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We Feed The World exhibition: Stories from 5 farmers, 5 photographers, 5 continents

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We Feed The World exhibition: Stories from 5 farmers, 5 photographers, 5 continents

Eat & Drink

New exhibition, We Feed The World, features the most photographers ever working on a single project, who have come together to tell the incredible stories of independent, small scale farmers from all over the world.

It's time to look at who grows your food.

Georgina Wilson-Powell

Sun 7 Oct 2018

New exhibition We Feed The World shines the photography light on the not often seen, the small scale farmers, producers and growers across the world who feed us. These unsung heroes provide 70% of the world’s food and provide an alternative narrative to the story that huge industrial farming is the only way globally we can cope.

48 photographers, including Martin Parr and Rankin, have come together to document 50 farms and communities all over the world. The exhibition showcases how these people and independent producers offer a positive solution to issues as broad as climate change to women’s empowerment.

We Feed The World was organised by the Gaia Foundation (who support pathways towards seed and food sovereignty amongst rural and farming communities) and Cheryl Newman, the former picture editor of The Telegraph Magazine (who pulled together the largest ever number of photographers working on a single campaign).

Scroll down for five stories of the small scale farmers in the We Feed The World exhibition.

We Feed The World Exhibition
We Feed The World Exhibition
We Feed The World Exhibition

Image Photography | Pieter Hugo

Muonde Trust, Zimbabwe

When Benedict Muzenda and his neighbours were children, they finished their school exams in October so they could come home to spend the summers weeding the fields, ready for harvest in January. Now the rains still haven’t come by the time school’s over, the fields are bare and the harvest is getting later and later. The annual drought in this part of southern Zimbabwe has left farmers looking for new ways to produce food and finding the best solutions in the tried and tested  methods of the past.

The farmers at the Muonde Trust in the Mazvihwa region are part of a growing movement of African farmers who are reviving their indigenous seeds as they offer far greater resilience in the face of climate change. Crops like sorghum, bulrush millet (that populated these valleys long before maize was introduced) are better suited to withstand long periods without water.  

These small grains are also adapted to local soil conditions making it easier for them to grow in the dry valleys of Zimbabwe. As the local elders will tell you, these are the grains blessed by the “mwaris” and “the spirits of the land” and able to feed the local community far better than the hybrid industrial seeds that have dominated the African landscape for the last 30–40 years. 

We Feed The World Exhibition

Winona Farm, Australia

Colin Seis’ farm in New South Wales was all but destroyed 25 years ago in a devastating bushfire that spread across 2,000 acres of his land. It took with it most of his flock of sheep, his home and almost his life. The disaster left Colin with no money to buy the fertilisers which his family farm had depended upon and he was forced to rethink his approach to farming.

Over a few beers with a local farming mate, Colin decided to simply copy nature and plant cereal crops like oats and barley into perennial pasture rather than rotated fields, which had been the basis of all modern farming. Once the crops were harvested he moved his sheep onto the land allowing them to graze on and recycle the leftover crops and turn it once again into fertile pastureland.

This radical new farming technique was so successful it became a global agricultural movement known as pasture cropping and is heralded for its ability to build topsoil and sequester carbon. Colin now travels regularly to the US and Europe to pass on the techniques he has developed.  

Above photo: Katrin Koenning

We Feed The World Exhibition
We Feed The World Exhibition
We Feed The World Exhibition

Image Photography | Kate Peters

Glebe Farm, Somerset

In the UK, climate change is all too often seen as a challenge affecting those in the global south where temperatures soar or sea levels may rise. But Somerset farmers Rob and Lizzie Walrond have first-hand and very real experience of climate change on their farm in the south west of England, where dramatic weather patterns are changing generations of farming traditions. 

The Walrond family have farmed on the Somerset levels for 200 years and say that the last ten years has been the most difficult: “There has always been unpredictability because it’s the weather and we’re in England” says Lizzie. “But in the past, you might have had a ruined harvest due to flooding or drought once every 20 years, now it’s happening every year”. 

These changes in the weather are affecting the whole farming community. Long wet winters delay planting which means the “hungry gap” the traditional period in spring when there is little fresh produce is getting longer while hotter summers leave crops like barley struggling for moisture and brassicas wiped out by pests which would normally be killed off by the first frosts.  

“It’s not a healthy pattern,” says Rob “and you never know what you’re going to get next”. 

Last year, the Walronds neighbours brought in the last wheat in early December, unheard of in the UK where the traditional wheat harvest is August. 

Rob believes we all have a role to play in the stewardship of the climate and our food supply. 

“Food is the most important thing to our health and our life, yet we degrade it and don’t value it properly. People don’t get it because they’ve been sold this image that supermarkets want them to see. It’s about everybody taking responsibility, taking more interest in their food and where it’s produced. Farmers will only produce what the consumer wants. At the end of the day, the consumer has the final say”.  

We Feed The World Exhibition
We Feed The World Exhibition

Image Photography | Stefan Ruiz

Puerto Colombia

The community of Puerto Colombia lies in Vaupés, one of the most remote regions of the Colombian Amazon. There are six families here, each of whom farm a ‘chagra’, or forest garden, where they grow crops like yucca, cassava and chillies. These chagras are moved every couple of years to allow the rainforest to regenerate. In the past, the community knew that if they looked after their forest, it would look after them and for generations they have worked to preserve the rainforest and the land by not over farming and by rotating their chagras.  

As a result of climate change, there is a mismatch between their efforts to preserve the forest and how the environment is responding - the rains are coming later, are more erratic and it is difficult to know when and what to plant. The shamans,  who traditionally make these decisions, feel they can no longer rely on the signs that have always guided them. One of the elders said “It feels like the sun is getting closer to the earth.”  

One of the aims of the project is to help communities like Puerto Colombia understand climate change in the context of what it is doing to other farming communities around the world. Local exhibitions, planned to happen simultaneously in October, will help connect farmers globally and enable them to reflect on the stories from other communities facing the same challenges as them.  

We Feed The World Exhibition

East Flores, Indonesia

Community leader, Maria Loretha, spent months travelling from village to village talking to the elders before she eventually found the ancient sorghum seed varieties that used to grow prolifically in this region of Indonesia. The native crop – now known in the West for its superfood qualities - had all but died out on the island of East Flores after successive governments encouraged farmers to grow commercial white rice varieties instead; dubbing sorghum an inferior crop that should be fed to animals.

The difficulty for the communities of East Flores was that their rocky soils didn’t support the same wet-field based agriculture that allowed rice and maize to flourish in other parts of Indonesia. The highly chemical dependent crops struggled in this desolate landscape and as successive crops failed, families were left hungry and in debt. Eventually the villagers were faced with the prospect of leaving to become migrant workers. 

Despite this, Maria was determined that the community must remain on their land and set about mobilising the women of the Likotuden area to plant 30 acres of sorghum from the heritage varieties she had collected. Though the crop is more labour intensive it requires less water, critical in a changing climate, and is more nutritious than many other grains. The initiative, which involved 62 families initially, has proved so successful it has now expanded to other parts of Indonesia.

For the women pictured here, sorghum has become the route to independence, allowing them to break free from a reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, from the devastating impact of drought and a cycle of poverty. It has created the conditions for food sovereignty as they move into the future.

Above photo: Martin Westlake

The We Feed The World exhibition runs from 11-24 October at Bargehouse Gallery at the OXO Tower, South Bank, London.

At the same time, local exhibitions of a selection of the 400+ images will be launched in every farming community we have collaborated with around the world, thereby breaking the Guinness World Record for the number of exhibitions held at any one time. 

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