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agroecology

Behind a corporate monster: How Monsanto pushes agricultural domination

By Alan Broughton - Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2017

Monsanto, one of the world’s biggest pesticide and seed corporations and leading developer of genetically modified crop varieties, had a stock market value of US$66 billion in 2014. It has gained this position by a combination of deceit, threat, litigation, destruction of evidence, falsified data, bribery, takeovers and cultivation of regulatory bodies.

Its rise and torrid controversies cover a long period starting with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, chemicals used as insulators for electrical transformers) in the 1940s and moving on to dioxin (a contaminant of Agent Orange used to defoliate Vietnam), glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide), recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, a hormone injected into dairy cows to increase their milk production), and genetic modified organisms (GMOs).

Its key aim in dealing with health and environmental issues is to protect sales and profits and the company image. The latter has been a monumental failure, making Monsanto potentially the most hated corporation in the world.

To better sell its GMO technology, Monsanto began acquiring seed companies in 1996 and within 10 years became the largest seed supplier in the world. If the planned merger with German multinational Bayer takes place, the combined corporate giant will control a third of the world’s seed market and a quarter of the pesticide market.

Manifest: Rights of peasants – a step ahead for the future of humanity

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 17, 2017

The International Congress on Peasants’ Rights, which took place from 7 to 10 March in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, brought together close to one hundred peasants and representatives of food producers from all over the world,  along with the same diversity of human rights defenders and activists. The Congress concluded with the presentation of a Manifesto on the need for a Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, a text that was finalized with the contribution of the participants to the event. Below you can find the full text.

Almost 500 years ago, growing encroachments on peasants’ common lands by princes and churches led to rural uprisings in Southern Germany and to the drafting of the peasants’ “Twelve Articles”. This document represents the first record of demands for human rights and liberties in Europe, and included the right to equal access to lands, forests and fishing grounds. Although the feudal lords brutally crushed this revolt, peasants kept resisting and showing that the feudal nobility hadn’t defeated them. History shows that when peasants are rolled back in one place they reappear in another one. Peasant revolts are still on-going!

The Global Peasants’ Rights Congress, taking place from the 8th to the 10th of March 2017, shows this. More than 400 peasants, fishers, pastoralists, beekeepers, indigenous people, migrant and seasonal workers, rural women, youth, food consumers, NGOs’ representatives, academics, lawyers, activists and government representatives from more than 50 countries gathered together in the city of Schwäbisch Hall, a hotspot of the 16th-century “Great Peasants’ War”, to exchange views, to learn and to increase awareness about the current process of drafting a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This Declaration has roots in an initiative of La Vía Campesina launched more than 15 years ago. With the sponsorship of the Bolivian Government, the process has been rapidly advancing in the UN Human Rights Council and will now go to a fourth round of negotiations in May 2017. This week’s Global Peasants’ Rights Congress showed that while we come from highly diverse backgrounds, we are nonetheless able to join hands in defense of human dignity and nature. This process resembles a river, with an increasing number of tributaries, crossing different landscapes and flowing together in a mighty stream of life.

Faced with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, Food Sovereignty is more necessary than ever

By Michel Buisson, et. al. - La Via Campesina, March 17, 2017

With the Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of the extreme right in Europe and the increase in migration, there is an urgent need to intensify the cooperation between countries and their populations. Wars, climate change, the depletion of natural resources, poverty, hunger and malnutrition, but also the increase in inequalities, are all fundamental problems that humanity must seek to resolve together.  This cannot be done without questioning both the current neoliberal globalization, and the xenophobic and nationalist orientations that are opposed to economic globalization while protecting and defending their own interests. 

The false answers to neoliberalism are in the spotlight, notably that of Donald Trump  who, in his presidential project,  on the one hand develops protections against imports and brings the Transpacific Treaty to a standstill, and on the other promotes financial capitalism, US transnational corporations, fossil fuels, and green capitalism,… while denying climate change and repressing social struggles. The European Union is no exception, which imposes on Africa very unequal economic partnership agreements (EPAs), and maintains, in its Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), masked tools enabling protection and dumping . Official criticism, including that of the IMF, of the defects or excesses of globalization, the postponement of the transatlantic treaty project (while the CETA  is in the process of adoption), and the current reduction in international trade, show us that the neoliberal framework is out of breath. But these developments do not prevent transnational corporations from pursuing their offensives, protecting themselves with patents, and seeking to impose private arbitration tribunals in trade agreements. 

Social movements are struggling against the negotiation of “free” trade agreements, and demanding climate justice, international solidarity, and that the human rights of all be respected, everywhere.  These various struggles aim to meet the expectations of the populations affected by the impacts of neoliberal globalization, in the areas of food, the environment, income and employment. At the heart of these struggles is the food sovereignty movement, which claims the right of peoples to democratically decide their food and agricultural policies, and aims at radically changing our food systems. 

Our response to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia lies in strengthening mobilizations at four levels (local, national, regional, international) to achieve food sovereignty, a demand made by the global peasant movement La Via Campesina and many other organizations since 1996.

Food sovereignty is “the right of people, their countries or unions, to define their agriculture and food policy, without dumping vis-à-vis third countries", (La Via campesina, 2003). It « puts those who produce, process and consume healthy and local food at the heart of our agriculture and food systems […] instead of the demands of market and transnational companies …"(Nyéléni Forum, 2007). Food sovereignty is a democratic requirement, which goes contrary to the capturing of power by the corporate agenda. And this is not an agenda of withdrawal: the social movements who claim food sovereignty express international solidarity, and they do not question the role of international trade – although they call for its regulation and for a rebalancing between international trade and reinforcing local food systems.

Food sovereignty must be translated at the UN into new international trade rules, favouring the adoption, at national and regional levels, of agricultural policies that are adapted to the needs of countries in terms of market organization, and are conducive of sustainable agriculture and alternative production and exchange practices. It aims to provide food security in good conditions.

Food sovereignty is not autarky. It wants to put international trade in its proper place by giving priority to agriculture and food for the people, not to markets. It provides a new framework, favorable to policies of relocalization of production, agro-ecology, and sustainable access to/protection of natural resources. It makes it possible to develop culturally adapted food systems that prioritize nutrition, health, and the environment. 

At the international level, food sovereignty provides the basis for moving from currently hegemonic trade - favoured by WTO rules and benefiting powerful states and transnational companies -, to cooperative exchanges, which set limits on the advantages of countries that could abuse their competitive position.  To the duty of countries not to harm the agricultural economies of third countries, must correspond the right to put in place real protections – tariffs and import quotas in particular -, that are justified on economical, social and environmental grounds. 

Faced with the global concentration of agrifood power, consumers and citizens have developed both an increased understanding of the stakes and their capacity for action. Initiatives to relocalize food systems are multiplying but remain fragile under current policies. In this battle for food sovereignty, let us not leave peasants alone. Food is everyone’s business. Together,  peasant and civil society organizations, institutions, researchers, must propose new rules, new frameworks for international trade in agriculture and food and agriculture policies, building on successful local « transition » alternatives. It’s urgent. The forthcoming adoption at the UN of a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas, and advances at the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), including on the importance of access to territorial markets for small food producers, should constitute a base towards food sovereignty.

Through the large and plural mobilizations it implies, and its many contributions, food sovereignty is an essential battle in this current period of high risk: to curb nationalism, injustices, xenophobia, and to safeguard and develop peasant agriculture, the production of affordable, nutritive and healthy food, and the protection of our planet.

Stop Protecting the Criminality of the Global Pesticides Industry

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, March 17, 2017

The agrichemicals industry wallows like an overblown hog in a cesspool of corruption. With its snout firmly embedded in the trough of corporate profit to the detriment of all else, it is most likely responsible for more death and disease than the combined efforts of the tobacco companies ever were. It indulges in criminality that hides behind corporate public relationsmedia misrepresentations and the subversion of respectable-sounding agencies which masquerade as public institutions.

Dominated by a handful of powerful parasitical corporations with a global reach, the message from this sector is that its synthetic biocides are necessary to feed billions who would otherwise go hungry. Often accompanying this public relations-inspired tale is the notion that organic agriculture is not productive enough, or is a kitchen-table niche, and that agroecology is impractical.

Of course, as any genuinely informed person would know that, as numerous high-level reports have suggested, organic farming and agroecology could form the mainstay of agriculture if they were accorded sufficient attention and investment. Unfortunately, big agribusiness players, armed with their chemicals or GMOs seek to marginalise effective solutions which threaten their markets and interests.

Armed with a compulsion to dominate and to regard themselves as conqueror and owner of nature, they require more of the same: allegiance to neoliberal fundamentalism and an unsustainable model of farming that is so damaging to soil that we could have at most just 60 years of farming left if we don’t abandon it.

Since the end of the Second World War, we have had to endure our fields and food being poisoned in the manner Rachel Carson highlighted decades ago. These companies sell health-and environment-damaging products, co-opt scientistscontrol public institutions and ensure farmers are kept on a chemical treadmill. From CEOs and scientists to public officials and media/PR spin doctors, specific individuals can be identified and at some stage should be hauled into court for what amounts to ‘crimes against humanity’.

In his 2014 book, ‘Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the US EPA’, E G Vallianatos, who worked for the EPA for 25 years, says:

“It is simply not possible to understand why the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] behaves the way it does without appreciating the enormous power of American’s industrial farmers and their allies in the chemical pesticide industries, which currently do about $40 billion per in year business. For decades, industry lobbyists have preached the gospel of unregulated capitalism and Americans have bought it. Today, it seems the entire government is at the service of the private interests of America’s corporate class.”

Sweat Shops, GMOs and Neoliberal Fundamentalism: The Agroecological Alternative to Global Capitalism

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, March 7, 2017

Much of the argument in favour of GM agriculture involves little more than misrepresentations and unscrupulous attacks on those who express concerns about the technology and its impacts. These attacks are in part designed to whip up populist sentiment and denigrate critics so that corporate interests can secure further control over agriculture. They also serve to divert attention from the underlying issues pertaining to hunger and poverty and genuine solutions, as well as the self-interest of the pro-GMO lobby itself.

The very foundation of the GMO agritech sector is based on a fraud. The sector and the wider transnational agribusiness cartel to which it belongs have also successfully captured for their own interests many international and national bodies and policies, including the WTO, various trade deals, governments institutions and regulators. From fraud to duplicity, little wonder then the sector is ridden with fear and paranoia.

“They are scared to death,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of several books on food policy. She adds: “They have an industry to defend and are attacking in the hope that they’ll neutralize critics … It’s a paranoid industry and has been from the beginning.”

Moving towards a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas

By Elizabeth Mpofu - La Via Campesina, March 9, 2017

The need for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas is all the more urgent and evident in the 21st century. Despite years of campaigning for a better recognition and protection of the rights of peasants, displacements and criminalization continue affecting hundreds of thousands of peasants globally.

Hunger and malnutrition, unemployment and poverty all have something in common; they are more prevalent in rural areas and the countryside. Because of this, most people coming from the countryside, have been exploited (policies forced upon them with limited consultation and participation), dispossessed, displaced, criminalized, brutally treated by those in power and the rich, sometimes taken to court and/or killed for defending their rights related to natural resources, values and culture. Such injustices in most cases have gone unpunished or reported. Laws or political concepts have been made to sanitize and sanctify social injustices. The future UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas will contribute to solve these problems by recognizing rights to land, water, seeds and other natural resources and stressing the importance of improving access to productive resources and investment in appropriate rural development. This will be a milestone for peasants and rural people all over the world.

Agro-fuels, GMOs, climate smart agriculture are put on the table as a solution to the current climate, food and economic crisis. It opens further the doors for the expansion of industrial agriculture and the exclusion of peasants. The primary role of agriculture is to produce food, not agro-fuels and commodities. Our struggle is for the recognition and acknowledgement of Peasants’ Rights, to achieve both equity and equality, socially, economically and ecologically.

Globally, millions of peasants have been illegally evicted from their lands to make way for “modern agriculture”, agro-fuels, forests (REDD+ for carbon trading) and other natural resources (water), and many other fictitious commodities created for profits by transnational corporations and elites. This has not only affected peasants but also many indigenous peoples. In Africa we see an increase in the erosion of peasants’ rights to seeds and land and access to water in general. These were initiated following the global food crisis by various actors, such as the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa (NAFSN), the harmonization of seed regulatory systems by Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). There has been visible widespread land grabbing by foreign interests in many African countries which led to dispossession and displacement of hundreds of thousands of rural peasants. The less visible is the on-going reforms of Seeds Acts and policies to align them to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 to promote big seed industries and to move towards criminalizing peasant saved systems, undermining the rights of peasants.

The rising influence of TNCs in global politics is affecting many of the rights held by peasants: rights to participation and information, safety and health, work, decent incomes and livelihoods, access to justice, life, liberty, physical and personal security and free movement. States must respect, protect and fulfil the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. In this particular aspect, we need States to be present both in their territories and also extra-territorial. We need our government to protect peasants and other people working in rural areas- so that individuals, organizations, TNCs and other businesses do not negate our rights.

We see the capture of public policies and the promotion of Free Trade Agreements (TTIP, CETA, TTP, EPAs, RECPs) as the attempt to dominate and monopolize new markets for profits. Neither nature nor humanity are respected but rather are destroyed and exploited for profit maximization. Last year criminalization in the form of continued threats, abductions, torture, persecution, illegal evictions and killings in a number of countries such as Honduras, Colombia, and Brazil, among others, were prevalent. Thus, millions of affected people leave their territories and migrate to developed industrial countries.

We promote a model based on Food Sovereignty and support for agroecological peasant agriculture as a solution to food, climate and social crisis. Why is big capital investing billions of dollars in technologies (toxic agro-chemicals and fertilizers) which we all know cause harm to humanity and the planet? Why are land and natural resources from peasants taken away to produce for export? Such violations are mainly led by capitalist interests. Transnational companies keep violating basic rights with impunity while people struggling to defend the rights of their communities continue to be criminalized, at times killed. We as La Vía Campesina, together with allies, continue to engage and lobby our respective governments and the UN to ensure that such violations receive urgent attention.

The stage we have reached is a critical milestone in the long road towards the creation of an international legal instrument protecting peasants’ rights. After discussing it internally for several years, La Vía Campesina submitted a first proposal in 2008 to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) so that the rights of peasants- men and women- are formally recognized. This includes the right to life and adequate standards of living, the right to land and territory, to seeds, to information, justice and equality between men and women. Using the UN human right mechanisms is seen by the international peasant movement as a strategy to legitimize the peasant’s struggle and to support local struggles everywhere in the world. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas will provide a new tool for peasants to defend their lives and their land. We also need to mobilize support for the UN Declaration on peasant rights process to achieve some of these desired goals. The Declaration will ensure and reinforce the interpretation of the implementation of human rights in relation to peasants whose specific rights are insufficient and inadequate in existing legal instruments. Today, March 8th, peasant women are also mobilizing all over the world to stop violence on our bodies and on our territories and for the recognition of our rights. Peasant women are the main producers in the world and therefore this declaration is especially important for us.

The plight for further protection of the rights of peasants has been a movement-driven process, with La Via Campesina and peasants, fisher folk, indigenous, pastoralists, rural workers, women, and youth organizations at the forefront. This is a demand from people all over the world. In achieving this, we hope to solve current realities, from hunger, malnutrition to rural development. In championing the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, humanity also wins.

Peasants of the world unite in Schwaebisch Hall for a declaration on Peasants' Rights

By Rudolf Bühler, Geneviève Savigny, Sofia Monsalve - La Via Campesina, February 23, 2017

Peasants* feed the majority of the world‘s population. Still, they are increasingly repressed by governments, as well as by the food and agro industries. From 7th to 10th of March, over a hundred peasant and food producer representatives from all over the world will meet with politicians, human rights advocates and Global South activists to pave the way for stronger legal protection of their basic rights in the German town Schwaebisch Hall. Supported by 40 partners, the Global Peasants‘ Rights Congress is the result of intensive and joint work by organizations struggling for the rights of peasants: the “Foundation House of Farmers” (HdB), the “Farmers’ Cooperative Schwaebisch Hall” (BESH), the “European Coordination Via Campesina” (ECVC), the Working-group Peasantry Farming (AbL) and FIAN International (FIAN).

Peasants fulfill a most fundamental task: They feed the vast majority of the world‘s population. According to their ancient know-how about soil cultivation, breeding and harvesting, they cultivate their land in a sustainable manner that corresponds to the local conditions. In doing so, they preserve biodiversity, increase soil fertility and contribute to strengthening the region’s added-value.

Nevertheless, peasants are increasingly losing their access to land due to unfair competition from powerful local elites and transnational corporations. This includes practices that ultimately grant the genetic base of their plant breeds and stock to multinational monopolies. In such a context of landgrabbing and biopiracy, many small scale food producers lose their livelihoods along with their traditional knowledge. Additionally, as regional food markets erode, food production for local needs is increasingly being replaced by export-oriented cash crops. Peasants who resist those developments are often harassed and criminalized.

The existing international legal framework does not protect peasants sufficiently against these threats to their livelihoods. Since its founding in 2012, the foundation House of Farmers has strived for instruments that strengthen peasants‘rights. In doing so, they support the worldwide peasants’ movement La Via Campesina and the international human rights organization FIAN. For several years, these have, together with others, successfully carried out advocacy work at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIGWG) to draft the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas”.

In a joint effort, the organizations will bring together peasant representatives from all over the world, who will report on the violations of their rights and work together on a peasants’ rights manifest. The manifest will address the UN working group and will encourage all State parties in the UNHRC to strengthen the rights of peasants nationally and internationally. 

The Global Peasants’ Rights Congress will take place from the 7th to 10th of March in Schwaebisch Hall. Among others, inputs will be given by: Klaus Töpfer, former director of the environment program of the UN (UNEP), Nardi Suxo Iturry, Bolivian ambassador und chairlady of the open-ended working-group on peasants rights at the UNHRC and Pat Mooney, winner of the Right Livelihood Award from the ETC Group, Rudolf Bühler, founder of the “Foundation House of Farmers”, Henry Saragih and Elizabeth Mpofu, the leaders of La Via Campesina, the world’s biggest peasant movement. For more information, see: http://www.global-peasants-rights.com.

The Long Read: Reflections and Revelations, Round up of the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2017

By Dee Butterly - Land Workers' Alliance, January 2017

Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”

Wendell Berry, American Farmer and Activist.

The seeds of stories

A strong theme throughout the 2017 Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) was the need for us in these times to speak from the heart, and to share with each other our personal stories, our realities, and our struggles. Throughout the two day conference on the 4th and 5th January, I recognised my own experience expressed over and over again through the passionate voices and shared stories of others.

Whenever I meet a fellow farmer, be if the first time, or countless times – I feel an immediate curiosity, connection and respect. I feel a shared sense of excitement, and an implicit knowing, seldom expressed through words, that we both love what we do, and take a huge amount of pride and passion in it.

For me, it is in the welcoming of the growing season, marked by the arrival of the swallows over head in spring time and the chattering of the goldfinches in the hedgerows, that I feel I am truly home. It is in the morning sunlight that pierces through a carpet of clover playing in the breeze that I remember to take a moment of gratitude for being able to do what I do. It is in the deep, dense smell of the soil as we harvest that I feel a harmonious resonance with the earth. And It is in the power of seeds and the social stories they carry with them that the true magic of farming comes alive for me.

Holding them in my hands I marvel at their possibility and their strength. Curiously wondering of where and by whom these seeds came from before they reached the propagating table, and where next they will travel to, I often lay them in my palm for just a moment of contemplation, regardless of how much there is to do that day. These are also the times when I am reminded and reflect on the precarity of the future of these seeds and our rights to save and swap them, of our food system and of our livelihoods as farmers here and around the world.

Throughout the 2017 Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) the need for us in these times to speak from the heart, and to share with each other our personal stories, our realities, our passions, and our struggles. Over the two-day conference on the 4th and 5th January, I recognised my own experience expressed over and over again through the passionate voices and shared stories of others.

These stories of our lived experiences, and the accounts of the resilience and action people are taking here and around the world were shared so strongly by so many at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. And it is in the power of listening to each other’s stories and sharing with each other our lived experience that enables us to have far more than just solidarity with each other. It is a way of connecting that lays common foundations from which to take seriously the need to galvanise the energy and momentum that we all have into building alliances and a strong coordinated food and farming movement together over the coming year.

Agriculture is part of the climate change solution

By Lois Ross - Rabble.Ca, January 24, 2017

Small farmers face pretty much the same issues no matter what part of the world they happen to till -- access to land, seed, financing and more.

I learned that lesson while rolling through the hills of northern Nicaragua, acting as an interpreter for a brigade of Canadian farmers hoping to transfer their skills to support local farmers. At that time mechanization for many small farmers in Nicaragua seemed to be the main impediment. But thinking back to the exchanges I translated, the lack of tractors, chemicals and artificial fertilizers presented challenges but also possibilities to explore.

How do you grow food in a world where resources are limited? For small farmers in developing regions, resources have always been limited. These Canadian and Nicaraguan farmers wanted to learn from each other, and the challenges each group faced related to producing food, farming methods, and taking care of the soil and their communities. The question was how best to do this in a global system based on profit and not on stewardship. At the end of the brigade's stay, it would be fair to say that the Canadians learned as much if not more than their Nicaraguan counterparts. Both realized that the problems facing agriculture were much larger than farmers themselves. Still, they persevered.

These progressive farmers knew that agriculture could be part of the solution -- for community, health, food security and much more.

Agriculture and climate change

Despite the attempts of certain farm groups, for many years agricultural practices in so-called developed nations have been environmentally destructive. We have been told that the industrial model of agriculture is necessary to ensure production and food security. It's an old story, one that has created a false reality. And the North has promoted that false reality. Aid programs targetting developing nations have long tried to transfer the industrialized model to smaller, poorer countries. Industrial agriculture has been supported as the only model that is successful. The costs have been huge.

The time has come to look at how agriculture might actually be a huge part of climate change mitigation.

Agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is going to mean putting stewardship and food production ahead of profit and expansion. It is possible.

In the '70s and '80s we were told that organic farming was impossible, that crops would be lost to weeds, that a farmer would go bankrupt, that people would end up starving -- that organic farming was just not possible. Now huge corporations are trying to sell us organic food produced on the other side of the planet. Parts of the organic model have been conveniently skipped -- the part about local production for social, economic and environmental reasons. Essentially the agroecological principles of organic farming are removed when it becomes based on imported food and corporate farming. These are the same practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to reducing them.

These days terms like carbon sequestration, biodynamic agriculture, Demeter farming, holistic management, regenerative agriculture, perennial polyculture, and permaculture are entering the ag lexicon -- phrases that are all related to practices consistent with agroecology that link agriculture and climate change.

Agroecology in Puerto Rico

By Corbin Laedlein - Why Hunger, January 4, 2017

On November 11th to 13th, La Via Campesina member organization Organización Boricuá held the Campamento Agroecológico de Formación Política [Agroecological Encampment for Political Formation] at the Siembra Tres Vidas farm in the mountainous municipality of Aibonito, located one hour south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The encampment’s 25-plus participants brought together members of Organización Boricuá, other activists involved in agroecology projects throughout the island, and activists and organizers involved in other social struggles. I participated in the three-day encampment as a representative of WhyHunger, to develop our understanding of the current context in Puerto Rico and to learn more about the organizing work happening on the island around agroecology.

The goal of the encampment was to bring people together to work and learn with one another and study agroecology as a tool of struggle within the current political context. The methodology of the encampment consisted of farm work in the mornings, followed by facilitated discussions on topics including the agrarian history of Puerto Rico, agroecology as a tool for social struggle and gender dynamics within social movements. Those facilitated discussions were followed by more informal conversations around a campfire, during which the participants further discussed ideas generated throughout the day. Tasks such as cooking and cleaning were shared among teams of participants during the encampment, and one team also assumed the task of note-taking during discussions. Towards the end of the process, they synthesized the ideas generated into a draft declaration that was then edited and approved by the encampment’s participants.

I had the great privilege to listen and participate in the rich dialogue and debates that took place that weekend. In thinking about how the conversations in the encampment compared to similar conversations I’ve participated in the U.S., I noticed that, similar to the way many conversations and work around food justice, food sovereignty and agroecology are grounded in an analysis of how U.S. historic and structural settler colonialism and racism have shaped and continue to manifest in the food system today, the conversations during the encampment about the need for agroecology were grounded in Puerto Rico’s history and current status as a colony and their own struggles for self-determination and decolonization.

That history begins with the Taíno indigenous people, who cultivated root crops like cassava, sweet potatoes, squash and corn in mounds called conucos. With the brutal colonization of the island of Borinken by the Spanish in the late 15th century, many Taínos fled to the interior of the island as the Spaniards introduced plantation-style agriculture in the lowlands. This form of agriculture was dependent on the labor of enslaved Taínos and Africans to produce crops to export to the Spanish Empire’s metropole. With the acquisition of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American war, the focus on the production of cash crops (sugar, coffee, tobacco) for export continued, with little support for jibaros/as, the islands peasant farmers who mostly farmed the mountainsides. Following World War II, small-scale agriculture in Puerto Rico declined further. Largely unable to access land and credit, neglected rural populations migrated to the newly industrialized cities in Puerto Rico and the United States in hopes of better opportunities and higher salaries. The introduction of the food stamp program in the 1970s transformed the diets and consumption patterns of Puerto Rican consumers, who began purchasing more imported and processed food at supermarkets rather than from local markets. Today, more than 80% of food consumed on the island is imported.

These processes resulted in the mass exodus from the mountains and the disconnection of many in the subsequent generations from the land and agriculture, and well as the widespread loss of jibaro/a growing techniques and peasant seeds. Luckily, a back-to-the-land movement similar to that of the United States grew in the 70s and young people returned to the mountains to start organic farms. Many of these folks built relationships with the few remaining peasant farmers and learned how to farm Puerto Rico’s tropical mountainsides. Some of these individuals now make up Organización Boricuá’s most senior members.

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