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Successful congress for the Pan African Farmers Organization

 By Aksel Naerstad, More and Better co-coordinator

The first ordinary congress of the Pan African Farmers’ Organization (PAFO) was held in Cameroun August 23-25. With about 65 delegates from the five regional farmers’ organizations in Africa; ROPPA (West-Africa), PROPAC (Central-Africa), UMAGRI (North-Africa), EAFF (East-Africa) and SACAU (South-Africa). The congress was very successful and represents an important step forward for the young organization. 
The founding congress of PAFO took place in Malawi in October 2010, prepared through a process of some years by the five regional farmers’ organization.  Elisabeth Atangana, president of PROPAC, was elected the first president of PAFO in 2010 with a term of two years. Without a secretariat and almost without money she has in her term did an amazing job to unify the regional organizations and to raise the voice of African farmers, and highlighted the crucial role of women. During this period of less than two years she has also made PAFO very visible on the international political arena. Her work was highly appreciated by the first ordinary congress of PAFO, held in Yaounde, Cameroun. She will, as the president of PROPAC,  continue as a board member of PAFO with a special responsibility for women issues.
The congress adopted the constitution of PAFO and discussed which issues the strategic plan for PAFO should focus on. The plan will be worked out in the coming months and adopted by the board, consisting of the presidents of the five regional farmers’ organizations. 
Djibo Bagna from Niger, president of ROPPA, was elected president for the coming two years. His work as the president of ROPPA has shown that he has the political positions and leadership skills that make him capable to continue the good work of the first president of PAFO.

Focus on family farming, food security and food sovereignty

About 90 percent of the African farmers’ are small scale farmers, peasants.  Their situation and interests are also the core of the work of PAFO. This was underlined in the document for the congress and by many delegates.  The need to work for food security based on local and national production and to promote and work to realize food sovereignty is central issue for PAFO. With different history, differences in political context and membership in the different regional farmers’ organizations, it’s a challenge to develop common policies and practices on these crucial issues. The congress was an important step forward on the road to develop a strategic plan and priorities for the organization.  PAFO’s slogan points out the goal: A Prosperous and Sustainable African Agriculture for Food Security and Sovereignty!

Impressive organization

The congress was called on a very short notice, less than three weeks. The reason was that the PAFO board had not been aware of one condition on the main funding: the money had to be spent before the end of August – or be returned to the donor. The small staff of PROPAC and the national farmers organization in Cameroun, CNOP-Cameroun, had done an amazing job to organize the congress. They got the government to make exceptions for visa rules so visa could be issued on the border for all delegates, background paper were prepared, banners, bags, pens etc. for the congress had been made, translation and technical equipment functioned perfectly, and all delegates stayed in a nice hotel where the meeting also took place. 
The last evening, after the congress had finished, became a wonderful and memorable evening at a training center where the outgoing president, Elisabeth Atangana, started for farmers more than 15 years ago.  The center, located in the Mfou village in the outskirt of Yaounde, runs an agricultural school of two years for 70 student, runs other short time courses, organizes conferences. The center has also farming activities with plant nursery, raising chicken and pigs. When the delegates and guests arrived at the center,  we were met by African music and dance , and the entrance and outdoor area had been turned  into a beautifully decorated  restaurant where we were served wonderful locally produced food. 
The day after the congress a national seminar for leaders of cooperatives and initiatives for new cooperatives took place at the center – with Elisabeth Atangana as the facilitator! She had been working day and night the last three weeks to organize the congress, and the first morning and the full day she headed the work of about 40 farmers from Cameroun. “We had planned this meeting before we planned the congress,”  told Elisabeth, “I could not turn these people down and cancel the meeting because I had worked hard for the congress.”

More and Better at the PAFO congress

PAFO had invited the closest cooperating partners to attend the congress as guests. Because of the short notice – and vacation time in many European countries, only the More and Better Network was present.
The good and important cooperation between PAFO and More and Better was also underlined in the report of PAFO’s work since the founding congress. 
In 2010, only two weeks before Elisabeth Atangana was elected the first president of PAFO, she was elected international co-coordinator of the More and Better Network together with myself. Even with the enormous work as president for PAFO and PROPAC, and the national work in Cameroun, she has managed to fulfill her role in More and Better.  Elisabeth is eager to do even  more now, since she no longer is the president of PAFO.