Nelly Bassily | October 27, 2008
Alfonsine Mguba is a farmer in western Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the sandy earth of Kinkole, she struggles to grow groundnuts. When it comes time to harvest them, all she finds is small grains. Fortunately, that’s not the only crop she grows. Ms. Mguba also cultivates okra, eggplants, and tomatoes.
Ms. Mguba is a member of the Confédération Paysanne du Congo, also known as Copaco. According to Ms. Mguba, Congolese farmers are not affected by the so-called “food crisis,” because they produce enough to eat. She was one of 600 representatives from farmer organizations and other groups who gathered last week in Mozambique for La Via Campesina’s international conference.
La Via Campesina is an international peasant movement with members in 56 countries. The dramatic rise in food prices commonly referred to as the “food crisis” was among the topics of discussion at its conference. Representatives and delegates at the conference spoke with Farm Radio Weekly, emphasizing the importance of food sovereignty and local farmers’ solutions.
Ibrahim Coulibaly is a farmer and livestock keeper. He is also a representative of La Via Campesina in Mali. Mr. Coulibaly says that, with soaring food prices, crop diversification is an essential strategy for African farmers. But he also stresses that governments must do their part to support local agriculture.
Cosma Vufu is one of the women farmers who participated in the conference. Ms. Vufu lives in Lindi, Tanzania. On her five acres of land, she grows cashews, groundnuts and maize. She also keeps hens and two cows, from which she gathers eggs and milk for sale. Ms. Vufu is a member of the board of directors for Mviwata, a national network of Tanzanian rural organizations. Mviwata works to help farmers demand their rights and pressure the Tanzanian government to invest more money in agriculture.
The struggle to increase government investment in agriculture is one that Mr. Coulibaly knows well. According to Mr. Coulibaly, the real crisis is the dependence of cities on imported foods, but African governments do not have the courage to speak about this reality. He says that governments have preferred to subsidize imported food, believing this will avoid food riots. Mr. Coulibaly maintains that long-term policies to develop local agriculture would ensure food supplies and encourage political stability.
Ms. Mguba stressed the value of farmers working together in cooperatives to overcome challenges. She says that, in her area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the problem is the cost of transporting crops from the countryside to the city on poor roads. Copaco helped farmers to organize themselves into cooperatives, allowing farmers to designate one or two members to transport the group’s produce to the city for sale. She says that these sorts of concrete initiatives help farmers to survive by saving them time and money.