was created in 1865 to assist freed slaves and poor whites after the Civil War. The Bureau, however, was never given the directive from Congress to offer 40 acres to the Black community but rather small portions of from 10 to 15 acres. Unlike whites that were given free land in the west, thanks to the 1862 Homestead Act, Blacks needed to “purchase” their land. In fact, with the Homestead Act, American whites received some of the most massive welfare subsidies of any people in the world in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, by the early 1900’s the Black community had managed to purchase some 15 million acres of land. It was an amazing feat. Yet by 1910, the loss of black-owned land began with the advent, for one, of Jim Crow laws in the South. Today the acreage farmed by Black farmers is a little over 4.5 million acres.

The contributions of the Black farming community in the development of U.S. food and culture have also been exceptional and likely more than any other ethnic group in the South. Most of the slaves in America came from West Africa and that culture is reflected, for one, in the food we eat today. For centuries, Black farmers have maintained the growth of these traditional foods.

In fact, many of the African foods we eat in the 21rst century came with Africans on ships during the slave trade. African origins of some of our foods include okra, gumbo, watermelon, spinach, coffee, yams, black-eyed peas, sorghum, and African rice. All of these foods resonate in the South today.

Okra is thought to be from Ethiopia or also, and more likely, from West Africa where it was also grown and eaten abundantly. The word gumbo is believed to have come from “quingombo”, of the word “quillobo”, which is the native name for the okra plant in the Congo and Angola areas of Africa. Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and in the 1800s British missionary David Livingston saw an abundance of watermelon growing wild in central Africa. Spinach is from North Africa. Coffee is from Ethiopia. Yams are a staple food in West Africa. It is thought the first domestication of black-eyed peas took place in West Africa. Sorghum and African rice are thought to have come from the Sahel in Africa some 5,000 years ago. African rice has been grown in West Africa for some 3,000 years.

Rice, in fact, was critical to building wealth in the American colonies. For example, white plantation owners in South Carolina did not have a clue about growing rice. They opted to bring in slaves from West Africa where, as mentioned, rice had been grown for thousands of years. It was African women who taught these planation owners, of course, as women were the farmers, as was true throughout most of the African continent. Nevertheless, white South Carolinians still resonate from the wealth they accumulated thanks to the skills and vast knowledge of African female farmers – not to mention the wealth overall accumulated by white America from the labor of African farmers throughout the region.

No narrative of Black farmers and agriculture can be complete without referring to the agriculturalist and scientist, George Washington Carver, who played as extraordinary role through his work at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Many say he saved the South. This is probably true. Carver recognized that the depleted soil from cotton production could be alleviated by a rotation of crops. Cotton, for example, should be rotated with legumes such as peanuts to fix nitrogen in the soil and farmers today are largely attentive to this practice. This example of rotation just touches on his genius but also his teaching model of a “moveable school” was transformative for agriculture education in the South, as in taking education directly to the farmer. This is something the Federation and other institutions have also adapted in many instances whether or not they recognize Carver’s role in the development of the model.

Tuskegee agriculture professors will often bring their students to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama to meet some of the Black farmers in the area. One professor told me that the students can then witness a farmer digging his hand into the soil and tell them precisely about its health or what was needed to improve it. It comes from traditional knowledge, of course, and is beyond the textbook.

Market at the Federation’s Rural Training & Research Center in Alabama

Black farmers have also played a central role in the movement for freedom and justice in the United States and are rarely acknowledged for this. In the mid-20th century, across the South, they assisted in funding some civil rights initiatives and worked with students and activists including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); they offered their land on occasion to assist civil rights workers, as in for camping; they ran for positions in USDA agriculture committees, such as the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), which is now the Farm Service Agency (FSA); they assisted in voter registration initiatives. These are just a few examples.

Importantly, the legendary 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma-to-Montgomery on Highway 80 could probably never have occurred were it not for Black farmers. Black farmers, who owned land along Highway 80, allowed the integrated mixture of black and white marchers to stay on their land during the 54-mile march. This would never have been allowed on white-owned farms along the route.

Black farmers are, in fact, at the pinnacle of American heroes in the movement for justice in America and should be acknowledged as such!

As Black farmers were often the levers upon which the movement rested in rural areas, the conservative and reactionary whites in the South went after them with a vengeance that included, of course, the representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his book “Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights”, historian Pete Daniel describes the USDA and the white south’s tactics. Daniel managed to obtain records from the “U.S. Commission on Civil Rights” of studies that were conducted, for one, in 1965 and 1967 and he said that after his years of research, even he was shocked by the tactics to undermine Black farmers. Countless farmers were forced off the land during this period and/or left the South under the circumstances.

Daniel states, for example,

When SNCC in the mid-1960s organized African American farmers to vote in ASCS elections, county offices issued inaccurate maps, neglected to send black women ballots, manipulated ballots to confuse black farmers, all with the complicity of the Washington USDA office. There was also violence, intimidation, and economic retaliation. (Daniel)

Largely in response to this discrimination, the Federation was created in 1967. It grew out of the civil rights movement. As the late Alabama attorney J.L. Chestnut once said, “There were a lot of organizations that were spawned by the blood that was spilled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965, and the Federation was one of those.” Elders in the movement have told me that they felt the civil rights movement at the time had left the rural South behind. So the Federation was created to help fill that void by playing a role in saving black-owned land and offering tools for economic development.

As the founders of the Federation were, of course, aware of the discrimination against Black farmers in the South, they created an expansive organization that is licensed in 16 Southern states. It has offered assistance in seeking resources from the USDA for farmers, and, through the cooperative economic development model, provided another significant framework for economic advancement. Its work has also included international outreach and assistance in Cuba, West Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti to name a few. This is often with international farmer-to-farmer exchange programs.

In its more that four decades, the Federation has assisted in the creation of agriculture cooperatives, fisher cooperatives, craft cooperatives, credit unions and other cooperative ventures in addition to an important infrastructure of State Associations of Cooperatives. It has remained a grassroots organization.

The “Caravan to Washington” on the Capitol steps in DC (1992)

In addition to assisting individual Black farmers, the Federation has played a significant role effecting federal policy. In the early 1990s, Congress passed what was known as the “Minority Farmers Rights Act” that would, for the first time, use federal funds for programs targeted for Black farmers. It was proposed by the Federation in 1988 – click here for the original artiicle. While the bill passed Congress, funds were not appropriated. It took a “Caravan to Washington” in 1992 of farmers and supporters from across the South, to finally pressure Congress to appropriate monies for the program. The “Caravan” was the brainchild of the former executive director, Ralph Paige.

Importantly, the Federation was instrumental in the filing of the Black Farmer Class Action Lawsuit against the USDA that settled in 1999. It was known as the Pigford v Glickman lawsuit with Tim Pigford being a Black farmer from North Carolina and Dan Glickman being President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture. This was the largest civil rights lawsuit ever filed against the United States government. To date, more than a billion dollars has been allocated to Black farmers for the discrimination they experienced from the USDA.

The above is but a brief summary of the expansive work of the Federation in the Black Belt South. Its important contributions have offered hope and an inspiration to many throughout the region and the world. The Federation and Black farmers have played a significant role in both honoring and saving family farmers for the benefit of farmers themselves and their communities, of course, as well as for all of us in America in providing food, in significant contributions to our culture and the integrity of our communities over all.

For event updates and background on food sovereignty and the prize winners, visit www.foodsovereigntyprize.org. Also, visit the Food Sovereignty Prize on Facebook (facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize) and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).

Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology. She can be reached at[email protected].

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 49th year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management,
debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability. 

Fighting Racism From the USDA, Black Farmers Gain Power Through Co-ops

October 14, 2015
14 Oct 2015

By Andrianna Natsoulas and Beverly Bell, Truthout

The 2015 US Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. This year, one of the two winners is the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network of cooperatives, almost all of which are composed of Black family farmers across the Deep South. The federation upholds a vision of local production for local consumption and seeks to defend the family land needed for that local production. The second winner, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, has a similar mission and values.

Institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the USDA is to blame for the loss of Black land.

Some of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives farmers continue working land that was deeded to their ancestors by the US government after they were freed from slavery. This is the case with Ben Burkett, president of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, which is a member of the federation. He farms the 164 acres that his great-grandfather was given by the government in 1889. Burkett still has the land title signed by President Grover Cleveland.

Composed of 35 agricultural co-ops, representing 12,000 farm families in 13 states from Texas to North Carolina – primarily Black, but also some Latino, Native American and white – the federation employs organizing, political advocacy and legal strategies to defend land. The federation also helps develop economically self-sufficient communities, assisting member co-ops to purchase supplies and find marketing outlets. Moreover, the federation offers financial and technical assistance.

Members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives meet with USDA officials in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015. The federation upholds a vision of local production for local consumption and seeks to defend the family land needed for that local production. (Photo: Bob Nichols / USDA)

Members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives meet with USDA officials in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015. The federation upholds a vision of local production for local consumption and seeks to defend the family land needed for that local production. (Photo: Bob Nichols / USDA)

The federation’s work to keep land in the hands of small farmers is one of the foundations of food sovereignty, a framework of policies, principles and practices through which food systems are controlled by and serve the best interest of people instead of corporations.

Taking on the “Last Plantation”

In 1920, one in every seven farmers in the United States was Black. Together, they owned nearly 15 million acres. By 1982, however, Black farmers numbered one in 67, together owning only 3.1 million acres. (1) Racism, violence and massive migration from the rural South to the industrialized North caused a steady decline in the number of Black farmers.

Even for those who have long held onto their families’ land, maintaining it today is a constant struggle. Historic patterns of racism and economic pressures in an agribusiness-driven food system have pushed many Black farmers off their land.

Burkett says he believes the co-op structure is the only way to survive as a farmer in the rural South.

Institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) – nicknamed “the last plantation” – is also to blame for the loss of Black land. Over the years, studies by the US Civil Rights Commission, as well as by the USDA itself, showed that the USDA actively discriminated against Black farmers. A 1964 Civil Rights Commission study showed that the agency unjustly denied Black farmers loans, disaster aid and representation on agricultural committees. (2)

In response, in 1997 and 1998, Black farmers – organized through the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and other Black organizations – filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA for unjustly denying them loans. The lawsuits were consolidated into one case, Pigford v. Glickman, which was settled in 1999.

However, due to delays in filing claims, nearly 60,000 farmers and their heirs were left out of this settlement. In November 2010, the US Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act, known as Pigford II, to compensate Black farmers who were left out of the first settlement. President Obama signed the Claims Settlement Act a month later, making $1.25 billion available for claimants in the form of cash payments and loan forgiveness. The final settlement allocated about $50,000 each to roughly 16,000 farmers nationwide.

“I never would have thought the government would actually pay anybody any money,” Burkett said of the settlement. “At the beginning, I would say, ‘You are never getting a dime.’ But, I was wrong.”

“Not as Good as We Want It to Be”

Over the years, each generation of the Burkett family bought more land, so that the original 164 acres has expanded to 296 acres. On them, under the name of B&B Farms, Burkett – with the help of his family – grows 15 different varieties of vegetables, as well as timber. Burkett says he believes the co-op structure is the only way to survive as a farmer in the rural South.

Speaking of Pigford and Pigford II, Burkett said he would have preferred that the money had been pooled and put into a trust to borrow against or to help new farmers. That would have provided future generations with some seed funding and current farmers a layer of security, he added.

In an interview, Burkett explains the rationale of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives taking a lead in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit:

The lawsuit was about discrimination in the county office of the USDA. I got a loan to buy my equipment, my seeds and fertilizers. I could not write any checks directly. I had to write a check and then somebody in the [USDA] office had to sign it. They were only treating black farmers like that, not white farmers. For example, if I wanted to buy $5,000 worth of soybean seed, I had to go find the seed from the Forest County co-op and get an invoice. I then had to go back up to the [USDA] office and get the check. They sign the check, I sign the check and then I have to take it back to the store. I’m just one they treated like that.

A lot of farmers, they go in and get their loan approved. This happened to me too. My loan was approved in February or March, but I didn’t get the money until July 15th. That’s cutting time. Planting is over. It was several things like that, that brought the suit about. A lot of black farmers went into the USDA offices and were denied. They wouldn’t even give them the application for a loan. The USDA officers told them, ‘You can’t make any money farming, so …’ In the lawsuit, [denial of your loan] had to happen to you between ’81 and ’96. It was happening before then and it is happening now, after the lawsuit. That’s just the price of doing business, I suppose.

They can pass a rule in Washington, D.C., [in the] USDA or Congress. Then it comes to the state of Mississippi. If the state says they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to do it. We have a [USDA] county committee made up of five farmers who do the hiring, the firing, and everything else. Those fellows up in Washington D.C. can talk, but they can’t fire anybody. They cannot fire a soul in the state of Mississippi.

As long as it’s set up that way, it won’t change. I believe that in my heart. There are all kinds of laws about discrimination [that say] ‘regardless of race, religion, creed or color.’ Discrimination, morals, people’s ideologies … you can’t make policy or legislate that away.

But, it is much better. I remember the ’60’s, I remember segregation and it is better now. Not as good as we want it to be, but not as bad as it was.

Because racism persists in the agricultural system, hurting the efforts of Burkett and other Black farmers, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives keeps fighting for equal justice through grassroots mobilizations, in the courts and through state and national legislation.

Burkett said, “Racism is still here in the marketplace and in credit, but we have learned to deal with it and not give up on changing the system. We struggle every day to bring about a change.”



1. Public Broadcasting System, “Challenging the USDA (1980s and 1990s),” Black Farming and Land Loss: A History.

2. Public Broadcasting System, “The Civil Rights Years (1954-1968),” Black Farming and Land Loss: A History.

Iowa Bystander

October 14, 2015
14 Oct 2015


Radio Without Borders

October 14, 2015
14 Oct 2015



Guest: Beverly Bell
Title:  US Food Sovereignty Alliance member
Topics: Announcement of the Food Soveignty Prize winners 1) Federation of Southern Cooperatives (US) 2) The Black Fraternal Oeganization of Honduras (OFRANEH)
Guest: Ben Burkett
Title: Federation of Southern Cooperatives active member
Topics: 4th generation farmer in Mississippi, problems of being a Black Farmer in the South

Grassroots Struggle for Food Sovereignty and the Liberation of Black Cultures

October 14, 2015
14 Oct 2015

by Alison Meares Cohen

acohenbwewlogo5Two organizations have been selected to receive the 7th annual Food Sovereignty Prize this year in an event that will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 14, in Des Moines, Iowa. On the heels of a visible resurgence of the struggle for black liberation made visible by a spate of police brutality against Black Americans, the two winners this year demonstrate a commitment to solidarity with Black people’s struggles globally. The award—honoring grassroots organizations that uphold the right of all communities to democratically determine their own food systems and who connect their struggles for food sovereignty to those of communities fighting for self-determination around the world—goes to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives headquartered in Georgia and theBlack Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

Ben Burkett is 4th generation farmer in Mississippi and organizer with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Photo credit: Food Sovereignty Prize
Ben Burkett is 4th generation farmer in Mississippi and organizer with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Photo credit: Food Sovereignty Prize

“Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the rights of every individual on Earth to wholesome food, clean water, air and land,” says Ben Burkett, a 4th generation farmer in Mississippi and organizer with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

The federation is a landmark membership-based institution keeping family farmers (90 percent of their members are black families) on the land in 13 Southern states since 1967. African-American farmers are nearly extinct: Black-owned farms have fallen from 14 percent to 1 percent in less than 100 years. Emerging from the Civil Rights Movement, the federation promotes land-based cooperatives, provides training in sustainable agriculture and organizes farmers to raise their voices in local courthouses, in state legislature and in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

The Afro-indigenous people of Honduras began organizing in 1979 to protect the fishing and farming rights of Garifuna communities along the Atlantic Coast. Tourism, land grabs for agro-fuels and climate change define their current struggles. Prioritizing the leadership of Afro-descendant women and youth, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras has built a movement that seeks to protect the natural resources which enables them to feed themselves and their communities. As important and deeply connected to their struggle for self-determination is their efforts to protect the culture of the Garifuna people. According to Coordinator Miriam Miranda: “Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty.”

The Food Sovereignty prize was first awarded in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize (also taking place this week in Des Moines, Iowa) founded by “the father of the Green Revolution,” the late Norman Borlaug. While the World Food Prize emphasizes increased production through technology, the Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, champions solutions coming from those most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. In honoring those who are organizing to reclaim local food systems, the commons and community self-determination, the Food Sovereignty Prize affirms that nothing short of the true democratization of our food system will enable us to end hunger once and for all.

The Food Sovereignty Prize is a small but growing effort to call attention to those who struggle every day—not in the laboratories, but in the fields and on the land to produce food while protecting natural resources. As Ben points out, corporate control of every aspect of the food system is being met with an intensification of these grassroots efforts. “Our system of growing food is heavy, heavy, heavy dependent on petro-chemicals, on inorganic compounds … and it takes too much control out of the local community. Now, [this corporate-controlled system] might last for several decades, but in the end it won’t last.”

Those same companies Ben references are the ones who are both funding and often receiving the World Food Prize each year. The event has become a megaphone for primarily corporate interests in our global food system. The list of sponsors is a veritable line-up of the biggest and most influential. Monsanto, ADM, Bayer Cropscience, Syngenta, Walmart, Pepsico, Dupont—all put up significant dollars to back the prize and spread the message that the scaling up of laboratory-derived solutions (GMOs, patented seeds, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, mono-cropping) is the only thing that will feed our growing population.

The Food Sovereignty Prize, by contrast, honors those grassroots leaders that tell a more compelling story of the true solution to climate change and hunger, backed by years of experiential knowledge rooted in a symbiotic partnership with the Earth and her resources that sustain us. The Food Sovereignty Prize helps us amplify the voices of these stewards of land, community, culture and democracy. It helps us tell the world that the lives of Black farmers matter to all of us who want to see an end to the exploitation of people, our environment and hunger.

A Tale of Two Food Prizes

October 13, 2015
13 Oct 2015

By Eric Holt-Giménez

What’s in a prize? The politics of distribution versus growth.

On October 14, in Des Moines, Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, run by African-American farmers of the southern United States and to OFRANEH – the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña).

The next day, hundreds of distinguished international guests will also gather in Des Moines, Iowa as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed accepts the World Food Prize in the name of BRAC – the world’s largest non-governmental rural development agency.

Both prizes are awarded in recognition of the fight against hunger. That’s where the similarity ends and the lesson begins.

Founded in 1986 by the “father of the Green Revolution” Norman Borlaug, the World Food Prize typically celebrates technological innovations that increase agricultural yields. This is because the award committee assumes that there is not enough food in the world to feed everyone. Actually, over the last four decades we have consistently produced 1 ½ times enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet. Yet, over a billion people are still hungry and malnourished because they are too poor to buy food. Awarding the Word Food Prize to BRAC should be a reminder that poverty, not scarcity, is the main cause of world hunger.

Sir Fazle’s knighthood and 20 international awards all attest to the positive impact of BRAC’s anti-poverty work. Their selection was a safe move for the World Food Prize, which has been roundly criticized for giving the award to yet another Green Revolution scientist last year and to a triad of biotechnology scientists from the private sector the year before. BRAC will undoubtedly help restore some of the Prize’s lost luster in a world were genetic engineering has lost much of its credibility.

Does this award reflect a shift in the World Food Prize’s paradigm? Is the emblematic lightship of the Green Revolution ready to admit that hunger will not be ended by dint of a continuous flow of industrial crop varieties and chemical inputs? Not likely. A review of nearly thirty years of Food Prize laureates reveals a smattering of recipients who do not fit the dominant Green Revolution paradigm (Hans Herren, Muhammad Yunus, George McGovern and Robert Dole, among others). While the Prize entertains intermittent forays into areas of food aid, economic development and even agroecology, it always returns, lemming-like, to its foundational discourse: to end hunger we must double food production. The corollary to this theorem is that only chemically-based, industrial agriculture is up to the task.

That the planet has been overproducing food for nearly half a century is irrelevant to Green Revolution champions. That agroecological methods of production are cheaper, more accessible and consistently more productive and climate resilient than anything the Green Revolution has on offer, is also quietly swept under the rug in the yearly World Food Prize celebrations.

The destitute farmers producing over half the world’s food – primarily peasant women – make up most of the world’s hungry. They need more land, more water and a larger share of the food dollar. But the World Food Prize does not understand hunger or poverty as a problem of resource distribution. Rather, the World Food Prize believes that hunger and food insecurity are the result of scarcity. Whatever the problems underlying poverty and world hunger – in the Global South and the Global North – the solution for hunger is always the same: growth. Growth in productivity, growth in commercial inputs, growth in credit, growth of global markets…

But global food supply has been growing at 12% per capita a year for several decades. At the height of the global food crises of 2008 and 2011, the world saw record-breaking grain harvests. The problem of hunger is poverty. Resource-poor farmers – who make up 70% of the world’s hungry – are forced to sell their harvest cheaply (because they are poor). Later, when their own supplies run out and prices rise, they go hungry because they can’t afford the food in the markets. The steady spread of high-external input, plantation agriculture – largely soy for livestock, cane and maize for biofuels and oil palm – pushes smallholders and pastoralists off the land, destroying their livelihoods, increasing poverty and hunger even as more food is produced.

Why does the World Food Prize insist that the answer to hunger is growth?

Because a focus on growth allows us to ignore the problems of inequity, exploitation and the growing disparity of wealth in the world. It allows us to ignore the issue of resource distribution – and its corollary: re-distribution. Eighty-four individuals now own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. The growing wealth gap is causing hunger. It is easy to talk about baking an ever bigger pie. It’s much harder to talk about who get the biggest piece, or who gets to cut the pie.

This political convenience becomes evident when we look at the Food Sovereignty Prize, in many ways the antithesis of the World Food Prize. This prize has a shorter history (and an infinitely smaller budget) than the World Food Prize. This year’s laureates, the U.S.-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives and OFRANEH were chosen for their steadfast commitment to human rights and their historical resistance of oppression.

What do human rights and oppression have to do with hunger? Everything.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, founded in 1967 came out of the civil rights movement when according to its founders, as a black person in the rural south,

You took your life in your hands when you went anywhere. Particularly if you were going somewhere where they were talking about freedom and independence and cooperative farming.”

For four decades across 16 southern states, the Federation has promoted Black and family owned farms, coops, training in sustainable agriculture, forestry, management and marketing, and has advocated in the courts and state and national legislatures for the rights of Black farmers. They have stood up against the steady trend in Black land loss that has gone from a peak of 14% to less than 1% of agricultural land in the United States. Ben Burkett, southern farmer and Director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (and president of the National Family Farm Coalition) states,

Our view is local production for local consumption. It’s just supporting mankind as family farmers. Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the right of every individual on earth to wholesome food, clean water, clean air, clean land, and the self-determination of a local community to grow and do what they want. We just recognize the natural flow of life. It’s what we’ve always done.

Co-prize winner OFRANEH from Honduras came together in 1978 to protect the territories and the human rights of the Garifuna people of Honduras’ Atlantic coast. These descendants of African-Carib ancestry are a historically oppressed minority in Honduras. Their traditional lands are being grabbed by oil palm plantations and tourism developments. Because displacement and deforestation have made the Garifuna extremely vulnerable to the extreme weather events associated with climate change, OFRANEH works with local populations to build climate resilience. Says OFRANEH Coordinator Miriam Miranda,

Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty. We need to produce to bring autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest. We need to become producers. It’s about touching the pocketbook, the surest way to overcome our enemies. It’s also about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land.

The difference between the World Food Prize and the Food Sovereignty Prize is the difference between entrepreneurial “empowerment” and real political power. While the former implies an increase in personal agency within the existing system – by becoming economically successful – the latter is about how the resources of that food system are allocated.

When compared to BRAC’s impressive economic successes, the impacts of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and OFRANEH seem circumscribed, their positions romantic; small, grassroots Davids standing up to the Goliath of institutionalized racism and unstoppable global economic forces.

The World Food Prize provides us with an optimistic story of successful grassroots capitalism, while the Food Sovereignty Prize is a resistance story about hope against all odds. But these narratives actually distort our understanding of hunger and its causes. The fact is that for the vast majority of the world’s peasant farmers, BRAC’s successes are the exception rather than the rule. The default is land grabs, racism, hunger, institutionalized violence and climate disasters – the daily reality of the farmer and fisher families of OFRANEH and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

If the entrepreneurialism promoted by BRAC is so good for rural people then why, after four decades and widespread international recognition, haven’t these alternatives become standard policy everywhere?

Clearly, farmers with BRAC are better off and their success stories should be celebrated and replicated. But giving prizes for optimistic alternatives should not blind us to the harsh realities of an economic system that prevents most farmers from accessing the coops, micro credit, training and services promoted by BRAC. Indeed, unless “empowerment” enables rural communities to protect themselves from the waves of dispossession and climate chaos resulting from global capitalism and the spread of industrial agriculture in the name of ending hunger, even these gains may be short-lived.

Economic development is necessary for the oppressed, discriminated and exploited communities of our food system. It is also insufficient. Not all growth benefits the poor. Indeed, much of it hurts them.  Economic growth without redistribution of power and wealth ultimately reinforces the existing systems of exploitation. Without political control over land, water, markets and food producing resources – without food sovereignty – rural people will be a tourist development or an oil palm plantation away from poverty and hunger.

What’s in a prize? A tale of two paradigms and the difference between optimism and hope, between food security and food sovereignty – between the status quo and the end of hunger.

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

October 9, 2015
09 Oct 2015

By Bill Ayres
WhyHunger Co-founder and Ambassador

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.

Ben_Burkett_photo-480x358The 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.

Garifuna Community fishfolkThe 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!

Follow Bill Ayres on Twitter: www.twitter.com/whyhunger


Alfredo’s Story: Human Rights Defender Despite Imprisonment

October 8, 2015
08 Oct 2015

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By Shannon Duncan Bodwell

October 6th, 2015

“In the end we succeeded. But it cost us six years in jail, and five of my colleagues were assassinated. However we are still here, working, and pushing forward,” said Alfredo Lopez.
Alfredo, a well-known and respected community leader, is the vice-president of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), a partner of Grassroots International. OFRANEH organizes with indigenous, Afro-descendant Hondurans (known as Garifunas), whose ancestral territory contains some of the most breathtaking and fertile areas along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. And they also constantly face land grabs by agrofuel plantations, tour-resort developers and narco-traffickers.

While leading efforts to stop a tourist development from displacing Garifuna communities, Alfredo was jailed on trumped-up charges and spent six years in prison before being released for lack of evidence. It was only through community pressure, international solidarity, and a ruling by the International Human Rights Commission Court in Costa Rica that the Honduran government finally freed Alfredo.

Since his release, he and with other members of OFRANEH have received numerous threats and been the target of several attacks. Soft-spoken and humble, Alfredo explains that threats to personal safety are commonplace for human rights defenders in Honduras. Embroiled in the middle of political violence spurred by a hardline, military-backed government, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Alfredo has helped OFRANEH set up a network of six community radio stations that are unifying Garifuna communities along the coast. The stations educate communities about their rights, history and culture, and keep them current on news and strategies for defending their territories. OFRANEH has also set up an impressive network of international solidarity and a national network of allies across the country to help them in their efforts.

The determination of OFRANEH and its organizers like Alfredo – to continue to defend their rights in the face of such adversity – has been recognized internationally as they have been named the international winner of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize. The Food Sovereignty Prize spotlights grassroots organizations working internationally and in the United States for a more democratic food system. The Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on October 14, 7 pm Central Time in Des Moines, IA, and will be livestreamed over the Internet.

While the challenges are many, Alfredo and OFRANEH continue in their push for justice and find strength from the past. “Our ancestors suffered through the same situation as us, perhaps even worse. They were forced onto boats and shipped from Africa. Many were not lucky enough to survive the journey and died along the way. We try to remember and respect their sacrifices, and this helps us today in our struggles,” said Alfredo.