The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and the entire AFSA community are deeply saddened by the news of Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher’s passing on March 21, 2023, at the age of 83. Dr. Tewolde was a respected figure in promoting farmers’ and local communities’ rights and championing the cause of smallholder food producers. Dr. Tewolde was our mentor, our motivation, and our guide for many of us at AFSA, demonstrating the significance of safeguarding the rights of farmers, local communities, and smallholder food producers while respecting their cultures and promoting their thriving to preserve their cultural heritage.
Born in 1940, during a time when Mussolini’s Italy was attempting to colonize his previously secluded and self-contained nation, Dr. Tewolde grew up in a world that relied solely on the self-sufficiency and indigenous social, political, and economic systems of his local community to care for its people. This upbringing formed the basis of his unyielding commitment to advocating for the rights of rural communities and promoting sustainable livelihoods throughout Africa and the developing world. “In conclusion – I am local, rural, communal,” he said.
In the 1990s, Dr. Tewolde worked extensively on negotiations related to biodiversity, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization. He focused on creating a legally recognized set of Community Rights and advocating for Farmers’ Rights through global negotiations on plant genetic resources. Dr. Tewolde also played a crucial role in developing African negotiating positions, which helped to strengthen the G77 and China’s stance on issues such as community rights and patents on life. Additionally, he was instrumental in drafting the OAU model legislation for community rights, which has since served as the foundation for legislation in African countries. Furthermore, Dr. Tewolde led the African Group and served as the chief negotiator of the South, the Like-Minded Group, in negotiations related to the Biosafety Protocol, the Cartagena Protocol, which protect biodiversity and traditional and community rights in developing countries.
Dr. Tewolde’s legacy is one of dedication and leadership in the cause of food sovereignty, community rights, and biodiversity preservation. He understood that a world that supports rural and communal life was essential for the survival of our children and the future of our planet.
“Sick people die; and healthy babies replace them. But if the economic base dies, the babies also die, or even fail to be born. The bigger threat is, therefore, that on biological diversity, on which indigenous and local communities completely depend for survival. So, we had to do something on biosafety.”
Dr. Tewolde’s achievements were globally recognized and celebrated, including being awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2000 for his leadership in the biosafety discussions that led to the protection of biodiversity and recognition of community rights in the Global South, despite opposition from powerful actors like the US and European Union. He was also honored as one of the 2006 Champions of the Earth, the United Nations’ top environmental prize.
During this difficult time, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Tewolde’s family, friends, and colleagues. We offer our sympathies to all those who knew and loved him, and particularly to his three daughters, who have lost a remarkable father.
His legacy of promoting and protecting biodiversity and traditional rights will live on and inspire future generations.
Rest in peace!