At its core, the global food sovereignty movement imagines a world in which everyone is fed locally-produced food that is nutritious, culturally appropriate and sustainably grown. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is an organization that specifically advocates for African food sovereignty. Its main activities include movement-building, advocating for agroecology and campaigning for food policies that reflect its goals. The pan-African organization acts as a network-builder across the continent and plays a vital role in the broader food sovereignty movement.

The Importance of Food Sovereignty

The modern-day food sovereignty movement took shape in 1993 when a diverse group of agrarian peasants’ movement members formed La Vía Campesina. In 2023, La Vía Campesina describes itself as “first and foremost the voice of the people who work the land and feed the world.” The organization comprises 182 organizations across 81 countries, representing hundreds of millions of pastoralists, fishers, indigenous peoples, migrant workers and others, all of whom fall under the organization’s chosen umbrella term, “peasants.”

Though achieving food security is a basic goal of the movement, organizations like La Vía Campesina and AFSA take a notably holistic, nuanced approach. The movement examines aspects of broader food systems, including affordability, nutritional value and cultural appropriateness of foods, sustainability of production, respect for the rights of food producers and solidarity amongst regional and global peasant communities. These considerations are not merely philosophical and have consequences for the everyday lives of people at all points of the food system. A 2023 report by The Brookings Institute, for example, notes that African resilience in the face of external shocks (including climatic, economic and social crises) requires regional food sovereignty.

Most broadly, food sovereignty in Africa amounts to more stable food systems and decreased dependence upon aid and imports. Given its focus on sustainability, the primary objectives of the food sovereignty movement include improving soil health and biodiversity. This ecological well-being in turn ensures better availability and affordability of produce. For those hoping to move beyond subsistence farming or in search of work in the agricultural sector, African food sovereignty also offers increased opportunities for wealth generation.

What Does The AFSA Do?

African food sovereignty, in the view of AFSA, is best achieved through implementing policies and practices rooted in agroecology. According to the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO), “Agroecology is a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems.” In addition to addressing broader ecological and socio-economic systems, this farming and food system model also emphasizes local knowledge.

AFSA touts the approach as both a climate change solution and a sure way to achieve food sovereignty. The Alliance deems agroecology “a people-centered system of sustainable agriculture, combining indigenous knowledge with cutting edge science, making the best use of nature to create healthy communities….” AFSA brings together a diverse group of food system actors in Africa to advocate for policies and practices in line with agroecology. The Alliance also provides powerful case studies of how the transition to agroecology made a deep and lasting impact in the regions. Case studies like “Agroecological Training on Biofertilizers Improves Women’s Livelihoods in Togo” and “Changing the Fortunes of Farmers and Families in Murang’a County, Kenya” provide hopeful narratives that exemplify the social, environmental and economic benefits of the model.

How Does The AFSA Work?

AFSA approaches its movement-building and advocacy work with a network-based methodology. Local member associations representing roughly 200 million individuals are connected with national networks in 50 countries, which are then connected via 40 regional member networks. The Alliance’s core members include regional farmers’ organizations such as Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum, regional Indigenous peoples organizations such as The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee and regional NGO networks such as Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association. By connecting individual and large-scale members of the food and agriculture community in Africa, AFSA organizes and orients its members toward a version of Africa where all its people and ecosystems can thrive.

Ways to Support African Food Sovereignty

Though food sovereignty is ultimately about regional self-sufficiency, there are many ways people and organizations outside of Africa can support the movement. For example, Brookings Institute recommends that development partners “promote efforts to maximize regional food trade, by reducing disincentives and inefficiencies in global markets—such as dumping, subsidies and tariff structures that would disadvantage or discourage domestic production in African countries.” In addition, international actors providing aid to the region can prioritize food sovereignty as much as food security by ensuring that members of organizations fighting for African food sovereignty like La Vía Campesina and AFSA have a seat at the global table.

Looking Ahead

AFSA continues to play a crucial role in the quest for a world where food is locally-produced, nutritious and sustainable. The organization’s advocacy for agroecology, movement-building and policy campaigning promotes African food sovereignty and contributes to stable food systems and decreased dependence on aid. By supporting regional food trade and ensuring the inclusion of organizations like AFSA at the global level, international actors can help advance the goals of the food sovereignty movement in Africa.

Hannah Carrigan

Photo: Wikimedia