Edith van Walsum

Statement of candidacy

I firmly believe in family farming rooted in the principles of organic agriculture as a pathway to sustainable development. Without family farmers - who form the basis of the organic pyramid - there cannot be sustainable development.

About 500 million small-scale farm families around the world are producing 50% of the world’s food. On average, women do 70% of the work in food production, for family nourishment, local and regional consumption and globally. Farm families share agricultural knowledge, from generation to generation. Women are seed keepers, upholding principles of organic farming. The farm provides (self-) employment and has a close connection with the surrounding landscape. The family farm is a safety net in times of crisis. Together, these 500 million farm families play a key role in sustaining the cultural and biological diversity of our planet.

Each family farm has the potential to be productive in an ecologically sound way. But today the majority of family farms worldwide are in various stages of disintegration and not able to actualise their potential. Climate change, increasing pressure on natural resources, neglect of family farmers by policymakers, outmigration and biased education are some of the factors that  led to this situation. I see it as our shared responsibility to create an enabling environment for these farmers to actualise their potential.

What we can do: some practical examples.

  • Revitalisation of local food systems places small-scale organic producers and consumers at the heart of a sustainable, decentralised global food system. This is happening in many places. It is important to systematise these experiences and to share lessons learned with practitioners and policymakers. 

  • Local markets play a crucial role in the revitalisation of food systems, they give a new boost to growing and eating diverse and nutritious local foods, gastronomy, food processing, etc. PGS brings organic certification within the reach of small-scale producers and consumers and strengthens the development of local markets.

  • Nutritional problems can be tackled better if embedded in a broader food systems approach. Food is central to our cultures; if we begin to pay more respect to food, this will give a handle to address nutrition problems.

  • In Europe, increasing numbers of young people want to go (back) into ecological / organic farming and be part of local food systems. They need supportive (land) policies. It will be interesting to compare this European trend with developments elsewhere.

What I bring to IFOAM

  • A passion for the power of women organic farmers.

  • A long track record in the systematisation of practical experience in agroecology and organic farming, and in distilling policy lessons from these.

  • Extensive experience in the design and implementation of communication strategies.

  • Twenty years of management and fundraising experience.

  • A bridge-building attitude and skills: for ten years, I facilitated an international network and created successful linkages with other networks and movements.

Background

I grew up in a village in the eastern part of the Netherlands and studied Nutrition, Extension and  Rural Sociology at  Wageningen Agricultural University. During my studies, I lived in a beautiful farm house overlooking the Rhine. We produced vegetables, fruits, walnuts, cheese, honey, elderberry blossom wine, and kept bees, chickens, sheep and pigs. This abundance of self-cultivated food was part of our own ‘Wolfswaard culture’.

Wageningen University was and is a lively place. We critiqued the Green Revolution which was taught in our university. With a group of creative scientists and young graduates we formed a project group, The small farmer and development. We experimented with alternative approaches and coined the term Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA).

The basis of my professional career was laid here. Over the thirty plus years that followed I have been working at the interface of LEISA/agroecology/organic farming, nutrition and women’s empowerment; and of practice, science and movement. What I enjoyed most was seeing women farmers empowered by their own learning experiences.

In the early 1980s my husband and I worked as a ‘junior experts’ in Northern Ghana in an agricultural programme that introduced farmers to ‘modern agriculture’. Ironically,  there were no chemical fertilisers available because the Ghana Government was facing a financial crisis. Our team decided to practice what we preached: we asked farmers to share their wisdom with us, and together with them we designed an alternative strategy. 

From 1986 till 1991, I worked as assistant professor Gender Studies in Agriculture in Wageningen. This helped me to deepen my understanding of the social, cultural and gender dimensions of rural development.

In 1993 I moved with my daughters and husband to Pondicherry (India). I became team leader of the Agriculture Man Ecology Project (AME), famous for its intensive courses on ecological agriculture. We got to know many inspiring farmers, NGO leaders, activists and scientists and developed collaborative projects. One of these was a comparative study of organic and conventional farms, conducted by members of IFOAM in India and coordinated by AME, which was one of the members – this is where I became familiar with IFOAM. See proceedings of the thirteenth technical conference of IFOAM (2000), p.433 - 437. Over the years, we succeeded in institutionalising the (Netherlands Government supported) AME project into an Indian resource NGO. AME Foundation, now in Bangalore, is alive and kicking and builds on a track record of 35 years.

From 2002 onwards, I engaged in global knowledge networking on agroecology and organic farming.  I conducted evaluations and facilitated knowledge systematisation exercises in South Asia, West Africa and Europe.

In 2007 I joined ILEIA as its director. Based in the Netherlands, ILEIA has been the Secretariat of the AgriCultures Network for over twenty years. ILEIA’s major strengths are its magazine Farming Matters (earlier LEISA magazine) and track record in systematisation. ILEIA will soon hand over the Network Secretariat to IED Afrique, a regional knowledge NGO based in Senegal.

Networking

Coordinator, AgriCultures Network (2007 – 2017); Member, Council of Advisors HIVOS (2008 – 2015); Member, Agricultural Biodiversity Community (2015 - ongoing); Board member, Shibumi Friends International (2002 - ongoing); Member, IFOAM Organics International (ongoing).