In Support of Real Farming Worldwide

by Tom Lines and Jocelyn Jones of World Family

There are many campaigns for real farming around the world.  That does not mean that this Campaign has already spread into a worldwide initiative, but people are trying to do the same thing in every country where there are farms and fields and farmers.  And there are international initiatives that link them together.  One such is called World Family.

Take Nigeria as an example.  It is hard to imagine a place where agriculture is more different from that in the UK: it’s hot, tropical, humid in the south of the country, arid in the north, with a maze of languages and cultures, and growing most of its food on small, under-equipped, low-tech farms.

But many of the problems are just the same: farmgate prices have fallen in real terms over the years, farmers are squeezed by the growing power of traders and middlemen, while their sons and daughters prefer to try less arduous, more remunerative ways of life than on the farm.

And there are other problems which few European farmers face, or to nothing like the same degree.  One is the pressure to grow jatropha, cassava, sugarcane, soya beans or maize to produce biofuels – food for cars, not people.  And there is the more insidious pressure from Bill Gates and his allies in the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa to use genetically modified seeds.  And then the land grabs – big corporations and oil-rich countries acquiring tracts of land all over Africa to produce crops for themselves.  Sometimes it is all three of these at once, giving local people little chance of remaining on land which their ancestors have cultivated for generations.

Inspiring the campaign against all this is Olaseinde Arigbede, the National Coordinator of the United Small & Medium scale Farmers Associations of Nigeria, or USMEFAN.  World Family sprang out of meetings between Seinde and people he met when in the UK in November 2007.  World Family is a movement, bringing people together who care about Food Sovereignty (a concept that has much in common with Real Farming) and who wish to support small-scale food producers to grow the healthy, natural, accessible and climate-friendly food we all need.  It is coordinated in Brighton, England.

USMEFAN is a member organisation of World Family.  So also is Better World Cameroon (BWC), founded by Joshua Konkankoh,, in neighbouring Cameroon.  Its Ndanifor Community Garden within the city of Yaoundé is reconnecting young people with the land to grow their own nutritious food, medicines and spices. It is staffed by young graduate volunteers and welcomes volunteers from abroad.

In the Gambia Saihou Jagne leads the Gambia Community Empowerment Project (GCEP) which brings skilled workers and craftspeople together with the young unemployed so that valuable skills can be transferred and the “jobless but not useless” can improve their lives and make a contribution.  In USA SeyiFunmi Komolafe Arigbede brings people together through My World Family.

These are some of the organisations that go to form World Family, a new grouping which aims to share information and support among real farmers and their supporters around the world.  This sort of back-up is especially useful in poorer countries, where it is harder to come by information as well as cash and equipment.

World Family’s goal is a more just, resilient and better nourished world.  It is not an aid organisation, going to other continents with cash or the idea that the white man knows best.  World Family’s supporters in Britain might seek out sources of equipment or other support which partners have requested because they cannot find them at home.  But if British agriculture has gone up the wrong path, as the Campaign for Real Farming shows, we are in no position to lecture other countries on the way to do things.

On the contrary, World Family wishes to celebrate the local knowledge and indigenous crops which have been adapted in each place for centuries in order to meet local needs.  Much of this knowledge is being lost, first under the earlier pressures of colonialism, now under the steamroller of globalisation and one-size-fits-all industrial agriculture.

World Family believes in celebrating the best as much as condemning and protesting against the worst.  In December 2008 there was a festival for a couple of hundred young farmers, inspired by Dr Arigbede and staged at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife in south-western Nigeria.  A similar international event is planned for Great Britain as soon as we can raise the funds.  We like to celebrate our common struggles and solidarity through music, dance, theatre, film and discussion.

World Family and the Campaign for Real Farming are part of the same movement.  I hope that we can develop in close alliance – dare I say it, with the Campaign as a central part of Britain’s contribution to World Family?  The struggle against globalised industrial farming is a global one.  It must be waged in each country in its own way, but through global solidarity too.  Both World Family and the Campaign for Real Farming are equally needed and must help to sustain each other.