#FOODSOVPRIZE

AFSA announced as winner of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize award

September 14, 2016
14 Sep 2016

Agricultures Network

Image result for agricultures network logo

On August, 31 2016, the well-deserved eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize was awarded to the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

AFSA was selected as a winner for its success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice in order to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet. The prize is well-deserved. The AgriCultures Network congratulates AFSA with this recognition of its groundbreaking work across the African continent.

The Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger, as opposed to the much-criticized World Food Prize. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance who awarded the prize states that, “this year’s winners are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system” and that they instead “support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system”.

AFSA is coordinated by Million Belay, who is also the director of AgriCultures Network member MELCA Ethiopia.

5 Food Systems Lessons the US Can Learn from Africa

September 7, 2016
07 Sep 2016

By Jennifer Lentfer, Civil Eats

logo-civileats-headerSeptember 7,2016- A recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize from Ethiopia shares his insights on food and farming in the U.S., threats to smallholder farmers in Africa, and communicating across ideological differences.

As food activists work to localize food systems in the United States, small farmers who sell their food locally still produce around 80 percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa. But that does not mean that farmers and food activists on the African continent can be complacent. Quite the opposite. Corporate industrialization of African agriculture is resulting in massive land grabs, destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, displacement of indigenous peoples, and destruction of livelihoods and cultures.

Yonas Yimer works to create a united voice for food justice across more than 50 countries in Africa. He leads communications for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a policy advocacy group that fights to protect small family farming and community-based food production, and is a recent recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize.

Despite the recurring argument that a “green revolution” is needed to feed Africa’s growing population, Yimer says, “we’re here to say that agroecology already feeds Africa.” He describes agroecology as a set of practices that integrates scientific understanding about how particular places work—their ecology—with farmers’ knowledge of how to make their local landscapes useful to humans.

Agroecology also encourages people to think about their own relationship to land, to the ecosystem, and with other people. We sat down with Yimer during his recent visit to San Francisco to talk about what we in the U.S. can learn from the wealth of knowledge that exists within African communities about how to defend and build upon sustainable and indigenous approaches to growing food. Here are the five key lessons that emerged.

Read more here.

 

International Allies Challenge Corporate Control of the Food System and False Solutions of Biotechnology

August 31, 2016
31 Aug 2016

Eighth Annual Food Sovereignty Prize
Honors Grassroots Organizations Calling Big Ag’s Bluff

USFSA_LOGO_FINAL_CLR-cropped (1)SEATTLE, WA, August, 31 2016 ­– The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is pleased to announce the honorees of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize:  the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). The honorees were selected for their success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet.

Lauded as an alternative to the World Food Prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger and is recognized by social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world. The 2016 honorees are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system, including false solutions of biotechnology that damage the planet while exacerbating poverty and hunger. Their programs and policies support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system.

“Hunger is not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” said John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.  “Small farmers have had the solution to hunger for millennia in agroecology and food sovereignty.”

“The Borlaug and Gates Foundations and multinational corporations like Monsanto promote biotechnology because they profit from it. Ask the millions of farmworkers, family farmers and family fishermen feeding their communities what they need and they will tell you:  access to land, clean water and their own seeds,” noted Diana Robinson, Campaign and Education Coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.

Read more here.

About the Honorees

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) was founded in 2008 by a group of activist networks and launched in Durban, South Africa, during the 2011 alternative people’s climate summit, organized to counter the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference Of the Parties 17 talks (COP17). AFSA brings together organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and hunter/gatherers; indigenous peoples; youth, women and consumer networks; people of faith; and environmental activists from across Africa. Together they advocate for community rights and family farming, promote traditional knowledge systems, and protect natural resources. In the face of increased corporate agribusiness interests threatening their food systems, including massive land and water grabs, the criminalization of seed-saving practices, and false solutions to climate change such as so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture”, AFSA unites the people most impacted by these injustices to advance food sovereignty through agroecological practices, policy work and movement-building efforts.

Bern Guri, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s chairperson, noted, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”

For AFSA it is clear that the way forward will allow food producers, supported by consumers, to take control of production systems and markets to provide healthy and nutritious food. Facing the many ecological, economic and social challenges in today’s world requires an urgent transition to agroecology to establish the ecologically sustainable, socially just and nutritious food systems of the future, and it can be done through the collective, inclusive and democratic co-generation of the knowledge held by farmers, consumers, researchers and African governments, who are meant to serve the interests of their (farming) populations.

The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), founded in 1986, has a long-standing mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues affecting their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment in which farmworkers are treated as equals, not exploited and deprived based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status. As members of the world’s largest social movement, La Via Campesina, FWAF is building collective power and a unified force for providing better living and working conditions, as well as equity and justice for farmworker families and communities.  This includes building leadership and activist skills among communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, racism, exploitation and political under-representation while lifting up women’s wisdom and leadership.

“Farmworker families pay the greatest price in the corporate food system of today.  They work in fields of poison and exploitation so that people can easily access cheap foods,” explained Elvira Carvajal, Farmworker Association of Florida’s lead organizer in Homestead, Florida. “We have a vision to bring together the community around the art of healing with good food and herbs, which is part of our culture.  We practice agroecology in the community by sharing the knowledge we bring from our grandparents, our mothers, our families, our ancestors.  The meeting of cultures that happens in the gardens, where we grow our own food without chemicals, and sharing plants and traditions and knowledge across generations is a beautiful thing.  I am proud of our own people practicing food and seed sovereignty.”

US Food Sovereignty Alliance members Community to Community Development and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the 2016 Honorees and Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities and actions. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 6pm at Town Hall at Eight and Seneca in Seattle.

For event updates and more information on the prize and this year’s winners visitwww.foodsovereigntyprize.org, follow the Food Sovereignty Prize at facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).

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About US Food Sovereignty Alliance

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups that upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. The Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system, believing that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner. Learn more at usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 athmcgray@earthlink.net.

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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.”

 

Footnotes:

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

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Radio Without Borders

October 14, 2015
14 Oct 2015

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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.