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NFU Statement on the International Day of Peasant Struggle: Food Sovereignty in Canada

By Jessie MacInnis - La Via Campesina, April 16, 2021

Every year on April 17, La Via Campesina (LVC) honours the work of peasants, small-scale farmers, rural workers, and Indigenous peoples around the globe by marking the International Day of Peasant Struggle. This year is especially notable, being the 25th anniversary of the term “food sovereignty”, coined by LVC members in 1996 while demonstrating against the capitalist industrial food systems’ model being proposed at the World Food Summit in Rome. As defined by LVC, food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It emphasizes democratically controlled food and agriculture systems, horizontal learning networks, and agroecology. The National Farmers Union, a founding member of LVC, quickly resonated with the concept, and it is now a deep-rooted principle and vision for an alternative food system that informs our policy, movement-building, and solidarity work. 

The NFU takes this occasion to reflect on the struggles of its farmer members, as well as those of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities across Turtle Island, migrant farmworkers, the food insecure, and all food producers and rural workers whose right to food sovereignty is challenged. We stand in solidarity with you.

Who represents the peasantry in Canada? 

La Via Campesina is attempting to reclaim the word ‘peasant’ from its derogatory, pejorative connotations to represent a distinct political social group with specific human rights demands. According to the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) – a landmark achievement for LVC, who developed and pushed the UNDROP from local peasant organizations to the UN – peasants are those who engage in small-scale or family-based agriculture, pastoralism, fishing, forestry, hunting or gathering, migrant and hired farmworkers. This wide-reaching definition acknowledges that despite differences, people in these categories often face similar oppressive forces when engaging in their livelihoods. Forces of neoliberalism, globalization, and corporate driven food systems leading to human rights violations. The undermining of dignity and justice of peasants brings together seemingly disparate farmer organizations around the globe into LVC. In Canada, though many do not relate to the word ‘peasant’ in a literal sense, as farmers in the NFU we are part of this wider umbrella of the peasant movement that seeks food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty. 

What does food sovereignty look like in Canada? 

When we use the language of food sovereignty, we connect ourselves in the NFU to the broader peasant movement around the globe. This year, the movement has called on its member organizations to highlight dimensions of food sovereignty that reflect our particular contexts. Achieving food sovereignty is not a linear, uniform process: it looks different in each community and region. Just as communities and geographies vary across the country, so too do the struggles for food sovereignty. Food sovereignty looks like community gardens, farm to school food programs, agroecological farms, Indigenous communities practicing their traditional foodways, and small-scale farmers direct marketing their products – just to name a few. Food sovereignty also looks like national food and agriculture policy that creates space for local food systems, small-scale, family and cooperative farms and rural communities to thrive. 

The theme for this year’s International Day of Peasant Struggle is #NoFutureWithoutFoodSovereignty, so let’s take this opportunity to reflect on a few of the many NFU campaigns that embody the spirit of food sovereignty:

Save our Seed: The NFU has been a strong, steadfast voice in defending Canada’s public seed regulatory framework from corporate takeover, with an understanding that the proposal for a royalty system would harm farmers, eaters, and the food system in general. Seed sovereignty – farmer’s rights to save, breed, exchange, and have access to open source seed – is a key component of food sovereignty.

Indigenous solidarity: The NFU has a long-standing commitment to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. We understand that Canada is a settler colonial country and that, as treaty people, or people living on unceded Indigenous territory, we have a social and legal responsibility to uphold the original agreements settlers made with sovereign Indigenous nations. The Indigenous Solidarity Working Group was started in 2015 by NFU members eager to deepen the NFU’s understanding of Indigenous food sovereignty and settler colonialism to better act in solidarity with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities who are fighting to defend their territories and rights. 

Fighting for climate justice: Not only does the NFU have a strong record of climate policy analysis, the organization is a founding member of Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS), a national alliance of farmer organizations and supporters who believe agriculture must be part of the solution to climate change. FCS works to advance agricultural policies that will help farmers mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. 

Supporting the UNDROP: Despite Canada failing to adopt the UNDROP at the General Assembly vote in 2018, NFU members and LVC allies continue to push for implementation of the Declaration into international treaties and national policies. The UNDROP is just as relevant to Canada as it is in other countries: just last year, human rights lawyers in Ontario referred to Article 14 of the UNDROP – which states in part that “Peasants and other people working in rural areas, irrespective of whether they are temporary, seasonal or migrant workers, have the rights to work in safe and healthy working conditions…” – in defense of migrant farmworkers whose rights were violated when their employer failed to provide adequately safe and healthy living conditions during COVID-19 quarantine requirements. They won the case, a victory for migrant farmworker rights and the power of the UNDROP.

The NFU’s food sovereignty journey is a work in progress, as we strive to self-educate to better work in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and communities of colour across the country. This April 17th, the NFU stands in solidarity with all those who believe there is #NoFutureWithoutFoodSovereignty 

For more information:
Jessie MacInnis, International Program Committee Chair: 902‐292‐1040

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