“Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group” is a regular series where we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we’re featuring Sue Edwards, who is the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD).
Sue Edwards (right) with Hailu Araya, Team Leader for the Local Rural Communities Development Program at ISD.
Name: Sue Edwards
Affiliation: Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD)
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Bio: Sue Edwards is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) and has lived in Ethiopia for more than 40 years (since 1968). Her husband is Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, and both are passionate about the importance of recognizing the role of smallholder farmers in “nourishing the planet” for a sustainable future for all living things, from the greatest to the smallest, from the most appealing to the most appalling (for us people).
On NTP: This is a vital project that brings together the rich variety of ways that people have developed to both sustain ourselves and respect the basic natural laws that underlie, or should underlie, the kind of agricultural development needed to acheive a healthy future for all.
What is the connection between agriculture and alleviating global hunger and poverty? Good agriculture combines the knowledge of how people can obtain the food and other natural products we need in a way that is ecologically and culturally appropriate for the setting where we live. This is the wonderful pattern of farming and foods that all local people have developed, and that fits with their local ecosystems. In urban settings, growing herbs on the windowsill and salad in window boxes, having school gardens, and linking directly with more serious full- and part-time growers of our food should bring healthy, nourishing, and interesting food within the reach of all. The industrial idea that everything has to be supplied from outside means that only those who can afford to buy these products are the ones that cannot be hungry, and those who cannot buy will automatically at a minimum have their choices and opportunities for healthy and affordable food reduced, or most likely eliminated.
Your organization’s mission is “to contribute towards an Ethiopia that is free of hunger and poverty, where communities are empowered with the knowledge and responsibilities to chart their own development, and where the best from traditional knowledge, practices and innovations is maintained and enhanced with modern knowledge, practices and innovations.” Why is it so important to integrate traditional knowledge, practices, and innovations with modern knowledge? The empirical knowledge, or folklore, that local people—farmers, fishers, foresters, and pastoralists—have acquired and built on over the last 10,000 years or more of agriculture is a vast pool of knowledge and wisdom that needs to be respected and understood with the benefits of modern science so that it becomes enhanced and enriched without destroying the base from which this knowledge came. It is all too easy to believe that change has to come by “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Yes, there are traditional practices that need challenging, but there are many, many more that are sound and that can be used as the base to build better, but not greedy, lives for all.
Can you describe the relationship between global agriculture policies and small-scale farmers that you work with regularly? I feel that at last some of the key policymakers in important institutions, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, are not only realizing but also speaking out for the critical role of small-scale farmers in meeting the challenge of overcoming poverty and hunger in both the developing and the developed world.
What kinds of policy changes would you like to see implemented immediately to address the needs of small-scale farmers? First is to have the importance of traditional knowledge, practices, and innovations (as stated in the Convention on Biological Diversity) properly recognized and budgeted so that they can take their place on the research agendas of all national and international agricultural research institutions. Second, to have it recognized that “quick fixes” and “one size fits all” will never bring genuine sustainable development in agriculture and to adopt policies that enable researchers and farmers to have the time, places, and support to work together as genuine partners. Then improvements and solutions can be location- and culture-specific and be genuinely sustainable. Probably the most difficult input for this set-up to work is time.