Joneve Murphy

A farmer returning from the paddy in Banijan, Bangladesh

Q&A with Joneve Murphy: Farmer Seeking Roots

What Joneve learned and how she’s inspired by farmers around the world

In July 2014 Joneve Murphy set out to travel the world and visit and volunteer on small farms. Combining her love of travel, agriculture and photography she went to 13 different countries in 10 months and spent time with more than 150 food producers. Joneve’s project is called Farmer Seeking Roots; her mission is to connect with farmers of different cultures, learn their stories and techniques and then share that knowledge to promote awareness and improve our food systems, internationally. We’ve been following her journey on her blog and Instagram (@farmersroots) and are endlessly impressed and inspired. We were in touch with Joneve this month to ask a few questions about her adventures, what she learned and where she’s headed next.

Can you give us a brief outline of your trip? Where did you go and what was your focus?

I started my trip in Europe, visiting Ireland, England, France and The Netherlands. After that I flew to Asia; visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. Since that trip I have also visited Kenya and I just arrived in Central America to stay for a few months to work with farmers here.
My focus has been to work with as many different types of farmers as possible during this time, to volunteer my own knowledge and labor, and to learn as much as I can from those that I visit. I am interested in learning about traditional agricultural methods as well as researching the many different ways that people structure agricultural businesses. I mainly concentrate on visiting small farmers rather than farmer “gurus” (those that may already be nationally or internationally known for their work). I want to get a real sense of each countries agriculture and the issues facing small farmers.
Last but not least, it is a goal of mine to share what I have learned. I want to share the knowledge gained but I also hope to bring a face to small farmers around the world. I hope to garner some support for the hard work that they do and to create a sense of responsibility on the part of consumers.
Were there any similarities in challenges that you saw across all/many of the different cultures you visited?

The challenge that I heard over and over again were battles with strange weather patterns or difficulties attributed to large weather events. I heard many times “the rain was supposed to be here by now” or “it never gets this cold here”. For people farming without water inputs or shelter for their crops these changes in weather are catastrophic, if there is no rain then there is no crop.
The other complaint that I heard often was a lack of support from either government or research facilities for small farmers. The majority of research in developing nations goes towards large scale agriculture and increased production, for farms with large inputs growing on a large scale. This type of research leaves small, subsistence farmers to fend for themselves. Small scale farmers are told that they need hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are told that this is the only way to increase their production. The problem is that these seeds require major inputs in order to attain higher yields and the inputs are too expensive.

Joneve Murphy
A student at NEED Myanmar tending her farm plot

Can you tell us about a particular experience that inspired you?

There were so many projects and individuals that inspired me and with more than 150 farms visited so far, there are way too many to account for here. This inspiration that I gained was the most rewarding part of this journey to me personally and I hope to inspire others by telling the stories of the farmers I met and sharing what they have accomplished.
If I had to choose one, it would have to be the NEED school in Myanmar. NEED was founded by Khaing Du Wan in Thailand in 2006. Khaing Du Wan was a refugee, living in Thailand for more than 15 years. He started NEED as a sustainable development school to teach young Burmese refugees. In 2014, when the political situation in Myanmar began to improve, he and his wife packed their belongings and moved back to Myanmar to start their school again. NEED takes on a new set on students each year and teaches them about social integrity, community based economic development, sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation. In addition to daily classes, each student is given a small plot of land to experiment with various techniques to grow food. Khaing Du Wan’s wealth of knowledge, passion for teaching and compassion for his students is incredible. I felt lucky to spend a few weeks at the school teaching students and getting to know them.
What was your biggest lesson from your journey?

A big realization for me was the impact that the decisions of the western world have on agriculture in other countries. As we in the west reject, refuse and ban harmful agricultural chemicals, they are marketed to developing nations more and more. Just because we refuse them does not mean that the companies stop producing them and the products need a market. DDT for example, though banned from agricultural use in the US in the early 1970’s, was still widely used as an agricultural pesticide in India until 2008.
On a more positive note, I also learned just how large and widespread the sustainable food movement is. In every country I have visited, there are people and groups working towards more sustainable food production and organic is definitely on the rise. Though the movement may be small in places there is a sure momentum moving towards a more sustainable future.
How do you plan to share your experiences and the knowledge that you gained from your trip?

I have been sharing my experience through micro blogging on social media since I started. I also post, albeit infrequently, on my own blog Farmer Seeking Roots. As my project gains support and followers I hope to reach a larger audience. So far, this passion has been largely self-funded which limits what I can do. In the future, I hope to publish a book, but there are no definite plans in the works as of yet.

Photo Credit: Joneve Murphy, Farmer Seeking Roots

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