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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.

Why Progressives Should Care About US Agricultural Policy

By Mark Willsey - Truthout, March 16, 2017

Nearly all of Trump's electoral wins were in rural districts, many of which are made up of farming communities. This is where Trump thrived. I have seen it firsthand: I have lived in the city, worked in manufacturing and I'm now a farmer in a small farming town in Central Illinois.

For the progressive movement to make inroads in communities like mine, it needs to put forward a serious plan for how the US government can stop subsidizing corporate farms and instead return the land to small family farmers who work the land. Farmers should not have to farm 20,000 acres of rented land just to make a living.

To move toward a future in which progressives are able to put forward such a plan, it's crucial for everyone in this country -- including city dwellers -- to gain a basic literacy about the agricultural shifts that have taken place in the US and what it would take to move away from corporate agriculture on a mass scale.

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.

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