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Mariama Sonko lives in Niaguiss, a village in southwestern Senegal, Africa. In 1990 she joined the movement and since then she has been supporting local knowledge and farming practices. She has five children, and her own agricultural produce is the basis of her family’s diet. She is the treasurer of her AJAC Lukaal grassroots association, the national coordinator in Senegal, and the chair of the international movement “We Are The Solution“. She fights for the human and socio-economic rights of women and youth.

What injustice are you most passionate about?

The focus on conventional agriculture, an agro-industrial policy imposed on us by multinationals, which is based on seductive theories but in reality is fragile, dangerous and even destructive in its socio-economic and environmental impacts. This works to the detriment of family farming or agroecology that has always sustained food sovereignty in Africa.

What does your organization do?

We practice agroecology and family farming; we encourage food sovereignty, farmer seeds, biodiversity and the demand for equitable access to resources.

We Are the Solution’ stemmed from a 2011 campaign for food sovereignty in Africa. In 2014, it became a rural women’s movement. The movement works for the promotion of farmer knowledge and practices, better agricultural governance by decision-makers and valorization of the production of African Family Farming (agroecology and farmer seeds), which have always preserved food sovereignty in Africa.

The movement sought to build the capacity of women leaders on the following aspects:

  • Developing agroecological awareness.
  • Communicating the need for an agroecological and gender alternative.
  • Developing the institutional capacity of the organizations which carry the movement.
  • Fundraising and mobilizing resources.
  • Exchanging agroecological experiences and sharing peasant-farmer knowledge.
  • Building an effective team, developing daily life skills.
  • Establishing expert groups: farmer seeds, land, climate and nutrition.
  • Evaluating and monitoring the movement.
  • Capacity building on farmer seed production systems.

How many organizations are there in your network?

Our network currently has about 800 Rural Women’s Associations in seven countries of West Africa (Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Senegal).

What achievement are you are most proud of?

The support of the men we brought to this rural women’s movement because they understand the meaning and scope of our fight, but also the effective management of WAS “We Are Solutions” by African rural women.

What are the big challenges to food sovereignty in Africa?

  • Access to farmer seeds (collection, the establishment of seeds banks, multiplication etc.)
  • Access to cultivable land (building dikes or bunds to recover land, and protecting farmland).
  • The control of rainwater (collection of rainwater by the creation or development of retention ponds, irrigation etc.).
  • Maintaining a healthy diet (raising awareness about the harmful effects of chemical agriculture).
  • Availability and accessibility of solar energy.
  • Transparent and inclusive resource governance.

How can activists be more effective in the fight against injustice?

They need to be well informed, aware of the issues regarding agriculture. They also need to be well structured, equipped and represented in all local, national and international meetings where the questions of agriculture or food are discussed.

They must be united and supportive while serving as role models in the implementation of good practices in agroecology on our family farms and within our organizations.

What is one thing you would like to have known when you were younger?

The dangers of the practice of industrial or conventional agriculture which, in my mind, is the main cause of the degradation of arable land, disappearance of the flora and fauna, disappearance of several varieties of farmer seeds, loss of cultural, social and environmental values.

What advice would you give to a young activist?

  • They should master the challenges and issues regarding agriculture and strengthen their capacity especially on innovative techniques in agroecology.
  • They should not adopt the “everyone for himself” principle but rather develop solidarity and complementarity.
  • The must devote their talents to the service of all.
  • Young people need to understand that our health depends on the food we eat.
  • They must have a mastery of their environment, to identify with it, protect it and promote it.
  • They must have a mind open to abstract knowledge, with the intelligence of their hands and concrete creativity, which connects the child to nature, to which they will always owe their survival, and which awakens them to beauty and their responsibility for life. For all this is essential to the elevation of their consciousness.

What will success look like for the agroecology movement?

One Africa where, in solidarity, the peasants are involved in decision-making, and cultivate, process, consume and sell the products of African family farming while preserving the environment for a harmonious development.

You can also read the interview in french here