Dr. Million Belay, Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

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Dr. Million Belay - Photo credit GMOfreeUSA.org
Dr. Million Belay - Photo credit GMOfreeUSA.org

The ELRC are proud to announce that Dr Million Belay, an alumni of the ELRC who graduated in 2012, is one of four recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Awards from Rhodes University.

Distinguished Professor Heila B. Lotz-Sisitka, in her supporting statement to Dr. Belay's nomination for the Distinguished Alumni Award, recognised him as a leading figure in the international food systems arena. Dr Belay has played a significant role in connecting environmental education with community development and policy influence work in Africa. He is one of the leading champions in promoting agroecology and food systems approach, which are consistent with sustainable development and linked to education for sustainable development (ESD). He co-founded the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in 2008, one of Africa's largest social movements, serving over 200 million smallholder farmers, with members working in 50 of the 55 African countries, to develop strategies that support more sustainable, climate-resilient food systems. Members of the network comprises of farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous people, pastoralists, women, youth, consumers, faith-based institutions and civil society. 

Professor Heila B. Lotz-Sisitka discribes Dr Belay as "a distinguished, committed, fearless, well-respected, and brave scholar-activist". She adds "He has a keen mind and a strong character that does not fear to speak out and defend the most marginalised on the African continent, i.e., the smallholder women farmers who feed most of the continent’s people. He is a fierce defender of African cultures, the cultures of agriculture that exist in Africa, seed sovereignty and lives of dignity and care. He knows that to protect Africa’s people, we need to protect her biodiversity, especially the cultural values that are so closely associated with biodiversity and food sovereignty. His is a fight against monopoly and a fight for justice in Africa. He does this with care, empathy, and a fierce yet kind passion for social justice and the eradication of hunger on the African continent. "

In addition to his work with AFSA, Dr Belay advises MELCA Ethiopia, a non-profit organization which he founded. MELCA Ethiopia was directed by him until 2016, during which time the organization assisted in the registration of two biosphere reserves in Ethiopia, launched an innovative youth program akin to IMBEWU in South Africa, advocated for a better environmental governance, facilitated the conservation of sacred sites and began working on agroecology.

Dr Belay completed his PhD at Rhodes University’s ELRC in 2012. His study focussed on three-dimensional participatory mapping and transformative social learning. The study demonstrated how this innovative approach could support whole communities in making better land use decisions, and could strengthen democracy and agency amongst communities in Africa. Since his PhD research Dr Belay has continued to support this practice, and has also innovatively put his work on film, and this has proven to be a powerful medium to share his research internationally. A film ‘mapping for change’ was made of his PhD, which is the subject of the hyperlinked video above. And he has since made other films of his work.

Some achievements to date include:

He has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the National Green Hero Award in Ethiopia in 2008, he was also nominee to the International Forest Hero Award in 2011 by the UN Forest Secretariat.

He is a member of International Panel of Experts on the Sustainability of Food (IPES Food), and an advisor to MELCA Ethiopia, as well as an honorary member to the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Conservation Areas and territories (ICCA) Consortium.

Speaking for a TED talk, the main purpose of the work is to facilitate intergenerational learning for sustainability. More information around AFSA is available at www.afsafrica.org.