'The Doors are Open - We Farmers are Ready'

‘You shall not push farmers into one or another direction, but empower them to decide.’ Farmer’s representatives Shamika Mone from India and Elizabeth Nsimadala from Uganda on ecological farming methods, the need for sustainable food systems, and negotiating small-holders’ rights on the international stage.

Taken together, the farmer's associations INOFO and EAFF represent more than 20 million smallholders from East Africa and India. © GIZ 2022

Shamika Mone

Shamika Mone is a researcher turned organic farmer and entrepreneur originally from Maharashtra. She does organic farming on four acres of leased farm land where she grows traditional rice varieties and vegetables. Since 2017, Mone serves as Chairperson of the Inter-continental Network of Organic Farmers Organisations (INOFO), a self-organised structure for Organic Farmers within IFOAM Organics International.

Elizabeth Nsimadala

Elizabeth Nsimadala is the Regional President of Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) and Board Member of Pan Africa Farmers Organisation (PAFO) she is also the current chairperson of Uganda Cooperative College Tororo governing council in Uganda and the Coordinator CARITAS Cooperative Governing Council in Uganda.

Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

Shamika Mone opens her laptop, a cow moos in the background. She has just taken stock of her rice harvest. 'Too many wild pigs,' she mumbles, 'they even dig under the fence, about half of our crops are gone.' On her farm in Sho-ranur, Palakkad, Kerala in India, she relies on traditional seeds. Then it beeps. Elizabeth Nsimadala joins in - from Kigali in Uganda. 'It's raining a lot right now, can you hear me?' Then: 'One moment, I'll go to my car, the reception is better there.' Two minutes later, the conversation begins. What Mone and Nsimadala have in common is that they are both farmers. Both also represent their profession and participated in the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021. With this balancing act between their own farm, the regional needs of small farmers and negotiating at the international level, the first question for the two is obvious.

 

How do you accomodate all of your tasks?

Shamika Mone: It is a question of time management. I develop these skills slowly because it is necessary for me to maintain a balance between the farming and the computer work.

 

All those positions, the work for the organizations – it is voluntary. What earns my living is my farm.  

 

Do you see yourself as a representative of smallholder farmers?

Elizabeth Nsimadala: I am not seeing myself so, farmers have given me that mandate as their representative through a democratic election process. Right from my grass roots cooperative, all the way to the international level with the National Alliance of Agricultural Cooperatives in Uganda (NAAC), the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) and Pan Africa Farmers Organisation (PAFO) Personally, I am a smallholder coffee and banana farmer, and I also produce banana wine.

 
Shamika Mone: This is similar to my experiences. I see myself as one of the privileged ones. There are so many farmer leaders, but not everybody gets the chance to a platform, and this is because of the language. Many people don’t get into these positions because of it. I had the privilege to research on organic farming and had the language skills, plus the will to make a change in the society. I wanted to be a farmer myself. I decided to drop my salary job and got into farming as a livelihood. It is very easy to advise farmers being in an NGO or an association and tell them what to do and what not to do. But to be yourself a farmer, needs a lot of knowledge skill sets which normally, academically educated people don’t have. Many people want to speak on behalf of farmers. But there is no need for the academics and scientists to do that.

 

Farmers have to be farmers first and then to speak for themselves.

 
Accordingly, now I am mandated by Organic Farming Families around six regions of the world namely Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Oceania Pacifika to represent them with their challenges and strengths.
 
Elizabeth Nsimadala: I agree with Shamika that farmers representatives have to be farmers, there are so many NGOs and CSOs disguising to be representing farmers interests. We are not civil society organizations, we are private sector and business people. We take farming as a means of our livelihood, it’s our business. Farmers know a lot of traditional information which does not get to the world of advisors and researchers. For example, for agricultural research to be successful it needs to be farmer-led. Farmers know where to grow which varieties and when. Research adoption has been slow because farmers are not part and partial of the process, they don’t consider farmers needs and hence most varieties have remained on the shelves because they don’t address farmers’ needs.
 
How do you share this knowledge?
Elizabeth Nsimadala: Most institutions have been working in silo hence limited impact. This is why we have to work in a holistic partnership with different players, we have to build an ecosystem where everyone makes a contribution. It has been a journey of a thousand miles making sure that as farmers we are put at the centre. We have to fight to be heard, to sit at the table.
 
Die befragten Menschen möchten sich aktiver an Food-Governance-Prozessen beteiligen. (c) SLE
Both Shamika Mone und Elizabeth Nsimadala emphasize that they are farmers first. Nismadala grows bananas and porcesses them to wine. © GIZ 2022

You participated in the UN Food Systems Summit. Why?

Shamika Mone: When the summit came into picture, there were many organizations, circles and networks who told us to oppose the summit as a whole. There were also member organizations who said that we should not participate because it is all hijacked by international companies. Hence, we tried to find an orientation because there were different, contradictory voices. Finally, we decided to be part of it.

 

 

 

 

When you want to change the system, you have to be in the system first to change anything.

 

From the outside, you can’t change anything in the system. And we were actively involved in the system. We wanted to create awareness of the food systems itself, which is not happening so far – and if it is happening with the UN, it would be wonderful. And second, we wanted to create a dialogue among organic farmers to come up with solutions. We have plenty of them! Why not utilize this as a platform to create awareness about food solutions offered on the ground? The independent dialogues at the summit were a fascinating idea for us because it was the first time in history the smallholder organic farmer’s organizations were asked to raise their opinion about food systems.

 

Elizabeth Nsimadala: I appreciate that the UN really gave a platform to the farmers’ rights. It was the first summit where we saw a representation of farmers’ organizations – up to the highest level. When you talk about food, you have to talk about farmers. It was a right, not a privilege given to us to participate in the summit. Hence, we made sure that we did not only put forward our demands, but also our commitments if we are to have a transformation of our food systems not only as beneficials but as partners.

 

Our call for action: Farmers demand fairness, equality, rebalancing of power and true value for food if we are to transform the food systems.

 

Did the smallholder farmers have an influence on the outcome of the summit?

Shamika Mone: That is an interesting question. It definitely has an impact. At the Pre-summit and at the summit we saw communication channels that have been opened. There is also talking happening now between governments and civil societies. This is good. Now we need to see if the talks are actually laid down in terms of projects and support for farmers. The doors are open.

 

Elizabeth Nsimadala: It was a big achievement and a great impact that we as smallholder farmers were recognized as contributors to the food systems. The question remains on how do we translate this impact into action? That is what we need to see happening. Smallholder farmers must be part of the different coalitions and national pathways, they should hold National governments accountable, this is where the rubber meets the road with actions on ground, this is part of our next steps.

 

Did you have the impression that you were perhaps providing an alibi?

Shamika Mone: Maybe yes. I am not very sure. But because farmers were usually avoided on such occasions, farmers were not asked about their opinions, this is a step forward. Now we have to be vigilant if all these ideas that we discussed at the summit are being implemented on the ground.

 

Elizabeth Nsimadala: We were given a platform to present our ideas and proposals. This was an open and holistic process that gave space to everyone. You can’t fight a battle when you are not on the battlefield. In case your ideas are not implemented then you can have a basis other than boycotting the process. Our participation is a basis of reviewing actions and making systems like the UN or national governments accountable.

 

Abbildung des SLE basierend auf FIES-Indikator der FAO.
People with middle and higher income increasingly ask, where their food is coming from. Yet organic farming needs to pay off for smallholders. © GIZ/Sven Schuppener 2022

What is also being debated at the international level is the question of how sustainable, how ecological agriculture should be. How does this question affect you as farmers, on the ground?

Shamika Mone: In recent decades, there was only little talk of agroecology at international events. But I am glad that because of the efforts of the previous leaders of our organizations now at least we have people talking about sustainable and ecological agriculture. It is getting debated. This is a first sign of achievement. Even though it does not create an imminent impact it creates a long term impact of awareness and it also leads to several projects. Many organizations want to act now more sustainably and more eco-friendly. Though there is also mis-use of words that one needs to be aware about.

 

Elizabeth Nsimadala: We see a change and great shift towards health diets by the middle income and richer citizens. But this has to do with action than just talks and demands. Farmers are ready to get in ecological production, but this should attract some required level of investments. How do you reward farmers when you want organic food from them?

 

It takes a lot to put organic food on the table and this should be given equal reward.

 

Is that possible worldwide without chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides?

Elizabeth Nsimadala: I see a growing demand for and focus on organic fertilizer. Everything is possible.

 

We only need to have a commitment from everyone.

 

We only need to look at it as a revolution and avail the required investments and infrastructure. We farmers are ready if everyone says they are ready.

Shamika Mone: There is no doubt that all this is possible, worldwide. The only thing is that it needs drastic steps to be taken in real, not just in talk and in events. We have to make a choice. Either we want to conserve biodiversity or we want to have the chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers – you can’t have them both. Most farmers hardly know about organic farming. Hence, they need to get into the position to make a choice. Organic farming is more knowledge-based. You shall not push farmers into one or another direction, but to empower them to decide.

 

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