Groundswell International: Strengthening Rural Communities from the Bottom Up

By Supriya Kumar 

“We believe that in order to address our broken agricultural and food system, and create one that is better for human beings and the planet, family farmers around the world can be and need to be lead actors in that process.  We need to support their capacity and power to spread sustainable agricultural and local food systems solutions,” says Steve Brescia the International Director of Groundswell International. Created in August 2009, Groundswell International is a partnership of NGOs that is working with small scale farmers in seven countries –Burkina Faso,Ecuador,Ghana,Guatemala,Haiti,Honduras, andMali – to scale up healthy and agroecological farming practices from the bottom up.

Steve Brescia (Photo credit: Groundswell International)

“Globally we now have over 60 years of experience with industrial agricultural approaches, and we can see the trends in terms of hunger, climate change and concentration of resources and wealth.  As many studies are now confirming, it is time to scale up more appropriate agroecological farming approaches that can help create more positive trends. Groundswell International works with local farmers’ organizations and movements to help build local capacity to spread those alternatives,” said Brescia. They do this by encouraging farmer experimentation – for example, farmers in Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti experiment with soil conservation, cover crops and improved local seed on small sections of their land to discover what works without risking an entire season’s harvest. They also encourage farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing. InBurkina Faso, for example, Groundswell supports exchange visits between village women’s groups and expose them to successful farming practices. In this way, farmers become leaders and change agents for their own communities.

Groundswell International also works with partners to monitoring and evaluating their programs so that they can continuously be improved. Since the main goal is to strengthen local capacity, Groundswell partners work to strengthen farmers’ organizations to plan and evaluate their own development processes.  For example, these organizations assess their progress and strategies through the use of participatory tools that measure changes in household food security, levels of savings and seed bank reserves, and household economic status, to name a few. This approach to evaluation has helped improve various local initiatives, from promoting knowledge sharing in Burkina Faso to the strengthening of local peasant associations in Haiti.

According to Brescia, partners in sub-Saharan Africa are emphasizing the need to address the food crisis through long-term solutions to improve soil fertility, through conservation and recovery practices such as the use of zai pits, composting and contour barriers.  Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) of trees is a promising practice contributing to re-greening of the landscape. Already in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, FMNR is helping to regenerate the soil, increase crop production and animal fodder, while also reducing women’s workload by providing a source of firewood.  Many rural families have depleted their assets due to the chronic crisis, and these need to be rebuilt according to Brescia, for example by supporting the creation of local food banks and reserves managed by farmers groups.

By empowering farmers to take charge of their own prosperity, through support for agroecological farming practices and the creation of knowledge sharing networks, Groundswell International is strengthening the capacity of small-scale farmers to improve their food security and livelihoods, from the bottom up.

Do you know of other projects or organizations that are working with local communities to improve food security and raise incomes? Let us know in the comments section!

Supriya Kumar is a research fellow with Nourishing the Planet. 

To read more about building local capacity, see: SEWA: A movement to transform women’s lives in India and beyond, Empowering the Women of India’s Poorest Region, Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farmer and Producer Organizations, and Putting Development Back into the Hands of the Community.

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