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Interview with Fred Kalibwani of PELUM

Community rights policy and small-scale farming
in eastern and southern Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Fred Kalibwani works “for PELUM, which stands for Participatory Ecological Land Use Management. This is a network of over 130 NGOs involved in sustainable agriculture who subscribe to the concept of participatory ecological land use management in eastern and southern Africa. PELUM is currently in nine countries in eastern and southern Africa, which are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, and South Africa.” (Fred Kalibwani). Fred Kalibwani is based in the PELUM regional office in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Fred Kalibwani was interviewed by Nic Paget-Clarke for
In Motion Magazine after introducing a group of small scale farmers to a forum sponsored by organizers of the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative.

  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.

In Motion Magazine: Are you a farmer yourself?

Fred Kalibwani: I am not a farmer. I am an NGO person. I actually am the original coordinator for policy advocacy. We started this work on the continent when we realized that the real issues that compound the life of small-scale farmers are policy based.

Land policies, trade policies, all sorts of policies, contribute to small-scale farmers being unable to sustain a livelihood. So we decided to start an advocacy aspect.

In Motion Magazine: When was that?

Fred Kalibwani: We started thinking about policy advocacy in 1995 as an addition to what we had already been doing which is training in sustainable agriculture. That’s our main niche. But, again, we got into policy advocacy because we realized that whatever we do on the ground can never bring change in a sustainable way unless we make changes within the policy framework.

A different type of property rights

In Motion Magazine: I first saw your name in the Declaration of a Valley of a Thousand Hills. Why did you sign that?

Fred Kalibwani: We were talking about community rights and that’s the thing that we feel is very critical right now in terms of resources. The communities must be seen to be in charge of their own resources. Right now, there is a genetic flow out of resources and that’s the one that is quite scary.

As we go into issues of patenting life and seed and things like this, I think the real power of communities over their resources is going to be the challenge over the next period because communities cannot possibly get patents. Neither can we hope that they can share the benefits from the companies that patent some of their genetic material.

The challenge is to think of creative ways of work, and to get community ownership of resources. It cannot possibly be through IPR (Intellectual Property Rights). We must think through a different type of property rights system that can be able to empower communities to be in charge of their resources.

If we go the IPR way it is likely that they will lose the game. You can never have equal beneficiaries because the materials are lost in different ways. We thought that we need to make it clear that we need to set up an African network that can facilitate communities to actually engage in thinking through creative ways of protecting their resources. We can talk about things like seeds and the little plants around them that are often taken and utilized without their knowledge.

The African Model Law

In Motion Magazine: One of the goals of the Declaration of the Valley of a Thousand Hills was to try and get these changes institutionalized in the laws of the various African countries. How is that going?

Fred Kalibwani: That is why we are basically into policy, because our countries are not taking it seriously. There’s already a draft model law that can help community rights. It’s now called the African Model Law. It used to be called the OAU (Organization of African Unity) Model Law.

Our countries could look at this to guide them to develop laws around those property rights but we realized that our countries were not paying much attention so we thought that there is a need to engage with our governments to adopt and adapt this law to suit their contexts, to protect community rights. The African Model Law is very contextualized in the African situation.

In Motion Magazine: Have any of the African countries made any moves towards adopting them?

Fred Kalibwani: I do know that Kenya is in the process. Uganda is in the process. Countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa are a little ahead because they actually are grappling with GMO issues more than the other countries.

But in many other countries they have not woken up to the reality that there is a drain of genetic resources.

The Small-Scale Farmers Convergence

Small-scale Farmers Convergence
Members of the Small-Scale Farmers Convergence finish singing their collective statement to the United Nations summit. Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
In Motion Magazine: How did the Small-scale Farmers Convergence come to be?

Fred Kalibwani: We had an annual general meeting in South Africa as PELUM in the year 2001 and it suddenly struck us that much as we work with small-scale farmers we continue to speak on their behalf, we as civil society or NGOs. As we challenged ourselves, we said that it is high time that we stop speaking on behalf of farmers and facilitate them as much as we can to speak by themselves. That then prompted us to think that the WSSD (U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development) is an opportunity where we can facilitate them to come and speak.

We thought that from our experience with working with farmers, much as they are small-scale they are not ignorant. They have innovated. They are securing their seed in very innovative ways. When you work with them and deal with them on a daily basis you realize you are dealing with very bright people but the world looks at them differently and has told them that, “You are poor, you should only think about changing your methodology and growing light scale.” But our feeling was that, guess what, these guys have a lot to celebrate. They have a lot that they have achieved. And so we said that if we achieve nothing else let them just come and meet and celebrate their achievements over the period.

That’s why we call it a Small-scale Farmer Convergence -- not conference, not workshop, not summit. We feel that in the convergence they will have an opportunity to celebrate. And beyond that then they will have an opportunity to express themselves and to tell the world what they think about sustainable agriculture and what they see as their future, in their own terms. Not in the terms of scientists and things like that. That’s the basic framework around which the convergence came together.

Small-scale farmers are the custodians of the world’s resources

In Motion Magazine: You said in your speech, just now, that you can’t have sustainable agriculture without small-scale farmers. Can you talk about that?

Fred Kalibwani: Whether it is in the developing world or the developed world, you can only talk about sustainable agriculture or sustainable development if it is centered around the farm. The farmer must be the center of all sustainable initiatives because they produce the food. They sustain life, as it were. And the small farmers are the custodians of the world resources. They have been the stewards of these resources for a long time so if you are talking about sustaining the environment the real custodian is the farmer, and in this case the small farmer because they are the majority. That for me simply speaks a volume. It means that if they are going to achieve anything in terms of sustainable development, and sustainable development is about combining development with environmental care, if you are going to achieve that then it’s going to be through working with the farmer, bottom line.

Participation in policy formulation

In Motion Magazine: Do you think there is a relationship between that and how to build a democratic country?

Fred Kalibwani: Yes, in fact that is one of the issues that the farmers are talking about. Not only building a democratic country but also holding corporate institutions accountable. The farmers as they now reflect on their plight, are questioning the way the leadership processes are happening. They are suddenly discovering the need for effective participation.

Now, as they start to turn out this, that is going to speak to democracy because over the last few years they have been used in what we’d call functional participation. They are starting to question the form of participation that is happening. This is going to reflect also on the kind of democratic institutions that we have. They are going to question them and we hope that we can have better governance at the end because participation in policy formulation for them has become an issue. It’s likely to spill over into participation in choice of leaders and meaningful participation.

They need to be considered as equal partners and it’s one of the themes that we are talking about.

Trade Liberalization

In Motion Magazine: It seems like this development is in contradiction, and if it isn’t please tell me, in contradiction to the trade liberalization trend. Would you say that is true?

Fred Kalibwani: It is certainly is in contradiction in the sense that liberalization assumes that we are all at an equal level. But when we are unequal then the stronger is going to sweep the weak. Liberalization for us is not a fair approach. We would rather talk about fair trade rather than free trade because to assume that a rat can compete with a tiger at the same level is really very unfair thinking. It is not possible for farmers who have no ability even to write to compete on fair terms with a farmer who is rich and has been farming for the last 20, 30 years. We think that this trade liberalization, as it were, needs to be re-thought and re-contextualized and re-packaged in order not to leave the weaker behind so that everybody can come on the banqueting table. It needs to be a different methodology. Fair rather than free and I think that that is something that will be contested over a period.

GE foods. Alternate foods. Strategic planning.

In Motion Magazine: Zambia recently said they didn’t want to accept GE food? I think Zimbabwe and Namibia have also adopted policies against GE food. What do you think about that?

Fred Kalibwani: I think that our leaders in Africa have got a very big challenge. Anything to do with genes is a very threatening subject. I am a biochemist myself and I understand genetic engineering. If I change a gene in a seed it’s going to change a protein within my body. It’s not just going to go into the tummy and get out. So the genetic constitution once it is changed in even a tomato is going to change the genetic constitution in my body. Now as long as we have not paid particular attention to the effects on health, the effects on other plants, the effects on the environment, as long as we have not studied them enough we must take sufficient precaution. When you bring genetically modified food into a country you set a precedent. You will not be able to control the side effects of what happens. If you set up a trial garden the effects that can be started off by wind, by water, you cannot control them, you cannot control the area. And that for us is the scare.

We know we don’t have sufficient knowledge. The people that are producing the GMO food must spend sufficient money to also study the effects. That is why drugs are labeled. That is why contraceptives are labeled. Because we must know the side-effects and make a choice. And that choice is not there. We don’t understand and so if we cannot make a choice it is better to step aside.

Nobody should capitalize on the hunger around in order to introduce foods that we do not know the effects about. I think that we need to look even farther and start thinking about introducing food crops that are not already under the study of genetic engineering. We know that now it’s the grains, maize and soy beans and things like this that are already under study, but we have bananas in Africa, we have cassava. We shouldn’t go hungry and have to depend on food, grain coming from the USA or what. We can change slowly. We can change our eating styles and prevent this kind of process.

If we are hungry today, yes we may be hungry. But maybe tomorrow we are not going to be hungry if we can plant strategically. This is the challenge that faces our leaders. They need to think hard and strategize and introduce food crops that are perennial, so you don’t have to grow seasonal crops. When you have a drought you are starving. Many countries in Africa are not starving because they have alternative food. I think this is what Zimbabwe and Zambia and these countries here need to start thinking about. If their countries have drought and they cannot grow maize, who said that they cannot grow bananas. They can take examples from other countries. They can think through developing other forms of food crops that can support them against some of these side effects.

Published in In Motion Magazine, December 6, 2002
  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.