An Interview with Lawrence Mkhalipi from Biowatch, South Africa on GM
Partner in the Spotlight - October
Lawrence Mkhaliphi is the Agro-Ecology Manager at Biowatch in South Africa and has been with the organization since 2003.
Tell us a bit about Biowatch – when was it founded and why?
In 1997, with little civil society capacity to monitor the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in South Africa and a growing awareness of the injustices of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the patenting of life forms, Biowatch South Africa was launched by two activists, with a Board of Trustees being established in 1999. The organization stands for social and environmental justice, sustainable agriculture that does not marginalize the poor, and working from a public interest perspective. Biowatch's strategies over the past 10 years have been moulded around these key values.
In the context of multiple global crises (food, energy, climate change) we envision a country and world in which people have control over their food, agricultural and other natural resources within an ecologically sustainable system.
What principles or philosophies guide the work?
Social and environmental justice- we work for this through:
• Challenging the industrial agriculture model
• Demonstrating ecologically sustainable alternatives (agro-ecology/agricultural diversity)
• Promoting food security and sovereignty
• Working with small scale farmers - to support their production systems, facilitate their capacity building and enhance their resilience
• Resisting corporate appropriation of natural resources
How did your relationship with the ABN begin?
Biowatch SA was one of the founding partners of ABN. With ABN, we share the same philosophy on environmental issues such as challenging government and corporations to stop harmful agricultural practices, and have a similar approach to small-scale farmer support and environmentally safe crop production.
What’s special about being part of the African Biodiversity Network?
ABN provides information using the African context which enables countries and partners to be informed of current activities and campaigns in which they may choose to participate. ABN also trains members and exposes them to experiential learning which allows them to experience for themselves the approach of ABN partners and replicate this in their home areas. This has proved the most successful method of teaching in agro-ecology.
Who do you work with and in what way?
We work with a number of partner organizations to promote agro-ecology through our model sites as well as at the policy level with decision-makers. Local organizations we currently work with include Surplus People Project, Church Land Project, TCOE and Zingisa.
To promote agro-ecology, we focus a lot on farmer exchange programmes where farmers from areas distant from Biowatch model sites visit and spend time with community facilitators and members involved in agro-ecology.
The visiting farmers are given a hands-on exposure to the agro-ecology practices that are used and successful and given the tools, practical and theoretical, to farm using agro-ecological practices on their return to their home areas. This model of working has been extremely successful and promotes replication of agro-ecology in a widespread area.
We also produce written materials highlighting agro-ecological practice and practical information. We are looking into developing a training manual to promote agro-ecology much further afield and among those who are not able to travel to our model sites.
Can you tell us how this approach has been used with a specific community or in a particular area?
Two weeks ago we hosted 26 farmers from KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape for a farmer exchange. The visit took place over 4 days during which the farmers were exposed to agro-ecological farming in KwaHhohho, near Mtubatuba, and Pongola, both located in KwaZulu-Natal province.
The farmers in these areas have created both a community market garden and household food gardens and the visitors were able to take part practically in fieldwork with local farmers guiding their exposure to successful agro-ecological practices.
Discussion also focused on seed banking (its importance and best practice), marketing (the model used by Zimele Women’s Organization) and lobbying local municipality and government departments for support for small scale farming. All of this gave visitors a well-rounded experience and comprehensive information they can use practically when they return home.
What is this model used by Zimele Women's Organization?
There was a Marketing Consultant who approached local shops, restaurants, guesthouses etc. to find out what fresh produce they require, negotiated a price, logistics and so forth. He then developed a planting plan for the community garden with the Zimele farmers - Biowatch provided seedlings as a start up. When the vegetables were harvested, the produce was taken by local transport to the buyer (in this case, Pick 'n Pay, a large supermarket chain). The money earned went to the farmers with a small amount kept aside for the group to purchase more seedlings. As production has increased, Zimele has been able to find other outlets for their vegetables, including local guesthouses and a cash and carry shop. This is a far as the marketing process has gone so far, but there is a meeting to reflect on the process so far and plan for 2012 in a few weeks time,
In all of our work with small scale farmers, we start at a point of creating a vision and planning with community members and committees in each area.
Community folk develop objectives for the agro-ecology work, exchange visits, lobbying and advocacy before it is undertaken.
A participatory system of monitoring and evaluation for each project site has been developed and outcomes are monitored as the work progresses, allowing for changes and modifications along the way should one approach not be successful. The monitoring data are then used to evaluate different approaches and success of these over time, which will give communities the tools to make decisions based on their own experiences, successes and challenges.
ABN is very grateful to Lawrence for creating time to respond to this interview.
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