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Fighting for food sovereignty in Kenya and Uganda

Water Savvy Solutions | 16 September 2021

Fighting for Food Sovereignty in Kenya and Uganda


Ep 53: Fighting for Food Sovereignty in Kenya and Uganda.
Sapna Mulki/Breaking Green Ceilings (2021)

(or download the MP3)


In this episode we talk about the implications of free trade on African women especially from a food sovereignty perspective. Often free trade agreements are advertised to boost trade between countries, and ultimately encourage and strengthen economic growth in a geographic region. However, this is not the case, especially with African women farmers and small holder farmers who are the backbone of the agriculture sector on the continent. Susan Nakacwa and Leonida Odongo share their experiences of their work in Uganda and Kenya as it relates to helping empower small holder and women farmers to protect and preserve indigenous farming practices that are less harmful to the environment and ensure sustainable yields over the long term. Ultimately, Susan and Leonida want to help their farmers reclaim land to produce local and organic foods that achieve food and seed sovereignty not only in their home countries but also throughout other African countries struggling with similar threats from unfair government policies and corporate interests.

Guest Profile:

Susan – A journalist by training, her passion lies in researching, documenting and making the case for smallholder farming in Africa, which she believes is the best way forward. Susan joined GRAIN in 2017, after working with several regional civil society organizations in Africa. Based in Kampala, Susan works with GRAIN partners across the continent, especially on issues like seeds, land grabs and trade policy.

Leonida – An activist and educator working on agroecology, feminism, human rights and social justice, based in Kenya. Next to engaging in technical, legal and political education with rural communities and grassroots organizations, she also plays an active role in the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), the World March of Women Kenya and Africa and the Civil Society Mechanism of the Committee on World Food Security. Leonida currently coordinates the activities of Haki Nawiri Afrika, an initiative advancing social justice among university students, smallholder farmers and communities negatively impacted by climate change.

Sound Bites

On the Role that Nature has Played in Life

Leonida: First of all, maybe our very existence to nature, because without nature, we cannot survive. It’s a source of food. It’s a source of economic activity, because I’m raised from a farming community, so we actually interact with nature when you’re producing food. Another thing I’d like to point out, for example, when you’re relaxing, you use nature as a relaxer. For instance, if you go to parks, if you go to lakes or water bodies, it’s a way of relieving yourself of stress, but also, you’re connecting with natural assets.

Susan: But just to say that we are alive because nature is alive. And if we look after it, it looks after us just the same. And I think in the last two years, we have seen exactly what nature can do. When they tell you that you need close to 100 million to get about four cylinders of oxygen, when nature has been supplying that to you all your life, the narrative changes. So nature is what is what we have. We are living it, but it’s accommodating us.

[3.38] On the Impacts of Free Trade Agreements on Food Sovereignty

Leonida: One thing is that this international agreement, that regional advantage is going to impact in terms of issues around food, because agriculture is part of what is going to be exchanged or what is going to be sold within this country. And I work with women, rural women who are food producers. And as you know, when trade agreements are being signed, they said the voices of women are not being heard. Because if for instance, you ask the women that I work with, whether any of them are ever consulted when this decision was being made, they will tell you, we are not aware. So the aspect of voice and marginalization really comes out in that.

The other thing when we talk about these agreements, the issues around opening up of markets because every country is pushing for self interest and looking for a market for its products. We have in Kenya for example, Pakistani rice, rice coming from Pakistan is cheaper than rice that is produced in Mweya in Kenya and Mweya is many, many, many kilometers away which makes it costly in terms of transport. So the aspect of damping of products, cheap finished product is going to be affecting farmers.

[13.34] On how Trade Agreements African Women Farmers

Susan: So if you look at the entire agriculture movement, the entire value chain for lack of a better word, it means that a man buys because the man controls the money, so they will buy the seed, they will sell the seed. The jobs that are done in between the harvesting, planting, seeds storage, weeding, all of those are done by women, which are thankless jobs, and which are not recognized.

[40.08] On Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Leonida: What we do is that we hold Tafakari forums. Tafakari is the Kiswahili word for election and within this Tafakari forums, we look at the entire production process from soil, seed care for crops habits for service and value addition … for example which crops to plant that are nitrogen fixers, for example, legumes; and the importance of intercropping. And, of course, the dangers of mono cropping.

[40.08] On the Importance of Indigenous Seeds

Susan: Number one, indigenous seeds are resilient. Number two, they are context specific. And therefore, they can survive within context. So they will sort of regenerate based on the difficulties that they are facing. And indigenous seeds are available everywhere. So there is that idea of seed exchange, if you use seeds and they didn’t do well, you can exchange with your neighbor, you can exchange with the next village, you can even extend to the next country. So the resilience of the seed, as we know it on the African continent, is also part of the things that the industry is fighting. And industry finds that through influencing the policies.

[52.34] On Why Africa is not a Country

Susan: we need to understand the different layers and the different communities, the different contexts. And for me, the biggest thing, which really sort of always gets me a bit worked up is the whole assumption that Africa is one country. And these people have first of all human rights issues they have issues around being moved from one area to they have trauma from Northern Uganda. They come into this new trauma, you chase them off their land, you dig off their property, their food, and then you tell them no but you can buy the food and then ask what about food sovereignty? Because you can’t assume that because there is maize in that garden that I am food secure. No, I’m not. Because what I define as food is very different from what somebody else defines as food.


Trade is War by Yash Tandon

Best Advice:

Susan: Be kind to yourself. Be kind to myself, if it doesn’t work out, it’s fine. It will be hard, but it’s fine. And my mother always tells me because she says I’m slow. I’m a procrastinator. That’s my mother’s opinion. I don’t know about that. But that’s what she says. But she always tells me Never leave anything for the next day,

Leonida: Believe in yourself and never give up…I don’t stop until it’s over.

Follow Susan Nacakwa

Follow Leonida Odongo

Leonida’s Organisation – Haki Nawiri Afrika

 source: Water Savvy Solutions