Christopher Sacco, Cofounder of Groundswell International
Name: Christopher Sacco
Occupation: Cofounder and Director of Operations of Groundswell International
Place of Residence: Asheville, North Carolina
Organization Name: Groundswell International
Location: Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and the United States
Organization mission/vision: Groundswell International is a global partnership of local organizations working on their own and together to strengthen rural communities to build healthy farming and food systems from the ground up. The partnership is working to create a world where communities learn from and support each other locally and globally and take action to protect their rights and resources, build local economies that generate physical, spiritual and environmental wellbeing for all, and have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives.
Groundswell International’s founders and partners have worked for decades to enable thousands of rural communities and organizations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas to sustainably improve their lives. They have been at the leading edge of developing methods to spread agroecological farming practices, farmer innovation, farmer-to-farmer extension, community health, and strengthening local organizations to lead their own development processes. During this time, the organization has also collaborated across borders to share experiences, learn from one other, and return to their countries to apply those lessons and spread success.
Our global agricultural and food system is broken and urgently needs to transition to one that is regenerative and beneficial for people and the planet. This must happen in the face of the linked challenges of climate change, natural resource depletion, and worldwide economic and social upheaval. At the same time, farmer-led social movements are growing, and there is increasing recognition that agroecology and food sovereignty are key solutions.
In August 2009, 12 people from eight countries — Burkina Faso, Canada, Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, the Philippines, and the United States — gathered at Overlook Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts, to create Groundswell International as a global partnership to contribute to this movement and these bottom-up solutions. The group is a partnership of local civil society organizations, NGOs and people grounded in diverse contexts and experiences, yet sharing a common approach to supporting social change, a history of collaborating over many years, and a common dream.
Less than two months after laying the foundation for this new entity, Groundswell International was legally incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. Since then, its founders and new members have achieved more than they could have hoped for in such a short time. They have expanded from supporting partners in Ecuador and Haiti the first year to supporting partners and scaling agroecological solutions in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and the United States.
Christopher Sacco: Christopher serves as Director of Operations at Groundswell and is one of its cofounders. He has more than 15 years experience in designing, managing, and evaluating community development and disaster risk reduction and relief and recovery programs, as well as a depth of experience in wilderness and herbal medicine. Chris has also worked extensively with Catholic Relief Services as a project manager and consultant. His academic preparation includes a BA in Government and Spanish from Franklin & Marshall College, a graduate certificate in the Design, Management and Evaluation of Sustainable Development Projects from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, and a graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from UNC Chapel Hill.
Current programs: More than 100,000 farmers directly participate in Groundswell International programs around the world, and this work benefits some 500,000 rural people in total. Last year alone, some 12,854 farmers learned ecological farming methods (also known as “agroecology”) from Groundswell and its partners, and these 12,854 farmers supported another 25,507 farmers to learn these principles and techniques farmer-to-farmer. Together these people have now applied agroecological principles on 23,568 acres of land. The collective impact of these actions is tipping the scales towards lasting solutions to hunger and poverty in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and the United States.
West Africa. Together with partner organizations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali, Groundswell continued implementing a long-term program to improve community resilience, farmer livelihoods, and environmental stewardship by fostering the spread of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration of trees (or FMNR) and other locally adapted ecological farming practices. The program in West Africa is also strengthening and amplifying existing farmer and women-led initiatives and organizations in order to spread ecological farming systems, reinforce movements for food sovereignty, and advocate for supportive policies.
Burkina Faso. Groundswell works with the Burkinabe non-governmental organization Association Nourrir Sans Détruire (ANSD) to improve the lives of thousands of farm families living in eastern Burkina Faso by spreading practical ecological farming methods as well as sustainable livelihood solutions. In addition to working with ANSD on the regional initiative described above, Groundswell and ANSD are working together on an action-research project designed to study and implement farmer-led innovation in agroecology as a means of enhancing nutrient management and water retention in soils to improve food security, and on a project that improved access to water for drinking and agriculture, all to allow for dry-season vegetable gardening. These strategies complement and enhance sustainable agriculture and FMNR work with these same families.
Ghana. The Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) is Groundswell’s Ghanaian partner organization in the West African regional program. We are working together to address the soil and food crisis in Ghana by spreading the adoption of FMNR and complementary ecological farming practices that are improving rural livelihoods and food security through increases in food and fuel wood production, increased abundance of fodder for livestock and access to natural resource-based enterprise development. This in turn is contributing to enhanced resilience to climate change and reduced risk in rural communities by revitalizing the natural resources on which rural families depend.
Mali. Groundswell and Sahel Eco, a Malian NGO, as well as ANSD in Burkina Faso and CIKOD in Ghana, are jointly implementing a regional program to scale farmer-led agroecology in West Africa. Groundswell and Sahel Eco are strengthening networks to improve and scale out farmer-led agroecological initiatives to increase soil fertility, improve production, and address climate change in selected regions of Mali; building the capacity of small-scale farmer and women’s organizations in order to create more enabling local and national policies and programs in support of agroecology; and documenting, systematizing and disseminating lessons learned on spreading and scaling agroecological approaches.
Ecuador. Groundswell and EkoRural, an Ecuadorian NGO, are working together to strengthen the capacity of marginalized, rural highland communities to lead their own development processes that improve local food production and resilience and reinforce local food systems. Specifically, this work is strengthening local seed systems (improving seed quality, production, storage and distribution), promoting plant and animal biodiversity (through more diverse local farming systems), and scaling-up alternative food networks that connect small-scale farmers to urban consumer markets in order to empower and increase incomes in rural communities while providing low-income urban families with healthy, affordable local food.
Guatemala. Groundswell helped REDSAG, the Food Sovereignty Network of Guatemala, to launch a Campaign for Healthy and Responsible Food Consumption in Northern Guatemala. REDSAG and local NGOs are using grassroots media and events, such as community radio stations, village fairs, and popular theatre, to encourage local people to consume healthy foods produced by local farmers using agroecological methods. A similar and related campaign is underway in Honduras. REDSAG is now coordinating with Groundswell partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to create a regional platform of mutual support and learning that will promote and scale ecological farming.
Haiti. Groundswell and Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL), a Haitian NGO, support 17 peasant farmer organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of people living in rural areas of Haiti’s Artibonite, North, Northeast, and West departments. The work in Haiti builds the capacity of these local organizations and communities to lead their own development processes and to sustainably improve their agriculture, livelihoods, health, and resiliency. In addition to our longstanding community capacity building and agroecology work in Haiti, increasingly Groundswell and PDL are supporting local people to develop market opportunities for processed agricultural products.
Honduras. Groundswell and Vecinos Honduras, an NGO based in Tegucigalpa, are strengthening local capacity for sustainable development at both the individual and community level in Honduras’ most marginalized regions. The partnership is promoting agroecology, food sovereignty, and community health. Additionally, Groundswell worked with Vecinos Honduras and ANAFAE, the agroecology network in Honduras, to launch a Consumo Responsable (responsible consumption) campaign. Like the campaign in Guatemala, it raises awareness about healthy and responsible food consumption through community radio, village fairs, and popular theatre, among other innovative, grassroots communications strategies.
Nepal. Groundswell partners with the Nepalese NGO BBP-Pariwar to improve farmers’ livelihoods and food security by spreading ecological agriculture, strengthening community organizations, and building networks among farmers to facilitate the creation of savings and credit groups and farming cooperatives. In addition to teaching agroecological techniques, the program is helping farmers increase their incomes through fodder production on terraces, improved livestock husbandry, and diversification of crops to include medicinal herbs, vegetables, and fruit. After the 2015 earthquakes, Groundswell redoubled its efforts and dramatically expanded its work in Nepal from four to 23 villages.
United States. Groundswell is leading a coalition of organizations, including local government, farmers’ organizations and nonprofits in Polk County, N.C., to implement Grow Food Where People Live, a bottom-up initiative to promote community-based food production, economic development, and community resiliency. Grow Food Where People Live started by establishing a Community Micro Farm at an affordable housing facility in the county. Residents, together with more than 70 community volunteers, turned the facility into a verdant, vibrant community space that is growing huge amounts of healthy food, strengthening family economies, and building stronger community ties! Groundswell and its partners are now working to establish more community micro farms (based on the success of the first one) and to create a Farm Livelihood Incubator and Polk Farm Link program to provide agricultural training and job placement for vulnerable individuals that demonstrate interest and skill while working on their community micro farms.
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