Honoring the Farmers that Nourish Their Communities and the Planet

Thuli Makama with villagers affected by the game park (Photo: John Antonelli for the Goldman Prize)

At yesterday’s Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony, innovative farmers took center stage as four of the six grass roots activists and community leaders from around the world were honored for their work to alleviate hunger and poverty through environmentally friendly innovations in agriculture. And the first recipient to speak, Thuli Brilliance Makama, set the tone of the evening when she emphasized the need for more “small initiatives at the local level” to nourish both people and the planet.

“We must manage our environment in an inclusive manner,” Makama, a public interest environmental attorney in Swaziland who works with poor, rural communities living on the fringes of big-game preserves, explained. Fighting, and winning, to gain a voice for these communities— forced off their land and faced with violence and intimidation for gathering the food they need for survival – Makama is hoping to create a more inclusive government decision making process that will preserve Swaziland’s wildlife while allowing people, who have traditionally benefited from the preservation of that wildlife, to thrive as well. To read about the ways farmers and wildlife can benefit from each other see: Helping Farmers Benefit Economically From Wildlife, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife—and Agriculture—in Mozambique,   Building Roots in Environmental Education and In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Conservation.

In Cuba, Humberto Rios Labrada, a folk musician, scientist and biodiversity researcher, is working closely with farmers to improve crop diversity and exchange best practices. Believing that “if farmers are the ones making innovative decisions, Cuba can overcome its food problems,” Labrada encourages “alternative methods to alleviating poverty” that involve farmer participation and bring back something he calls “true agri-culture.” Thanks to his work more than 50,000 farmers are improving crop diversity and creating a more sustainable culture of food production—one that values knowledge and the needs of those that will most benefit from it: Cuba’s farmers themselves. To read more about the benefits of farmers groups and crop diversity see: Farmers Learning From Farmers, Reducing Waste Water Contamination Starts with a Conversation, Malawi’s Real “Miracle”, and Listening to Farmers

Lynn Henning accepted her award for identifying and drawing government attention to the thousands of environmental violations committed by the 12 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that operate within a 10 mile radius of her farm in Michigan. “It’s time to produce food with integrity,” she said, “[like the family farmers who have safely] and successfully fed our communities for generations.”

To read about how farmers, activists, academics, and journalists will contribute to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish Our Planet and collectively challenge the global food community to identify win-win-win solutions that can better feed sub-Saharan Africa see Jumpstarting the Global Discussion About Solutions to Hunger in Agriculture.

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