Mariama Sonko: Our Health Depends on our Food
Mariama Sonko is the National Coordinator for We Are the Solution, a Grassroots International partner, in Senegal. She recently spoke with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).
What injustice are you most passionate about?
The focus on conventional agriculture, an agro-industrial policy imposed on us by multinationals, which is based on seductive theories but in reality is fragile in its application, dangerous and even destructive in its socio-economic and environmental impacts, to the detriment of family farming or agroecology that has always sustained food sovereignty in Africa.
What does your organization do?
We practice agroecology and family farming; we encourage food sovereignty, farmer seeds, biodiversity and the demand for equitable access to resources, among other things.
We Are the Solution stemmed from a campaign for food sovereignty in Africa in 2011. After evaluation, it became a rural women’s movement in 2014. The movement works for the promotion of farmer knowledge and practices, better agricultural governance by decision-makers and valorization of the production of African Family Farming (agroecology and farmer seeds), which have always preserved food sovereignty in Africa.
The movement sought to build the capacity of women leaders on the following aspects:
- The development of agro-ecological awareness in its ideological and political dimensions
- Communication and media use for an agroecological and gender alternative
- Diagnosis and development of the institutional capacity of the organizations which carry the movement
- Fund raising and mobilization of resources
- Exchanges of agroecological experiences and sharing of farmer to farmer knowledge
- Building an effective team, developing daily life skills
- Establishment of expert groups on farmer seeds, land, climate and nutrition
- Evaluation and monitoring of the movement
- Capacity building on farmer seed production systems
How many organizations are in your network?
Our network currently has about 800 Rural Women’s Associations in seven countries of West Africa (Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal).
What achievement are you most proud of?
The support of the men we brought to this rural women’s movement because they understand the meaning and scope of our fight, but also the effective management of WAS by African rural women.
Which languages do you speak?
French, Diola, Wolof, Mandingo.
Which countries have you been to in the last 12 months?
Canada, Kenya, India, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso.
One thing you are exceptionally good at?
Promotion and implementation of good agricultural practices.
What is the best gift you ever received?
Receiving an international award as part of my daily efforts to promote and maintain good agricultural practices.
How do you stay informed?
Websites, newspapers, television, social networks, meetings and radio.
What do you do on your day off?
I devote my days off to the activities of my family farm (growing rice, arboriculture, market gardening, breeding, processing).
What is your favourite food?
Meals based on local rice, natural products, poultry, wild meat – deer, porcupine, hare, guinea fowl -vegetables, fruits, fish, forest products, cereals, tubers.
Why did your organization become a member of AFSA?
Because the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa has the same areas of intervention as those of our movement. In addition, it has a continental dimension.
To strengthen AFSA’s action, and for AFSA to echo ours. To improve agro-ecological farming practices by using local methods rather than agrochemical inputs. To agree with other farmers and partners to promote food sovereignty and help address malnutrition issues. To learn new ideas on how to preserve farmers’ seeds while using local technologies.
What are the big challenges to food sovereignty in Africa?
- Access to farmer seeds so as not to depend on anybody (collection, seeds banks, multiplication)
- Access to arable land (building dikes or bunds to recover and protect farmland)
- Water (collection of rainwater by retention ponds, irrigation)
- Maintaining a healthy diet (raising awareness of the harmful effects of chemical agriculture)
- Availability and accessibility of solar energy in rural areas
- Transparent and inclusive governance of resources
How can activists be more effective in challenging injustice?
They need to be well informed, aware of the issues regarding agriculture. They also need to be well structured, equipped and represented in all local, national and international meetings where the questions of agriculture or food are discussed. They must be united and supportive while serving as role models in the implementation of good practices in agroecology on our family farms and within our organizations.
One thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
The dangers of the practice of industrial or conventional agriculture which, in my mind, is the main cause of the degradation of arable land, disappearance of the flora and fauna, disappearance of several varieties of farmer seeds, loss of cultural, social and environmental values.
What will success look like for the agroecology movement?
One Africa where, in solidarity, women and men farmers, involved in decision-making, cultivate, process, consume and sell the products of African family farming while preserving the environment for harmonious development.
What do you think AFSA is doing well?
Information sharing through mailing lists, social networks, website.
Being present and promoting agroecological practice wherever the issues of agriculture or food are discussed at the international level.
The organization of fora, conferences, meetings, elaboration of newsletters, annual reports, all increase the visibility of AFSA.
What could AFSA do better?
Translation of documents into French and other international and local languages for better sharing among members.
AFSA members working at sub-regional level for more exchanges, visibility and development of common strategies on the practice of agroecology or the promotion and preservation of peasant seeds.
Stronger presence and contribution to local, national, sub regional, regional and international meetings where issues of agriculture, livestock, environment, fisheries and food are raised and share our alternative of a healthy and sustainable agriculture – agroecology.
What advice would you give to a young activist starting out?
They should master the challenges and issues that revolve around agriculture and strengthen their capacity especially on innovative techniques in agroecology
They should not adopt the “everyone for himself” principle but rather develop solidarity and complementarity.
The must devote their talents to the service of all.
Young people need to understand that our health depends on our food.
They must have a mastery of their environment – to identify with it, protect it and promote it.
They must have an open mind to abstract knowledge with the intelligence of their hands and concrete creativity
Which connects the child to nature, to which they will always owe their survival and which awakens them to beauty and their responsibility for life
For all this is essential to the elevation of their consciousness.