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Food Justice – a view from Africa

Food Sovereignty in times of recovery: Building back better through mainstreaming social justice and leveraging on ecological agriculture in Africa

by Charlie B. Chilufya, S.J.

1Fr. Charlie B. Chilufya is the Director of the Justice and Ecology Office of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM). He is also the coordinator of the Africa Task Force of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission. The JCAM Justice and Ecology Office works to foster and coordinate the Jesuits’ work in economic, social, migration, gender and climate justice in Africa. JEO is a vital Jesuit interface between global policies in the economic, social and environmental spheres and local issues confronting populations in Africa. JEO also works to foster collaboration among apostolic sectors in what concerns justice and ecology. 

The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated the urgency to change the dominant globalized food system and in 2021 there have been opportunities, like the UN Food Systems Summit, for this issue to rise up in the public agenda. Today, enough food is being produced to feed everyone on the planet, yet, a huge number of people do not have access to healthy or adequate food. The dominant market-driven food system is not ensuring food security for all and the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and strained this broken system even further, revealing its inequalities. The poor and the vulnerable are being disproportionately impacted by the food chain shocks provoked by the global crisis, which hampers their ability to fully thrive, realize their human rights and contribute to a new horizon for humanity. The food crisis has many facets, but at its core are structural inequities and the necessity to reimagine and create new models that leave no one behind. 

What is the Issue?

Food justice is a pressing issue regardless of the current COVID-19 pandemic circumstances. But food justice, sustainable food recovery, and food security remain one of the top concerns as we fight COVID-19. Cracks in the food systems have never been more obvious than now.

It is more and more recognized that climate change is one of the major economic, environmental and social challenges of our times, now exacerbated by COVID-19. Africa is clearly the continent most vulnerable to climate change effects. With around 70% of Africa’s population dependent on rain-fed farming, hundreds of millions of people do not have the same safety net accorded to those in wealthier, industrialized nations. Climate change also affects livestock and fish breeding and migratory patterns (OECD) impacting the livelihoods of millions of pastoralists and fishers.

It is acknowledged that climate change poses huge challenges to food production, the environment and human life. Africa suffers the injustice of being the continent hardest hit by climate change, while contributing the least to its cause –accounting for less than 4% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With increasing evidence that climate change impacts food security and other aspects of human life, there is a need for clarity on how to address such impacts.  Many of the proposed solutions increase pressure on small-scale food producers to take up new initiatives such as Climate Smart Agriculture, using hybrid and GMO seed, and increasing the use of chemical inputs.

These are false solutions which act largely to the detriment of food sovereignty, environmental conservation and livelihoods, and are ultimately likely to worsen the impact of climate change by further degrading the soil, destroying biodiversity and using chemical fertilizers, generating even more greenhouse gas emissions.

What could be done instead?

  • Promote climate research towards strengthening the resilience of food producers including small scale farmers, pastoralists and fisher folk to the impacts of climate change. More research towards scaling up of existing proven technologies at the local level.
  • Advocacy: for a conducive policy environment that supports the recognition of agroecology in climate change policy negotiations and in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
  • Raising public and consumer awareness: Educate people on the challenges around some of the proposed solutions especially pertaining to Climate Smart Agriculture and at the same time on sustainable agriculture practices that we are promoting through agroecology.
  • Building a movement and people power: There is a need to mobilize African citizens to act in calling their national governments to develop climate change policies and legal frameworks that support sustainable agriculture practices. Mobilization of communities also need to happen to popularize the concepts of agroecology as a solution to climate change.

What are we faith-based organisations doing about this?

The Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network – Africa (JENA) in collaboration with Caritas Africa, is supporting Pope Francis’ call to “prepare the future.”   JENA and Caritas are aiming at seizing the opportunity to address food insecurity today, to listen and answer to the needs of the most vulnerable and raise awareness on how bringing about a sustainable food system for all requires an integral ecology lens, where economic, social and environmental factors and justice are all considered. 

JENA and Caritas Africa have formed a collaborative alliance in Africa as part of their efforts for food sovereignty and agroecology in Africa as described in this report. The alliance institutions include: Jesuit social research and development centres, related Jesuit institutions of higher learning, Jesuit researchers, individual Jesuit experts, activists and collaborators whose work focuses on food sovereignty and agroecology. The Alliance represents various groups of Jesuits and their collaborators who work for food sovereignty in Africa. These include smallholder farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples; faith-based institutions, and environmentalists from across Africa. The core purpose of alliance is to influence policies and to promote African solutions for food sovereignty. We are a continent-wide platform for consolidation of issues pertaining to food sovereignty and together marshal a single and louder voice on issues and tabling clear workable solutions.

Our efforts will seek to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the systemic, regional and in-country issues surrounding food sovereignty in Africa?
  2. How can Sub-Saharan Africa achieve integral development by balancing attainment of food sovereignty and climate justice amid global trends in industrialization, mechanization and technology?
  3. How can Sub-Saharan Africa with support from JFSP and other development institutions sustainably mainstream social justice with a focus on the poor and vulnerable while leveraging ecological agriculture?

Through our centres like the Kasisi Agricultural Centre (KATC) in Zambia and CERED in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we champion African Farming/Production Systems based on agroecological and indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities. We resist the corporate industrialization of African agriculture which will result in massive land grabs, destruction of indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems, displacement of indigenous peoples especially the pastoral communities and hunter gatherers and the destruction of their livelihoods and cultures.

We believe in African driven solutions to problems in Africa and a belief in the richness of our diversity. We aim to be a strong voice that shapes policy on the continent in the area of community rights, family farming, promotion of traditional knowledge and knowledge systems, the environment and natural resource management.

Why campaign for agroecology?

We are campaigning to place agroecology as a key policy response to the climate crisis that is negatively impacting the economic, social, and ecological life of Africans.

We are campaigning to drive public opinion and influence decision-makers to shift agriculture and food policy away from destructive industrial farming and adopt agroecological farming as a key climate response, reducing GHG emissions and putting carbon back in the ground.

  • Climate change is already a reality for millions of African farmers, pastoralists and fishers, as droughts, rangeland degradation, and ocean temperature rises threaten livelihoods and food security. With around 70% of the population dependent on rain-fed farming, Africa does not have the safety net of wealthier, industrialized nations.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC 2018 is clear: we now have less than 10 years to make radical emission cuts if we are to avert a climate catastrophe. Global food systems generate one-third of all greenhouse gases and account for 75% of global deforestation. Much of this is linked to industrial farming, e.g. fossil fuel use, fertilizer production, burning forests to make way for large-scale monocrops.
  • Current African policy solutions increase pressure on small scale food producers to take up industrial agriculture initiatives such as climate-smart agriculture, GMO seeds, and fossil fuel-based chemical inputs, releasing the carbon stored in the soil, while increasing the burden of GHGs in the atmosphere, and polluting precious water resources.
  • Summary from research evidence shows some of the plausible challenges hindering Africa’s ability to be food sovereign are: Ecological concerns like drought, floods, locusts and fall armyworms; COVID-19 pandemic; Poor policy formulation and implementation and Lack of policy coherence; Poor governance – In particular, rural-urban migration and lack of political good will; Over reliance on food aid, loans and imports – resulting in a huge debt burden and donor dependency; Weak disaster preparedness and response; and Weak livelihood recovery and social protection mechanisms. Improved food sovereignty could enhance gender equality, prevent conflict, and build and sustain peace among vulnerable food poor households and communities in Africa.

The change begins with development partners and governments collaboratively seeing the situation, judging it and acting now to enhance the farm to fork food chain in an effort to build more resilient food systems in Africa.

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