Notes and Photographs from La Guajira, by Natalia Giraldo Osario

The following fieldnotes and photographs have been prepared by a research assistant on the Four Stories project. They outline some of the challenges faced by Wayuu communities today.

La Guajira, Colombia
Notes and Photographs from the Field, January 2020
Prepared by Natalia Giraldo Osario

Rancheria (Settlement) St. Martin du Puloy
This community is made up of approximately ten families of Wayuu Indigenous people, who go through the seasons there. Families have major problems with access to food. All the food comes from outside since the land is very dry to cultivate and they do not have irrigation systems. Economic livelihoods depend on temporary jobs and selling handwoven bags (mochillas) made by the Wayuu women.

Everyday Life
At about 5:00 a.m. you start to smell the wood fire that announces the beginning of the day. Women gather in the kitchen to prepare food, and they collect water and care for the children. The men perform animal care and look after the land and housing arrangements.

Children
There are many children in the community, who spend their time playing with discarded items found throughout the ranch. They also help to collect firewood and do chores. The school that was at the ranch was recently closed, meaning children must now travel to Manaure to receive their education. Children are the people most affected in the crisis situation occurring in La Guajira.

Women
Women in the community have created mutual support networks, and help to provide each other with items including food, water and other essentials. In addition, some are specialists in traditional medicine. Women are in charge of caring for the nuclear family.

Water
To get to the mill, the only place where there is access to water, involves a walk of about 20 minutes. Women are in charge of collecting the water. This vital element for life, both human and other-than-human, plays a very important role in the social order and cultural life of the settlement. The Wayuu territory is facing challenges of water injustice, which exacerbates their food crisis.

Traditions
To the rhythm of the drum and the sound of the wind, the Wayuu people dance the Yonna. This is a very important dance for the Wayuu because it is an opportunity to perpetuate their cultural traditions.

Media Coverage: Elizabeth Vibert talks food sovereignty with CBC Radio’s Kathryn Marlow

Many people try to think about where their food is coming from, but advocates for food sovereignty say you should also think about the working conditions of the people who grew or produced it, and what the carbon emissions were to get it to you. Four Stories project director Elizabeth Vibert joined All Points West host Kathryn Marlow to explain, and to give practical tips on how to try and work towards food sovereignty.

"Globalization is a major root cause of many of the challenges facing our food systems today. Food sovereignty seeks to take back a meaningful measure of control or self determination of food systems locally, regionally, and even nationally so that it is not the big global internationals determining the value of food."

Listen to the full segment at https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-93-all-points-west/clip/15763845-food-sovereignty-thinking-about-more-than-just-where-your-food-comes-from

Media Coverage: “UVic-based research project aims to support global food sovereignty”

One of our research assistants, Kelsey Lessard, recently published an article about the Four Stories project in The Marlet, Uvic's student newspaper.

 

"Now more than ever is the time to help support small-scale food producers around the world to ensure the long-term sustainability of a secure and equitable food system. By working together, a new map that ensures food systems are culturally, ecologically, and economically sustainable can be drawn. While the movement is global, local actions can be taken, just as T’Sou-ke Nation has done, to ensure food security and a measure of food sovereignty for all future generations."

 

Read the full article at https://www.martlet.ca/uvic-based-research-project-aims-to-support-global-food-sovereignty/

Children of climate crisis

Ayakha Melithafa is not as famous as Greta Thunberg, but she may soon be. Ayakha is one of sixteen youth from around the world, including Greta, bringing a complaint before the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child. Their claim: climate change is a crisis for children’s rights.

The Committee monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. If the Committee finds that signatories have infringed those rights by “knowingly causing and perpetuating the climate crisis,” as the youth petition charges, then signatory states will be urged to act to protect children’s rights. The petition specifically names Brazil, Germany, France, Argentina, and Turkey, but South Africa, Canada, and every other state that has ratified the Convention may feel a moral obligation to respond. (The U.S. signed but did not ratify the Convention.)

Ayakha, 17, goes to school in Cape Town while her mother and siblings live in the Eastern Cape. Her mother is a small-scale farmer and, like the women at Hleketani Garden, has been living the impacts of climate change for several years. Drought set in in the Eastern Cape in 2014. More recently, international headlines blared as the city of Cape Town counted down toward “Day Zero,” when urban reservoirs would run dry. Rural regions, where thousands of small farmers grow food for their households and local communities, got few headlines.

Small farm, Eastern Cape (Desmond Latham/IPS)

Ayakha, who told her story to The Mail and Guardian, says her mother and other small farmers “really don’t know when the rains will come. … My mom knows when to plant which vegetable. She knows how the weather will be.” Not anymore.

Her mother’s livestock have also been hard hit. “I saw all these animals die,” Ayakha recounted. “A full-grown cow is about R16,000 [$1,450 CAD]. I saw my family lose all that money. My mom is supporting five children; she’s the only one working.”

With this hit to the family’s finances, Ayakha’s mother, along with so many other rural farmers, will struggle to provide for her children’s school needs. Such immediate impacts are obvious and keenly felt. Less obvious, but perhaps even more devastating, is the impact on the dream to send one’s children to university.

In Limpopo Province, at the other end of the country, January Mathebula speaks hauntingly of the declining fortunes of the vegetable farm he tends alongside his wife Lydia. The farm used to thrive and paid for their children to go to university, he explains. At the moment, it barely provides enough for the costs of their youngest daughter's subsistence, textbooks, and travel home from the University of Cape Town, where she is studying mathematics on a scholarship.

“We are waiting for the rain, then we can farm,” January says. “But what about now? What about now?”

Now, January and Lydia need money from the farm to support their daughter in Cape Town. Without rain, however, they don’t know whether or when that money will arrive. “Our children grow up on the money from the farm. What can we do?” Until recently they were also supporting their infant grandson, whose parents work in Johannesburg. Income from the farm’s cabbages and leafy greens is the family’s livelihood, and the food is the source of their health.

Moonrise over January and Lydia's farm

Farmers like January, Lydia, and Ayakha’s mother face an uncertain future as Southern Africa is wracked by drought, intense storms, growing pest pressures, and unpredictable seasons. Farmers in this region know how to innovate and adapt to drought in the short term – it has long been a regular feature of farming here. But droughts that last years, in combination with these additional pressures, are a new kind of crisis.

As Ayakha and her peers insist, it is a crisis with deep consequences for children.