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"Farmers Feeding our World" Workshops at Okehampton Community College

Posted by Charli Mant Education and Youth Intern

2nd Aug 2013

On a beautiful and sunny morning in rural Devon, we made our way to Okehampton Community College for a jam-packed day of "Farmers Feeding our World" workshops; where Year 9 students learnt about some of the most pressing issues smallholder farmers face in the developing world.

"Companies not allowing farmers to use their land to grow crops on... that's unfair!" said one student learning about the repercussions of land grabs around the world. Students felt most like they wanted to find solutions when learning about a case study concerning villagers in Mbata, Tanzania, where a company called Sun Biofuels were exploiting the locals in order to make a larger profit. To help the students empathise and reflect on the villagers' plight, they performed a role-play exercise.  In groups they pretended to be government officials, an employee of Sun Biofuels and a local villager, deciding whether the land deal should go ahead. Almost all of them thought it shouldn't. One student said "if the villagers are worse off, it shouldn't happen! If they're not allowed to grow crops or use the water or charcoal from the land- it's not right!"

The student is right, this shouldn't happen, but unfortunately it does: every second poor countries lose an area of land the size of a football pitch to banks and private investors. Most land deals take place in countries with serious hunger problems- yet investors often intend to export everything produced on the land, and poor families are often evicted from their homes without fair treatment or compensation. 

In another workshop students embraced the challenge of taking part in the "Beat the System" trading game  where they  identified four of the main players in the global food system; small-holder farmers, companies, traders and governments; and gained a better understanding of how the global food market works, who gains from it and who loses out. Each student had a different role to play with the aim to make as much money as they could by growing and selling their crops to each other. 'Easy' they wrong they were! With complications in the form of forfeit cards, such as drought affecting small-holder farmers and land grabs where multinational companies take whole communities farmland away from them, the students soon were baffled by some of the complicated dilemmas in the global food system.  Oxfam helped them work through these dilemmas to think about positive solutions to some of the challenges faced in the global food system and also told them about the practical work Oxfam is doing to support these communities such as helping farmers set up cooperatives to share land and resources and to have a voice.

They also participated in a creative session on Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign. They learned about how the practices of ten of the most powerful international food and beverage companies affect farmers and community land rights around the globe. Students engaged in great conversation about why this campaign is not a boycott, as the aim is to help the conditions of farmers around the world and ensure a sustainable future for our planet's land. Therefore we must ask the companies to change, and that is just what the students did. Creating discs that portrayed a brand they chose on one side, then 'behind' the brand, on the reverse side of the disc, they wrote a message to the company. One student wrote: "Talk to people in the local community and make sure the future is right for everybody."

Despite all the problems facing people in the developing world, change can happen:

  • IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families get enough food.
  • IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops to feed people not fuel cars.
  • IF we stop governments and big companies dodging taxes in poor countries.
  • IF governments and big companies are honest and open about some of the things that stop people getting enough food.

The day was really successful and the students really engaged with the topic - they went away with a much clearer understanding of the complexities of the global food system and importantly - how they can make a difference.

By Ali West, Charli Mant and Gretchen Doering (All Oxfam Interns: South West)

Blog post written by Charli Mant

Education and Youth Intern

More by Charli Mant