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African Peasants Highlight Interconnected Struggles at Via Campesina Global Conference

By Boaventura Monjane - Pambazuka, July 27, 2017

“It is amazing to see how linked our struggles are”. With a countenance showing enthusiasm and eagerness, Nicolette Cupido could not conceal her emotions. There are two main reasons for her excitement. It was the first time she attended a global conference of peasants’ movements starting July 16 in Derio, in the outskirts of Bilbao, Basque Country. Her movement, the Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC), South Africa, was among the new organizations accepted into membership of Via Campesina.

A community organizer and a member of the FSC, Nicolette engages in food production at home and community gardens in Moorreesburg, a village in Western Cape, 120Km away from Cape Town.

She grows a variety of vegetables, that is the way she contributes in building food sovereignty. “I plant tomato, unions, beetroot, cabbage and carrots. The struggle for food sovereignty has to be practical, too”, she said.

Like Nicolette, about 20 other African peasants representing movements from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Niger, Mali, Senegal and Ghana attended the conference.

This conference happens at a time when Africa is undergoing a harsh moment, as indicated by Ibrahima Coulibaly from the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations (CNOP) in Mali. Almost everywhere in Africa the elite and corporations are undertaking efforts to capture and control people’s basic means of production, such as land, mineral resources, seeds and water. These resources are increasingly being privatized due to the myriad of investment agreements and policies driven by new institutional approaches, imposed on the continent by western powers and Bretton Woods institutions.

“Democracy is under attack. Repression of protests and murder of political leaders is escalating, but we have to continue to build alternatives”, said Coulibaly.

Elizabeth Mpofu, from the Zimbabwe Smallholder Farmers Forum, is a small-scale farmer who had access to land after she took part in the radical land occupation that resulted in the fasttrack land reform in the early 2000s. According to her, building alternatives is to take direct action.

“I was a landless woman. Through our courage and determination we stood up and took action. Now I have land and I do agroecology farming”, she said.

Relations between the state, corporate power and the peasantry have always been exploitative. This characterizes the agrarian question in Africa. As some academics have argued, these relations have been coercive.

The perception that Africa is  a vast  “underutilized” area and, therefore, available  for large-scale agricultural investment, continues even today particularly among some western governments and foreign investors.

The African peasantry has, however, always resisted capital penetration in the countryside. “Africa has taught us many centuries of struggle and resistance”, remarked Eberto Diaz, a peasant leader from Colombia during the opening session of the 7th Conference of La Via Campesina. Elizabeth Mpofu shares the belief: “I think that our historical and present struggle experiences in Africa could inspire comrades from other countries”.

Domingos Buramo, from the Mozambique Peasants Union (UNAC), brought to the conference the experience of the Mozambican peasants and other civil society organizations against land grabbing and large-scale investment projects in Mozambique. He mentioned that the resistance to ProSavana, a large-scale agricultural project proposed for Mozambique, is an example of how transformative articulated struggles could be. “Now the government is changing its vision as a result of our work. We can change our societies”, he said.

In South Africa, landless black people are engaging in various forms of protest to access to land, water and development resources. “We do various social actions such as protest marches, pickets, sit-ins and even land occupations”, said Tieho Mofokeng, from the Landless Peoples Movement in Free State, South Africa.

Africa - including the Maghreb region - was the last continent to be part of Via Campesina. Since 2004 the number of African peasant movements joining La Via Campesina has been increasing. African movements consider their membership to the peasant movement as a strategic process of amplifying their struggles and reinforcing internationalism.

Via Campesina International Conference is the highest and most significant decision-making space of the movement.

Corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 8, 2017

As never before, agriculture today plays a role in all of the unfolding crises of the twenty-first century. Despite producing many more calories than are needed to feed humanity, the globalized food system leaves a billion people hungry, and another billion with micronutrient deficiency (Kremen, Iles and Bacon, 2012). 

At the same time, the growing dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as petroleum, coupled with oversized feedlots and global commodity routes, make the planet’s food system among the chief factors contributing to carbon dioxide and methane emissions causing global climate change (Tilman et al. 2001).

The modernization of global agriculture has meant the application of technologies that maximize short-term yields at the same time as they undermine the long-term factors of agricultural productivity and stability, such as soil fertility, water cycles, seed diversity and local knowledge.

The science and technology used to produce food is generally owned by large transnational corporations that are guided by the profit motive, rather than any of the many other purposes that agriculture serves, such as providing food and health, guaranteeing sustainable livelihoods, or maintaining a natural resource base for future generations.

The industrial agriculture model is only about 60 years old, but has already contaminated water sources, replaced tens of thousands of seed varieties with a dozen cash crops, diminished soil fertility around the world, accelerated the exodus of rural communities toward unsustainable megacities, and contributed to global inequality. Additionally, the corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions (Grain, 2011).

For a long time, corporate manufacturers have insisted that pesticides are safe to use, that expensive, hybrid seeds will produce better in all field conditions, and that the same technical packages can be applied to diverse agricultural systems (Ecobichon, 2001). Research has conclusively shown not only that these are myths, but that the same consolidated seed and chemical companies that now control our access to food have been dishonest all along about their knowledge of harm produced by their products (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,2017).

Pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and petroleum-hungry monoculture are responsible for hundreds of thousands of annual deaths of farmers and farm workers by poisoning, as well as incalculable damage to ecosystems, watersheds and the atmosphere. Additionally, the technologies of industrial monoculture diminish the capacity of agriculture to employ the rural workforce, leading to abandonment of the countryside and the loss of the cultural diversity embedded in rural communities.

La Vía Campesina, the world’s largest peasant movement, is a leading voice in the global movement to recover food from transnational corporations. Since its first international conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1996, La Vía Campesina (LVC) has proposed food sovereignty as an alternative to corporate agribusiness (see Box 1). Food sovereignty can be briefly defined as the right of peoples and nations to create and maintain their own food systems, and has been at the heart of civil society protests against the free trade model since the 1990s. Food sovereignty means a fundamental emphasis on local and domestic food production, based on land access for small farmers and ecological production practices (Rosset, 2006). As a political proposal, food sovereignty implies a radical democratization and decentralization of the agriculture-food system, including the dismantling of corporate power over food (Patel, 2009). On a more cultural level, it is an affirmation of rural community, local knowledge, and gender equality (Wittman, 2010). Rather than the better-known concept of food security, which makes no mention of where food comes from or how it is produced, food sovereignty explicitly underscores local and national food routes, democratic processes of decision-making, recuperation of cultural forms of production, distribution and consumption, and the relationship between food and the environment.

Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—and Civilization

By Ronnie Cummins - Organic Consumers Association, May 28, 2017

Regenerate—to give fresh life or vigor to; to reorganize; to recreate the moral nature; to cause to be born again. (New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997)

When a reporter asked him [Mahatma Gandhi] what he thought of Western civilization, he famously replied: “I think it would be a good idea.”

A growing corps of organic, climate, environmental, social justice and peace activists are promoting a new world-changing paradigm that can potentially save us from global catastrophe. The name of this new paradigm and movement is regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land use.

Regenerative agriculture and land use encompass the traditional and indigenous best practices of organic farming, animal husbandry and environmental conservation. Regeneration puts a central focus on improving soil health and fertility (recarbonizing the soil), increasing biodiversity, and qualitatively enhancing forest health, animal welfare, food nutrition and rural (especially small farmer) prosperity.

The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn “business as usual” and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.

According to food activist Vandana Shiva, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy."

So how can regenerative agriculture do all these things: increase soil fertility; maximize crop yields; draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soils, plants and trees to re-stabilize the climate and restore normal rainfall; increase soil water retention; make food more nutritious; reduce rural poverty; and begin to pacify the world’s hotspots of violence?

The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of peasants' rights

By staff, La Via Campesina - May 22, 2017

Joint Statement from La Via Campesina and other social movements and civil society organisations for the conclusion of  the 4th OEIWG session on a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

To the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX 

15-19 May 2017 

We peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisher folk and rural workers, including rural women from around the globe, from La Via Campesina, IUF, WFFP, WAMIP, FIMARC, IITC along with CETIM, FIAN International and other organizations, represent all together billions of rural people. We have been constructively engaging this process of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, from the fields of pasture, our workplaces around the world and here in Geneva for many years. We strongly welcome the level of constructive support from cross-regions, from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe. We especially welcome the warm and effective leadership of the Chair-rapporteur. It is worth taking note that delegates of UN member states have extended their very strong contribution to the process. 

As we have been saying from the very beginning, we, as representatives of peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers, including rural women, shall be recognized as legitimate parties in international cooperation in relation to food and rural development, since we constitute the sector of the population mostly affected by hunger and malnutrition despite strongly contributing to feeding the world. The 2 billion peasants and other people working in rural areas have great knowledge and experience, as well as our own perspectives. We understand the current challenges facing the world’s food systems and have ideas for solutions. We are able to contribute to the development process in a valuable manner. 

This process has made our movement stronger than ever.  After sixteen years of effort and dedication, throughout the world, our communities’ expectations keep rising, expecting our demands to be recognized in the intergovernmental negotiations. 

This is our declaration, we have been and we will keep defending it constructively before our national governments until its conclusion. All peasants and people working in rural areas around the world strongly identify themselves with the content of this Declaration, which will be an instrument to restore and dignify our status in society and to recognize our rights. 

We are confident to see the willingness of States to recognize crucial rights for us, such as the right to land and the right to seeds.  We are mildly concerned with the reserves that have been expressed by only some States towards major parts of the text regarding collective rights and extraterritorial obligations. However, as we navigate through this process, and witness its evolutions, we believe that common ground on the recognition of the right to Food Sovereignty can be reached. 

What were perceived as new rights by certain countries, are now favorably reconsidered. Thanks to the legal grounds put forward by the experts, the right to seeds and the right to land are gaining an incontestable legitimacy in the declaration, as they are specifically referred to in international agreements and a growing number of national legislations. Our grassroots testimonies reinforce the state of emergency for recognizing these rights in the Declaration without any further delay. 

As we all stand here, in full knowledge that human rights prevail economic interests, we call on States to unite in order to recognize and further guarantee the realization of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. 

As organizations representing peasants and other people working in rural areas, we stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We are ready to put our best effort to contribute to this historical process. States can no longer postpone the declaration. The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of our rights. Let us work together for the adoption of the declaration at the earliest. 

For peasants and other people working in rural areas, the relationship with Mother Earth, her territories and waters is the physical, cultural, and spiritual basis for our existence. We are obliged to maintain this relationship with Mother Earth for the survival of our future generations. We gladly assume our role as her guardians. 

Long live peasants and other people working in rural areas! 

Political Declaration – Second Continental Assembly of the CLOC-LVC

By staff - La Via Campesina, Feb 9, 2017

Declaration from the Second Continental Assembly of the CLOC-LVC

(Santandercito 4 May 2017) The Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations, CLOC-La Via Campesina, met in Santandercito, Cundinamarca, Colombia – home to Camilo Torres, María Cano, Juan de la Cruz Varela, Víctor J. Merchan. 150 delegates and 80 organisations representing peasants, indigenous, and afro-descendent peoples coming from 22 countries in Latin America also came to commemorate the Second Continental Assembly, under the slogan: Against Capitalism, for the Sovereignty of our Peoples: the Americas remain united in Struggle ­­– dedicated to the Eternal Commander Fidel Castro Ruz.

We are aware that we are living in a period of imperial coups against people and democracy, and where popular struggles, campaigners and organizations are losing their legitimacy. We are aware that we are living in a period of media dictatorships, bureaucracies, bourgeois States and coup governments. We are aware that we are living in a backward-looking period of conservatism, compounded by a sharp resurgence in the Right throughout the world, where, in recent years, governments are stripping away previously-accorded rights. There is currently a dispute as to who holds global hegemony. Ever since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the US had no opposition in holding world hegemony. Today, this is no longer the case, and China is challenging the US to world hegemony. Geopolitics has become a hot topic in the world that is responsible for these coups. What is more, new blocks such as BRICS have challenged this hegemonic power.

We focus our discussion on the obstacles that hinder the construction of a socialist society. We hold our discussions starting from having a clear understanding of the current challenges faced by our continent, and the world capitalist crisis that started in 2008. Today, this crisis has lead to readjustments taking place in peripheral countries, and money is transferred from these to central countries in order to help the latter get out of the crisis. High capital investment seeks ways of using natural assets, oil, land, water and nature as ways of gaining wealth and power.

We reject exclusive, neoliberal, imperial, patriarchal, and capitalist models that run counter to nature’s harmony and its relationship to human beings and the peace of the people, and that break away from the collective and visionary unity of social justice.

We reiterate our commitment as men, women, young people, peoples and nations to transform our societies right down from day-to-day activities, and achieve unity in diversity, all while maintaining an international perspective. We are committed to prioritizing grassroots-work via political and ideological training, and by using alternative tools and our media to strengthen our fights and achieve Socialism.

We reiterate our commitments to our campaigns and we propose a continental campaign for water to be considered as heritage of the people.

We will continue to work with the youth and strengthen their work, as they will be securing victories in future struggles.

We reaffirm our commitment to coordinate struggles via strategic alliances with other popular organizations and movements in an effort to achieve the Bolivian dream of the Patria Grande (Great Homeland): a socialist society where we will have to overcome huge obstacles in order to put an end to violence against women, and to safeguard the lives of the leaders of popular movements. We pay close attention to the Colombian government complying with the PEACE agreements, the rights of peasants, and the self-sufficient nature of the progressive processes coming out of our continent.

The CLOC-LVC closely monitors the Colombian government, ensuring that it complies with the clauses it signed in the Peace agreement. We closely monitor point one in particular –regarding a complete rural reform with a territorial approach – in order to ensure that the Colombian people have access to commons in order to achieve Food Sovereignty.

We salute the Cuban Revolution and the Bolivian Revolution, recognising them as beacons of Socialism in our America. The Revolutions intensify our hope as Latin Americans, and we stand in solidarity with the struggle and resistance of the people and government of Venezuela against the harsh onslaught of the empire.

We consider Food Sovereignty and Agroecology as basic principles, and as alternative methods to cooling down the planet. We consider them as the only way of changing the current model imposed by agribusinesses and transnational companies. We reiterate that peasant and indigenous agriculture is the only way of feeding humanity in a way that is healthy, sustainable, and that safeguards biodiversity and identities.

We call on all socialist fighting forces to revive the constant struggle for ideology and justice, taking inspiration from the historic struggles of previous generations that paid testament to solidarity among people. We are preparing for the La Vía Campesina’s seventh global conference. As part of our contribution to the political debate at the conference, we will discuss the challenges that the world is currently facing, and we will reiterate the need for unity in this Global Peasant Movement.

We will continue to struggle in order to safeguard life, seeds, water, land, territories and all commons that stem from the collective rights that Mother Earth has given us. The aim of our actions is to have a more socially humane, fair and equal society.

USFSA’s Participation in the #PeoplesClimateMarch

By staff - The US Food Sovereignty Alliance, April 28, 2017

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance, an alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups, is joining in solidarity with the It Takes Roots Coalition at the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29, 2017 to stand for “the rights, actions, and leadership of communities who are at the frontlines of fighting for water, land, and home.”

As a US-based organization, the USFSA upholds the right to food as a fundamental human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to global movements led by farmers, fishers and indigenous people. Corporate-controlled industrial agriculture and fishing are significant contributors to climate change and smallholder farmers producing and harvesting food build the resiliency of ecosystems which contribute to both nourishing people and cooling the planet.

Humans have a right to the resources required to meet their basic needs and provide themselves with shelter, sustenance, and an adequate livelihood. The means of meeting these needs are often embedded in cultural practices that are vital for people’s sense of identity. Food feeds more than the body.

Climate change increases hunger.  A sustainable and nutritious food supply is essential for the entire human population, but it’s also essential for the economic well-being of food producers.  People who produce food – like farmers and fishers – are often hardest hit by climate change, which directly affects their family’s food supply and sources of income.  With 78 percent of the world’s poor relying on farming to support their families, it’s important to develop sustainable ways of farming that support both the environment and those who rely on crops for economic stability.

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn't feeding the world - it's undermining food security

By Claire Robinson - The Ecologist, April 24, 2017

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help 'feed the world'.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto's activities have "negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities."

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto's products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

"Monsanto's activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

"Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food."

NFU commemorates April 17th: International Day of Peasants' Struggle

By staff - La Via Campesina, April 18, 2017

(Saskatoon, April 17, 2017) -  On April 17th, 1996, 19 peasants were killed when military police in Pará, Brazil attacked members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) who were blockading a highway in order to demand agrarian reform. Two more people died from their injuries several days later, and hundreds were so seriously injured that they could not go on working in agriculture. La Via Campesina, which was then in the midst of holding its second international conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico, declared April 17th to be the International Day of Farmers' and Peasants' Struggle

La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) International Programming Committee (IPC) joins in commemorating the International Day of Peasants' Struggle by continuing to work to broaden the NFU's understanding and analysis of the global food system, by better understanding the impact of Canadian agricultural policy on farming families both domestically and globally, and by sharing information and experiences among farmers and their allies in other countries. 

We stand in solidarity with peasants around the world who face threats and discrimination, persecution and violence and we support the advance toward the UN Declaration of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.  

In July 2017, in the Basque Country, La Via Campesina will hold its 7th International Conference.  Several members of the NFU will attend this important conference to deepen our understanding and analysis of the struggles faced by peasants and farmers, and work to strengthen our movement.

The agricultural policy must serve the people

By Geneviève Savigny - La Via Campesina, March 30, 2017

Where have the consistency between the objectives and tools that prevailed in 1957 gone, when we signed the Treaty of Rome A radical shift in policy is necessary in the European Union.

Agriculture, a source of food and of numerous useful products for human life, concerns the whole of society. There was surely a sort of consensus between the agricultural world, policy makers and society on the role played by farmers and the objectives of an agricultural policy, when the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, laid the foundations for the first Common Agricultural Policy. It was first necessary to guarantee food security for people, and thereby produce more, modernize farms but also equip the houses of peasant families where several generations often lived together with the comfort already found in cities. The initial objectives and tools were consistent; increase agricultural productivity, ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural population, stabilise markets, guarantee security of supply, and ensure reasonable prices for consumers. Cheap food would enable keeping low wages and foster Europe’s industrial development. 

Int'l Day of Peasant Struggles 2017: Call to Mobilise!

By Jonathan Rosenblum - La Via Campesina, March 23, 2017

Harare, 23 March 2017: The international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina calls all its members and allies to mobilise on April 17, the International Day of Peasant's struggles.[1]

This year, we want the world to know that peasants and other people working in rural areas have been working very hard for their rights. The rights of peasants initiative, which La Via Campesina started 17 years ago, now is in advanced process within the United Nations towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This declaration, if approved, will create an international legal instrument to protect the rights of and draw attention to the threats and discrimination suffered by peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The need for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working Rural Areas is more urgent and evident in the 21st century. Peasants, who produce the bulk of the food consumed globally, continue to face criminalisation, discrimination, displacements and persecution despite existence of numerous international legal instruments for recognition and protection of such rights.

Peasants’ basic rights are increasingly very vulnerable as the economic and ecological crisis worsens. This situation is closely linked to human rights violations: expropriation of land, forced eviction, gender discrimination, the absence of right to land and lack of rural development, low income and lack access to means of production, insufficient social protection, and criminalization of movements defending the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas.

For instance, in Africa, over 70% of the agricultural production and care-giving is done by women but there is little recognition of their rights in relation to asset ownership, access to credit, information and participation in policy making etc. In Brazil, despite many years of peasants struggling for comprehensive agrarian reform, fair redistribution of land remains unfulfilled. In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy and market deregulation of the milk sector affect hundreds of thousands of family farmers. In Asia, much as in rest of the world, free trade agreements and bilateral treaties have destroyed local markets and continue to threaten local and traditional ways of farming and farmers‘ exchange. Land concentration is increasing as some of the affected farmers are forced to sell their land; youth participation in farming is at its lowest. 

We call upon the people around the world to celebrate International Day of Peasants’ Struggle by continuing to work to reinforce food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity; to fight for a genuine agrarian reform and a better protection against land-grabbing; continue to conserve, use, and exchange our seeds; and strengthen the solidarity among ourselves. These give strength for us to defend our land against corporate interest, persecution and violence against peasants and other people working in rural areas.

This year in July 2017 in the Basque Country, La Via Campesina will hold its VIIth International Conference to deepen our analysis of the current crisis and agree on strategic lines for action to strengthen our movement.

We also call upon countries to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. We will mobilise our members and allies to pressure our governments to make the next negotiation in the 4th session of Open Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on rights of peasants and other people working in rural area at UN HR Council Geneva successful. We believe in championing the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, humanity also wins.

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