Steve’s Field Notes: West Africa & Haiti
Groundswell is about catalyzing change – not just implementing short-term projects. When Groundswell was established in 2009, we made the intentional choice to create a partnership of rooted local organizations led by visionary people. We believe that the creativity and initiative of our partners around the world will strengthen and shape our global strategies. My recent trips to Burkina Faso and Haiti reinforced that not only is this organizational choice working, but that our role as a “catalyst” is taking shape as well.
On February 2, Groundswell gathered partners from West Africa to discuss how to advocate for policies that enable the spread of sustainable farming that brings tangible improvements to the lives of rural people. Our regional staff, Fatou Batta and Peter Gubbels, organized and designed the meeting, which included ANSD (Burkina Faso), CIKOD (Ghana), Sahel Eco (Mali), Food First (Oakland, CA), and ILEIA (the Netherlands). It was exciting to watch our team of partners and allies contribute their diverse experience to create strategies, define outcomes, and divide up action steps.
The role of a catalyst is to identify successes on the ground that can be shared while working across organizational barriers, national borders, and language differences. It also means broadening the circle of allies, and we did so in West Africa by inviting leading farmers’ organizations, representatives from academia, and from the Food Sovereignty Ghana network. We were inspired to hear how Food Sovereignty Ghana and CIKOD have opened up an intense democratic debate on how to promote healthy farming and food systems that serve the people of Ghana, in the face of a pending bill that would promote the spread of genetically-modified seeds and constrain family farmers rights to save and produce their own seeds. As most participants headed to a field visit to learn from farmers about their efforts to test and spread agro-ecological innovations, I headed to an important meeting Groundswell was organizing in Haiti.
On February 11-12, in the rural town of Hinche, Haiti, Groundswell and Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) gathered over 60 people to discuss how to collaborate to spread sustainable farming and local food economies in the northern region of the country. Haiti is full of NGOs and development projects, however, they are often unable to coordinate and collaborate. The initiative of Haitian people often gets displaced and distorted by foreign money and experts. Our goal was to gather the experts, funders and Haitian people at the same table.
The result was some exciting opportunities to innovate, scale, and catalyze rural development strategies – as well as many new relationships and levels of trust. But the meeting also raised unanswered questions: How would we coordinate? Who will lead and manage? People ultimately “vote” with their actions, so who will buy in to which priorities? What comes first?
Answering the questions that emerged both in West Africa and Haiti is what comes next for Groundswell. We are excited to build relationships with new allies and to continue to strengthen healthy farming and food systems from the ground up, while sharpening our role as a catalyst and working towards a vision of widespread positive change.