Legal tools and Human Based Rights Approach (HRBA) promote Agroecology

NAIROBI: Applying to use of legal tools and HRBA to promote agroecology is a way forward when planning, supporting, and monitoring initiatives related to sustainable rural livelihood systems, with an emphasis on agriculture, food security, market development, and natural resource management.

That is why there can never be a separation of land and women because land to women is the foundation for security, shelter, and livelihood, supports their dignity, and creates pathways to empowerment and economic opportunity. However, Women’s rights are embedded in cultural and social systems, regulated through marriage and kinship ties. Women are excluded from land ownership in both the natal and matrimonial estates.

The Ugandan Government and Africa at large, have yet to improve on land rights where there is a lack of clear laws to address equality in land ownership which affects women’s capacity to enjoy equal rights with men, this has affected women’s health, economic and social rights. Consequently, women continue to be disadvantaged by prevailing gender inequalities as a result of persistent negative and discriminatory practices that affect their economic and social well-being.

That is why there must be demand and increased attention to protect women’s human rights in the context of their access to, use of, and control over land and other productive resources.

Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) is one of those human rights not-for-profit organizations in Uganda promoting social justice in food systems and health, through the use of legal tools such as strategic litigation, community legal empowerment, legal and policy advocacy to advance the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being in East Africa.

David Kabanda, the Executive Director of CEFROHT at the 1st Eastern Africa Agroecology conference in Nairobi-Kenya (PHOTO/Courtesy).

David Kabanda, the Executive Director of CEFROHT tells UG Standard media why an organization like this has the opportunity to protect women’s right to food and livelihood. “We support women farmers particularly those who find themselves a victim from land because we know land is the prime factor of production of food and agroecology. We give free legal services, where we go to court and defend their rights,” he said. “But we also do public interest litigation picking on issues which have a regional nature or a national character.”

There has been a big problem of land tenure user rights and also ownership in Uganda and Africa at large. And the most affected is the woman because it has some element of social construction where many people think women should never inherit or have land and they should not have land rights.

“So what we decided to do is to put the first people in line who are women and use the human rights enforcement act of Uganda to defend them. Now in this particular case, a woman who got married way young in life and had two children with the husband who unfortunately died but had bought 2 acres of land, then the family chased her away claiming she would get married again. When she came to us, we went to court using the human rights based approach, in 3 months we had finished the case and had got her land back,” he demonstrated.

He also said that the organization has so far had over 100 cases and have worked on them in a space of 18 months where they claim land as a right to land, “we do not use the conventional legal procedure, we use the special procedure that has been provided for under the human rights enforcement act.”

“In one of the other cases, a woman got married to a man, had three children but was thrown out as she went to the father in law, unfortunately he took her in as a wife and had six children making it nine, the son came back to claim her. The father asked them to go away. Instead both of them threw this woman out with her nine children. When she heard about us, came to us. We again went to court, defended the woman and children, she was given three acres of land, we ordered to build a house for her, was given three cows. And the one acre of land was a coffee plantation, so you can see the law works especially if you have lawyers who understand social justice.”

It is not commercial litigation, it is social justice to have rights to livelihood, land and food. Those are the lines they go to court with where they are not talking about family issues but concerned about the rights of food, land, livelihood of the women and children and the courtsland they go to they get fair judgments.

Masudio Margaret Eberu a small scale farmer under Eastern and Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda from Adjumani district shared a challenge she has faced before of land ownership and access on land documents where she had always signed as a witness and couldn’t access it to plant whatever she wanted. But through Gender Action Learning System (GALS) methodology, her husband has worked as a team where she is no longer just a witness but owns it as a family.

Masudio Margaret Eberu a small scale farmer under ESAFF Uganda (PHOTO/Courtesy).

Everlyne Nairesiae, Africa Region Director, Landesa gives an insight why women in Africa are still denied land, property rights despite laws. “Access, ownership, and control of land is a key factor for women and youth engaging in agroecology. Denial of women’s and youth land rights, and or their high perception of tenure insecurity due to factors such as intra-household power relations and property disinheritance poses great challenges in their participation in agroecology. At times, struggles by women to defend their land rights including inheritance rights have seen them suffer Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), and even death. In most communities in Kenya, a male youth is likely to have easy access to land allocation by parents or under inheritance rights arrangement compared to a female youth, who are considered as on transit to marriage where they will get land. This is largely influenced by discriminatory cultural beliefs and norms.”

CEFROHT recently went to the East African court of justice, filed a case against Kenya specifically about the open importation and cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “GMO” has become the common term consumers and popular media use to describe a plant, animal, or microorganism that has had its genetic material (DNA) altered through a process called genetic engineering.

“We all know that genetically modified seeds are a danger not only to our health but also nature. We also know that seed companies are putting it before us, pushing it down our throats that GMOs are fine but we know they are not fine. So we are carrying out legal advocacy to alert people and also engage policy makers to do legal analysis but also engage courts on GMOs,” Kabanda said.

“The moment we allow open importation and cultivation of GMOs, we have lost our sovereignty. You even forget the food and seed sovereignty but even our sovereignty as people. If someone can sit in the laboratory and come up with a gene that you don’t know, cannot control and you don’t know how it changes whether in nature or your body, you are selling your own sovereignty”.

In 2006, Uganda enacted the Seed and Plant Act to provide for promotion, regulation and control of variety release, multiplication, conditioning, marketing, importing and quality assurance of seeds and planting materials. Since then farmers have reported that in the process of producing their own seeds they face a number of problems, which include; low yield, lack of technical knowledge and skills on seed production and maintenance.

Masudio who also said that they face a lot of challenges on seed security in her area, however have found a solution, “so what we do is diagnose and analyze the situation in relation to what was in the past and what has changed today, what crops we grow in our community, which ones are grown on large plots and by many farmers, large plots by few farmers, small plots by many farmers and small plots by few farmers on lost crops? This helps us understand why some crops are lost, grown by few farmers and others by many farmers. Based on the traits, we set objectives of breeding.”

If there is a variety of the crop they selected that meets the objective, they do a participatory variety enhancement to improve it. If there is no variety which meets the objective but can find it in the neighborhood community, they as well do a participatory variety selection. This method has helped them select seeds of their choice based on the objective set. But also do research to own their own seed by storing it in the seed bank and borrowing from it. This has seen them restore seeds of lost varieties.

Naume Kalinaki, Programs Assistant Seed and FAAB ESAFF Uganda says the organization’s support to small scale farmers on seed security is through Community Seed Banks (CSBs). These are locally managed by farmers and are designed to conserve, restore, revitalize, strengthen and improve plant genetic resources. CSBs are also responsible for multiplication of seed varieties that are later available to the communities.

Through the Farmer field School (FFS) approach which is a community based learning approach where farmers learn through experiments. FFS on nutrition and local food plants, here farmers work with the lost crop varieties commonly known as the Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS). Farmers conduct a diagnosis of their community biodiversity and establish why these crops are underutilized in the communities despite their nutritional and medicinal values. These then develop research objectives which once achieved, the particular crop variety is availed to the community.

A small scale farmer under ESAFF Uganda showcasing seeds in storage (PHOTO/Courtesy).

“The commitment & the energy farmers invest in ensuring seed sovereignty is enormous. They are always willing to share & learn from each other. It is fulfilling to see farmers strive to save their indigenous seed.” Naume Kalinaki, ESAFF Uganda

CEFROHT which also exhibited at the 1st Eastern Africa Agroecology conference in Nairobi-Kenya that took place from the 21st-24th of March. “What we wanted to show at the conference and what we are working on is governance, agroecology and food. The moment we don’t understand governance, we lose out.”

Participatants at the 1st Eastern Africa Agroecology conference in Nairobi-Kenya (PHOTO/Courtesy).

There was testimony of Kiambu County, the second most populous after Nairobi in Kenya which came up with an agroecology policy and act, it didn’t happen at national level, it is happening at local government level. This shows that local governments have the power but they don’t understand how to use it to help the people because they think there are communities.

This County could have been the first to ratify an agroecology policy and lobby for the formulation of an agroecological policy framework where farmers in this region have adopted its practices such as agroforestry, mixed crop farming, soil management/health, rearing of animals like goats, sheep, cows and poultry that provide manure for use on their farms.

“What we wanted to show there was the moment we are talking about governance, are people participating in policy making and discussion or it is only us who sit in these conferences and may be parliament and cabinets?. So we want to take the law back to them and they must be part of the law.”

What happens in the many countries of the USA, Canada, Brazil, and India? The moment a company brings up GMOs must pay for loyalty. However there is contamination that happens because of open pollination. If you have a maize garden and there is a farmer using GMOs, it is likely to be contaminated. Laws in some of those countries have also decided every plant that has a gene that is being promoted by those multi-nationals must pay.

“So tell me about farmers in Africa, in Uganda, in East Africa who will have the money to put up greenhouses so they protect their gardens. And we don’t do that, we have open fields. These people are unfair, illegal and immoral when they bring them and are not penalized,” Kabanda insisted.

They are also promoting people to buy their piracy, you realize that since in time of memorial, our great grandparents have consistently bred a variety, while farmers are breeding different varieties. What happens is these multinational companies will come pick that variety, infuse that gene and then come back to contaminate the entire community. It is bio piracy because they don’t compensate the communities that have been breeding these varieties for centuries.

According to Kabanda they are promoting seed sovereignty, equity and security so they wanted to showcase the legal tools as a panacea for agroecology promotion. Many people are looking for solutions while they are looking for solutions on how to promote agroecology, and how to have sustainable solutions for people’s future for food security and seed sovereignty.

“As lawyers of agroecology we want to speak to everyone and to all actors to understand the critical importance of legal empowerment and law. Nobody, not even our presidents in our countries will ever be presidents without a law, you cannot have the East African community without the East African treaty. We want to make everyone in East Africa and especially Uganda know how law determines their lives,” he expressed.

“The food you see on your plate is because the law determines the kind of seed that comes to you. So if we are talking about agroecology and we are disassociating ourselves from law, we are doomed. This wonderful movement of agroecology will fail if we don’t understand how law works.”

Kabanda said that when you go to Europe, even a child will know the law that governs that jurisdiction. But when you come to Africa, it is a challenge where the laws are hidden from the people. While many do not not know what is in the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), seed, soil and the water act.

“People are called the law holders but don’t even know that they have these rights. They cannot hold the leaders accountable that is why violations are happening with a lot of impunity because local communities cannot hold their leaders accountable. They cannot demand their rights that is why we have come on board as lawyers to provide services to the people and we wish that agroecology thrives,” he stressed out.

Therefore agroecology practices require land as a main production resource where gender equality issues revolve around access, control and benefit. It is prudent that we can give women and young people a voice, build their agency and give them power through a Right Based Approach which recognises the rights of individuals –Do No Harm, HRBA, conflict sensitivity.



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