According to Grassroots International ally Fahamu, “Agriculture… remains the main source of income of a rural population generally estimated at 70% of the total population… [W]omen remain an essential link in agricultural production, accounting for 70% of food production, managing nearly 100% of processing activities, responsible for about 50% of the maintenance of the family herds and also responsible for some 60% of sales activities in the markets.” Any solutions to the problems of African agriculture, therefore, must include women. In fact, African women are saying, “We Are the Solution.”
“We Are the Solution: Celebrating African Family Agriculture!” is a pan-African campaign coordinated by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). AFSA is a socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable alternative to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the US$150 million project launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations in 2006. We Are the Solution seeks to amplify African small farmers’ voices, experiences, and solutions that support biodiversity and agroecology, while challenging industrial agriculture, genetically modified seeds, and toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In 2007, two significant meetings took place in Selingue, Mali, that mobilized small farmers from around the world and Africa in defense of their rights, their livelihoods and, frankly, us all, in terms of their championing a climate-friendly agriculture. The first was the Nyeleni Forum for Food Sovereignty organized by Grassroots International partner the Via Campesina and allies, including the World March of Women and the Network of West African Small Farmers’ and Producers’ Organizations (ROPPA) . The second was organized by Grassroots International allies such as Fahamu, ROPPA, and the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD) in Africa, and Food First in the US. AFSA was a result of these mobilizations. A steering committee including Fahamu, IRPAD, ROPPA, and Food First was formed. Two years later at a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, it was decided to launch the We Are the Solution campaign. Later that year in Bamako, Mali, African women farmers’ associations, which had been part of these processes from the beginning, determined that their voices and roles as the backbone of African agriculture needed to be amplified through their own campaign as well as their involvement in shaping the larger campaign. Assétou Samaké, who works with IRPAD and is also on the Board of Grassroots International ally GRAIN, drew the connection between agrofuels and the loss of biodiversity. Highlighting women’s role in preserving biodiversity, Samaké noted that biodiversity – and the seed itself – is an integral part of human culture. The conversion of land to large agrofuel monocultures threatens biodiversity, which is vital in times of drought or food shortage. In Dakar, at the February 2011 World Social Forum, I attended the launch of the We Are the Solution campaign, as well as the Women’s campaign at the International Fair of Agriculture and Animal Resources or Fiara. The inital project of the Women’s campaign, which Grassroots International supported, will involve twelve women farmers’ organziations from five countries – Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Ghana. It seeks, among other things, to: value and document women’s traditional knowledge of agriculture; provide agroecological training to women farmers; offer capacity building support to women farmers’ organizations; educate participants about marketing and value-added production opportunities; and enable their access to resources including credit, tools, literacy programs, and media.