Pamela Boyce Simms
Beverly G. Ward
As part of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) convened 10 – 19 July 2017, members of the Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) African Diaspora Earthcare Coalition came together at the International Social Justice Commission UN Office on July 12 for an African Diaspora Earthcare Coalition HLPF Agricultural Land Retention Side Event.
Coalition partners work together under the aegis of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent to encourage people’s local ownership, and full use of the means of food production. The African Diaspora Coalition seeks to ensure that marginalized people who are dependent on industrial agriculture’s distribution systems create alternatives for themselves, produce food and herbal medicines locally, and have access to clean water as climate change dials up. The Coalition works to maximize the number of people who comprise a robust remnant that successfully navigates through the eye of the climate change needle.
The purpose of the side event was to discuss food sovereignty for marginalized populations in the African Diaspora in conjunction with the HLPF, and under the aegis of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD), 2015 – 2024.
QEW has been a non-governmental organization (NGO) of the United Nations since 1999, holding four UN agency accreditations with the mission of bringing a spirit-led Quaker voice to UN deliberations on the environment.
The QEW United Nations Working Group initiated an African Diaspora Earthcare Coalition in 2016 which organized the HLPF side event. Coalition members directly involved in the Side Event included:
- Nancy Abwalaba, Pwani University, Kifili, Kenya, represented by Joseph Akeyo of Support Aid Ministry, Movofa Sustainability;
- Pamela Boyce Simms, Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW);
- Sara Green, Black Land Liberation Initiative,
- Unitarian Universalists Association UN Office;
- Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference,
- Jennie Stephens, Center for Heirs Property Preservation
- Beverly G. Ward, Field Secretary for Earthcare, Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM),
- Veronica Womack, Black Belt Justice Center, (BBJC)
- Beverly Wright, Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) Environmental Justice Consortium.
The Food Sovereignty Side Event really began with Coalition members getting better acquainted over a shared meal on the evening of July 11. Pamela Boyce Simms, Sara Green, Jennie L. Stephens, Beverly Ward, Veronica Womack, Beverly Wright and Joseph Akeyo reviewed the flow of the upcoming side event over dinner.
The event officially began with an African Diaspora food tasting. The tasting menu included:
Chef Grace Odogbili (NY) providing Kachumbari, an East African onion and tomato salad, especially enjoyed in Kenya and Tanzania. It is spicy, simple, and flavorful. Kachumbari is the Swahili name for fresh tomato and onion;
Chef Carla Green, Green Community Garden (Newark, NJ), with “Callaloo” a Jamaican – Traditional Caribbean dish;
Chef Tarsha Gary – U.S. Southern gourmet dish, “Watermelon Salad” prepared by Sara Green; and
Chef Kwame Williams (NJ) – “Ackee and Saltfish in Cassava Cup” a Jamaican national dish and a lemon-ginger beverage.
Pamela Boyce Simms, QEW Clerk of the UN Working Group, opened the side event session with an overview of the IDPAD, the work of the Coalition, and the history of the African diaspora in relation to the trans-Atlantic slave trade of Africans. The overarching goal of the QEW African Diaspora Earthcare Coalition is to create “a robust, evolved, post-carbon remnant” – a globally interconnected, local, environmental resilient community within the Diaspora.
The way forward involves the relocalization of sovereign food production in the African Diaspora incorporating:
- Innovative, culturally relevant economic models;
- 21st Century evolutionary culture-building, egalitarian governance; and,
- Intentional healing within a vast network of Diaspora nodes where people of African descent are building environmental resilience.
This first year, the Coalition prioritized the retention of agricultural land which underlies food sovereignty. The need to feed the UN estimated 200 million people who identify themselves as being of African descent living in the Americas and many millions more living in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent, is imperative given drought, famine, wars, and other anthropogenic and climatic events.
The priorities include producing healthy, toxin-free food locally; employing holistic agricultural practices which enrich the soil and the Earth; preserving local biodiversity; determining agricultural land availability; working through land retention challenges; and, innovating strategies, models, and work-arounds to meet the needs.
Pamela’s overview included a review of African-American U.S. land dispossession. Between 1865 and 1910 Blacks in southern states acquired over 15 million acres of farmland and controlled 218,000 farms. However, over a half a million African-American farms were lost between between 1950 and 1975. Currently, Black farmers own less than 3 million acres of farmland and account for less than 1% of all U.S. farmers.
Three panelists presented on the “State of potential agricultural land in the African Diaspora.” Each provided examples of the linkages between the loss of Black land ownership, the economic potential of the land, the historical trauma, and the narrow framing of the question of food insecurity among people of African descent.
Dr. Jennie Stephens, Executive Director Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, outlined some of the property challenges faced by African-American heirs. Partition sales, forced property sales, property tax sales, and financing, to list a few, are among the factors that contribute to the continuing loss of land ownership among African Americans. Veronica Womack, BBJC, noted that African Americans were overrepresented among the approximately 10 million people who lost their homes through foreclosure and bank eviction from 2007 to 2013. Little has been done to address the pervasive structural problems, including food insecurity, resulting from the economic marginalization of urban communities of color by capital accumulation.
Joseph Akeyo presented Nancy Abwalaba’s Kenyan land ownership case example. Dr. Abwalaba traces the root off ethnic conflict among some coastal Kenyan communities and those who live “upcountry” to colonial and post-independence policies and practices that left persons without titled deeds landless. Since 1960, some families have claimed that they were evicted from their land to make way for tribal –partisan government projects that have not begun to date. This has been exacerbated by private developers grabbing beach property and denying public access to natural resources and recreational areas.
The participants separated into four groups to respond to the query, “From your vantage point or that of your organization, what are some next innovative, non-justice related next steps to ensure people of African Descent in the Diaspora produce food as climate change accelerates?” Participants were instructed to think about and discuss what role as individuals or their organizations might play.
This breakout session was followed by a panel discussion with Chefs Carla Green and Kwame Williams who provided information on healthy foodways and practices. The participants then continued to address the query in their groups while being visited by resource persons, which including land panelists: Sara Green, Joseph Akeyo, Beverly Ward, Veronica Womack, and Beverly Wright.
The final portion of the side event included reports from the breakout groups. Highlights from the suggested strategies, models, and innovations included:
- Organic farming driven by people of African descent,
- Heirs property retention, land rights awareness campaigns and deepened Diaspora organizing,
- Returning generation farming linked through historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The side event closed with a question and answer session and networking fellowship during a second food tasting.
The QEW African Diaspora Earthcare Coalition has begun preparing for the 2018. While next year’s work will focus on sea level rise, water access and quality issues, Coalition members will continue to organize around the spectrum of land and food sovereignty issues.