Empower small-scale farmers and sustainable agro-ecology, ensuring they can access land and markets, to build equality and food security into the global system.
Championing small-scale, resilient, sustainable farming in Mali
The failings of the current dominant food system are clear. Current production methods, characterised by the use of petrochemicals and modern machinery on large-scale, mono-crop, intensive farms, cause severe pollution and land degradation. The distribution of food is inequitable and unjustifiably wasteful - some 815 million people across the world are currently undernourished, despite the world producing more than enough to feed the entire world population and food production increasing each year. Against the backdrop of climate change, resource shortages and urbanisation, establishing global food security is a key challenge of our time.
Power in the agricultural system is concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Just three companies - Monsanto, DuPont (Pioneer) and Syngenta - control 53% of the global commercial market for seeds and 1% of all farms control 65% of the world’s agricultural land. Furthermore, millions of small-scale farmers remain impoverished as the result of unfair competition between large, world market-oriented agricultural companies and small family farms.
Agroecology is now recognised as holding a crucial role as an alternative model to sustainably feed the world. Agroecological concepts are primarily based on traditional and local knowledge, and its corresponding cultures. It involves harnessing natural processes to control pests and build soil fertility rather than using artificial pesticides and fertilisers, and planting a diverse range of crops to boost the sustainability of the farming system as a whole. Agroecological practices include integrating trees with livestock and crops, producing food from forests, growing several crops together in one plot and using locally adapted and genetically diverse crops and livestock.
IRPAD sees agroecology as key form of resistance to an economic system that prioritises profits over sustainability. Supporting small-scale farmers in Mali and other West and Central African countries, they recognise that the various forms of small-scale food production based on agroecology generate local knowledge and promote social justice, as well as nourishing identity and culture and reinforcing the economic viability of rural areas in the country. As a “think and do tank” they conduct research, training and advocacy in the field of agriculture, livestock farming, and fishing in Mali.
One key area of advocacy for IRPAD is on the rights of small producers over the diverse range of seeds that they traditionally use and share among each other. Patents on seeds and crop varieties restrict what small farmers can do with their seeds, despite them having used and swapped seeds among each other for years and building crop diversity through local networks. IRPAD convened a multi-stakeholder consultation process in September 2017, aiming to promote peasant seed and formalise its use while recognising the rights of the farmers who use them. It was highly successful and received extensive media coverage.
IRPAD is publically rejecting the attempt to wean farmers off traditional seeds and towards patented varieties, which are expensive to buy and require high-inputs to grow effectively. They champion small farmers and traditional methods, which are better for farmers, the local environment and are more resilient to extreme events such as price shocks and natural disasters.