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swaziland: poverty eradication through protecting biodiversity and food sovereignty

Most Swazis live in rural areas and depend on farming for their livelihoods. Many people live in chronic poverty and food shortages are widespread. AIDS is taking a heavy toll: more than 40% of the population is believed to be infected with HIV.

swaziland: poverty eradication through protecting biodiversity and food sovereignty

The virus is killing many workers and farmers, and the loss of active members of local communities is both a great loss and a challenge to Friends of the Earth Swaziland / Yonge Nawe Environmental Action Group.

 

In recent years, corporations have been allowed to exploit natural resources and communities have been pushed into dependency on aid. Food aid coming into the country is not tested for genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), so there is also a risk that local crops and seeds will be contaminated with GMOs. Farmers are being pushed to plant agrofuel crops.

 

Friends of the Earth Swaziland is working to empower and engage local communities to defend local resources and resist corporate encroachments. Their task is made more challenging as freedom of speech is severely constrained in Swaziland, and there are many difficulties for NGOs intent on challenging government and corporations.

 

what happened?

FoE Swaziland worked with other NGOs and civil society groups to hold workshops and public meetings around the country on issues affecting biodiversity and poverty eradication in the country.  More than 1,000 local community members have benefited, over 80 per cent of them women.

 

Working with students’ associations, FoE Swaziland organized public debates, which attracted interest from academia and policy makers. Media reporting on these debates embarrassed the Government into taking a position on agrofuels.

 

They organized a week-long leadership training event for youth empowerment groups, training 52 young people in environmental, socio-economic and political aspects of life.

 

From 29 September to 1 October, FoE Swaziland collaborated with NGO Skillshare International to host a conference for women MPs and women traditional leaders. The three days were spent raising the MPs’ awareness of socio-economic and environmental challenges, and exploring expectations for their term in parliament.

 

FoE Swaziland also hosted a workshop on climate change and adaptation challenges in Africa, within a prestigious event attended by over 200 delegates from across Southern Africa.

 

They also broadcast radio programs, and showed a documentary on environmental justice to school children.

 

what changed?

FoE Swaziland has successfully reached out to and attracted interest from local communities, the media, other civil society players, young people and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. This was a major achievement, especially as corporations had tried to isolate the group from the rest of civil society and paint it as being driven by ‘foreign interests’.

 

FoE Swaziland has built good relations with new women MPs, a section of the parliament that will be critical during the coming term. Five MPs from the most poverty-stricken areas of the country have invited FoE Swaziland to work in their constituencies.

 

There is a renewed interest in protecting and conserving local biodiversity resources amongst members of civil society. The conservative Christian NGO ACAT broke ranks with the rest of the church, and publicly supported FoE Swaziland’s positions on GMOs and agrofuels – a significant development in Swaziland, where freedom of speech is constrained and Christian groups are generally very conformist. Labor organizations invited FoE Swaziland to speak about agrofuels at their AGM.

 

Local small farmers are now more aware about the need to be selective about who they work with, and who they buy their seeds from. Several farmers groups have started to revert to the old ways of storing traditional seeds from one year’s harvest to plant the next year.

 

The project exposed the lies about the ‘improved livelihoods’ that agrofuels offer local communities. The Government has ordered multinational D1 Oils to stop planting Jatropha plants until they have undergone a strategic environmental assessment, as called for by FoE Swaziland. It has also invited NGO representatives onto the national biofuels strategy task team, which previously had only industry players and government representatives on it.

 

lessons learned

Partnership and networking across sectors is critical for spreading the message and for ensuring solidarity in the face of challenges and intimidation.

 

what next?

FoE Swaziland will focus on strengthening the newly formed working relationships with key MPs. The young leaders’ training will be held again in 2009, and the aim is to make this initiative a yearly event.

 

Rather than visiting local communities, two national meetings will be held so that local communities can come together and exchange ideas with peers from all over the country.

 

A regional workshop will be hosted for fifty activists from across Southern Africa, with the aim of drawing up a regional strategy for resisting and mobilizing against agrofuels and GMOs.

 

with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)

 

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