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Women Farmers in West Africa Challenge Agribusiness, Promote Community Control

June 2017

In West Africa, the We are the Solution (WAS) Campaign promotes agroecological farming as a viable alternative to industrial agriculture. A grantee of Grassroots International, WAS is a network of women-led coalitions bringing attention to the growing presence of agro-giants in the region, including how big companies like Monsanto and Syngenta are influencing governments’ farm policies and threatening to undermine prosperous, self-sustaining regions with their industrial “green revolution” approach to agriculture.

For Famara Diédhiou, a technical coordinator for WAS, the consequences of Western agribusiness conglomerates bringing pesticides and genetically modified seeds to rural areas are potentially devastating and far-reaching for both the people and the environment. “All of village life is being targeted,” he says.

And according to Diédhiou, genetic modification “is not just a peasant problem.” It affects the fragile ecosystems when big ag companies employ aggressive marketing and lobbying techniques to encourage the use of frequently unregulated agricultural chemicals which ultimately destroy the soil as well as the genetic makeup of other plants (due to irrigation runoff). “These are the consequence of replacing biological solutions with chemical solutions in agriculture.”

This chemical assault also becomes economic warfare when these industrial approaches and products force farmers to become economically dependent upon synthetic crops and inputs created and subsidized by transnational agro-giants. For farm workers, heavy pesticide use brings health problems due to the exposure to the chemicals. Too frequently, farm workers receive neither compensation nor adequate medical attention when they fall sick from the chemicals.

With their emergence, global agro-industries are able to undermine the economic stability and environmental health of entire villages in nations such as Guinea or Senegal. For many West Africans, this looks very much like a simple repackaging of old colonial tactics: using power to coerce and control resources. The negative economic, social, and environmental impacts of industrial agriculture weigh particularly heavily on women and peasant communities, since they are the main producers of food in the Global South.

Fortunately, through the action of organizations such as WAS, today’s rural women of Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana are being equipped with more resources than ever to continue their struggle for sustainable and equitable agricultural development and control over their own land, water and food. Women leaders are now speaking to government figures across West Africa about advancing agroecology—and people are listening.

In Guinea, the Ministry of Agriculture consulted one of the campaign’s female leaders to help shape new policies on agricultural reform. Senegalese farmer and organizer Mariama Sonko spoke out on a major radio station and at the African Agroecology forum in Dakar about the dangers of the “green revolution,” leading to talks on farm policy with the presidential adviser on Senegalese agriculture.

Radio programs sponsored by WAS have educated thousands of farmers in Mali, exposing how a government-supported chemical fertilizer program is actually damaging soils. The controversy inspired a request by the Ministry of Agriculture to further discuss the issue. In Ghana, the Agriculture Ministry recently awarded a farm-to-school contract to a WAS group. This group also helped organize a family farmer forum at Africa’s Third Organic Agriculture Conference in Nigeria, raising the visibility of the campaign across the continent.

Grassroots International is proud to work with WAS to expose the dangers of the “green revolution” and promote agroecology as a more ecologically and socially sound approach for West African farmers. Powerful women leaders from WAS actively coordinate agroecology field schools, set up demonstration units, and train hundreds of women farmers in agroecology and campaign skills—exposing the mistakes of industrial agriculture and providing sustainable solutions that can benefit farmers and communities throughout the region.

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