Alison M. Cohen of WhyHunger (left) moderates an expert panel in a conversation about hunger.   With Michael Hurwitz of GreenMarket, GrowNYC, Katherine Soll from Teens for Food Justice, Jeanne Traugot of City Harvest, and Cassandra L. Agredo from Xavier Mission. Photo by: Parents Community Service Network

Alison M. Cohen of WhyHunger (left) moderates an expert panel in a conversation about hunger. With Michael Hurwitz of GreenMarket, GrowNYC, Katherine Soll from Teens for Food Justice, Jeanne Traugot of City Harvest, and Cassandra L. Agredo from Xavier Mission. Photo by: Parents Community Service Network

Parents Community Service Network (PCSN), a parent-founded membership organization created to share resources and connect parents who are working on community service projects in their children’s public and private schools around New York City, hosted their second annual parent forum in February.  This year’s well-attended forum was aimed at parents and educators looking to engage their students in service projects around hunger.  The forum called Beyond the Food Drive: Teaching Kids How to Bring an End to Hunger, was anchored by WhyHunger’s Senior Director of Programs Alison Cohen and featured a diverse set of hunger and food justice leaders as panelists: Cassandra Agredo, Executive Director of Xavier Mission; Michael Hurwitz, Director of Greenmarket at GrowNYC; Katherine Soll, Founder and Executive Director of Teens for Food Justice; and Jeanne Traugot, Manager of Food Sourcing at City Harvest.

Food drives around the holidays are ubiquitous in many schools around the nation and are an important aspect of building awareness about the prevalence of hunger in local communities.  Since the recession there has been a significant increase in the need for donated food to local pantries as the growing demand for food assistance has kept stock on the shelves consistently low.  And yet food drives are primarily a band-aid approach to the persistence of hunger.  PCSN was interested in exploring opportunities for deeper engagement that would help kids explore the root causes of hunger and what can be done to move the dial towards the systemic changes that are ultimately necessary to end hunger.  As panelist Cassandra Agredo, Executive Director of Xavier Mission, said, “We are taking care of the problem before it happens” by talking to kids about the reality of hunger early in their lives.   Moderated by WhyHunger’s Alison Cohen, panelists spoke about the approaches that each of their organizations takes and continues to evolve that go beyond food drives to include issues of health and nutrition, food production and marketing, and policy change and advocacy. The panelists engaged with audience members to brainstorm innovative ideas for not only involving young students in the fight against hunger today but at the same time providing opportunities for them to have an impact on the root causes of hunger throughout their lives.   Here are a few of those suggestions:

Get Physical with the Food. Make the ideas of hunger and poverty tangible so they are easier for children to understand. For example, kids can make sandwiches for a local shelter or deliver food directly to food banks. Instead of canned foods, coordinate with a local pantry to have a fresh food drive and have kids bring in fruits and vegetables that get delivered the same day.  Use this as an opportunity to incorporate lessons about the intersection of hunger and health.  Go further and involve a local farmer who will brings kids to his or her farm to glean fresh food from the fields that can then be delivered locally to a pantry.  Kids might also be able to engage in preserving the food so that it has a longer life on the pantry shelves. Connecting directly to a farmer introduces opportunities to learn about the connection between the environment and healthy food production, as well as lessons about who gets access to the freshest food and why.  Having children physically interact with food paints a clearer picture of the multiple reasons why hunger persists and the importance of ensuring that everyone has access to fresh, healthy food.

Re-Think the Drive. There are other ways kids can learn about hunger and poverty besides collecting cans. The Food Stamp Challenge, if taken on by children in concert with their parents, is an experiential way of learning about budgeting and how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at its current allotment levels is insufficient to provide for the full nutritional needs of an individual or family.  The challenge requires that participants attempt to live on the average food stamp benefits allotted to an individual or a family for one week.  Detailed records of what was purchased, how much and of what quality informs the reflection and lessons post-challenge.  Schools can also  “adopt-a-pantry” and build an ongoing relationship in order to respond in real time to the different needs that may arise for a pantry at different times of the year.  In addition, the students are afforded an opportunity to learn about how a food pantry operates, to meet the clients, and to participate in the multitude of services and activities the food pantry provides – from distributing food, to engaging in advocacy, to growing food in a garden on-site.

A simple alternative to the food drive is encouraging kids and families to donate money as opposed or in addition to food.  For instance, have kids contribute one dollar for every can they bring in. Monetary donations to food pantries and soup kitchens go a lot further than boxes of nonperishable food and provides the flexibility to buy what’s needed. Panelist Cassandra Agredo explained that the purchasing power of pantries is greater than that of consumers. “For the same amount of money it takes the average person to buy one can of beans, [the food pantry] can buy two.”

Broaden the Conversation. Help kids move from discussions on hunger to conversations on food justice, poverty and global inequality. Engage kids in exploring and understanding the root causes of hunger and the systems that perpetuate it.  Having conversations about the conditions – economic, environmental, political and more – that lead to hunger in various communities will help kids think through the solutions differently.  Let students come up with their own ideas on what to do to deal with the immediate crisis of hunger in their communities while working towards long-term solutions to end hunger. Consider a conversation (or engage in a campaign) about living wage.  Take a field trip to a farmers market or a local farm to explore the relationship between access to land and combatting hunger? Panelist Katherine Soll, the Founder and Executive Director of Teens for Food Justice, emphasized the need to avoid an “us vs. them” mentality while encouraging kids to be charitable. She suggested bringing together groups of kids from different schools, grades and socioeconomic backgrounds to explore the issues together. By working directly with children who may be food insecure themselves, students will be less likely to buy into stereotypes about who is hungry and why.

WhyHunger’s Alison Cohen concluded the seminar by encouraging parents and educators to make the distinction between “charity and change” when discussing service projects.  Combining both approaches helps children grow up understanding the value of mobilizing now to make contributions that mitigate the short-term effects of hunger while advocating for and implementing system-wide change to get one step closer to ending world hunger for good.

 Megan Campbell is a senior at Fordham University and a former Communications Intern at WhyHunger.

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This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP) completed for WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: FareStart, Seattle, WA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

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A four-year-old carrying an adult-size food tray is a funny thing. It looks like a construction worker hauling a sheet of dry-wall from one end of the house to the other. It takes concentration and focus. The pre-K students at West Seattle Montessori have been taught to carry their trays directly in front of them, and to look at the tray and the ground as they slowly walk back to their classroom where they will eat. In this way, they spend at least a minute or two, as they walk, tray out on extended arms like a ring-bearer, smelling and looking closely at the plate of food that they just learned about thanks to the Fresh Lunch program. It’s an intimate food moment, really.

These are the kinds of food connections that can shape young people’s eating habits. The West Seattle students eat a variety of dishes, from vegetable lasagna to sweet-potato quesadillas. Two mothers volunteer with the school’s Fresh Lunch program, dishing out the meals two days a week. Parents sign up for the voluntary program (otherwise, students bring their own lunches from home), and it costs $3.75 per meal for the younger students and $4 per meal for the older kids (West Seattle goes up to 8th grade).

Deb, one of the mothers who volunteers for Fresh Lunch and serves the meals every Tuesday, is working her second year with the program. Her son is in the first grade. As she dishes out a scoop of egg fried rice with bok choy and Natalia, the other volunteer and mother of first and second graders, places cantaloupe chunks on their plates, Deb tells the students about the food: protein from the eggs, vegetable nutrients from the bok choy. She’s curious to see how the program will stick with the younger students as they get older. If they’ll have expanded and healthier palates because of the Fresh Lunch variety of dishes.

The big-picture connection with West Seattle Montessori, a relatively affluent school in the otherwise low to middle-income White Center community south of Seattle, is the organization that provides the twice-weekly Fresh Lunch program.

FareStart cooked that fried rice and chunked the cantaloupe that arrived to West Seattle earlier in the morning. FareStart is a darling of Seattle’s non-profit food security world. It has found a  sweet spot in the progressive, socially-conscious city by combining good, local food with positive, enriching job training, and it does it from a stylish kitchen and designer restaurant space in the heart of downtown. In fact, when walking past 7th Ave on Virginia St, you can look through the giant, sidewalk-level windows and see the chefs, cooks, and trainees at work.

FareStart uses revenue generated from its lunches and weekly Guest Chef Night (local chef prepares distinctive meals), plus other sources, to fund its job training and placement programs. Disadvantaged and homeless men and women and at-risk teens work in the kitchens to receive on-the-job training and skills to help place them back in the workforce. The program, which has been operating as a non-profit since 1992, graduates over 150 students in recent years, 80% of whom move into living-wage employment. Its success has gone nationwide with the launch of Catalyst Kitchens to bring similar programming to other communities.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

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You’re invited! Tickets and sponsorships are now available for the annual WhyHunger Chapin Awards Gala that will be held on Tuesday, June 23rd at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in NYC. Honorees will include multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Grace Potter receiving the ASCAP Harry Chapin Vanguard Award, Co-founder and Ambassador Bill Ayres, receiving the WhyHunger Lifetime Achievement Award, and legendary singer songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, who will be presented with the ASCAP Harry Chapin Legacy Award by Paul Shaffer of the Late Show with David Letterman.

Guests will enjoy an extended cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner, and a unique 40th anniversary Exhibit: The WhyHunger Story. And, of course, amazing musical performances! Please join us for this special evening as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, honor Bill and recognize artists who stand with us through their philanthropic work in the fight against hunger and poverty.

Get your tickets today! Can’t make it? You can still make a donation or add a note of support to our commemorative journal here. Thank you for your continued support.

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IMG_2602AEarlier this year, the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations (CNOP) – Mali hosted 300 delegates for the International Forum on Agroecology in Nyeleni. WhyHunger was among the supporters and participant organizations.

The forum brought together leaders from social movements and organizations that represent small-scale food producers to defend the agroecolgical practices that they rely on for food sovereignty and a dignified life.

Agroecology, an agricultural method and a way of life based on the traditional knowledge of those who cultivate the land, is at the center of an important ideological debate that affects our shared global food system. The World Bank, agribusinesses and governments are beginning to co-opt agroecology as a technological fix for the unsustainable practices of food production. And small-scale food producers – peasants, women, indigenous, family farmers, fisherfolk, and pastoralists – have a very different understanding of agroecology. They see it as a key form of resistance to a commodity-based food system that puts profit before the health of people and the planet. These small-scale producers — responsible for growing 70% of the food consumed globally — understand agroecology as essential to completely transforming the current food system into one that nourishes whole communities, not as a tool to be used to perpetuate our broken system that leaves nearly 1 billion people hungry. Read agroecology perspectives from social movement leaders around the world in WhyHunger’s publication “Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty Into Action,” available in English and Spanish.

To learn more about this critical debate, and the future plans that came out of this forum, you can read the common policy agenda that was drafted in Mali and will be presented in the regional consultations led by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Latin America, Africa and Asia. This common policy agenda is represented below and here in the final declaration of the forum.

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DECLARATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR AGROECOLOGY

Nyéléni, Mali
27 February 2015

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We are delegates representing diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (including hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people. Together, the diverse constituencies our organizations represent produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world.

We gathered here at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from 24 to 27 of February, 2015, to come to a common understanding of agroecology as a key element in the construction of Food Sovereignty, and to develop joint strategies to promote Agroecology and defend it from co-optation. We are grateful to the people of Mali who have welcomed us in this beautiful land. They have taught us through their example, that the dialogue of our various forms of knowledge is based on respectful listening and on the collective construction of shared decisions. We stand in solidarity with our Malian sisters and brothers who struggle – sometimes sacrificing their lives – to defend their territories from the latest wave of land grabbing that affects so many of our countries. Agroecology means that we stand together in the circle of life, and this implies that we must also stand together in the circle of struggle against land grabbing and the criminalization of our movements.

BUILDING ON THE PAST, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Our peoples, constituencies, organizations and communities have already come very far in defining Food Sovereignty as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. Our ancestral production systems have been developed over millennia, and during the past 30 to 40 years this has come to be called agroecology. Our agroecology includes successful practices and production, involves farmer-to-farmer and territorial processes, training schools, and we have developed sophisticated theoretical, technical and political constructions.

In 2007 many of us gathered here at Nyéléni, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty, to strengthen our alliances and to expand and deepen our understanding of Food Sovereignty, through a collective construction between our diverse constituencies. Similarly, we gather here at the Agroecology Forum 2015 to enrich Agroecology through dialogue between diverse food producing peoples, as well as with consumers, urban communities, women, youth, and others. Today our movements, organized globally and regionally in the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), have taken a new and historic step.

Our diverse forms of smallholder food production based on agroecology generate local knowledge, promote social justice, nurture identity and culture, and strengthen the economic viability of rural areas. Smallholders defend our dignity when we choose to produce in an agroecological way.

OVERCOMING MULTIPLE CRISES

Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so-called Green and Blue Revolutions.  We see agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life.

The corporate model over-produces food that poisons us, destroys soil fertility, is responsible for the deforestation of rural areas, the contamination of water and the acidification of oceans and killing of fisheries. Essential natural resources have been commodified, and rising production costs are driving us off the land. Farmers’ seeds are being stolen and sold back to us at exorbitant prices, bred as varieties that depend on costly, contaminating agrochemicals.  The industrial food system is a key driver of the multiple crises of climate, food, environmental, public health and others. Free trade and corporate investment agreements, investor-state dispute settlement agreements, and false solutions such as carbon markets, and the growing financialization of land and food, etc., all further aggravate these crises. Agroecology within a food sovereignty framework offers us a collective path forward from these crises.

AGROECOLOGY AT A CROSSROADS

The industrial food system is beginning to exhaust it’s productive and profit potential because of its internal contradictions – such as soil degradation, herbicide-tolerant weeds, depleted fisheries, pest- and disease-ravaged monocultural plantations – and it’s increasingly obvious negative consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, and the health crisis of malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, colon disease and cancer caused by diets heavy in industrial and junk food.

Popular pressure has caused many multilateral institutions, governments, universities and research centers, some NGOs, corporations and others, to finally recognize “agroecology”.  However, they have tried to redefine it as a narrow set of technologies, to offer some tools that appear to ease the sustainability crisis of industrial food production, while the existing structures of power remain unchallenged.  This co-optation of agroecology to fine-tune the industrial food system, while paying lip service to the environmental discourse, has various names, including “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable-” or “ecological-intensification”, industrial monoculture production of “organic” food, etc.  For us, these are not agroecology: we reject them, and we will fight to expose and block this insidious appropriation of agroecology.

The real solutions to the crises of the climate, malnutrition, etc., will not come from conforming to the industrial model. We must transform it and build our own local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on truly agroecological food production by peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, urban farmers, etc.  We cannot allow agroecology to be a tool of the industrial food production model: we see it as the essential alternative to that model, and as the means of transforming how we produce and consume food into something better for humanity and our Mother Earth.

OUR COMMON PILLARS AND PRINCIPLES OF AGROECOLOGY

Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature, that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set of technologies or production practices.  It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories.  Rather it is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.

The production practices of agroecology (such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal breeds, etc.) are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation at all scales.  Agroecology drastically reduces our use of externally-purchased inputs that must be bought from industry.  There is no use of agrotoxics, artificial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology.

Territories are a fundamental pillar of agroecology. Peoples and communities have the right to maintain their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands. They are entitled to secure, develop, control, and reconstruct their customary social structures and to administer their lands and territories, including fishing grounds, both politically and socially. This implies the full recognition of their laws, traditions, customs, tenure systems, and institutions, and constitutes the recognition of the self-determination and autonomy of peoples.

Collective rights and access to the commons are fundamental pillar of agroecology. We share access to territories that are the home to many different peer groups, and we have sophisticated customary systems for regulating access and avoiding conflicts that we want to preserve and to strengthen.

The diverse knowledges and ways of knowing of our peoples are fundamental to agroecology.  We develop our ways of knowing through dialogue among them (diálogo de saberes). Our learning processes are horizontal and peer-to-peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.

The core of our cosmovisions is the necessary equilibrium between nature, the cosmos and human beings. We recognize that as humans we are but a part of nature and the cosmos.  We share a spiritual connection with our lands and with the web of life. We love our lands and our peoples, and without that, we cannot defend our agroecology, fight for our rights, or feed the world. We reject the commodification of all forms of life.

Families, communities, collectives, organizations and movements are the fertile soil in which agroecology flourishes. Collective self-organization and action are what make it possible to scale-up agroecology, build local food systems, and challenge corporate control of our food system. Solidarity between peoples, between rural and urban populations, is a critical ingredient.

The autonomy of agroecology displaces the control of global markets and generates self-governance by communities. It means we minimize the use of purchased inputs that come from outside. It requires the re-shaping of markets so that they are based on the principles of solidarity economy and the ethics of responsible production and consumption. It promotes direct and fair short distribution chains. It implies a transparent relationship between producers and consumers, and is based on the solidarity of shared risks and benefits.

Agroecology is political; it requires us to challenge and transform structures of power in society. We need to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the world.

Women and their knowledge, values, vision and leadership are critical for moving forward. Migration and globalization mean that women’s work is increasing, yet women have far less access to resources than men. All to often, their work is neither recognized nor valued. For agroecology to achieve its full potential, there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision-making and remuneration.

Youth, together with women, provide one of the two principle social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Agroecology can provide a radical space for young people to contribute to the social and ecological transformation that is underway in many of our societies.  Youth bear the responsibility to carry forward the collective knowledge learned from their parents, elders and ancestors into the future. They are the stewards of agroecology for future generations. Agroecology must create a territorial and social dynamic that creates opportunities for rural youth and values women’s leadership.

STRATEGIES

I.  Promote agroecological production through policies that…
1. Are territorial and holistic in their approach to social, economic and natural resources issues.
2. Secure access to land and resources in order to encourage long term investment by small-scale food producers.
3. Ensure an inclusive and accountable approach to the stewardship of resources, food production, public procurement policies, urban and rural infrastructure, and urban planning.
4. Promote decentralized and truly democratized planning processes in conjunction with relevant local governments and authorities.
5. Promote appropriate health and sanitation regulations that do not discriminate against small-scale food producers and processors who practice agroecology.
6. Promote policy to integrate the health and nutrition aspects of agroecology and of traditional medicines.
7. Ensure pastoralists’ access to pastures, migration routes and sources of water as well as mobile services such as health, education and veterinary services that are based on and compatible with traditional practice.
8. Ensure customary rights to the commons. Ensure seed policies that guarantee the collective rights of peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ to use, exchange, breed, select and sell their own seeds.
9. Attract and support young people to join agroecological food production through strengthening access to land and natural resources, ensuring fair income, knowledge exchange and transmission.
10. Support urban and peri-urban agroecological production.
11. Protect the rights of communities that practice wild capture, hunting and gathering in their traditional areas – and encourage the ecological and cultural restoration of territories to their former abundance.
12. Implement policies that ensure the rights of fishing communities.
13. Implement the Tenure Guidelines of the Committee on World Food Security and the Small-scale Fisheries Guidelines of the FAO.
14. Develop and implement policies and programs that guarantee the right to a dignified life for rural workers, including true agrarian reform, and agroecology training.

II. Knowledge sharing
1. Horizontal exchanges (peasant-to-peasant, fisher-to-fisher, pastoralist-to-pastoralist, consumer-and-producer, etc.) and intergenerational exchanges between generations and across different traditions, including new ideas. Women and youth must be prioritised.
2. Peoples’ control of the research agenda, objectives and methodology.
3. Systemize experience to learn from and build on historical memory.

III. Recognition of the central role of women
1. Fight for equal women’s’ rights in every sphere of agroecology, including workers’ and labour rights, access to the Commons, direct access to markets, and control of income
2. Programs and projects must fully include women at all stages, from the earliest formulation through planning and application, with decision-making roles.

IV. Build local economies
1. Promote local markets for local products.
2. Support the development of alternative financial infrastructure, institutions and mechanisms to support both producers and consumers.
3. Reshape food markets through new relationships of solidarity between producers and consumers.
4. Develop links with the experience of solidarity economy and participatory guarantee systems, when appropriate.

V. Further develop and disseminate our vision of agroecology
1. Develop a communications plan for our vision of agroecology
2. Promote the health care and nutritional aspects of agroecology
3. Promote the territorial approach of agroecology
4. Promote practices that allows youth to carry forward the permanent regeneration of our agroecological vision
5. Promote agroecology as a key tool to reduce food waste and loss across the food system

VI. Build alliances
1. Consolidate and strengthen existing alliances such as with the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC)
2. Expand our alliance to other social movements and public research organizations and institutions

VII. Protect biodiversity and genetic resources
1. Protect, respect and ensure the stewardship of biodiversity
2. Take back control of seeds and reproductive material and implement producers’ rights to use, sell and exchange their own seeds and animal breeds
3. Ensure that fishing communities play the most central role in controlling marine and inland waterways

VIII. Cool the planet and adapt to climate change
1. Ensure international institutions and governments recognize agroecology as defined in this document as a primary solution for tackling and adapting to climate change, and not “climate smart agriculture” or other false versions of agroecology
2. Identify, document and share good experiences of local initiatives on agroecology that address climate change.

IX. Denounce and fight corporate and institutional capture of agroecology
1. Fight corporate and institutional attempts to grab agroecology as a means to promote GMOs and other false solutions and dangerous new technologies.
2. Expose the corporate vested interests behind technical fixes such as climate-smart agriculture, sustainable intensification and “fine-tuning” of industrial aquaculture.
3. Fight the commodification and financialization of the ecological benefits of agroecology.

We have built agroecology through many initiatives and struggles. We have the legitimacy to lead it into the future. Policy makers cannot move forward on agroecology without us. They must respect and support our agroecological processes rather than continuing to support the forces that destroy us.  We call on our fellow peoples to join us in the collective task of collectively constructing agroecology as part of our popular struggles to build a better world, a world based on mutual respect, social justice, equity, solidarity and harmony with our Mother Earth.

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