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Elizabeth Mpofu: Agriculture and Advocacy Take Time

August 2018

Elizabeth Mpofu is a member of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) and serves as the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina (LVC), a Grassroots International global partner. She recently spoke with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), where she also serves on the executive board.

What injustice are you most passionate about?

I am so passionate about economic empowerment of rural women through sustainable agricultural practices. Rural women and girls play an important role in agricultural activities to feed their families but have been marginalised in policymaking processes, economic empowerment programmes and decision making on issues affecting their livelihoods. I joined LVC as means to fill this gap and equip women and young girls with skills and capacities to tap into opportunities that exist for sustainable livelihoods.

Other injustices include the continued promotion of industrial agriculture promoting hybrid seeds, GMOs, synthetic fertilizers and agro-chemicals at the expense of smallholders’ own initiatives in farmer managed seed systems, exchanging local seeds and sharing, agroecology, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and climate change mitigation and adaptation practices.

What does your organization do?

Formed in 1993, La Via Campesina is an international movement bringing together millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. Built on a strong sense of unity, solidarity between these groups, it defends peasant agriculture for food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and dignity and strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.

How many organizations are in your network?          

It is a coalition of 182 organisations in 81 countries across Asia, Africa, America, and Europe. Altogether it represents about 200 million farmers.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I am proud to have led women on issues of agroecology and food sovereignty as well as claiming their land and farmers’ rights.

Which languages do you speak?      

English, Shona, Ndebele, Zulu and partly Swahili

Which countries have you been to in the last 12 months?    

South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, France, Tanzania, Uganda, South Korea, Italy, Zambia, Uganda.

One thing you are exceptionally good at?    

Representing marginalized rural women in leadership positions, policy making processes and sustainable agricultural practices.

What is the best gift you ever received?        

In 2016, I was appointed the UN FAO Special Ambassador for Pulses in Africa.

How do you stay informed?

I use internet and email and social networks such as facebook, skype, twitter, youtube and whatsapp.

What do you do on your day off?      

Reading and watching videos pertaining to my work.

What is your favourite food?

Traditional/indigenous foods such as local chicken, pigeon, guinea fowl, rapoko, pearl millet, sorghum, ground nuts, pumpkins, sweet potato, round nuts and cow peas.

Why did your organization become a member of AFSA?        

Because my organisation shares the same values and principles with AFSA on agroecology, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture, climate justice, land and water rights of smallholder farmers, farmers rights and importance of farm managed seed systems or indigenous seeds.

What are the big challenges to food sovereignty in Africa?    

The ecological, food and climate crises that have been caused by decades of the Green Revolution or Industrial forms of agriculture promoting conventional forms of agriculture emphasising increased usage of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, agro-chemicals and GMOs by capitalist multinational corporations and agro dealers.  

How can activists be more effective in challenging injustice?                  

Activists need to strengthen their unity and solidarity and engage Northern counterparts. They need to learn from each other; the Shashe Agroecology School and other schools around the world have been classic examples of promoting alternatives to the current crises and injustices we are facing.

What do you think AFSA is doing well?          

Increased usage of social blogs, internet, and production of policy briefs from research and engagement of policy makers.

What could AFSA do better?                  

Publication of policy briefs, press statements and researches in major local languages in each region in Africa.

One thing you wish you knew when you were younger?        

The importance of consuming indigenous foods.

What advice would you give to a young activist starting out?               

You need to be committed and stay focused because agriculture and advocacy work does not produce immediate tangible results or benefits.

What will success look like for the food sovereignty / agroecology movement?              

A huge population of African descent consuming indigenous, diversified, nutritious and healthy foods.

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