The African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems wishes to highlight the significant role and rights of African women in producing, processing and preparing good food for people in homes and neighborhoods across the continent, both rural and urban. We are committed to ensuring that the food we eat is nutritious and healthy and is part of a way of life that respects and takes care of Mother Earth.
We are deeply concerned about the quality of food that is currently being distributed in Africa. Often we do not know where it has come from, what it contains, and whether it is good for our health. We have witnessed the growth of diseases such as cancer, sugar diabetes, congenital heart disease and obesity, in part because of the imported and manufactured foods we are eating. With this movement, we intend to put into place food systems that are healthy for people and that respect the environment with ecological knowledge and practices.
We are very aware that many women’s organizations are already fighting for women’s rights, access and control over land, seeds, property, natural resources, and clean water. We appreciate these efforts but our experience is that, as rural and urban women who are perceived as poor and uneducated, we are often left out of the process, are not given leadership roles, and not included in decisions. We would like to rectify this by strengthening our leadership and ensuring we are part of decision-making at all levels.
We find that many of our professional sisters are unable to distinguish between healthy food and corporate food, and are unfamiliar with the issues relating to agricultural and food systems. We need to stipulate the type of food we want to eat, which crops we want to grow, what livestock and fish we want to raise in order to reduce malnutrition and bring good health when people are ill. We need to discuss the restoration of Mother Earth when her soils have been made infertile, her trees cut down, and her waters polluted or used up. The rights of women include the right to a way of life that is based on a harmonious relationship with Mother Earth.
We also recognize that there are strong food sovereignty movements in many parts of Africa. Many peasant women farmers and indigenous food producers are already practicing agroecology to achieve food sovereignty. In different parts of the world, food sovereignty movements are led equally by both men and women. In many countries in Africa, the food sovereignty movements are led primarily by men, with NGO women in offices helping to lead the processes. We rarely see peasant and indigenous women food producers in decision-making roles.
As women who are already engaged in producing, processing, marketing and cooking food, we want to lead and make decisions in all aspects of the food system. One of our main challenges is the widespread cultural attitude that rural women are not knowledgeable, even though we have extensive knowledge which we received from our mothers and grandmothers, as well as from our work in the fields, forests and fisheries, and with livestock. Our indigenous knowledge of healthy food systems includes taking care of seeds, soils, forests, waters. We have strict laws about when to cut down trees, how to take care of our wetlands and keep our spring water clean. We use manure as fertilizer, practice crop rotation and mixed farming. We preserve and store seeds without the use of herbicides. With an abundance of rain, we can produce an abundance of food. During intense drought, we have a diversity of crops, most of which are drought resistant and so still give us food. We harvest the forests and waters. We take into account the types of food we produce to ensure a nutritional diet and provide other health and medicinal benefits. Despite all this, culturally we are not expected to be leaders, nor to make decisions relating to resources.
We want to improve our food systems and the quality of our food. To do so, we need decision-making processes that are equally led and owned by women who produce, process and prepare food. We experience too much marginalization and discrimination, with all the consequent effects on our health and the health of our families. We are not willing for our lives to be disrupted by corporate appropriation of our land and natural resources. We will not be displaced and forced to migrate. We stand our ground, peacefully. We defend our dignity.
We welcome connection with African social movements, particularly the women’s rights and food sovereignty movements. We seek to have full representation and take our place in these movements. We provide value and strength, and we need our own space to develop our thinking, capacity, leadership and decision-making. We will help shape the future at this urgent time.