In the context of non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples working towards an agroecological transition in Australia, AFSA asks ‘so what are we going to do about non-Indigenous peoples farming on Aboriginal lands?’
In Dark Emu (2014), Bruce Pascoe asserts that Aboriginal people were farming before colonisation. His popular thesis has contributed to a heated debate about whether the Original Owners were farmers or foragers, unfortunately too-often framed in an anachronistic and damaging social evolutionary argument that ‘mere’ foragers are somehow less evolved than farmers. Pascoe’s work has made critical contributions in its demand that settler Australians grapple with the ongoing existence and potential and actual competing land occupation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. However, it has also contributed to a more impoverished debate that does not acknowledge the cosmological world view and deeply respectful way of caring for country – of being with and of country – of Aboriginal people, which holds regardless of how First Peoples grew, harvested, or hunted for food.
Amongst other things, AFSA is asking how to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway 2016) and work to achieve both Indigenous sovereignty and food sovereignty for everyone, and how to use a relational ethic in a meaningful and grounded way to get there. That is, we are working with farmers and allies who are embracing and espousing a custodial ethic to understand how they are currently, or may be able to extend their care for land to care for its Original Owners, bringing settler descendants full circle to find ways and means of restitution of land and rights to First Peoples.
Christopher Mayes in his 2018 Unsettling Food Politics claims ‘that many of the critiques of industrial agriculture and the corresponding proposal for small-scale agrarian agriculture fail to make the reflexive step of considering the role of both small and large agriculture in colonial dispossession and the continuation of this legacy’.
AFSA takes up the challenge in Mayes’ critique and is looking to what he identifies as failures to decolonize agriculture within the food sovereignty movement, and whether and how agroecological farmers are working to redress these historical failures. Deborah Bird-Rose asserted that guilt is related to ‘one’s own actions’, whereas responsibility is ‘the human condition of living with and for others’ (2004: 12) – making all non-indigenous people responsible for but not necessarily guilty of Australia’s often violent dispossession of Aboriginal people. We embrace our responsibility and aim to support farmers and landholding allies to do the same.
Food sovereignty was launched into public political discourse by La Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996, as a global movement of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, Indigenous peoples, migrants, and agricultural workers. In the words of scholar Philip McMichael, ‘food sovereignty emerged as the antithesis of the corporate food regime and its (unrealized) claims for “food security” via the free trade rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’ (2015: 934). Today, the food sovereignty movement remains a peoples’ movement to regain control of our food and agriculture systems. In colonised countries like Australia, settler descendants have work to do to ensure the movement puts First Peoples First. As a national alliance, AFSA is working harder each day to do that, and we invite all our members to do the same.