ADVERTORIAL

HOLLARD

VERSEKERING

Women, the environment and biodiversity

African women are often at the heart of communities dealing with huge changes related to economic development and shoulder the burden of environmental mismanagement. These concerns are multi-layered, and range from agrarian justice through to extractivism, but one issue that particularly clearly demonstrates the importance of African ecofeminism today is the threat to seed biodiversity.

This is an increasingly worrying concern. In the 20th century, an alarming 75% of crop biodiversity was lost, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, and this trend has continued since. In the last decade, for example, Europe and Central Asia have seen 42%of their terrestrial animal and plant species decline in population size, partially due to intensive agriculture and forestry practices, with more natural resources being consumed than produced.

Currently, the Green Revolutions seen in Europe, the US and, more recently, parts of Asia – which have involved moving from subsistence agriculture to industrialised farming, cash cropping and mono cropping – remain at the forefront of thinking around economic growth and food security. However, there is increasing evidence that this corporate-driven vision, which has dominated development trajectories over the last century, has failed on several fronts.

Not only has it failed to address hunger despite overproduction, it has indirectly reinforced biodiversity losses and therefore nature’s more holistic contributions to a sustainable environment. Before the Green Revolution in India, for example, there were roughly 50,000 varieties of rice. Within 20 years, this dropped to just 40. This has resulted in the loss of crops once part of diverse food baskets as well as a degradation of farmers’ ownership and control over seeds.

Seed sovereignty is therefore a key pillar of ecofeminism, and the relationship between seed biodiversity and women is particularly critical. Women, who are often central to domestic food production, are also frequently the custodians of seeds that reproduce balanced, varied and nutritional diets. In Africa, female farmers often preserve diverse (and indigenous) crops that remain off the cash-cropping agenda, from myriad varieties of spinach and cassava to the less well-known acha, a paleo grain native to parts of the Sahel.

Among other things, women’s indigenous knowledge around seeds and their selection, storage, and planting of diverse and often hardy crops increase climate resilience, placing them right on the frontline of the battle against climate change. By contrast, extensive mono-cropping has actually made agriculture more vulnerable to pests, disease and drought, often leading to a dependence on the pesticides and fertilisers produced by the same companies that sell the commercial seeds now being pushed across Africa.

Indeed, commercial seed capture on the continent is on the rise, with corporate-invested pushes towards regulations that authorise the planting of only selected seeds. Hybrid seedsaimed at maximising yields in particular are being prioritised. This is deeply problematic as hybrid seeds cannot be replanted, meaning farmers must buy new ones each season. Through this, farmers lose their autonomy, while the women who’ve been custodians of seed knowledge for centuries are disempowered. The commercialisation of seeds is therefore not just reducing variety and undermining climate resilience, but also compromising food sovereignty as a small cabal of multi-nationals monopolise the market.


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