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food sovereignty movement

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! 

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.

Documents by La Via Campesina

“Food is political!” 33,000 demand quicker change of our agricultural and food systems

By - La Via Campesina, January 30, 2018

Excerpts from the joint press release of German civil society organizations participating last weekend in Berlin’s “We’re fed up with it” demonstration. For the complete text (German only) please click here

With a deafening cooking-pot concert, 33,000 people at the “We’re fed up!” demonstration at the start of the Green Week in Berlin called on the next German government to come up with a new agricultural policy. ‘Industrial agriculture and food industry is causing local and global problems for farmers, climate, animals and the environment,’ says Jochen Fritz – spokesperson of “We´re fed up!” – on behalf of the more than 100 organisations that called for this demonstration. He adds: ‘The transition to an environmentally friendly, animal-friendly and climate-friendly agriculture in which farmers can live justly from their work must not be postponed by politicians.’

Demonstrators beat their pans in front of the Agriculture Ministers’ Summit gathered in the German Finance Ministry. They demanded respect for human rights, fair trade conditions and more support for the rural population worldwide. Already in the morning the 160 farmers who led the demonstration with their tractors handed over a protest note to the 70 ministers from all over the world present in the Summit. ‘We want to get out of the fatality of export agendas and land concentration, which have tied a noose on the neck of farmers here and around the world,’ says Fritz about the consequences of agricultural policies. ‘In the last 12 years, one third of all farms in Germany had to close their doors.’

Alliance spokesman Fritz continues: ‘Food is political, more and more people are recognizing this. But our policies are feeding the agricultural industry and produce at the expense of the environment, climate and animals. So that we don’t have all to pay for it in the long term, the big coalition (GroKo – CDU/CSU-SPD) must now turn the tables*. Those who produce and eat sustainably must be rewarded.’

Concrete projects in the next legislative period must be – in addition to glyphosate phase-out and proper transformation of livestock stables and pens – the obligation to label animal foodstuffs, prohibiting last-resort antibiotics in animal husbandry and fair market rules for the protection of farms. Furthermore, the payment of EU agricultural subsidies to non-agricultural investors, who are grabbing more and more farmland, must be stopped immediately.

‘We need a fundamental reform of European agricultural policy. Those who cultivate crops in an environmental and climate friendly way and raise animals in an appropriate manner must be supported by direct payments, not those who own the most land. Farmers are ready, but politicians must create the framework. Rural areas are in particular need of small and medium-size farms’, says Georg Janßen, Head of Office of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL).

* at the moment, the three biggest political parties in Germany (CDU/CSU-SPD) are negotiating the formation of the next government

Government prepares to legitimize Dole Lanka’s illegitimate endeavors company allowed to retain forest land illegally encroached?

By Sajeewa Chamikara - La Via Campesina, January 19, 2018

Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (Monlar)

The current United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) administration seems to be continuing the support given to Dole Lanka Private Limited, which has illegally cleared protected forests, which acted as catchment areas and destroyed farm lands owned by small holders, given by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. The Department of Forest Conservation has obtained court orders to remove farm lands operated by Dole Lanka Private Limited, scattered in various lands owned by the department in the Sri Lankan dry zone. However the government has halted the implementation of these court orders and is attempting to hand over the land to the controversial company.

The first step of this legitimization of Dole was the cabinet paper (CP 16/1934/752/023) regularizing the land used for banana cultivation by Dole Lanka Private Limited in Kuda Oya and Demodara in Moneragala district’ on September 15, 2016 by Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade. President Maithripala Sirisena, as the minister of Mahaweli and Environment as well as the ministers of Lands and Finance has also noted their observations to the cabinet paper. The note to the cabinet by President Maithripala Sirisena clearly states that Dole Lanka Private Limited has not obtained the permission of the Department of Forest Conservation to establish these banana plantations. The note also states that the Dole Lanka Private Limited has admitted before court that it is using the lands in Kuda Oya and Demodara without permission or approval. However the cabinet memorandum has recommended to seek the advice of the Attorney General to come into an agreement with Dole Lanka Private Limited, so that the company can continue to use the lands. Thus the Attorney General is studying how Dole Lanka Private Limited can keep on using these lands.

However according to the laws of the land, it is not possible to transfer the ownership of land that belong to the Department of Forest Conservation to Dole Lanka Private Limited, or any other private entity. The Commissioner of Lands can release lands for any investment, only if approval is granted by relevant agencies after conducting the necessary feasibility studies. The government can release the land, on long term lease, to a private entity, according to the Section 199 (G) of the land Ordinance, only after that requirement has been completed. For this the approval of the Minister of lands is needed and the land can be released after recommendations by the President.

Although this is the standard procedure when it comes to releasing land for an investment, a number of factors prevent Dole Lanka Private Limited from accessing state owned land. Chief among them is the fact that Dole Lanka Private Limited has encroached the land that belongs to the Department of Forest Conservation and has used these lands for several years illegally and the fact that they have used the land without any feasibility studies prior to the commencement of the project. Moreover the Forest Conservation Department has taken legal action against Dole Lanka Private Limited, for illegally maintaining farm lands in Kuda Oya and Demodara at the Wellawaya Magistrates’ Court (case numbers MC 215 and 216.) Given this context the attempts by the Cabinet to handover these illegally encroached lands to Dole Lanka Private Limited is a bad example.

En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras (In the Struggle There Are No Borders)

By Kathia Ramirez - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, January 11, 2018

Fifth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel with 7 other comrades on an Agroecology Exchange to South Africa. This Exchange was a continuation of a process that had initiated in 2015 which was the same year that I was introduced to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Although there was much traveling, it was an amazing experience to see and learn from farmers, farmworkers, activists, and people in the community who are struggling due to the current food system.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to interpret for another delegate and feel the dynamic of how language is not a barrier to being able to relate across seas. The experience interpreting allowed me to relate and connect both with people in South Africa as well as to the stories that were shared with me from my same culture since I share a similar background to the delegate I was interpreting for. During our visit to Limpopo, members of the Mopani Farmers Association put together a cultural event just for us and once again, I felt the connection through dance and music despite our different backgrounds. It brought so much to mind for me: from appreciating the work that I am doing to learning more about my own culture from which at some point I have felt very disconnected.

When we arrived in Citrusdal, Cape Town and were hosted by the Surplus People’s Project, we honored International Rural Women’s Day through participating in a Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, and an assembly for the International Day of Eradication of Poverty. As members and allies of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, we participated on the last day and had the opportunity to share about our experiences and also had the chance to be part of a panel discussion, where we had both Farmer and Farmworker delegates sharing their stories. Among those on the panel were member organizations from The Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign. It was amazing to see how even though we joined these organizations on the last day of their three-day meeting, we were easily able to engage because our struggles are very similar. We were also very welcomed to engage when we participated in a meeting with Urban Farmers in Cape Town, and again, we identified some of the same issues that are affecting us although we are from two different countries.

Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US

By Edgar Franks - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, December 7, 2017

This past October I was part of the delegation sent by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to South Africa. The delegation is part of a process to connect with groups throughout Africa with US-based Food Sovereignty groups to build an international analysis on the food system and to be in solidarity with one another.

During the 11 days our delegation was in South Africa, we were able to meet with many organizations throughout different regions, each with their unique struggles. Our delegation was small but represented many different sectors within the food system, including farmworkers, Black farmers, and immigrants; we all brought our own area or expertise to the trip and complimented each other well.

Even though every place we visited we learned a lot and were impacted by the amount of work and organizing that was happening, I want to share about the exchange that we had with the farmworkers in Robertson in the Western Cape.

Personally, I was able to connect to the farmworker struggle in the Western Cape, as there was a familiarity with the way issues and conditions were discussed. The analysis that was shared resonated with me profoundly considering that farmworkers here in the United States are also going through the same exploitation.

At Community to Community in Washington, we try to recognize that the struggle for farmworker justice is not limited to the workplace. Farmworkers’ lives are complex and have many intersections which is why we know that in order to achieve our goals – especially when it comes to transforming the food system – that we must go beyond just fighting for union contracts. Food Sovereignty for farmworkers also means being recognized as humans who are capable of leading ourselves. That is why we also organize for immigrant rights, climate justice, women’s rights, and food sovereignty.

Globalising the struggle also means globalising solidarity and hope: La Via Campesina, while accepting the XV Navarra International Prize for Solidarity

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 7, 2017

Full text of the message that La Via Campesina delivered while accepting the XV Navarra International Prize for Solidarity on 21 November 2017

We thank you first of all for the Navarra International Prize for Solidarity. We consider it a recognition of a process of resistance and construction of a more just and humane alternative.

We also take the opportunity to apologize that our general secretary, Elizabeth Mopfu of Zimbabwe, was not able to participate in this event. It is our pleasure to stand in for her; we are María Canil of Guatemala and Unai Aranguren of the Basque Country, both members of the International Coordinating Committee of La Via Campesina.

La Via Campesina is a world movement of peasant organizations and other people working in rural areas. It represents 200 million peasant and small-holder families spread over all of the world’s continents.

It emerged in a neo-liberal context in which the financial capital of transnational corporations came to dominate agriculture. This new period was characterized by the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which had devastating consequences for the countryside and agriculture worldwide and fueled the need to articulate popular resistance at the international level.

The creation of La Via Campesina was principally founded on actions of solidarity, the urgency of mobilizing solidarity as a fundamental value in light of the evictions, repression, detentions and even massacres that peasants, men and women, were facing (and are still facing) in various parts of the world. Accordingly we highlight this call, as we receive the XV Navarre International Prize for Solidarity: “Globalizing the struggle also means globalizing solidarity, and the hope of the peoples of the world”.

We live in difficult times in which humankind is confronted with serious economic, political and environmental crises, but also a crisis of values and of profound contradictions between capital and labor. This is also very much the reality of people in the countryside, worldwide.

However, during its journey of more than 20 years, La Via Campesina has succeeded in articulating struggles at the international level, developing a politicized peasant and smallholder identity tied to the land and the production of healthy food in a sovereign manner. Our members represent the sectors worst hit by the globalization of food: small and medium-sized producers, day laborers, landless people, rural women, indigenous communities. This made it possible for our movement to break away from the North-South divide, and to integrate organizations from all over the world.

The emergence of La Via Campesina as a sustainable alternative to the predatory model of agribusiness has cast a new vision on agricultural policies, on food, and on peasants and family farmers, both in our own territorial spaces and at the international level. Policies are no longer formulated without our voices being heard, or without us putting on the table our agenda on the rights of peasants, agroecology, land reform and especially, food sovereignty.

Food globalization, conceived by and for agribusiness and large-scale distribution, privatizes common goods and wipes out those who care for and work the land, by turning food into a profiteering trade. The liberalization of agriculture is a war against peasants and small-scale farmers. It involves policies embedded in institutions and international treaties that jeopardize those who guarantee Food Sovereignty and feed the world’s populations.

We wish to highlight the role played by peasant and rural women in the resistance and defense of an agriculture tied to the land and centered on life, rather than on speculation and money. They are strategic agents in the struggle for food sovereignty, gender equality, defending and caring for the land and territories, the defense of natural goods, the seeds as the heritage of the peoples, agroecology and biodiversity.

La Via Campesina carries on growing and our political proposal is gathering strength. We are increasingly recognized as leading political voice internationally, for example by initiating the process for an international declaration on the rights of peasants and other rural persons at the United Nations, defending common goods, implementing agroecological processes, protecting markets and developing new ones, incorporating people into agricultural activity, and all of this within a comprehensive strategy which we share with all the (nearly 200) organizations that make up La Via Campesina. To this end we develop a common position on past and current threats, and outline future strategies and challenges, all of which we believe is well summarized in the Call of our 7th Conference, celebrated in Derio in the Basque Country in July 2017.

Farmers storm India’s national capital, demanding freedom from debt and better price for their produce

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 23, 2017

Several thousand small-holder farmers from across India held a massive demonstration in New Delhi, from 20-21 November to draw attention to the acute agrarian distress plaguing the countryside and seeking immediate intervention by the Union Government.

Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements – who are also part of the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, joined in large numbers.

For long, farmers movements and civil society organisations in India have been pointing out the problem of mounting debt in rural farm households.

A steady and steep increase in cost of production over the last three decades, near-stagnant farm incomes and increasing cost of rural household expenses, which are exacerbated by crumbling public welfare services and privatisation drives, have resulted in nearly 60% of the farm households trapped in a cycle of debt. Back-to-back droughts and unseasonal rains since 2012 resulting in severe crop losses, a crash in farm prices over the last several seasons have only worsened the crisis.

On a set of 25 crops, the Government of India offer a guaranteed and minimum support price across to the country’s farmers. However, for several years now as social movements have pointed out, this support price is marginally above – in some instances below – the cost of production.

In 2014, while campaigning for general elections, Narendra Modi who is currently the Prime Minister, had publicly promised to procure farm produces at a higher rate, which would be at least 1.5 times the cost of production. Yet, this is far from reality. What is worse is also that farmers are right now forced to sell their produces at levels that are even lower than the minimum support price.

Green revolution and the subsequent opening up of Indian agriculture to the global free market, has exposed the country’s small-farmers to unfair and unequal competition on the world scene. Agricultural policies that are focused on exporting food, rather than promoting local production and distribution has only favoured agribusinesses and severely marginalised the peasants and small-holder farmers. Despite this, global institutions such as the WTO continue to mount pressure on the Indian government to reduce the support price further and to lower the import tariffs!

The consequences have been devastating. Since 1995, at least 300,000 farmers in India have been forced to commit suicide unable to bear their piling debt and harassments from lenders. Government data shows that on an average 2000 farmers are forced to quit agriculture everyday and migrate to cities in search of work in factories and construction sites.

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