Opinion

Using agroecology to oppose neo-colonialism

Published on 7 July 2017

In Casamance, southern Senegal, local agroecological practices are rooted in cultural heritage. Knowledge about agroecology constitutes indigenous knowledge and is shared from generation to generation. This is one of the findings from the Transitions to Agroecological Food Systems project, which is investigating potential pathways to more sustainable food systems through agroecology.

Exploring causes of the loss of indigenous practice

In October 2016, project researchers convened a workshop in Kolda, Casamance to share findings from one of the five micro participatory research projects that were completed to map and analyse constraints to agroecological food systems. Participants included smallholder farmers from across the region, researchers and other agricultural practitioners.

During the workshop farmers heard a performance of poetry and songs from a local traditional oral communicator. The traditional communicator performed a poem which explained the cause of the loss of local indigenous practices and agroecology. The poem, Maama Afrik, translated as ‘Africa my Grandmother,’ described the effect of colonialism on society. The poem suggests that people are no longer able to make use of the riches the land provides and Africa has become poor through division and economic interest of the elite in Europe.

The performance resonated with the farmers at the workshop and initiated conversation about the lasting effects of colonialism on Casamance, and Africa more widely, despite decades since independence from French colonial rule. Issues regarding the remnants of colonialism emerged in discussion repeatedly throughout the four-day workshop.

Beyond neo-colonial agriculture

Farmers, who had come from across the region of Casamance for the workshop, concurred that agricultural practices which the Senegalese government promote and support financially stem from lasting colonial influence. Discussion among farmers and other regional stakeholders suggested that the model of input-intensive agriculture using ‘improved’ – or hybrid – seeds is promoted in Senegal due to governmental friendships with European governments and big businesses. Those attending the workshop described this as the ways former colonial powers continue to decide the lives and futures of the Senegalese civil society. This is also referred to as neo-colonialism, whereby political and economic powers influence a country without direct rule.

In Casamance, local farmers think the government-promoted seeds, inputs, and production methods are not suitable for the local environmental conditions. Farmers also felt that conventional agriculture promoted and taught by governmental Ministries was not culturally sensitive and did not support good nutrition or public health.

If input-intensive agricultural production promoted by the government is neo-colonial in nature, then agroecology is a movement to oppose neo-colonialism. The project’s research findings and workshop discussions highlight that local farmers think the government-promoted seeds, inputs, and production methods are not suitable for the local environmental conditions. Farmers also felt that conventional agriculture promoted and taught by governmental Ministries was not culturally sensitive and did not support good nutrition or public health. Farmers from a range of backgrounds concluded that conventional agriculture is not suitable locally and that agroecology presents the most suitable form of production.

Agroecology, drawing on traditional cultural knowledge which has developed in a diverse and dynamic environment, presents an opposition to neo-colonialism. Agroecological food systems in Casamance provide a route to preserve traditional culture, produce healthy food without damaging the natural environment, create a livelihood source, and enable good nutrition. Famers participating in the project and local stakeholders have subsequently developed an 18-month action plan to promote and increase the use of agroecological food systems in Casamance, opposing neo-colonial agriculture and preserving their cultural heritage.

Maama Afrik (Africa my Grandmother)

By Mammadou Mati Balde. Translated by Mamadou Drame, Mamadou Ousseynou Ly, and Rachael Taylor

 

Africa my grandmother, why do you not work?

The land is abundant and yet you are hungry,

Rains fall abundantly on land full of water.

The waters of thy rivers are sweet and flowing;

Your backwater is full and yet you have nothing.

You die of thirst as you cross the river.

Some spend the day sitting on gold to go and break pebbles in the evening,

Wearing shoes on their heads as the walk on thorns.

Your fertile land where a diversity of trees grow;

Africa my grandmother, I must ask you;

What I see and what keeps me from sleeping;

Everywhere I go I am asked for help.

 

Grandmother answers her grandson, Samba

Samba, my little son,

Grandson, see what prevents me from being strong,

It is the thought of the future heirs of Africa.

The strangers came to cut the members;

They have divided neighbours who are no longer united;

They have separated us and forbid us to talk about it;

They cut our tongues to speak with those imposed.

We make hives and they send us to the ‘peele’ tree to pick honey.

We are lured and deprived of solutions.

They are shown young women and they covet the old women.

I have only children but no friends.

It is surely knowledge that generates empathy;

The construction of our home will only be done by those who love it.

 

Grandmother,

You are unhappy but continue to persevere,

Those who cannot smoke can have embers;

I call to wake the sleepers,

Whether they are ardent workers, wherever they live;

Let them unite, study and return to the fold;

Our Africa now needs to be developed.

Those who reject this path are wrong;

Where ten shepherds of a cow misplace her on the pasture;

There are things that are hidden from the owner and must be said.

Let’s make the borders strong.

We are alike in our father although different in our mother.

So let’s unite and work.

 

Samba, my little son,

Samba, I advise you to be attentive;

These words are used today;

I deserve better, it prevents us from acting.

May the African elites not succeed,

All our wealth is unstable;

Half-knowing is betraying hope.

They have no confidence in our work,

They let us know as they try to get rich at our expense,

They are selected regardless of their knowledge.

It’s amazing and we should talk about it;

It is more winged than birds but does not know how to fly.

The Fulani say:

If a dog does not bark it has walked on its tail.

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