Earlier this month BSUFN hosted an international conversation between farmers and researchers in the UK and Ghana. The conversation was held during the session on the local realities of the global food nexus at the BSUFN Symposium: The Diversity of Food Research.
Via an internet link, farmers, practitioners, and researchers in the UK and Ghana were able to discuss the similarities and differences in the local realities of farming at a local scale. The conversation addressed the food-water-energy-land nexus and how this global concept manifests itself at a local scale.
The conversation had two participants in the UK, Mikey Tomkins and Collette Haynes, and eight small-holder farmers who are partnered with NGO Trax Ghana. The farmers in Northern Ghana were able to participate in the conversation through translation provided by Trax Ghana’s field staff.
Farmers partnered with Trax Ghana – Trax Ghana is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with rural communities in Northern Ghana. They are working to reduce poverty and increase food security through sustainable agricultural and livelihood interventions. Trax Ghana work through a philosophy of community participation.
Mikey Tomkins – Hunt Institute, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas – Mikey Tomkins recently graduated from the school of Arts and Architect, University of Brighton, with a PhD that explored the everyday life of community food gardening in London. Since 2014 he has worked as a consultant and project director at the Hunt Institute, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. The main aim of the project is to developing the capacity for urban agriculture amongst refugee communities, both in Dallas, and Uganda.
Collette Haynes – Ashurst Organics, UK – Collette Haynes and her husband Peter have been running Ashurst Organics vegetable box scheme from Ashurst Farm in Plumpton, East Sussex, UK, since 1994. Ashurst farm is an 81 acre farm, with 15 acres devoted to organic vegetable production. She is a member of the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA) and the newly established Land workers Alliance UK and has written articles for both the OGA and the Soil Association on the realities of farming, growing and supplying local food.
The conversation identified several areas of similarities in the experiences of small-holder farmers in Ghana, small-scale farming in the UK, and urban agriculture in the UK.
Both the farmers in Ghana and Collette Haynes commented on changes in the rainfall pattern over the past seven years. However, in Ghana this had led to more frequent drought and in the UK this had led to increased flooding. Discussion showed that in both countries there are limited options for irrigation. As such, a reliance on red-fed agriculture leaves farmers exposed to the risks of extreme weather events and climate change.
Mikey Tomkins outlined the challenges of poor access to soil which urban farmers face. This again resonated with the farmers in Northern Ghana who cited land degradation as a factor which is compounding poor soil quality. Likewise, access to water was a common challenge faced by urban community gardens and small-holders in Northern Ghana.
The conversation raised issues of economic influences on farming activities. Collette Haynes explained that as a small-scale organic farmer in the UK there are challenges in competing with bigger farms in national markets. In Ghana, the farmers stated that they face challenges accessing market chains and value addition.
The conversation closed on a discussion of food sovereignty in which participants raised issues of the cost of labour, inequality, justice, and the demand for affordable food. All participants noted the need to access good quality seeds can present challenges.
This session highlighted how the realities of the global food-water-energy-land nexus are experienced at the local level by food producers. Despite engaging in agriculture in very different contexts the participants in the conversation identified several topics which are common concerns across contexts. At the local scale there are shared challenges which farmers experience and these can manifest themselves in different ways.
This short conversation brought up many issues and there is much opportunity for further discussion and investigation. It is hoped that this insightful and engaging conversation will continue through future collaboration and ongoing discussion of the global food nexus, food sovereignty, and global food commons.
Although the global food nexus is often considered conceptually, the interaction between food production, water, energy and land is a reality at the local level.