Re/New Alliances: Working towards farmer-scholar collaboration for food sovereignty in North America

Re/New Alliances: Working towards farmer-scholar collaboration for food sovereignty in North America (this blog is a re-post taken, with permission, from the AgroecologyNow! website)

Above: Street demonstration during the the IV National Assembly of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance in Bellingham, WA, October 2018 | Credit: David Meek


by Jahi Chappell, Saulo Araujo & Ernesto Mendez

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University (UK) recently hosted a workshop to “collectively strengthen relationships, learning/analysis and collaboration for people who are involved in research and knowledge work that advances movements for agroecology and food sovereignty”. We are grateful to have participated, and for the deep and thoughtful organization and facilitation that allowed us to move this objective forward. As scholars and organizers seeking to strengthen agroecology and food sovereignty in the North American context, we used the workshop as an opportunity to discuss potential actions for the future. This blog sets out some of this thinking and highlights the need for renewing collaborations between academic researchers and grassroots movements groups, based on building trust and mutual understanding.

Read the first blog in this series on Indigenous Peoples by Carol Kalafatic here.

What is the relevance of agroeocology and food sovereignty in the North American context?

As a region, North America has always played a key role in the implementation of food and agriculture policies worldwide. The governments of Canada and the United States, for instance, have opposed language around food sovereignty and agroecology in international treaties and processes at the United Nations. Despite the views of supposedly “efficient” food and agriculture policies in North America, grounded on the trade agreements of NAFTA, the agricultural sector in the region has been dominated by large agribusinesses producing commodities, and not food. As a result of these policies, thousands of small-scale and indigenous farmers from Mexico have left their plots to work in the fields of the US and Canada in subpar living conditions, and many working under the stress of being undocumented.

Farmers and fisherfolk in the US are also living under constant threat of losing their land and boats to banks and other creditors. Instead of providing a fair share to food producers, the current policies only benefit banks, and international agribusinesses. Because of these conditions, every year — since the 1970’s — fewer are able to stay on the land, with farmers representing less than 2% of the US population today.

The alternative political, ecological, and even epistemological worldviews offered by agroecology and food sovereignty present key tools for organizing and analyzing more equitable and just alternatives in North America. In particular they provide effective ways to challenge both the internal and external colonizing legacies of North America.

How have these movement(s) in North America advanced so far?

The real solutions to the growing food insecurity in North America can be found, on the ground, across the region. However, these initiatives receive little attention from policy makers and scholars. Yet agroecological practices developed by small-scale farmers and fisherfolk represent hope – a way to simultaneously end hunger and to “cool the planet”.

From this perspective, alliances between grassroots groups, supporting non-profits and scholars play an essential role to ‘scale out’ — by supporting the leadership of food producers – and ‘scale up’ — by building enough power to press for better policies. It is in those spaces that rural and urban communities are working to build a path to scale out agroecology towards food sovereignty in North America, learning from the on-going work of following the same steps as others, such as those aligned with La Via Campesina International and other global social movements. These coordinated global efforts are at the front and center of the struggle of millions of families worldwide, for material gains (access to land and resources, healthy foods, and stewardship of land, water and biodiversity) and immaterial necessities (defending farming and fishing as a way of life).

Some of the initiatives that have been taking root in North America include the People’s Agroecology Process, a grassroots-led space which is currently formed by African American and Native American groups and farmer and farmworker organizations from the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. For the past ten years, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) has brought together rural and urban organizations for the advocacy of food sovereignty and agroecology. And the Agroecology Research and Action Collective, a broadly defined scholars’ group, is dedicated to coordinating respectful and effective efforts between researchers and grassroots organizations.

How are scholars contributing to advancing agroecology and food sovereignty in North America?

In the U.S., agroecology has a long history within academic institutions. Steve Gliessman, Miguel Altieri, Sunny Power, Deborah Letourneau, Dick Levins, Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer (among others), have represented pioneering agroecological thinking, based within U.S. universities, since the 1970s. (And other U.S. pioneers who may not have called themselves “agroecologists” are increasingly recognized, from George Washington Carver to Booker T. Whatley and Owusu Bandele.) However, the linkage between these scholarly efforts was not historically linked to social movements in the U.S. More recently, a new wave of agroecology scholars has sought to more intentionally make this connection; an effort that resulted in the creation of the Agroecology Action Research Collective (ARC).

The creation of ARC was spurred by conversations about an “Agroecology Forum” in North America, and strong encouragement from grassroots allies to “get our house in order” so that supportive scholars can act collectively, and more effectively, in solidarity for change. What are we willing to commit? What are our political commitments? And how do we make sure we can be relied upon to show up, and be collectively responsible, to frontline allies? These are several of the questions ARC was formed to answer.

Since its creation several years ago, ARC has engaged in the following activities: 1) convening sessions in academic forums for dialogue between grassroots actors and scholars; 2)  Attendance at coalition spaces such as the USFSA Meeting; 3) Creation of a document of principles and protocols for engaged scholarship in agroecology; and 4) the composition of an Open Letter on how a Green New Deal can incorporate agroecology. Several groups have already reported making use of ARC’s principles and protocols, with some seeking to adopt them for their own work. In monthly calls and several working groups, ARC continues to lay the foundations for ethical and effective solidarity and action for agroecology and food sovereignty in the U.S.

What is the importance of scholar-grassroots organization collaborations?

For too long, institutions in academia followed a path defined to protect the interests of few. Universities were built on ancestral lands of indigenous people whose chances to enjoy the fruits of study and reflection with others under the imposed systems were almost null. Further, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people and pastoralists, whose labor and knowledge is the basis of all sciences, have often had this knowledge and labor captured, unrecognized and uncompensated, through academic extractivism. It is unjust and intellectually inconsistent with science’s supposed principles to take advantage of such knowledge and labor. In other words, it is past time to advance free, prior, and informed consent for the nonmaterial world.[1]

The most important academic institutions are public and/or heavily funded by taxes. Hence, the creation of all knowledges should be the path to the benefit of all. It is the duty of all to redirect the path of academia towards the building of a dignified life, grassroots democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth.

What is the way forward?

There is urgency for the emergence of a broader coalition of allies to advance food sovereignty globally. Farmworkers, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, scholars and consumers are building alliances towards that goal. Their organizing efforts such as ARC, USFSA, Climate Justice Alliance, HEAL Alliance, La Via Campesina and many others are important political actors as well as building blocks of a path to reclaim land, food, rights and knowledge from neoliberal policies and institutions.

A broader alliance between rural and urban people is also urgent and necessary. The challenges imposed on us by the current ecological, economic and political crises are destroying ecosystems, entire nations and life on Earth. There is no other option left besides a stronger commitment to build power from the bottom up and across nations. Steadily, communities are finding that our differences are also our strengths, and the urgency to defend our collective future outgrows our challenges to build unity.

Such unity has never been more urgent, as we face continued climate change and destabilization, and the global rise of authoritarian populism. Organized proponents of agroecology and food sovereignty have already made common cause with other social movements, such as the World March for Women and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, and some voices from labor and anti-hunger groups; but much work remains to be done to bridge the divides among the oft-disunited groups offering complementary alternative visions to the domination of global capital. While there have been opportunities for collective reflection and strategizing, a whole new level of involvement is called for. Some of the actions available to take in the United States include scholars, such as those in ARC, “showing up” (when invited) to already-existing spaces, such as convenings of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance; Farm Aid; MOSES (the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service); and continuing to seek creative ways for empowered grassroots voices to not just speak, but be listened to, in academic-convened spaces.

The CAWR meeting brought together scholars and grassroots actors to plan concrete action and collaboration, supporting “dialogues of knowledges”, mutual respect and accountability, and building power together to take on the challenges before us. One participant commented that it was way past time for scholars to stop using the phrase “giving voice to the voiceless,” because the voices of so many grassroots actors have been present and struggling for food sovereignty and agroecology for a long time. Rather, the problem has been that these voices have not been listened to, and in many cases, have been violently opposed. The workshop helped to reaffirm the challenges and joys of working across differences, undermining “privilege”, and the need for building power together towards an agroecological future for all.

[1] Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) has been an important element of struggles for indigenous rights, as well as debates and resistance around “land grabs”.

UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) Strengthens International Collaborations on Transformative Agroecology

UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) Strengthens International Collaborations on Transformative Agroecology

The ALC is excited to share the news that we have signed collaborative Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with 4 international organizations, as follows: Groundswell International, a network of organizations from Africa, the Americas and Asia, with a U.S. coordinating office, working on agroecology and sustainable local food systems; The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), based at Coventry University, in the United Kingdom; The Agroecology Group, in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Society at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), a research center based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico; and Statistics for Sustainable Development (Stats4SD), an organization based in Reading, United Kingdom. These collaborative pursuits were sought because of strong alignments in our mission and vision, as related to research, education and outreach in agroecology. All of us are committed to working on transformative and inclusive approaches to agroecology, which seek to achieve an ecologically sound and socially just agrifood system. We believe that this goal can only be reached through strong collaborations among like-minded people and organizations.

ALC co-organizes Mexico-Nicaragua learning exchange on smallholder coffee farm diversification

ALC co-organizes Mexico-Nicaragua learning exchange on smallholder coffee farm diversification

ALC members Ernesto Méndez, Martha Caswell, and Janica Anderzén spent last week in Chiapas, Mexico, exchanging experiences and ideas around livelihood diversification, agroecology, and Participatory Action Research (PAR) in smallholder coffee communities of Mesoamerica. The week was both exciting and inspiring as coffee producers, academics, representatives from coffee buyers and NGOs from Mexico, Nicaragua, and the US, reviewed two and a half years of participatory action research, and set the course for next steps. This was the 2nd Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange within a 3-year PAR project on livelihood diversification in smallholder coffee systems, co-led by ALC, Santa Clara University and the Community Agroecology Network (CAN). Attendees included representatives of smallholder coffee cooperative partners Cesmach SC Oficial (Mexico) and Prodecoop (Nicaragua), the Community Agroecology Network (USA), the Universidad Nacional Agraria – Nicaragua (Nicaragua), el Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente, Ecosur(Mexico), UVM/ALC (USA), Equal Exchange (USA), and Food 4 Farmers (USA). #agroecologyandlivelihoodscollaborative#uvm#cesmachoficial#prodecoop#communityagroecologynetwork#ecosur#universidadnacionalagragia#equalexchange#food4farmers#participatoryactionresearch#gundinsitute

The ALC is hiring a part-time Program Administrator

Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)  part-time Program Administrator

Position Summary

The Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) is a community of practice within the Department of Plant & Soil Science (PSS) at the University of Vermont. The ALC utilizes an approach grounded in agroecology, participatory action research (PAR), and transdisciplinarity. Our goal is to better understand and seek solutions to the issues facing our food system. The ALC program administrator reports to the ALC co-directors, and works closely with the core team to manage communications and internal operations for the ALC, as well as support the planning and implementation of the ALC’s research and educational initiatives. The program administrator will also provide some support to the PSS program, and will be a point of contact for ALC students, and other collaborators both within and outside of the university. We seek a motivated individual interested in agroecology, food systems and participatory action research (PAR), who has outstanding organizational and interpersonal skills. A detailed description of the position is provided below. For a pdf version of the position description, please click on the following link: ALC Program Administrator Revised Ad Jul 19.

Responsibilities

The ALC program administrator serves as the primary support person, within the ALC, for the Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology (CGSA) (20% effort). This includes:

  • communicating with students interested in pursuing the CGSA
  • serving as the point-person for communications with the College of Continuing and Distance Education (CDE), which supports aspects of the CGSA.
  • organization, coordination and logistics for the weeklong, face-to-face summer course

The ALC program administrator oversees external communications for the ALC and provides support to the PSS department. This task requires collaborating with other faculty and staff to develop, implement and actively manage outreach and visibility strategies for the ALC and PSS (35% effort). This includes:

  • maintaining websites and regularly updating social media accounts
  • developing outreach, informational, recruitment and event materials
  • supporting the creation of presentations that align with UVM templates and guidelines

The ALC program administrator provides organizational and logistical support for all ALC programming (15%). This includes:

  • creating and maintaining information management and organizational systems
  • coordinating facilities access (including A/V technology) and vehicle use
  • managing purchasing and vendor relationships (this includes assistance with travel arrangements, plane tickets, etc.)
  • supporting the management of program funding, and cross-departmental financial collaborations

The ALC program administrator maintains partner relationships by communicating with ALC students and partners (farmers, representatives of NGOs, academic and industry collaborators) (15% effort). This includes:

  • coordinating and facilitating weekly ALC meetings.
  • organizing and facilitating weekly staff meetings
  • coordinating researcher/collaborator meetings with ALC collaborators
  • responding to inquiries for information

The ALC program administrator contributes to fundraising efforts for the ALC (15% effort). This includes:

  • identifying appropriate funding opportunities
  • participating in grant writing
  • managing grant submission processes
  • supporting the cultivation of corporate and individual donors

Required Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s Degree.
  • 1-2 years of administrative experience.
  • Strong public relations, interpersonal, and organizational skills.
  • Interest and proven experience in being a truly collaborative team member.
  • The ability to work well—whether by phone, email, writing, or in person—with a broad range of constituents, both internal and external to the university.
  • Demonstrated initiative and resourcefulness.
  • Willingness to be flexible.
  • Ability to manage multiple tasks, meet deadlines and use creative problem solving to handle the unexpected.
  • Detail-oriented, with strong organizational and problem-solving skills.
  • Sensitivity to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • The ability to plan, prioritize, and balance the workload of several projects, simultaneously, in a fast-paced environment.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience with UVM’s business and financial applications and systems.
  • Familiarity with UVM’s administrative organization and academic programs.
  • Web development experience with WordPress and Drupal.
  • Spanish language proficiency.

This is a part-time position, 20 hours per week, at $18 per hour. We regret that we cannot provide benefits.

Application

Please send cover letter and updated curriculum vitae/resume to Ernesto Mendez (Ernesto.Mendez@uvm.edu). Any questions about the position can also be directed to him.

Special Issue, in Spanish, on “Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology”, with a contribution by ALC co-directors

Special Issue, in Spanish, on “Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology”, with a contribution by ALC co-directors

A new special issue of the journal Agroecología (Spain), on Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology, is now available as open access, online. The issue brings together a diversity of experiences from around the world, with a focus on participatory action research and activist scholarship in agroecology. It was guest edited by  Daniel López-García, from Fundación Entretantos and Mamen Cuéllar-Padilla from the University of Córdoba. ALC co-directors Martha Caswell and Ernesto Méndez co-authored a paper on participatory action research with collaborators from the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) .You can access the issue by clicking on the following link: https://revistas.um.es/agroecologia/issue/view/18131

Martha Caswell assumes Co-Directorship of the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)

Martha Caswell assumes the Co-Directorship of the University of Vermont’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)

The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), which started as my research group in 2006, has been growing and evolving, along with our main fields of action- agroecology and participatory action research (PAR). As we continue to reflect on our work, and continue to learn and grow, it is also important that we solidify the ALC’s governance structure. In this light, I am pleased to announce that, starting July 1, Martha Caswell, currently the ALC’s Research and Outreach Coordinator, has taken on a new role as the ALC’s Co-Director. This new position formalizes leadership responsibilities that Martha has already taken on in both our U.S. and International initiatives, and across our educational, research and outreach activities. Martha and I envision sharing our representation of the ALC, in an equal capacity, in many of our current initiatives and partnerships. This change is well deserved, as Martha has been co-leading with me for several years now, and had already stepped up to this role, albeit unofficially. You can find more information on Martha’s background below, and in a recent interview she gave on agroecology for UVM, here. Dr. Vic Izzo, the ALC’s Education Coordinator, will continue in his critical role as the third member of the ALC leadership team. I strongly believe this new structure will allow us to better accomplish our mission and strengthen our collaborative processes with all of you. Please join me in congratulating Martha !

About Martha Caswell, ALC’s new Co-Director

What’s working well? What’s not? What can we learn from the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion? Whether we are talking about communities, landscapes or agroecological practices, these questions have always been at the core of my work. My curiosity has taken me from large urban areas of the US to small coffee-growing communities in Latin America. With a background in policy, I have programmatic experience with public health, housing, food justice, migrant communities, climate change resilience, livelihood diversification strategies and food security/food sovereignty. I have moved between working on the ground in communities and looking at the issues from a distance; Participatory Action Research (PAR) allows me to combine my commitment to grassroots work and applied research. My early career focused on issues related to urban poverty. Now, most of my work is with smallholder farmers, using agroecological principles to address livelihood, sustainability and production challenges. I have experience in both international and domestic community development, multi-sector collaborations with governmental agencies, academic institutions, corporate entities, non-governmental organizations, farmer cooperatives, neighborhood associations and community stakeholders.

UVM Is: Martha Caswell Advocates for Agroecology

UVM Is: Martha Caswell Advocates for Agroecology

Two months ago today, our friend and colleague Martha Caswell was featured in UVM Is for her work in agroecology. Published below is that article by Erica Housekeeper. 

Countries around the world, from Senegal to Brazil and the Netherlands, are embracing agroecology to achieve a more sustainable food system and adapt to climate change. But one place where agroecology has yet to go mainstream is the United States.

Martha Caswell, research and outreach coordinator for the UVM Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)*. understands that there are challenges that accompany the growth in agroecology. However, she also sees its promise as people around the world are fundamentally rethinking and redesigning food systems, based on agroecological principles.

Agroecology aims to increase the ecological benefits of farming, and bring forward the experience and knowledge of farmers and other food system actors to study and find tangible solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing our food systems. Conserving crop diversity, improving soil health, achieving food sovereignty, and decreasing the distance between producer and consumer are just a few of the principles of agroecology.

“Because of the way agriculture in the United States has been consolidated, a lot of people don’t know where their food is coming from,” she says. “What will it take for that pendulum to swing back?”

UVM’s Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology

Caswell and the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) are offering a 15-credit Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology (CGSA) designed to examine potential pathways toward the sustainable transformation of the current agrifood system by integrating economic, social and ecological perspectives. The first course provides an introduction to agroecology, including an online portion dedicated to theory and framing the issues, and then a week of experiential learning at UVM, focusing on visits to highlight agroecology in action on Vermont farms.

Also highlighting the principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR), the low-residency certificate program guides students to identify critical questions and practice new methods for integrating data from farmers, academics, activists, and policymakers. This approach is used to understand agrifood system issues, as well as search for alternatives with real promise to help resolve issues on the ground.

“One way to start thinking about agroecology is to consider how nature would approach agriculture,” she says. “You’re still looking for high-quality production and caring about yield, but you’re also thinking about maintaining synergy with the natural world.”

A Social Scientist, a Transdisciplinary Approach

Caswell majored in American Culture at the University of Michigan and earned her Master’s in Public Policy with a focus on poverty and inequality at the University of Chicago. She was hired by UVM in 2012, to work as a research specialist for the Department of Plant and Soil Science and took a permanent position with the ALC the following year.

The mission of the ALC, which is part of the Department of Plant and Soil Science, is to co-create evidence and knowledge with farmers, activists and policymakers and to cultivate socially just and ecologically sound food systems. The ALC “community of practice” includes Professor Ernesto Mendez and Lecturer Vic Izzo and both graduate and undergraduate students, in addition to external project partners.

“This isn’t a career path I thought I would be on when I was in graduate school. I’m a social scientist in the middle of the Plant and Soil Science department, but agroecology needs to be transdisciplinary,” she says. “We’re trying to figure out how to look at the ways the various components of agrifood systems interact. Ernesto was trained as an agronomist and is now an agroecologist, I’m a social scientist, and Vic is an entomologist. The good news is that through our community of practice we’ve also attracted students who want to think about things from multiple angles.”

One of the ALC’s current research projects is examining what urban and peri-urban agroecology looks like in Vermont. The partner organizations for this research project are the Intervale CenterNew Farms for New AmericansVermont Community Garden Network, and UVM’s Catamount Farm.

“Agroecology is based on principles, and after working with these Vermont organizations, they have seen that agroecology is something they are already practicing. Now we are looking at where they can deepen what they’re already doing and identifying the best ways to move in that direction,” she says. “At the international level, we see more of a tipping point. But the food system within Vermont also lends itself really well to the idea of agroecology.”

Part of the challenge with agroecology in much of the United States is that industrial farming is a dominant force, she says.

“The agrifood system in the U.S. is definitely structured to favor the industrial model and most policies don’t favor small farms,” she says. “That leaves smallholder farmers in the U.S. trying to figure out where they fit in.”

Progress in Agroecology

A bright spot is that agroecology is starting to open space for women to be recognized for their contributions, she says.

While men have traditionally been motivated by higher yields and income potential, women have focused on protecting against risk, maintaining biodiversity and providing nutritious food for their families.

“The people who have been credited with the first wave of agroecology are all men,” Caswell says. “But recently women have stepped up to say there is no agroecology without us and women are finally being recognized for the work they have always done.”

This happens at the farm and at the University. A recent organization by the name of Alianza de Mujeres en la Agroecología-Alliance of Women in Agroecology (AMA-AWA) is working to support this internationally. Helda Morales, Professor at ECOSUR in Mexico and one of the founders of AMA-AWA, recently visited UVM and invited Caswell to join.

That shift to highlight women’s accomplishments in agroecology, at the farm and the academy, is something Caswell hopes students will find inspiring. If she could give students one piece of advice on how to make progress, it would be that collaboration and listening are necessary for success.

“Be confident in what you know and also aware of what you don’t know. Be ready to listen and try to work on things together,” Caswell says. “When we’re convinced there is only one way, then we are much more likely to end up at a dead end. But when we open up to multiple options, we have a better chance of getting to where we need to be.”

 The “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, and the campus community.

*link updated from original article

Introduction to Agroecology 2019 Has Begun

Introduction to Agroecology Has Begun

word cloud based on students' introductions
Students introduced themselves and what they were excited about for the upcoming weeks. Some of the most common phrases were ‘agroecology’, ‘food’, and ‘love’.

Spring has finally sprung in Vermont and the first course of the Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology is underway! Thirteen students started the course, PSS 311: Introduction to Agroecology, last Monday , bringing with them a multiplicity of perspectives from around the world. This session’s participants  hail from Ecuador and El Salvador; New York, New Jersey, Boston, and Rhode Island; Ohio, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the UK. And, of course, Vermont. For the first three weeks of the class, students will study in their home foodsheds, participating online and establishing a strong basis of knowledge in agroecology as science, movement, and practice. In June, they will gather in Vermont for a week spent sharing ideas in person and experiencing agroecology in action. They will visit, work and share with 4 of the ALC’s partner farms: Catamount Educational Farm, Diggers Mirth, Stony Pond FarmBread and Butter Farm, and The Farm Between. Some participants are in the middle of their graduate studies, while others bring years of experience on farms or working internationally for non-governmental organizations. We are incredibly humbled to get to share this summer with such a diverse group of agroecologists – stay tuned for more updates from the field! 
 
Adelante,
The ALC Team 
 

ALC’s Coffee farmer Cooperative Partners share experiences of diversification project at Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo and UVM

 

ALC’s Coffee farmer Cooperative Partners share experiences of diversification project at Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo and UVM

The ALC and CESMACH teams arrive in Boston and the fun begins!

Leticia Velasco and Rigoberto Hernández Jonapá, collaborators from the CESMACH coffee cooperative (based in Chiapas, MX), visited the Northeast in mid-April. ALC members Martha Caswell, Janica Anderzén and Ernesto Méndez met up with Lety and Rigo in Boston, where the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) held its annual Expo, from April 11-14. The team presented findings from Smallholder Coffee Diversification Project at a panel and participated in an academic poster session.

 

The Expo brings together a diversity of actors in the specialty coffee sector to share the latest trends in the coffee industry. However, we and our colleagues noticed that key contributors to the coffee value chain were largely missing – the smallholder producers. While vendors were showcasing expensive machinery and baristas were competing to make the best latte, the producers were visible mainly in pictures on banners and in brochures. Lety noted that although it was interesting to see the Expo, she was a little disappointed with what she saw. “Buyers are not looking for friends, they are only interested in our product”, she commented after the Expo.

 

Rigo, Martha, and Janica presenting their work with CESMACH at the SCA Expo.

Despite these feelings of disillusionment, we were heartened by the words of Todd Caspersen, Director of Purchasing and Production at Equal Exchange, who joined us as a panelist. Todd shared that he sees this kind of research project, with multiple partners, as an interesting way for Equal Exchange to engage outside of the “transactional relationship” with farmer groups. He sees this as very important and discussed the importance of “building our muscles” as we look for solutions to challenges, such as climate change, which threaten the future viability of coffee production. The team also enjoyed moments of solidarity with other smallholder producers, as we learned about the current campaign being carried out by members of the Símbolo de Pequeños Productores (SPP – the small producer symbol). The focus of this campaign is setting a price for coffee that covers costs of production and provides some profit to producers. The difference between the SPP and other labels (i.e. organic or Fair Trade) is that the prices and the standards are set by representatives of smallholder cooperatives themselves, rather than by people and organizations based in consuming countries in the global north.  

 

academic panel sits at a table while a man speaks
From right to left: Nate Van Dusen (Brio Coffeeworks), Marcela Pino (Food 4 Farmers), Lety (CESMACH), Janica (ALC), Rigo (CESMACH), and Ernesto (ALC)

After the Expo, the team headed to Burlington. ALC hosted a panel at UVM with participation from Ernesto (ALC), Rigo and Lety (CESMACH), Marcela Pino (Food 4 Farmers) and Nate Van Dusen (Brio Coffeeworks), where panelists discussed their perspectives on livelihood diversification for smallholder coffee farmers. The guests also shared their experiences at an ALC lab session, and in an event hosted by the Brio Coffeeworks at their facilities. In addition, Janica (ALC PhD candidate) shared her research in the diversification project at the UVM student research conference.

 

Woman speaks to audience in coffee roastery
ALC members visited Brio Coffeeworks in Burlington’s south end to learn about the small-roaster side of the coffee industry and taste some new CESMACH coffee.

All of these events presented great opportunities to learn about the producers’ experiences and perspectives, and to discuss how researchers and NGOs can support farmers’ organizations in implementing diversification strategies that can help farmers face challenges such as low prices, climate change, and food insecurity.  

– Janica Anderzen, ALC PhD Candidate at University of Vermont

Ernesto Mendez Joins International Researchers, Farmers, and Activists in Brazil

Ernesto Mendez Joins International Researchers, Farmers, and Activists in Brazil

ALC Director and PSS Chair, Ernesto Mendez, traveled to Florianópolis, the capital city of Santa Catarina, Brazil, to attend a leadership team meeting of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), of the McKnight Foundation. The week-long meeting brings together staff and researchers from the 3 regions of the CCRP in the South American Andes, West Africa and East and South Africa. As part of the visit the CCRP team met with CEPAGRO, an agroecology focused organization, based at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). CEPAGRO’s work aligns well with the ALC’s Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach. The gathering at the UFSC, brought together 30 professionals and students from the US, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, Ecuador, Kenya, Germany, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Peru, and England.

 

The history of agroecology in Brazil is a rich one, based not only in land stewardship and diversification of farmer livelihoods, but also in the struggle to maintain access to land. “In order for Agroecology to happen, the democratization of access to land for the people of the countryside and of the city is necessary,” said Eduardo Rocha of CEPAGRO.

 

Throughout the afternoon, leaders and representatives from regional and local communities, indigenous communities, and urban farmers shared their triumphs and struggles employing agroecology in the face of inequitable access to land and its associated discrimination. Those present included Shirlen Vidal de Oliveira and Helena Jucélia Vidal de Oliveira, representatives of the Quilombo Vidal Martins Community, in Rio Vermelho, Florianópolis; Fábio Ferraz and Bárbara Ventura, of the Amarildo de Souza Commune Settlement, and Cacique Artur Benites and Alexandro and Fábio, of the Guarani community of Aldeia Tekoá vy ‘a, in Major Gercino. Also present were urban farmers Raquel Solange de Souza and Alaércio Vicente Pereira Jr, CEPAGRO research partners Dana James and Evan Bowness of University of British Columbia, and Professor Antonio Munarim, of the Vianei Center for Popular Education.

 

What stood out to most participants that afternoon was the opportunity for knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst stakeholders of different backgrounds. Urban farmer Raquel Solange reflected on how impactful it was, “to communicate with the people who came from outside and also to know the natives and quilombos, because I have never visited a village or a quilombo. As a social worker I’ve given several lectures, but that theme I owned. And to be there to talk about Agroecology, it was just my personal experience, it was more to put my heart out.”

 

CCRP members also enjoyed a presentation on direct marketing for family farmers from the Family Agriculture Marketing Laboratory (LACAF). As agroecology advisor of the CCRP, which aims to support access to local, sustainable and nutritious food through collaborative research and knowledge sharing among small farmers, research institutions and development organizations, Ernesto reflected, “Brazil is strong in Agroecology and it is very important to listen to you, the producers and indigenous people. It is very important to learn from the experience in Brazil.”

This blog is based on an article, in Portuguese, by Clara Comandolli de Souza, Journalist at CEPAGRO. The original piece can be accessed here