Chasing food sovereignty, fighting climate change

Chasing food sovereignty, fighting climate change
Kim Rapati took the NFTI trade show booth to Toronto at the end of October.Photos courtesy of Kim Rapati.

Climate change is calling all people to action. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I attended the Canadian Food and Drink Summit in Toronto Oct. 26-27 with assistance from Hellmann’s Canada. It was an interesting conference, with lots of business people, nutritionists and corporate brand managers/PR teams.

There were only six booths set up and the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) had the one right across from the main conference hall, so everyone walking out saw NFTI! We really caught the attention of people who were interested in the North and I talked to them about what we are doing to restore local food systems here.

The conference had many themes about food insecurity and climate change. Some of the answers people tend to give when talking about global food insecurity revolve around countries like ours providing more cheap seeds or more food aid. What I have seen in my experience is that a more long-term solution to food insecurity has to come from the local people who are being affected and has to empower them to be in control of their own system; to have food sovereignty.

When we were in Zimbabwe for Savory training, we visited a village called Sizinda that was on the verge of abandoning their homes just five years ago. The food aid and new-tech crops had not helped. Their land was still desertifying (gradually becoming more arid) and the river where they got water was dry. Precious Phiri, a community trainer from the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (HM), worked with the community to implement HM using the cattle that were already owned by people in the village. They had nothing left to lose, so they tried this new technique and brought their cows together to mimic a wild herd and planned where they would move based on the recovery time of grasses and other local factors. We visited them five years after they had implemented this community-wide project and now their river runs for 11 kilometres all year long and they have increased their crop productions by more than three times! The people of Sizinda were so excited and proud to tell us about what they have learned and how they have created this successful program themselves. It was truly an eye-opening experience.

Precious Phiri, a community trainer from the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (HM), with NFTI operations manager Kim Rapati at a conference in Toronto in October.

Photo: Photos courtesy of Kim Rapati.

Precious Phiri, a community trainer from the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (HM), with NFTI operations manager Kim Rapati at a conference in Toronto in October.

How does this work? How does a river come back to life just because people move the cows differently? There are a lot of exciting things happening right now around soil carbon. Plants growing on the surface of earth suck in C02 and use it to build roots and grow leaves. When planned properly, you can use a grassland like a C02 pump by putting cattle onto the grass at the right time to spur more growth, more root development and more C02 sequestration. They are also adding fertilizer, moisture and helping to compost the old dead leaves (without animals trampling dead leaves into the ground, leaves ‘oxidize’ and the carbon will go back into the air instead, or be susceptible to fires which also puts the carbon in the air). There are lots of exciting projects right now that are predicting that if we can regenerate some of the world’s vegetation, we can achieve pre-industrial levels of C02 in the atmosphere! Very exciting!

Some of the other answers around climate change and food were that we need to limit people’s diets to not include meat and dairy. This is based on carbon calculations around the industrial feedlot system and does not consider wild animals or animals managed holistically on regenerating soil. To me, their meal recommendations didn’t seem to be sustainable for people in the North, in Zimbabwe, and in other places that don’t have abundant vegetables, nuts and fruits, where we rely on animals to convert things we cannot digest (grasses and forbs) into densely nutritious food that our ancestors have survived on for all of time.

Hellmann’s has it right! They have wonderful insight to spot the trend that people are interested in going to farmers’ markets and cooking nutritious meals from scratch with real food. They looked across the country and found our program, a grassroots initiative that truly strives to empower people to restore our local food systems.

We want to say a big thank you to Hellmann’s for sponsoring our geodesic dome greenhouse and also for sending us to the Canadian Food and Drink Summit where we had the chance to network with city people we normally wouldn’t and show off what we are doing here in the Northwest Territories to empower ourselves to have the freedom to eat local, nutritious food and work to reverse climate change and protect our natural ecosystems and wildlife.

The Savory Institute is an international organization that promotes large-scale restoration of the world’s landscapes. NFTI received Savory training to become Canada’s first Savory Hub in October, a network all around the world that promotes regenerative farming. Kim Rapati is the operations manager of NFTI.

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