The seminar followed two days of field visits to agroecological initiatives in Paraiba, Borborema and Cariri. It attracted a few hundred farmers, researchers, activists and policy makers.
Reversing hunger with agroecology
The first speaker was Souleymane Cissé of IED Afrique in Senegal, a member of the AgriCultures Network. He emphasised that climate change and droughts are highly worrisome in the Sahel. Recent droughts were responsible for the degradation of 67% of land in the Sahel, where 60% of the food is produced by family farmers. This has its effects on food security with malnutrition reaching 16 million people and generating losses of 9 billion.
“Revived traditional agroecological experiences have contributed to reversing the situation of hunger and malnutrition, and also to reducing rural migration of young people to European countries”, Cissé said. Although agroecology is relatively small in Africa when compared to Brazil, Souleymane notes that agroecology is making advances as a result of the growing networks that promote it.
According to Clara Nicholls, coordinator of Redagres Colombia and a member of SOCLA, agroecological systems are much more energy-efficient than conventional systems. Conventional systems spend more energy per unit of production, mainly because they are vulnerable to droughts and only productive with a lot of water, raw materials and energy. The knowledge of farmers is often disregarded in these systems. This is different in agroecology, Nicholls stated: “Agroecology does not work with ready-made recipes, but with mutual learning“.
Video: an impression of the international seminar (in Portuguese)
Video: farmers in Remigio receive visitors from the seminar (in Portuguese)
The seminar, co-organized by AS-PTA, the Articulation of the Brazilian Semiarid (ASA) and the National Institute of the Semi-Arid (INSA), took place at the start of the International Year of Soils.
“The concentration of land in semi-arid regions is one of the major obstacles to the resilience of family farmers in the region. Access to land must be democratised and public policies reoriented so that the experience of family farmers who manage to successfully live in and with semi-arid conditions can be multiplied, broadened and consolidated” said Paulo Petersen, executive coordinator of AS-PTA.
ASA, a civil society network, has been engaging with the knowledge and practices of farmers since they were founded, 15 years ago. According to Gloria Araujo, coordinator of ASA, linking this knowledge to policy decisions in essence is a process of democratization.
Luciano Silveira, coordinator of AS-PTA and ASA representative, in the Brazilian semi-arid region, where 35% of family farmers in the country are situated, export oriented agriculture has resulted in a concentration of land and water resources. The problem however is framed as one of ‘drought relief’, rather than one of access. Luciano explained how considerable successes were booked in decentralizing access to resources, especially land and water, by ensuring the economic and social participation of communities. In the end families were better able to cope with periods of drought.
Building new policies from below
Systematizing experiences, facilitating exchange and entering into dialogue with public institutions were important in this process. Over the past 15 years, ASA systematized 1,500 experiences and performed more than 1,300 exchanges with the involvement of 34,000 farmers. By entering into a partnership with the Federal Government, ASA has moreover been able to change public policy, which is now better geared to support these farmers and their practices, through a bottom-up strategy.
Ricardo Padilla from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated how important seminars like these are to bring together different actors and come to joint visions and action in the area of climate change and desertification. This is also what the National Institute of the Semi-Arid (INSA) in Brazil plans to do. At the seminar, participants evaluated the preliminary results of ASA/INSA research on how agroecology was used to build resilience in various regions in Brazil. Ignacio Salcedo, representing INSA, said that they plan to work more closely with social movements and to take on board the knowledge of family farmers in a more integral way.
After the seminar, Souleymane Cissé from Senegal said his participation in the seminar was a great learning opportunity: “I came back from Brazil with a head full of new ideas and insights. Surely this will also inspire our own work in Senegal in the future”.