Ecofeminism, agroecology,  food sovereignty and African philosophy: Exploring values in contemporary social movements 

In News by Agroecology Now

This article is written by Frederique Bosveld, Masters student in International Development Studies specialising in Inclusive Innovation, Communication, and Development at Wageningen University (WUR)


Preface by Birgit Boogaard, professor of African philosophy at Wageningen University (WUR). 

This blog is student exploration and, as such, a reflection of a learning process: Frederique Bosveld is a Masters student in International Development Studies specialising in Inclusive Innovation, Communication, and Development at Wageningen University (WUR). During her Bsc program, she followed the course ‘African philosophy’ and had a hunch that there is a lot to learn from African thinkers that is currently invisible in the debates about ecofeminism, agroecology, and food sovereignty. Therefore, in her bachelor’s thesis based on 8 weeks of literature review, she explored overlapping values between social movements and African worldviews. Clearly this brings the issue of representation to the front: to what extent can or should a Dutch student write about African philosophy? Therefore, students are guided to constantly be self-reflective and be modest about what one may (or may not) understand. While this study was limited in its scope, we hope that these reflections on her findings will inspire readers and stimulate conversations.  


Feeding the world: techno-fix or agroecology?

Today, one of the major global challenges we face is that of feeding the world. Would it be possible to solve this challenge? If yes, via what pathways? Nowadays, two paradigms come up when discussing solutions to the global food challenge. On the one hand, technical, scientific and large-scale ‘one size fits all’ solutions are offered as ‘the’ way forward. On the other hand, an increasing number of organisations, scientists, and farmers are advocating for agroecological approaches. 

Within Wageningen University (the agricultural university of the Netherlands or some would say of the world), where I am currently following the Master’s program on International Development (MID), both paradigms are being represented in education and research. The question of how to (sustainably) feed the growing world population is key to the University. A major example that illustrates this divide in our University is diverging views on the Green Revolution. While some in Wageningen would call for a second Green Revolution in Africa, for example, others warn against this.

During my studies, I noticed how students and teachers who critique industrial agriculture  question the one-size-fits all solutions and call attention to  underlying coloniality and epistemic injustices, in other words,  how different or other forms of knowledge may not ‘count’ or be considered legitimate and how this subsequently strengthens exclusion (Mignolo, 2007; Schepen & Graness, 2019). As a student receiving these contradictory messages, this created an impression of polarity for me. Won’t overfocussing on these two paradigms trigger tunnel vision in which possible pathways are excluded. What path do we follow? And is there a chance for the global food system to become more equal, just and transparent? When investigating such questions, I  ran into concepts like: food sovereignty, agroecology and ecofeminism. As social movements, as well as topics of scientific research, all of these concepts bring to the fore the importance of diverse epistemologies. 

Epistemological injustices are entrenched in the global food system. Fed by epistemic blindness of the Western hegemony, solutions nowadays often lean towards scientific and technological one-size-fits-all approaches, and therefore tend to underestimate local and indigenous (agricultural) knowledge systems. In some cases, for example, local farmers are included in initiatives such as innovation platforms, while their knowledge and epistemologies remain excluded (Boogaard, 2021). Inspired by a course on African worldviews, as an undergraduate student I was triggered by the idea that African worldviews, ontologies and epistemologies have largely been excluded from industrial agriculture. Therefore, I chose this as the topic of my bachelor’s  thesis research. 

African Philosophy

Through the African Philosophy Course, I was introduced to the work of philosophers like Mogobe Ramose, Pius Mosima, Henry Odera Oruka and Heinz Kimmerle. By reading their work, I learned about some of the values that are key to African Worldviews. One of the lessons learned from this course is how crucial it is to recognize the heterogeneity of the African continent and to thus, for example, speak of African worldviews instead of one African worldview, recognizing the diversity that exists within these movements.

One of these concepts is intergenerationality which entails an obligation or a duty, so to say, towards future generations, for example in leaving behind a healthy land. Another important aspect to which we got introduced is that of sage philosophy. Sage philosophy refers to the body of thought produced by persons considered wise in African communities, and more specifically refers to those who seek a rational foundation for ideas and concepts used to describe and view the world by critically examining the justification of those ideas and concepts. Other, more self-explanatory concepts or values, such as reciprocity, and mutual care gave insight into the relation between human beings, non-human beings and the natural world shaping the relation between the social and natural environment. In African worldviews the relationality and harmony between the natural world, non-human beings and human beings is central. This is rather contrary to mainstream Western (anthropocentric) worldviews. The idea of land ownership and relationship with land differs extensively from how it is perceived in the Western world. Generally, in African worldviews, the balance between production and preservation is key. Whilst in Western worldviews the idea of utilising and exploiting land for economic ends seems to be dominant, in African worldviews the meaning of land goes beyond economic utility. An example of this is how sacred sites play a central role in African ontologies.

Thesis on African worldviews and social movements 

Based on a literature review of alternatives to  the industrial food system, I started to recognize how agroecology and food sovereignty are often interconnected and how both appear to relate to ecofeminism. This seemed to be especially the case for the social movements behind them. Moreover, I started to see a pattern in how such movements are often  lumped together as simple ‘alternatives’. Eventually, this brought me to the following research question: ‘What are existing similarities and differences between ecofeminist, agroecology and food sovereignty movements? And what does this have to do with values found in many African worldviews?’. 

Before diving into the results of the thesis, I find it important to reflect on ‘my position’ as a Dutch International Development student. First, to a large extent this implies that I am both privileged, biased and inexperienced, yet writing on injustices and African worldviews. Second, I am relatively new to these comprehensive and complex questions. Besides, the scope of my BSc thesis was limited and there was no form of interaction with the people I was reading about. My reflections are based on the literature I found and read for this thesis over the period of six weeks. 

I studied one social movement active on the African continent for each concept (agroecology, food sovereignty and ecofeminism), either because they adopted it as a key theme in their work or explicitly self-identified with it, and I examined how these concepts (and more indirectly the chosen social movements ‘representing’ the concept) relate to African worldviews. The social movements I chose to examine are the Green Belt Movement, La Via Campesina and the  African Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA). The Green Belt Movement provided a good opportunity to analyse a bottom-up social movement of African Ecofeminism. For food sovereignty and agroecology, I chose to elaborate on the general visions of La Via Campesina, a global movement that coined the term Food Sovereignty and whose international headquarter is located in Zimbabwe. I chose to focus on the African Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA), a Pan-African platform through which civil society actors come together to advance food sovereignty and agroecology in Africa. 

Ecofeminism, agroecology and food sovereignty in Africa: shared values

I found that ecofeminism, agroecology and food sovereignty movements on the African continent share key values. They seem to have overlapping ideas about what is necessary to strive towards a more adequate, sustainable and just ‘food future’. These included biodiversity, epistemic justice, environmental justice, harmony, human and social values, indigenous knowledge, intergenerationality, locality, resilience and social justice. Also, key values central to African worldviews seem to be central to these social movements.  Non-anthropocentrism, reciprocity, intergenerationality, care relationality, reciprocity and harmony appeared in all of them.  

This overlap in values between both these movements and the relation to African worldviews offers alternative perspectives for looking at the global food problem and food systems. Could these values be the key to undermining and radically transforming the industrial global food system? Moreover, to what extent are indigenous worldviews and thus values fundamental to alternatives such as agroecology, food sovereignty, ecofeminism and other movements key to opposing the global industrial food system? Or even broader: how fundamental are indigenous worldviews for our pursuit towards a sustainable, adequate and just (food) future? 


Sources: 

Boogaard, B. (2021). Epistemic injustice in agricultural development: Critical reflections on a livestock development project in rural Mozambique. Knowledge Management for Development Journal, 16(1), 28-54.

Bosveld, Frederique. (2021). An Integrated Framework Analysis: Similarities and Differences between Ecofeminism, Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. BSc Thesis International Development Studies, Wageningen University.\

Mignolo, W. D. (2007). Introduction: Coloniality of power and de-colonial thinking. Cultural studies, 21(2-3), 155-167.

Schepen, R., & Graness, A. (2019). Heinz Kimmerle’s intercultural philosophy and the quest for epistemic justice