“The global food system is really quite fragile. We see this in rising and volatile food prices, and the fact that close to a billion people do not have adequate food. We need to provide nutritious food for seven billion people, but in a manner that is ecologically and socially sustainable. In North America, people have this idea that sustainable food systems must be without chemical fertilizers or anything related to industrial agriculture. Elsewhere, the conversations are different.
There are so many other problems to consider.
About 50 percent of households in Mozambique are food insecure. In the central part of the country, where I did field research, farmers see low crop yields, primarily due to the limited availability and relatively high cost of improved agricultural technologies. Mozambique has had a shortage of seeds for sale, and so has resorted to importing them.
It’s expensive, and the imported seeds are not bred to their particular agricultural or even climatic conditions. So AGRA invests money to strengthen local seed breeding and multiplication, including providing scholarships to Mozambicans to study crop science at top universities in African countries with similar climatic conditions. Over forty-four new seed varieties have been released, thirty-six of which are commercialized. It takes training and research to breed and select the best seeds.
But improved seeds cost money, and many farmers in Mozambique don’t really have a way to earn an income. Thus AGRA also invests in market access programs to help farmers sell their produce. There’s also a debate over land-use rights. The country has a fairly robust national land law to protect peasant rights to land. However this law has also been used to appropriate communal land. The government encourages investment in agriculture to stimulate productivity and bring about rural development. As a result, foreign investors have leased numerous acres to grow agro-crops like biofuels, sugar cane, or food for export. In the process, large numbers of peasants have been displaced, while others are in danger of losing their lands. UNAC has made the fight for land-use rights central to its work and to food security, educating peasants about their legal rights to land, letting them know that they can say no. These efforts underscore UNAC’s determination to augment food security through traditional food systems.
Through my research and field experience, I have learned that farmers have different visions of the livelihood opportunities they desire. For some, a livelihood based on traditional agriculture as a way to maintain social relations and culture is very important. Consequently, their right to remain on the land needs to be protected. Other farmers want to grow commercially viable crops to earn some income and to improve their lives. It’s a vision of freedom and choice familiar to all human beings.
My interest in food system sustainability is informed by my background growing up in a farming community in Namibia, where agriculture is more than just producing food, but a connection to culture, nature, and to each other.
In graduate school I’ve been able to further understand how to sustainably meet global food security needs; from there I can start to make suggestions. That’s why it was really important for me to do field research, to really understand what people are saying. There isn’t a silver bullet to solving the problems of food systems. It’s a matter of collaboration, and of learning from different examples.”