In Afsa blog

By John Wilson

I’ve been involved in what we now call Agroecology for quite a long time, I would say since as a young person I became conscious of organic vs ‘chemical’ food – whether grown with chemicals or processed/added to with chemicals. Much of my life has been focused on this in some way or another, mostly working with local Civil Society organisations who are working with farmers to advance agroecological practice, also growing food to some extent myself.

More recently I’ve become involved in AFSA’s Citizens’ group, which is about reaching out to the wider population. This means consumers but communicating with them as active citizens rather than passive consumers, hence avoidance of the term ‘consumer’.

This is new work for me and I’m learning as fast as someone of my age can learn!

One thing I’ve learnt is that we have to move out of our bubbles of operation, we have to change how we communicate, if we want to catch the attention of the ‘everyperson’. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but it hasn’t been obvious to me until recently.

What has helped me realize this is seeing how the My Food is African term is catching people’s attention and imagination. If I say the words ‘Food sovereignty’ to someone outside our field, there’s no communication, they don’t engage, other than to perhaps ask ‘what’s that?’ If I say ‘My Food is African’ they will immediately engage, you can see their brains ticking over with something. It may be about remembering what their grandmother cooked for them, it may be a reaction about not wanting to go back to the past, or it may be picturing a meal with finger millet ugali/sadza/ncima, groundnut sauce, spider plant, amaranth and more. There will be some reaction, some engagement. But whatever it is, the discussion can begin.

I’ve thought long and hard about what My Food is African means to me, and I have no doubt I’ll keep thinking and learning. I’ve come to the conclusion that My Food is African in fact means ‘food sovereignty’. It covers all aspects of food sovereignty. Its power is that it hits this nail on the head.

We want to take food sovereignty to the continent and I think we have that opportunity with the My Food is Africa campaign. And by linking food sovereignty to a sense of cultural identity, we can help make it popular and accessible.

Given the current context and all the opportunities in front of us to take our work forward – Covid, Ukraine war, rise of non-communicable diseases, climate change, environmental degradation  – we are sitting at a point in time when we can start to reach many people. I believe that the My Food is African campaign could contribute greatly to that spread to the wider population. We need to find ways to grow this campaign so that it really does reach across the continent. What are the core elements/dimensions of the strategy that can tap this potential? Where to begin such a strategy from which learning and improvement can happen, and momentum grow?

John Wilson is a free range facilitator and activist in East and Southern Africa, with strong links to West Africa. He has worked with many different organizations at different levels — from community-based organisations to regional and continental networks, to help facilitate a stronger food sovereignty movement in Africa. Increasingly, he is focused on helping to catalyze and support collaborative and strategic work on agroecology and food sovereignty. He is presently the Chair of the Citizen and Agroecology Working Group of AFSA. 

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