In light of Nelson Mandela Day (July 18th, his birthday), WhyHunger interviewed Ricado Jacobs of the Food Sovereignty Campaign of South Africa (fully, “Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty”) to learn about the legacy of Nelson Mandela and to understand the current context of social movements in South Africa.

Can you give some background on the South Africa Food Sovereignty Campaign? What does food sovereignty mean for South Africans and what are the main issues communities are facing?

The key issue that most communities, both urban and rural, are faced with is access to land. Land ownership remains very unequal in South Africa, which is due to the legacy of dispossession by colonialism and apartheid. This is still the broad basis on which all struggles in South Africa play out.

The Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC) emerged from this broad question in South Africa – how to deal with the legacy of land dispossession, displacement, and exploitation of farmers and workers. This was the key question in 1994, when apartheid formally ended. But in 2008, when the FSC formed, these were still the central problems.Photo 2

We believe that food sovereignty is not just for small-scale farmers but concerns many communities, both rural and urban.  So, the FSC is composed of landless peasants, urban and rural small-scale farmers, farmworkers, forestry communities, and rural workers. It is a broad movement.

Land access is the first pillar, and agroecology is the second pillar of our platform. We push for a pro-poor agrarian reform that would ensure (1) access to enough food for everyone, (2) democracy in decision-making around food and agriculture, (3) and rights for women and children, who are so often hurt by the global model of industrial agriculture.

We see agroecology as the new basis for food production, food distribution, and food access. Organic farming has been co-opted and corporatized: we cannot put a premium on healthy food if it excludes people who are poor and working class. Food should be based on agroecological production without a premium, so that it can be accessible to everyone in society. We are working to forge a new humanity.

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By Katrina Moore, Editorial Assistant at WhyHunger.

Two summers ago, I found myself sweating in northern Ghana’s hot sun, following a t-shirt-clad doctor around his clinic’s grounds. Dr. David Abdulai spoke with the strength and humility of a Zen teacher and had an unusual approach to healthcare: in addition to medicine, he treats his patients with unconditional acceptance. A year later, I returned to Shekhinah Clinic to film a documentary about their food program, which delivers daily meals to over 150 of the city’s mentally ill homeless population. Under the Mango Tree is a forthcoming film about how food repaired the relationship between the mentally ill homeless population and the citizens of Tamale, Ghana.

According to Human Rights Watch, there is one psychiatrist for every 2 million people in Ghana. Psychiatric hospitals often lack the resources to provide adequate food and medicine and face challenges with overcrowding. The widespread belief that mental illness is caused by evil spirits, demons, or witchcraft has led to the development of spiritual healing centers called “prayer camps,” where, according to a UN report, people with mental disabilities are chained to trees and denied food and water for days at a time. The same UN report expresses disappointment with the newly formed Mental Health Authority, which has not yet begun monitoring mental health facilities as required by Ghana’s 2012 Mental Health Act. Shekhinah Clinic is one of the few healthcare facilities that welcomes those suffering from mental illness without judgment, mistreatment, or force, and it has what may be the only meals-on-wheels-style program in Tamale, making it a vital source of emergency food.

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By Alison Cohen, WhyHunger’s Senior Director of Programs.

farmer dan brown

Maine is the first state to pass local ordinances in favor of food sovereignty, or the right of communities to determine how their food is grown, processed and distributed.

In May, WhyHunger staff stood in solidarity with small farmers as they held a press conference in Portland, Maine, on the day of an appeals hearing in the State of Maine’s lawsuit against farmer Dan Brown. In 2011, the Maine Commissioner of Agriculture successfully called for the State to sue farmer Dan Brown for allegedly selling unpasteurized milk without the proper license and labeling. The judge who sat the case agreed that Farmer Brown was in violation of state laws and ordered him to pay a fine. On June 17, Farmer Brown lost his appeal, a devastating but not final blow to the struggle for food sovereignty in Maine.

Maine is the first state to pass local food sovereignty ordinances to protect local-farmer-to-local-community supply chains. State and federal laws and licensing are too costly for small farmers who only sell locally and have, in part, led to the rapid decline over the past few decades in small- and medium-scale farmers and the rising age of the average farmer in the United States. Small farmers around the country believe that the direct relationships they have with their customers (who are also their neighbors) is the most effective form of product liability they can offer.

In a recent correspondence with WhyHunger, Heather Retberg of Quill’s End Farm, a 100-acre farm in Penobscot, Maine, tells us that the ruling on June 17 has “galvanized support, and a number of people from western and central Maine are checking in to register their commitment to food sovereignty and their hope to pass the ordinance in more towns if the state and courts refuse to understand the importance of preserving our traditional food ways, customs and cultural heritage, food freedom, local economy, vibrancy and resilience.”

Read Heather’s moving remarks on the day of the press conference on the Food for Maine’s Future website.

Watch this brief video of G.W. Martin, a family farmer from Montville, ME, explaining the constitutional roots of “sovereignty” at the press conference:

More photos after the jump.


Back in March we shared reflections from the team at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard (Bloomington, Indiana) after a site visit to their Nourishing Connections partners Neighbors Together (New York, NY) in Brooklyn, NY. This month, we are checking in with the community learning pair after Neighbors Together’s site visit to Indiana. Read Neighbors Together’s reflections from Denny Marsh and Amy Blumsack below.

The cafe at Neighbors Together in New York City.

The cafe at Neighbors Together in New York City.

Neighbors Together is a soup kitchen and community-based organization located in central Brooklyn. Our mission is to end hunger and poverty in Ocean Hill, Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant, three of the lowest-income neighborhoods in New York City. We serve 2,000 nutritious meals per week, connect our members to vital resources such as housing and job training, and address hunger and poverty at their root causes by organizing our members to advocate for better public policies.

In mid-May, Neighbors Together staff members Denny Marsh and Amy Blumsack had the pleasure of visiting Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard (MHC) in Bloomington, IN, as part of WhyHunger’s national peer-to-peer learning program, Nourishing Connections. MHC is a client choice food pantry that also engages its patrons in a wide range of nutrition education, gardening and food justice oriented programming.

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