Social justice, summer heat and the G8!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 09:23

Earlier this week I was in Washington, DC to visit with staff, Board and partners of ActionAid USA, before heading up to New York to meet with some of the foundations that support ActionAid’s work.

The highlight of the visit with ActionAid USA was an event they organized on Monday night at Busboys and Poets, a hip new, progressive restaurant in Washington with a social justice theme. In the restaurant’s packed event room – which is covered with murals of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other social justice luminaries -- I had the pleasure of moderating an event titled: Hunger is Not A Game: Real Solutions to End Hunger in Africa.

The event was organized by AAUSA just one month before President Obama hosts G8 leaders at the G8 summit at Camp David from May 19-20. The event was a part of AAUSA’s current G8 campaign calling on President Obama to be an (anti) hunger hero at the summit, and to lift up the role of women smallholder farmers in fighting hunger in Africa.

The day was an astonishing 89 degrees Farenheit (about 32 C, very hot for mid April in DC!), which didn’t limit the turnout or enthusiasm of the event participants.

I was joined on the panel by two greater speakers and ActionAid partners, Roger Thurow and Ritu Sharma.

This was the first time I had met Roger, and he made a passionate presentation about the key role women smallholders are playing in fighting hunger in Africa. He spent much of the last 2 years in Western Kenya researching his new book, due out next month in the US market, called The Last Hunger Season, which raises up the stories of women smallholders themselves. This will be the first mass market book in the US from a major publisher highlighting women smallholders! Roger’s all the more interesting because he had been a reporter for more than 20 years at the Wall Street Journal  and is the author of another book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, which became a top seller.

Also speaking at the event was Ritu Sharma, whom I’ve known for many years, and have always been delighted to be in her presence. She highlighted the importance of land rights for women and chronicled her organization, Women Thrive Worldwide’s, efforts to press the US government’s Feed the Future program to look more deeply at the need to support women to secure title to and control over land and natural resources – key themes for ActionAid as well in our new strategy.

The audience was clearly up-to-date on the issues, with activists, donors, and even people from the World Bank, ACDI/VOCA and the International Food and Policy Research Institute, among others. They asked great questions on diaspora involvement in activism, how the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) truly plays a role in development, and the role of the future generation of farmers in agriculture.

The night for me validated how unique and valued ActionAid’s role is in ending hunger around the world – and to see how our work at the community level links right up to the national and international level, as ActionAid USA brings our messages and calls to decision makers and the community in Washington, DC.

As the night wrapped up, I closed by sharing that in ActionAid’s view, collective community power needs to be harnessed in order for the future generation of male and female farmers to be successful. When I say successful I mean that women farmers understand their right to land and food, and have used that right to gain access to the land around them. Success means that agriculture is seen as a career opportunity and a viable option for all generations to come. And lastly, success means that food will be distributed in a just and fair way, driving millions out of poverty.

It’s a tall order, but in my travels – from Haiti to Rwanda to the USA – it is so inspiring to see how ActionAid is linking up the fight against hunger and for sustainable agriculture across the globe, and starting conversations that are making a difference.