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Why we need a UK Food Sovereignty Movement

By Staff - Land Workers Alliance, June 16, 2021

“Food sovereignty” as a term and a movement has become more prominent in the last few decades, but its reception by governments and institutions in wealthier countries, including the UK, has been unenthusiastic, to say the least.

What is food sovereignty?

“Food sovereignty” is a relatively new way of describing and unifying longstanding aims and methods of the work of peasants, indigenous people, and communities as well as that of various food justice campaigns and organisations. Its six unifying principles are providing food for people; valuing food providers; localising food systems; centring local control; building knowledge and skills; and working with nature. By centring these 6 key principles, the food sovereignty movement seeks to guarantee and protect people’s space, ability and right to define their own models of food production, distribution and consumption.

Where has it grown from?

In 2007, more than 500 people gathered at the Nyéléni forum in Mali, so-called after a Malian peasant farmer who developed crops to feed her people. This forum brought together many diverse groups and individuals working on food issues, and united them under the Declaration of Nyeleni. The food sovereignty movement transformed from being disparate and lacking in visibility into being an interconnected movement, with strong underlying principles, coordination and solidarity between countries, communities and activists working together towards a common goal.

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. 

Don't Make a Bad Deal Worse: UE GEB Statement on Renegotiating NAFTA

By staff - United Electrical Workers, June 6, 2017

At its quarterly meeting the UE General Executive Board adopted the following statement on the Trump administration's plans to renegotiate NAFTA. 

RENEGOTIATION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (NAFTA)

United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

June 2, 2017

Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s passage, North American labor, environmental groups, human rights organizations, and other citizen watchdogs—united to call out the terrible impact of this trade agreement on working people and our communities. As attention returns to NAFTA, now that President Trump has notified Congress officially of his intention to renegotiate, we caution against any belief that his administration will seek a deal benefitting people and the planet. NAFTA benefits corporations and those who have an interest in the free flow of capital, rather than improving the lives of workers, our communities, or the environment. Past attempts to appease concerns from labor and environmentalists have not been meaningful. .

We see the consequences of this failed treaty vividly: Across the continent, workers and families have been hit hard, as evidenced by persistent unemployment, wage stagnation, and record wealth and income inequality. There continues to be a decline in good-paying, union manufacturing jobs, as well as a loss of high-paying jobs in smaller businesses.  In those pockets where manufacturing has expanded, the jobs created have been mostly low wage with little attention to worker health and safety. In Mexico, the jobs that have emerged have been at such low rates of pay that poverty rates have risen—not fallen—since 1994. Mexico has experienced a loss of jobs in agriculture, where heavily-subsidized US corn, sugar, and other commodities led to the collapse of the Mexican farm economy.  Since the implementation of NAFTA, workers in the three countries have suffered, while wealthy investors and big corporations have seen their profits balloon.

Communities of North America continue to suffer under NAFTA as corporations continue to exploit our shared environment for profit and pollute our land, air, and water as governments are unable or unwilling to force corporations to clean up hazardous mistakes created by negligence. This is evident from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, which is threatened by fracking from Lone Pine Resources, to the Midwestern plains, where oil leaks from the TransCanada-owned Keystone Pipeline, to the hills of Guadalcázar, where residents pray they have seen the last child born with birth defects from the toxic waste MetalClad has refused to clean up. Corporate profits continue to grow while the health of our communities and environment suffers.

NAFTA enables the unrestricted flow of capital causing misery for working people, including: the forced migration of people looking for jobs; increased rates of homelessness; mental health problems associated with dislocation; higher rates of diabetes and other ailments linked to cheap high fructose corn syrup; and rising violence, particularly against women. NAFTA devastated the Mexican economy, particularly agriculture and family farms by allowing US corporations to dump cheap corn and other staples into Mexico. It is a key reason why millions upon millions of Mexican workers have been forced to migrate north to the US looking for better work.

President Trump says he wants to renegotiate this “bad deal,” but his vague plans are anchored in building a wall for workers and tearing down walls for capital. He makes a xenophobic argument for renegotiation, and we reject its racist and nationalistic orientation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have stated that the rejected and discredited Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the starting point for a renegotiated NAFTA. Unionists and environmentalists rejected TPP for good reasons and to have that as the administration’s starting point is very troubling.

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in NAFTA infringes on sovereignty and citizens’ rights to self-governance by allowing corporations to sue governments who restrain profit-making opportunities. This would have been made more powerful under TPP. TPP would have weakened US health and safety standards, including those that ensure safe pharmaceuticals and food. TPP attacked net neutrality and a free and open Internet. NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990’s and the internet was not included in the original NAFTA. We expect this to be a major target of the administration’s renegotiation.

We reject the corporate-led vision for a renegotiation of NAFTA and call for a new set of trade policies that prioritize workers common interests and relies on international solidarity as its cornerstone. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must be oriented around the improvement of workers’ lives and protection of the environment focused on those regions of the continent where conditions are the most desperate.

We call for the end of the ISDS protections NAFTA offers to  corporations to exploit working people and the environment.  As we said three years ago, 20 years after the passage of NAFTA, any new treaty must “strengthen governments’ ability to protect social, environmental and labor rights, particularly for migrants.”

We demand, as required by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, an end to laws that allow employers to prevent workers from choosing their own unions or from exercising their rights to assemble, organize, and represent workers without any employer interference. This includes an end to attacks in the U.S against unions seeking to negotiate union security clauses with employers.

We demand government investment to create good-paying jobs in our communities, to build affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and green energy production, with quality food, education, and healthcare for all, and with improved access to clean air and water, public parks, and green recreation spaces. All trade negotiations must be opened to civil society participation, which includes prior publication of the texts and the construction of mechanisms for information sharing, social participation and deliberation, while avoiding the imposition of any “fast track”. A renegotiated NAFTA treaty must include effective mechanisms to protect human, labor, and environmental rights with meaningful sanctions and enforcement provisions to assure the supremacy of human rights over corporate privilege.

We support the “Political Declaration of the Encounter of the Social Organizations of Canada, United States, and Mexico” which came out of meetings held in Mexico City on May 26 and 27, 2017. We unite in international solidarity with these goals in mind and are prepared to fight back against any and all attempts to divide or devalue our work, our communities, and our environment.

Take the Plant Save the Planet (pamphlet)

By Green Jobs Oshawa - Socialist Project, March 22, 2020

On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced a number of plant closures in North America, the largest of which was in Oshawa, Ontario. The Oshawa facility, once the largest auto complex on the continent, was to end all its assembly operations by the end of 2019.

The issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class and the labour movement must escape what for it has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation.

Read the report (PDF).

Resisting RCEP from the ground up: Indian movements show the way

By staff - GRAIN & ICCFM, January 2020

In the history of people’s resistance against free trade agreements, 4 November 2019 is a day to remember. On this day, bowing to immense pressure from peasants, trade unions and rural communities, India’s central government decided to pull the plug on its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), intended to become the largest free trade area in the world. The announcement, made at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok, has implications for free trade negotiations in the entire region and puts a fork in the wheels of unifying the Asian market – a project clearly favouring the interests of agribusiness and transnational corporations.

While countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia are making every effort to convince India to come back to the negotiating table, whether they will succeed is not clear. For now, Delhi’s decision has provided immense relief to millions of small-scale food producers and rural workers in India.

So how did a government that is overtly neoliberal, capitalist and with visible authoritarian traits end up bowing to the pressure of farmers and workers? To understand that, we need to understand the decade that just went past us.

Read the report (PDF).

Take the Plant, Save the Planet (article)

By Russ Christianson - The Bullet, September 22, 2019.

It is a tragic irony that General Motors (GM) chose its hundredth anniversary in Oshawa to announce the December 2019 closure of its Oshawa assembly plant. This means the loss of over 15,000 jobs in Ontario: 2,200 GM assembly jobs, 300 salaried positions, 500 temporary contract positions, 1,000 inside and 1,000 outside supplier jobs, and a related 10,400 multiplier jobs. The closure of Oshawa’s assembly plant is estimated to decrease Ontario’s GDP by $4-billion per year until 2030, also reducing federal and provincial revenues by about $1-billion a year.1

Over the months following the November 26, 2018 plant closure announcement, GM and Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers’ union) negotiated the Oshawa Transformation Agreement (May 2019)2 that promises:

  • 300 stamping and parts assembly jobs and a $170-million investment.
  • Donating the 87-acre Mclaughlin Bay Reserve to the City of Oshawa.
  • A 55-acre test track for autonomous vehicles.

It has yet to be seen, whether GM will keep its promise. But even if they do, it will still mean losing over 13,000 jobs and a major hit to the economy.

This preliminary feasibility study offers an alternative. The Government of Canada can provide the leadership to acquire the GM Oshawa assembly plant and repurpose the production to building battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There is a strong business case for this alternative, based on a triple bottom line analysis that considers the economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • A public investment estimated at $1.4 to $1.9-billion to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for BEV production, and potentially manufacturing other products.
  • Manufacturing and selling an estimated 150,000 BEVs in the first five years of production, for total sales of $5.8-billion.
  • Estimated government procurement of one quarter of the BEVs produced in the first four years, representing about 23,000 vehicles with an estimated value of $900-million.
  • Reaching a breakeven point in year 4, and making a modest profit in year 5.
  • Creating over 13,000 jobs: up to 2,900 manufacturing-related (including 600 parts supplier jobs) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions by 400,000 metric tonnes by year 5.

Final Statement of the Peoples’ Summit “WTO Out, Building Sovereignty”

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 20, 2017

The Peoples’ Summit “WTO Out, Building Sovereignty” gathered on December 11-13, 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, against the XI Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in this city.

The networks and trade unions, human rights, territorial, students, women, political, peasants, social and anti-extractives organizations amongst others from all over the world constituting the Peoples’ Summit reaffirm our rejection of free trade policies of the WTO. The WTO reflects the interests of a more concentrated transnational capital aiming to eliminate barriers to the free movement of goods, services and capital. It is an organization that only takes into account the needs of capital, helping the reproduction of capitalist relations of exploitation and looting. These policies affect rights conquered historically through the struggles of the peoples of the world.

Transnational corporations act under the umbrella of an Architecture of Impunity which includes the system of Debt, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and the protection of investments and multilateral organizations such as the WTO, which produce a form of globalization based on their desire for and pursuit of profit. In this context, public Debt has become one the main tools of capitalist expansion of concentration, inequality and oppression. It subordinates the models of production and consumption to the need to pay ever-increasing interests. We commit ourselves to work towards unveiling the repercussions that debt entails in the multiple forms of resistance, denouncing its illegitimate character, demonstrating who really owes what to whom and building a horizon of transformation and hope, while standing as People Creditors of debts that are not only economic, but also social, historical, ecological, democratic and gender, amongst others. We need to continue building from the struggles of the peoples to advance in this process, which includes actions such as comprehensive and citizen audits of Debt, ethical courts and popular consultations, amongst other strategies.

Faced with corporate power impersonating the dispossession of territories by transnational corporations, we commit ourselves to globalize the struggles and to continue strengthening ties and articulations. We must continue fighting to achieve an international treaty that ensures the respect of human rights by transnational corporations. We must dispute legislative and judicial spaces, denouncing how laws are violated, twisted, misinterpreted and adapted in the interest of transnational corporations. We must maintain the autonomy of social movements in relation to governments, emphasising our solidarity with persecuted and repressed Peoples, communities and organizations all over the world.

The liberalization of trade and financial flows unevenly impacts the daily lives of women and deepens inequalities and poverty by expanding unemployment, informality and compulsively financializing our lives, thus deepening all forms of patriarchal violence. Women, lesbians, trans, transvestites, bisexuals, gays, non-binaries, Afro-Argentines, afro-descendants, migrants, displaced, refugees, indigenous, blacks, peasants, self-managed workers gathered in the forum and the great Feminist Assembly against free trade affirm our anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle.

European Union will be sending European farmers to the slaughter house: ECVC on EU-Mercosur FTA negotiations

By Antonio Onorati and Lynne Davis - La Via Campesina, November 29, 2017

Brussels, November 28, 2017 – The next round of negotiations on the free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur* will take place from 4 to 10 December. These countries include major beef exporters such as Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, which represent the top 3 beef exporting countries to Europe.

The current rush of the EU and Mercosur, which have been negotiating this agreement for the last 17 years, is no coincidence: on the one hand, the EU is taking advantage of trade opportunities created by US protectionist policies and, on the other hand, Mercosur’s largest economies are now being led by zealous followers of the free market. As Macri in Argentina progresses with its social cuts and privatizations, the neoliberal and illegitimate government of Temer in Brazil, the result of a putsch, holds the temporary presidency of Mercosur and seeks international support in the forthcoming Brazilian elections.

Indonesia Peasants' Union protest against cheap import of potatoes

By Indonesian Peasants' Union - La Via Campesina, December 15, 2016

A large number of small farmers and peasants in Indonesia took out a massive protest against the cheap imports of potatoes, which has thrown the local varieties out of the market and has caused distress to local farmers. 

The statement issued by the Indonesian Peasants' Union read as follows;

We, potato and horticulture peasants from particularly peasants of Dieng Plateu were worried again by circulation of imported potatoes in traditional markets which have lower price than local potato. Noted that throughout January to September 2016, import volume of potatoes reached 65.195,11 tons. 

The importation of potato cause massive loss to potato peasants in Indonesia. Potato peasants of Dieng Plateu, Central Java, have allegedly lost Rp 24,000 on each hecatre. The total potato land area in Dieng Plateu around 15.000 hectare and the loss is estimated to be about Rp 360 billion annually.

In normal condition, peasant potato is usually sent to Jakarta and other areas. But, as a result of cheap potato import -particularly from China and Pakistan - Local potato varieties are pushed out of the market. In Jakarta Kramat Jati Market, on 24 October 2016, Peasants potato was sold around Rp. 8500/kg while import potato was only sold around Rp. 6.000/kg. After import potato spread into traditional markets, local potato was only appreciated around Rp.6.500/kg at the peasant level. By selling price around Rp. 6.500/kg, local potato peasants experienced many loss about Rp. 12 million/hectare at each planting season. Where in a year at least there is twice planting season. Meanwhile to fulfill capital, peasants have to selling potato at minimum price around Rp. 7.500/kg

Not only potato, based on data of data center and information system of agriculture ministry, some of horticulture crops throughout January to September 2016 was also imported and it spread into traditional markets. These are fresh carrot from China, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand as much as 26.047 tons, 1.767 tons of fresh cabbage and 45 tons of fresh spinach from China, Australia and France. 

Free Trade Agreements pushed through WTO and bilaterally are the root cause of this price crash and crisis. The impacts of trade deals and partnerships such as the AEC (Asean Economic Community) and CAFTA (China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement) is devastating. The free trade mechanism will be more strengthened by approval of RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) leading to more distress. 

Even though RCEP is a new kind of agreement, but it is still maintain the form of free trade which previously exist. Even RCEP can be called as more expansive action of market expansion because it involved cooperation between ASEAN members and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It means that food and horticulture crops import policy, potato in this case, already done systemically and planned.

Import of Food and horticulture has clearly hurt peasants and threatened food sovereignty. In fact, peasants in potato central production such as from West Java, Central Java, East Java, North Sumatra, North Sulawesi and Jambi Province have been able to fulfill national needs. Currently, the national potato consumption is around 2,1 kg/capita per year or if it is calculated, the national potato consumption is around 542 thousand ton per year. While national potato peasants production in 2105 reached 1.219.277 tons. 

Fulfilment of potato, horticulture and the other national food needs must be undertaken by food sovereignty principles which was already decanted in constitution number 18 of 2012 in terms of food and fulfillment on the rights of peasants such as which was also decanted in constitution number 19 of 2013 in terms of protection and empowerment on peasants.  

Unite against the FFA for the future of agriculture!

By various - La Via Campesina, April 3, 2017

A call from civil society 

The 10th edition of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) was held in Brussels on the 28th of March. Its organisers, Syngenta (a multinational chemicals and agrifood firm) and ELO (an organisation that lobbies for large European landowners) presented their brand of agriculture, which they claim will meet food and environmental challenges. A coalition of farmers’ organisations (members of La Via Campesina), civil society organisations and citizens have denounced these false agribusiness solutions and are issuing this appeal to send a firm message to the organisers and attendees of this forum: this agriculture has no future! 

False solutions to the wrong problems 

With its winning tagline, “where agriculture and environment meet”, the forum brings together a prestigious panel of speakers (EU, OECD, UN, etc.) alongside nature conservation NGOs and intellectuals. But this façade of open debate conceals a costly exercise in political lobbying. At a time when the reform of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the regulation of certain pesticides are under discussion, agribusiness players need to act now to protect their interests. So they present themselves as champions in the fight against global hunger and as leaders in environmental conservation ; yet the solutions that they advocate are false solutions. Their answer to current and future food challenges is an unchanging litany : increase the productivity of farmland through technology and further reduce barriers to free trade. 

By asking the question, “how to feed 9 billion people by 2050”, the FFA organisers are perpetuating the myth that we do not produce enough today to feed the human race. But according to the FAO we already produce enough food for 12 billion people ! The causes of hunger and malnutrition are rather to be found in extreme poverty (especially in rural areas, where about 70% of hungry people live), food waste (30% of global production is wasted, according to the FAO) and the conversion of agricultural land to biofuel production and livestock rearing (feed and pasture). 

Lobbies and multinationals sell what they call “smart agriculture”, which uses robotics, chemicals, biotechnology and specialisation. Yet it does nothing to feed those who are starving ; instead it makes producers even more dependent on agribusiness multinationals. As well as their negative impact on health and the environment, these technologies are driving small farmers into debt and putting them out of business. 

And there’s more. The way that we class food as a simple commodity for trading on the free market is one of the main causes of rural impoverishment and loss of biodiversity. Both in the North and the South, competition between farmers favours large farms at the expense of small farmers, who bear the brunt of the disastrous consequences of this model : falling incomes, unemployment, the disappearance of farms, massive debt, speculation on agricultural land and foodstuffs, etc. Over the last 30 years, Belgium has lost 63% of its farms – 43 every week. It is mostly small farms that are affected. 

Greenwashing dealers in death 

The agriculture of machines, chemicals and international shipping cannot continue to exist without fossil fuels. Yet Syngenta claims to champion environmental causes. At FFA 2016, cuddly bees were distributed amongst attendees to promote initiatives that were far from transparent. The company probably wanted to deflect their attention away from its aggressive lobbying to overturn the ban on neonicotinoids – singled out by the scientific community for their disastrous consequences for natural pollinators such as bees and bumblebees.

On its website, the company claims that opposing the use of GMOs, chemical fertilisers and pesticides means using more water and land. This is proof of its bad faith as it pretends to ignore solutions that have already been proven to be effective. 

Solutions do exist : agroecology and food sovereignty 

The agriculture that agribusiness offers us is nothing new. It merely follows the same path that has brought about the destruction of our soils, the deterioration of biodiversity, the pollution of our waters and the disappearance of our farms. Truly smart agriculture, the agriculture of the future, should be modelled on natural ecosystems. A publication of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food states that agroecology could double food production in 10 years, mitigating climate change, protecting water resources and creating new jobs in the rural sector. 

Rather than surrendering agricultural production to the free market and the dictates of agribusiness, it is the people themselves who should determine agricultural and food systems. Only this way will they be able to have a healthy diet, tailored to their needs, locally produced and sustainable. That is why we believe it is essential to commit to food sovereignty.
We do not want arms dealers calling the shots in times of peace ; nor do we want dealers in poison to decide what we eat. They are only interested in making money. Their brand of agriculture is sounding the death knell for small farmers, consumers, and the environment. It represents the past. 

We want to send a clear message to European and international policymakers. They must curtail the influence of agribusiness and private interests and commit to the agroecological transition. 

We call on as many organisations and movements as possible to sign this appeal   

Unite for our future ! 

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