Afri has been concerned about issues of food and hunger since its inception in 1975. One of Afri’s annual events is the Famine Walk, which remembers the Great Famine of the 1840s (a famine caused amongst other things by the dependence on a monoculture crop) in the context of ongoing famine and starvation throughout the world today.
We look especially at the causes of famine in the 21st century, particularly the war industry (the worst aspects of which are currently being demonstrated by the brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza) an industry which now costs in excess of a staggering $1,200 billion annually, literally taking food from the mouths of the poor, an issue that will be addressed by Denis Halliday and Frida Berrigan in the opening session of this year’s conference.
But the politics of food is taking centre stage again, and not just in today’s famine stricken areas. Given the current upheaval in global economies and the ever increasing impact of climate change, these issues concern us all. And part of that concern lies in the corporate takeover of seed varieties by large multinational corporations, typically based in rich Western countries, which seek to monopolise and commercialise the very bases of life on earth. Some heroic groups have resisted this trend. The Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA) is such a group and Afri this year celebrates its work. It was founded by Anita Hayes and began with a small band of volunteers collecting seeds and retracing the steps of Dr Charles Lamb’s work on the Irish apple collection. Since then the ISSA has brought back over 140 varieties of Irish apple, and literally hundreds of varieties of fruit and vegetables that are open-pollinating varieties and not commercially available.
This vital work of regaining our incredible heritage of seed-saving, a process begun by our earliest ancestors who saved seeds from plants that grew well and tasted good, a process continued by peasants, farmers and gardeners for thousands of years all over the world is a skill to keep alive and pass on into the future, and a basic and profound act of solidarity between peoples everywhere.
Richard Corrigan has been a strong advocate of the work of the ISSA and we are delighted that Richard has agreed to do a special cookery session at this year’s conference, sourcing his produce from Irish seedsavers and local Kildare growers. Richard may be best known as a socalled ‘celebrity chef’ but his emphasis on the local and the indigenous highlights trends we must follow in the future post-oil economy where sustainability and self-reliance will top the agenda.
There will also be music, drama and dancing in this unique event that celebrates the arrival of Spring and the new hope that this season always engenders.
Frida Berrigan is Senior Programme Associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. Previously, she served for eight years as Deputy Director and Senior Research Associate at the Arms Trade Resource Centre at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City. She has been a featured expert on national and regional radio outlets, and regularly speaks on national security issues to citizens’ organisations and at major conferences throughout the U.S and beyond.
Peter Bourke has a degree in science, and has continued studies in sustainability, permaculture and market gardening. He joined ISSA in the summer of 2007 where he worked as part of the garden and orchard team. He is now the Seedbank and Garden Coordinator in charge of the seedbank database, and oversees the work in the gardens and with his team of dedicated full time staff and volunteers.
Richard Corrigan’s passion for earthy and uncluttered food has won him international acclaim. As a chef his philosophy is firmly rooted in a sense that food should reflect both who we are and where we are and his cooking draws deeply on his Irish roots. He has been a strong advocate of the work of the ISSA and one of his recent programmes saw them build an outdoor clay oven together to cook ISSA produce.
U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Denis Halliday to the post of United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq in September 1997, at Assistant Secretary-General level. He resigned from the post in Iraq – in protest against UN-backed sanctions against that country – and from the United Nations as a whole in 1998 after serving the UN for some 34 years. He was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001.
Anita Hayes was born in Ohio and studied organic agriculture at Evergreen State College in Washington State. She originally became involved with American Seed Savers, which is the world’s largest NGO seed saving group. She met and married Tommy Hayes and they returned to Ireland, and in 1991 began Irish Seed Savers. ISSA moved to Scarriff in Co. Clare in 1997 where it is expanding its projects and research as well as running courses for schools, community groups and the general public on seed saving, organic gardening, orchard creation and fruit tree grafting.
Tommy Hayes is a musician and a founding member of Seed Savers and grew up in Kildimo, County Limerick. He learned apple grafting at his grandfather’s knee. His interest and love of native orchards grew as he did the apple grafting with very old and difficult material in the early years of Seed Savers.
Pete Mullineaux is a graduate of drama from Middlesex University, where he received the Fuller Award for outstanding achievement. He is a poet and playwright who has worked with a broad range of groups and organizations across Ireland and Britain. He has produced a number of stage plays and two radio plays for RTE. Pete worked with students from Loreto College, Crumlin to produce the very memorable ‘Jackie and the Beanstalk’ for Féile Bríde 2007. He subsequently worked with students from De La Salle and Presentation Schools in Kildare on a drama piece entitled ‘Calling the Shots’.
Jo Newton, from Newcastle in England has been on the staff of Irish Seed Savers since 1991. She has built up a vast amount of experience as Seedbank Manager and latterly as seed curator at ISSA where she is in charge of over 500 rare open pollinated seeds that make up the national collection held at ISSA.
Barbara Raftery is a Presentation Sister who has been a teacher for most of her life, with a particular interest in justice issues and global education. She worked in Pakistan from 1984 to 1991. She has been a Board member of the Debt and Development Coalition and West Papua Action and represents Afri on the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the Cluster Munitions Coalition.
Andy Storey is College Lecturer at the Centre for Development Studies, University College Dublin and chairperson of Afri. He worked in Rwanda in the immediate aftermath of the genocide.
Clare O’ Grady Walshe is a native of County Wexford and a graduate of University College Cork, where she received a Masters degree in Sociology, specializing in the area of Latin American politics. She coordinates Afri’s ‘Education for Liberation’ programme and is a Board member of Irish Seedsavers Association.
Cormac Breatnach is one of Ireland’s leading musicians. Donal Lunny’s Celtic Orchestra was the first band of which he was a member. He went on to play with his own band Méiristem and was also part of the very successful, Deiseal. His debut solo album is called musical journey, described in the Sunday Tribune as ‘an outstanding album’.
Afri gratefully acknowledges the support of Irish Aid, Trócaire and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
Afri is a member organisation of the International Peace Bureau
Dates for your Diary
Luka Bloom and friends will perform at the Derby House Hotel on Friday evening, February 6th, as part of Féile Bríde.