Skip to content

Sharing Knowledge and Power: Brazil-Africa learning exchange benefits small farmers

January 2012

Entering Brazil for the first time, each farmer had their own stories to share – of their journey and of their struggle. Robert, from Namibia, had the most excruciating  trip. He had to take different flights to reach his final destination in addition to the challenges with a foreign language (“No Portuguese, sir” he kept repeating). Lisa and Devin had a relatively easy flight from South Africa. Rebecca and Bartolomeu were all smiles when they arrived from Maputo, Mozambique. Knowing the language, Bartomeu and Rebecca helped with translation to Portuguese for their new-found colleagues. Despite transportation and language issues, the African delegation arrived safe, sound and equally relieved to meet their hosts, the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP).   A Grassroots International partner, the MCP has collaborated with African peasants for over two years through a learning exchange program. The goal is to share experiences about organizing strategies and agroecological projects in order to maintain the land, grow more healthy food, support biodiversity and increase their food sovereignty.   The African delegation arrived in Brazil to learn about MCP’s the Creole Seeds Project, a successful popular education program that helps farmers protect local seeds and organize against threats to the peasant agriculture, such as the poisonous industrial agriculture model. Because of the Creole Seeds Project, MCP has grown into an organization of 1,000 families (and counting) that is branching out to different states in Brazil. Members of the MCP have been able to demonstrate to their neighbors that agroecological techniques can produce more food and less cost than the chemical-laden methods foisted by corporate agricultural giants.   The realization of this learning exchange is a victory for both MCP and African organizations. As an alliance-building process, the learning exchange is building solidarity among peasants who are facing similar enemies: the expansion of agro-fuels plantations led by transnational corporations, like the merging of Shell and the Brazilian petroleum company COSAN.   The African delegation visited different communities in the state of Goias, in Brazil’s Central Plateau. They saw firsthand how local families are fighting against the expansion of sugar cane plantations that are destroying local biodiversity and fertile soils through the use of heavy machines and pesticides.   Bartolomeu, who is a leader of the National Peasant Union of Mozambique (UNAC) and Via Campesina-Africa, knows quite well the threat of agro-fuels plantations that MCP families are facing.  “The sugar cane monocrop is taking away from us the possibility to grow food. We peasants don’t receive any benefit from it, “ he said.   The leader of UNAC also saw similarities between his situation in Mozambique and the challenges faced in Brazil: “The central issue here is land; the use of agrochemicals. Unity is the only way to win this battle. We need each other. MCP has been able to mobilize communities. And I think they are a step ahead in this process. Their organizing is stellar, not only about the seeds, but in general.”   Protecting local seeds, defending peasant’s food sovereignty   Last year, Altacir Bunde, one of the state coordinators of MCP, visited four African countries to learn about local initiatives and the challenges for local peasants. He came back with a great sense of urgency to build an alliance with African farmers.    The work of MCP serves as inspiration to African farmers. Devin Jenkins, deputy director from Traffic Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) in South Africa, couldn’t agree more. “There is a lot to learn from MCP. They are a very strong in organizing the poor. With MCP, we are learning about the importance of including women and youth. We can’t work in isolation anymore.”   Rebecca from UNAC agreed with Devin’s assessment about MCP’s women’s organizing. “It [the Creole seeds project] is also a process of culture preservation. It is something I would like to bring to my country, because we are fighting against the distribution of hybrid seeds. We need to value our seeds. This is our struggle … this is a serious problem. This revolution (AGRA) is the same old, disastrous recipe.” After a brief pause, she adds: “We want to have our voice heard. This visit is already a victory for us.”   Lisa, the president-coordinator of South Africa’s Women in Farms Project, also offered her views about the visit: “The Creole Seeds Project is wonderful. It is environmentally friendly and could be beneficial to women. Monocrops are having a negative impact on families in Goiás. In South Africa, we feel isolated from the rest of the world. Access to land is a major problem. Land reform is not really moving forward. Black Africans are no longer achieving land and only 5% of the total available farmland has been distributed [to Black farmers].”   The long flight to Brazil and the challenge of not speaking the language were a far-way thought after the two-week visit to Brazil. Robert, Devin, Rebecca, Lisa and Bartolomeu had a chance to learn about new organizing tools and farming models that could advance their local food systems. They also learned a few important words in Portuguese, like “Globalizemos a luta, Globalizemos a esperança.” (Globalize Struggle, Globalize Hope)

Latest from the Learning Hub
Back To Top