Imagine there was a global crisis. Your country’s borders had been closed and no food could be imported. Where would you source your food? Could you be assured of an uninterrupted supply of wholesome, nutritious food that was easily accessed and readily available during the crisis, and even after it had ended? Yes, you could eat regularly and well if you had been growing your own food, says Alpha Sennon, founder of the WHYFarm movement.
This movement is powered by the WHYFarm (We Help Youth Farm) NGO and represented by the first food and nutrition security superheroes, AGRIman and PhotosyntheSista, who spread its message to the next generation of Agripreneurs: “If you plant one tree you can eat for free. This will guarantee food security.” These superheroes are on a quest to “grow future feeders from the ground up,” by communicating specifically to young audiences about the importance of agriculture in delivering global food security by 2050.
WHYFarm was launched in Trinidad and Tobago in 2015 to promote a culture of sustainable agriculture and farming – the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to end hunger – that is key to ensuring families, communities and countries have the capacity to feed themselves and have control over their food supply and nutrition. This message has been directed to young people and children in particular to create an urgently needed new generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, armed with the passion and imagination required to confront the global challenge of food security.
Alpha himself grew up in a farming and gardening household but as a teenager he couldn’t understand his family’s choice to grow its own food: “While there were some things we liked about it, like feeding the animals (we also thought), ‘why do we have to do this? Why do we have to work so hard and tote all these plants … and then dig this hole … and then water it every day. Why can’t we be like everybody else and go and buy food’?”. The answer became clearer when he began to understand the “culture of agriculture”, the link between control of food production and food security, and how making this connection could lead to what he describes as ‘food freedom’.
WHYFarm’s youthful, out-of-the-box perspective interprets these ideas using art, science, technology, engineering and math to provoke young audiences’ interest in - and inculcate respect for - agriculture. This outreach strategy also promotes innovation and creates a fertile environment for nurturing young agricultural entrepreneurs, or ‘agripreneurs’. It is this marriage of tradition with new approaches, says Audra Smith, WHYFarm’s Communications and Community Coordinator, that is sparking renewed interest in agriculture. The ‘grow your own food’ message, she says, is now being infused with “that awareness, that passion, that liveliness” of youth.
Five years into this movement, the sudden spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption and uncertainty it has wrought has heightened concerns about food security and safety, and reliance on food imports. For the WHYFarm Team, this ‘pandemic anxiety’ is unsurprising because it is exactly the type of scenario the organisation has used in their advocacy to encourage reflection and action among audiences. “Yes, we can continue to import,” warns Alpha in a 2015 spoken-word monologue on YouTube, “but is if our foreign trader will always support / What if there is some national crisis and there will be vast instability in prices?” Now that Alpha’s “what if” scenarios have moved beyond thought experiments in the current pandemic setting, WHYFarm is not wasting time on self-congratulation but
has quickly mobilised. It is advocating for action over anxiety and creating supportive spaces to encourage individuals and communities to finally take charge of their own food security.
Building on the current enthusiasm and responsiveness to their longtime advocacy, WHYFarm is harnessing online technology to advance its campaign towards ‘food freedom’ (which advocates “grow what you eat, eat what you grow” to achieve true independence). Initiatives include the Dash-een Yuh Doorstep market service that delivers fresh farm produce ordered online and the ‘Plant Yuh Plate’ virtual community and support group on WhatsApp for beginner farmers.
Amid a pandemic context, WHYFarm’s advocacy is more relevant than ever for creating opportunities for food to be grown locally; for individuals and communities to do their own farming and reduce food insecurity and for a culture of sustainable agriculture as part of a country’s national development strategy.
During this global crisis, imagine having uninterrupted access to nutritious food – now and in the future. The WHYFarm movement to grow your own food – from home gardens to national farms - and to “Plant Yuh Plate’ is still acting on that vision. It’s how this region can achieve and sustain food security, #end hunger, and build back a better Caribbean.