Author: Lidia Mahillon, FLF Student. This article was submitted as fulfilment of the module on Food Governance for the Master of Research in Food, Law and Finance of the IUC.
As Europeans, we seldom hear of African agriculture in positive terms in mainstream media. Farmers from the sub-Saharan continent are often portrayed as either passive or lacking cohesion in their social movements – which are perceived as non-existent. Hearing our teachers referring to West Africa as a very active region, ‘full of brilliant projects’ struck me. I thought it would be interesting to spread the word outside of class, by dedicating a blog post about a specific project that took place exactly one year ago.
The ‘Caravane ouest-africaine pour la terre, l’eau et les semences’, the West-African Caravan for land, water and seeds (hereafter, ‘Caravan’) is an initiative launched by the Convergence Globale des Luttes pour la Terre et l’Eau – Afrique de l’Ouest that had as an objective to channel the voices of communities and populations towards the authorities. During 13 days, from March 3 to March 19, 2016, a caravan composed by farmers, citizens, movements and organisations but also officials travelled from Burkina Faso to Senegal, passing through Mali. Delegations from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo rallied the Caravan at different points along the way.
The Caravan’s claims were gathered in the Green booklet of Convergence, which was presented to the authorities of the 15 participating countries. They stressed the importance of considering land and water as common natural resources, part of our common heritage and not as mere commodities. The common aspect of these resources demands for a common governance; “they must be secured, preserved and governed by each community, for the common good of societies and the environment, now and for future generations”. They made specific reference to the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and the World Bank, and to trade and investment agreements, demonstrating that they do acknowledge the full picture and all the actors involved – which, upon reflexion, is not what “expert” bodies do. Small farmers are often left out of the debate and, what is more, out of the whole scenario.
The Caravan is of particular interest because it constitutes an answer to the problems faced by the agricultural sector’s lack of accountability, disregard of local communities and their needs, as well as inclusiveness.
As was extensively studied in the Food Governance module, decisions are not usually made respecting the wishes of the people that are the most affected by them: the small-scale farmers – who have no leverage power against market forces – and people that eat the produces. Such decisions are usually negotiated behind closed doors, unknown to those groups of people, and outcomes of the discussions often come to them as an imposed surprise, regulating their daily activities and lives in a binding manner.
The Caravan tackled that. It was initiated by peasants and citizens, in a local forum: their villages. Moreover, instead of asking farmers to travel to the place of discussions, the forum came to them, making it easier for people to engage with the initiative. It did not exclude people that would otherwise not have been able to afford the trip and/or pause in their work.
The very way in which the exchanges took place was respectful of those concerned: marches, debates in public spaces, dances, visits to places where rights were violated, … The aim was for the topic of agriculture to be re-appropriated, reclaimed by local communities, even in the manner in which the debate takes place – no assembly, no international institution. The name of the Caravan itself marks this idea of re-appropriation – instead of naming the event, “tour”, “symposium” or “conference”, the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles decided to use a West-African word and concept and a West-African way of interacting between people. All of this allowed for dynamics and interactions that fitted those of the communities, making yet another step towards their effective participation to the issue of land, water and seeds.
Furthermore, the Caravan decided to be true to traditional caravans: it did not stop at the borders of one country; a specific focus was stressed on reconnecting the territorial sub-region. Through that too, there is a will to redefine the lives of the people in their own terms and not to take for granted the borders and administrative divisions that were imposed to them centuries ago by colonisation.
As a conclusion, the Caravan was a truly innovative, dynamic and contextually sound way of critically engaging with the problems faced within global food governance.
 On the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles: “An important step towards reinforcing existing struggles and broadening the food sovereignty movement is the process towards the construction of a Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles, which gained momentum at the World Social Forum in Tunis, in March 2015. This process started in October 2014, as several social and grassroots movements from Africa as well as civil society organizations gathered at the African Social Forum in Dakar to protest against all forms of natural resource grabbing and the systematic human rights violations that accompany them. A sub-regional conference took place in Mali in June 2015 and brought together more than 40 participants from eleven African countries. At this conference,a sub-regional platform of the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles was established and an action plan aimed at fostering solidarity and strengthening struggles for land, water and seeds in West Africa adopted. Sharing their ideas, they recognized the essential solidarity between their struggles and decided to meet again at the World Social Forum to continue this dialogue with movements and organizations from all over the world. The Declaration Rights to Land and Water, a Common Struggle, of the African Social Forum, 2014, and the one of the WSF 2015, Dakar to Tunis: Declaration of the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles1 set out the vision, principles and aspirations of the Convergence and is intended to serve the process of building a strong and united movement struggling for the enforcement of policies based on the human rights to food and nutrition, water, land and territories, seeds, and others.” More information at: http://www.righttofoodandnutrition.org/node/248
 Call for mobilization for the West African Caravan for Land, Water and Seeds: http://www.fian.org/fileadmin/media/media_publications2015/Call_for_mobilization_West_African_caravan.pdf