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food sovereignty movement

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.

Grassroots and peasant’s movements deliver solutions that COP23 fails to provide

By Michaelin Sibanda and Boaventura Monjane - La Via Campesina, November 17, 2017

Food sovereignty and peasant agroecology – which should be understood in the context of national sovereignty – are the true solutions to build resilience and resistance.

The transnational corporations responsible for over 70% of the man-made emissions continue to push forward new false solutions to address the climate crisis. Such solutions not only focus on growing their profits but create more conditions to commodify nature, while turning a blind eye to the increasing social and environmental crisis they have created. Today, millions of peasants, indigenous people and fisherfolks are losing their source of livelihood to rising sea levels and adverse weather conditions.

It is clear that capital survives and feeds on chaos and destruction of nature. Human dignity and life are not respected at all. Recent climate disasters in Puerto Rico expose this immoral behavior. After suffering two hurricanes (Irma and Maria), the US administration blocked any form of assistance to rebuild the island, only allowing its corporations.

For Jesús Vázquez Negrón from Puerto Rico, who was attending the people’s mobilizations parallel to the 23rdedition of the Conference of Parties (COP23) in Bonn, climate change is real. “We are here to remind the world that the change must be systemic. That is why the proposal of systemic change proposed by La Via Campesina, a global grassroots movement and alliance, is crucial.”

The peasant struggle is not just about climate resilience – which is an act of resistance in itself. It is also a global fight against the expansion of agribusiness, which relies on free trade agreements. There is an urgent need to critically question the mass production of meat and reduce the import of feed from the global south to Europe.

To make sure they keep growing despite global climate change, transnational corporations have developed their own ways – false solutions such as blue carbon, REDD[1] mechanism and climate smart agriculture.

Another issue that is generally undermined in climate change debates is migration. There are today more than ever before a growing number of climate-migrants. According to Massa Koné of the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles – West Africa, the climate and the migrantion crisis are the two sides of the same coin. “…  It is those who try to contain migrations who have also provoked it! It is their false solutions that are taking over our land, disturb our rainfall, that create wars! This is why migration increases everyday”, says Koné.

The good news is that the debates have a strong youth movement that is leading the struggle in various places of the globe, as they are the future of humanity. “We are the present for a better future and we will not give up, but continue to defend the interests of the peasants, the whole society, for a social transformation. We, peasants across the world, firmly reject the industrial model of agriculture which is at the very root of climate change”, says young French peasant Fanny Metrat of Confederation Paysanne. “We are the ones who can cool the planet and feed the world”, she added.

There have been many COPs before and many more will follow, but their impact on public policies is minor. Sustainable development, green economy, REDD are the buzzwords of capitalism being hammered these days in Bonn. But social movements expect governments and multinationals around the negotiating table to deliver real solutions.

To change the system, grassroots and peasant movements have to keep growing and establish more alliances. Our governments do not realize the urgency of the situation but the peasantry suffers from it on a daily basis. Food sovereignty and peasant agroecology – which should be understood in the context of national sovereignty – are the true solutions to build their resilience and resistance.

“WTO, Out! Building Alternatives”: La Via Campesina to organise Peoples’ Summit during WTO’s XI Ministerial Conference in Argentina

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 17, 2017

15 November 2017: La Via Campesina is calling upon social movements and civil society organisations of the world to mobilise and organise our resistances against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), build solidarity alliances and to participate in the People’s Summit “WTO, Out! Building alternatives”, from the 10-13 December coinciding with the XI WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A preliminary agenda of the summit is available here. As you may note, this is currently only available in Spanish. We will make the English version available shortly.

For the first time since its inception, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is planning to meet in Latin America. From the 10th to the 13th of December, Mauricio Macri’s government will host the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Entrepreneurs, ministers, chancellors, and even presidents will be there. To do what? To demand more “freedom” for their companies, more “ease of doing business” for exploiting workers, peasants, indigenous people, and taking over land and territories. In other words, less “restrictions” on transnational wastage.

Since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organization has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism, WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. On this basis and by making use of governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) are seeking to undermine democracy and all of the institutional instruments for defending the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stock-holding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

This year, with Macri Inc. in the Casa Rosada (Government House in Argentina), the coup leader Michel Temer in the Palacio del Planalto (the official workplace of the president of Brazil), and Brazilian Roberto Azevedo as its Director General, the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from Washington and London, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

La Via Campesina responds to COP23 calling for Peasant Agroecology

By Bernd Schmitz and Paula Gioia - La Via Campesina, November 9, 2017

Peasants, small farmers and Indigenous peoples ‘feed the world and cool the planet.’ This is what the global peasant movement, La Via Campesina, has come to Bonn, Germany, to put onto the agenda at the COP23 climate meetings — both in the official space and at the People’s Climate Summit where social movements met to strategize for alternatives to capitalism and its climate crisis.

According to ETC Group, peasants and Indigenous peoples are the sole food providers for 70 percent of the world’s population, and they use only 30 percent of the earth’s natural resources to get all of the food to the table.

“No chemical has ever touched our soil. We have held onto our traditional seeds which withstand many of the climate challenges we are facing”, explained Michaelin Sibanda, a young peasant from Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF). “We know that, to have healthy food and healthy ecosystems, we need to have healthy soil.”

The principles of agroecology help to conserve water, soils and seeds. But, for La Via Campesina, agroecology is also political: “It is proven that there is resilience in agroecology, and resilience is also resistance — it relates to the way we organize collectively and bring together concrete proposals for change that are sustained by work and struggle in our different territories,” explained Jesús Vázquez, a young organizer and activist from the Organization Boricuá of Agroecology in Puerto Rico. In September 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by two, back-to-back hurricanes which severely undermined all aspects of life on the island, including food production. Vázquez continued,

“In the context of these hurricanes, we have witnessed that agroecological practices are more resistant to extreme weather phenomena, they bring resilience. Many roots and tubers, have pulled through the disaster. Many peasants and farmers are already back in the fields planting and cultivating despite the fact that the Secretary of Agriculture says that agriculture is completely devastated throughout the island. We are here to remind governments that the change must be systemic.”

La Via Campesina and their allies’ proposals for addressing the climate crisis get to the root cause of the problem — corporate control over decision-making and the resulting processes of land and water grabbing, peasant criminalization and human rights abuses in the transnational supply chains used to produce food. “At the climate negotiations, governments are putting forward false solutions. We call them false because these proposals do not bring real change but, rather, bolster corporate profits,” said Fanny Metrat, from the French peasant organization Confédération Paysanne. “Carbon markets, geoengineering, so-called climate smart agriculture are being promoted by the same people who are also promoting emission-intensive livestock production and an export-based industrial agriculture which requires massive amounts of fossil fuels. It is a big contradiction,” she explained.

At COP23, these contradictions are becoming clear. The German government, a big promoter of green economy, has positioned itself as spearheading efforts to address climate change while also expanding the production of coal—the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. The international delegation of La Via Campesina members joined the over 4.000 people strong Ende Gelände (‘Here, and No Further’) march and civil disobedience action against Germany’s largest mining company, KWE, strengthening the message that the most important action to address climate crisis is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Bernd Schmitz, from the Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL) the farmer member organization of La Via Campesina in Germany, underlined the need for changes in Germany. Speaking to journalists, Schmitz said,

“The consequences of global warming are felt all over the world. In Germany, we have had extreme droughts in some regions and extreme rains in others. This year, because of severe hailstorms, we lost nearly all fruit production in some areas of Germany! The government is too slow to respond to the problem. The AbL contends that smallholder agriculture, which includes a localized food chain and ecological food production, helps to solve the problem. This system uses less fossil energy, reducing the emission of dangerous greenhouse gases. Small farmers around the world urgently need support to feed people and maintain their livelihoods in the context of climate change.”

La Via Campesina has been joined by other frontline communities, including from within the It Takes Roots delegation of impacted communities based in the United States and also the fisherfolk and peasants within the Global Convergence for Land and Water Struggles. A representative of the West African contingent of the Convergence, Massa Koné, from Mali, was clear about the importance of working with allies to address climate change and multiple injustices: “As grassroots organizations, we have similar perspectives on the problems and what we need to do about them. La Via Campesina allows our communities to be heard. Our call for system change is urgent because the damage is growing. Commons, including land, forests and water, must be protected and restored to the people. We need to work together with our allies to be prepared for climate change.”

Food Sovereignty is the true solution to uphold Peoples’ Right to Climate Justice

By Ulf Allhoff-Cramer and Paula Gioia - La Via Campesina, November 6, 2017

PEASANT AGROECOLOGY CAN FEED THE WORLD AND COOL THE PLANET | FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IS THE TRUE SOLUTION TO UPHOLD PEOPLES’ RIGHT TO CLIMATE JUSTICE

On Friday, November 3rd, at 6pm in Bonn (Germany), the People’s Climate Summit 2017 began, opening an important space for social movements to put forward alternatives and solutions to the global climate crisis. This summit will last until 7th of November and bring together thousands of delegates and climate activists from all over the world.

Just this year, we witnessed several disasters due to increased impacts of climate change, both in scale and intensity: hurricanes, floods, tropical storms, droughts, heat waves and other forms of devastation. The most affected are the world’s peasants, poor people, rural workers, fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples, especially the women and youth among them. Tragically, many people have been uprooted from their homes and livelihoods and forced to migrate. The stakes for action are high and mounting.

“Humanity is on a collision course with itself. We are generating nuclear waste that we can’t get rid of for a million years! We are taking back the planet’s climate to a state that existed millions of years ago and it is unjust and inhumane for our generation to do so. Our actions are not only harming ourselves but also future generations who never contributed to the climate crisis. For peasants all over the world, climate change is a question of survival. The climate crisis has to be stopped!”, says Ulf Allhoff-Cramer of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL).

To the accelerating crisis, world governments are responding with business-as-usual ‘false’ solutions that seek to maintain and expand markets for transnational corporations. These false solutions, including Carbon Capture and storage, creation of carbon markets, so-called Climate Smart Agriculture, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), geoengineering and other schemes further degrade life on Earth. They do not meet the requirements for action that science and justice demand. We must, therefore, make peoples’ voices heard at all levels of the UN COP23.

“The voice of the people is needed now more than ever before. We urgently need to mobilize together with civil society to push for our true solutions based on food sovereignty, which cool the Earth and increase democratic control of energy production at the local level. We must change the system, and by this, stop the system from changing the climate”, says Paula Gioia, who is La Via Campesina’s International Coordinating Committee member from the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC).

La Via Campesina—the world’s largest peasant movement—will be represented at the People’s Summit by delegates from East Timor, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Brazil, Puerto Rico, USA, Canada, France and Belgium. They will cooperate with the Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL) – LVC’s member organisation in Germany – and other allied grassroots movements and NGOs.

The programmes include plenary sessions, a people’s tribunal for the rights of nature and street mobilisations. Many issues will be discussed including: peasant agroecology, food sovereignty, climate justice, just transition towards building local economies and the collective cooling of the planet. Other issues of importance such as migrant rights in a context of climate crisis will also be addressed.

In solidarity with all climate change affected communities of the world

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 1, 2017

Solidarity Statement

Harare: October 27, 2017

La Via Campesina International Coordinating Committee (ICC) gathered in Harare affirms its support and solidarity with the victims of the climate crisis around the world.

Since August this year we witnessed several disasters due to increased impacts of the human made climate change both in scale and intensity: hurricanes, floods, tropical storms, droughts, heat waves and more. This year only the Atlantic hurricane season had about 15 tropical storms, 10 hurricanes of which 6 (Harvey, Irma, Maria, etc.), were major and led lost lives, homes, and damage running in to huge financial impacts in Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, United States of America, etc. Africa also experienced flooding in West Africa (i.e. Sierra Leone) besides continuing droughts in parts of North and sub-Sahara Africa. In Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc.) experienced flooding which led to thousands of deaths and the destruction of croplands.

In Europe too, severe droughts and high temperatures and winds have made it difficult to control forest fires. Recently, intense storms (Xavier, Herwart, Ophelia) have battered some countries (Germany, Ireland, Britain, Poland, and the Czech Republic) leaving a trail of destruction devastating storms. In all these cases hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, thousands killed. The most affected are our brothers and sisters, the peasants, poor people, rural workers, the indigenous and the fisherfolk, some of whom have been forced to migrate. Climate change continues to aggravate the life conditions of many peasants who are already suffering marginalisation and repression from capitalist state. Both in the urban areas and countryside, our sisters and brothers have limited resources to rebuild their lives, their homes, their plots and their communities.

La Via Campesina is appalled by the continued denial of the link between these climate change catastrophes to anthropogenic emissions and also by the recent pull out by U.S. President Donald Trump.

We urgently call upon our allies, friends and social movements to galvanise their struggles towards a system change. We urgently need to mobilize together with the civil society to push for our true solutions based on food sovereignty and peasant agroecology which cool the Earth and increase democratic control of energy production at the local level.

Therefore, during the forthcoming UN climate talks in Bonn (Germany) we will be on the streets pushing forward our peasant agenda, our true solutions and staying in solidarity with all climate change affected communities of the world today.

Affected from the world, unite!

By Viviana Rojas - La Via Campesina, October 23, 2017

Nicinha’s body was found five months after her disappearance; she was an activist of the Brazilian´s Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) and was murdered last year, thousands of stories like this multiply throughout Latin America and in other parts of the world.

This crime has aroused outrage and national and international rejection. It has once again seen persecution and death against those who defend territories, water and dignified life, opposing the interests of capital and states, which, instead of guaranteeing the rights of the populations affected, are accomplices of these crimes.

But just as the repression and criminalization of the struggles has increased, we also see solidarity and internationalism as a potent strategy of peoples’ resistance against extractive capital.

From October 6 to 8, the “International Seminar: Energy Transition for a Popular Energy Project” was held, organized by MAB, a member of Via Campesina in Brazil, and the Movimiento de Afectados por Represa in Latin America (MAR). Among its main objectives are the denounce against current economic system and its energy model, the constant violations of human rights and the exploitation of the affected populations. And on that basis, strengthen unity, solidarity and define common strategies of struggles, both nationally and internationally, for a society alternative to capitalism.

The Seeds of Agroecology and Common Ownership

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, October 10, 2017

The increasingly globalised industrial food system that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises. Localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the destruction of habitat and livelihoods and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of neoliberal globalisation.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and global capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate PR, many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes the vast wealth the economic elite has accumulated at our expense through its seizure of the commons. A commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit but for the steady production of prosperity or wellbeing of a particular group, who might live in or beside it or who created and sustain it.

Unlike state spending, according to Monbiot, a commons obliges people to work together, to sustain their resources and decide how the income should be used. It gives community life a clear focus and depends on democracy in its truest form. However, the commons have been attacked by both state power and capitalism for centuries. In effect, resources that no one invented or created, or that a large number of people created together, are stolen by those who see an opportunity for profit.

We need only look at how Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work.  Or how Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them. Or how India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient forest lands due to state’s collusion with mining companies.

As Monbiot says, the outcome is a rentier economy: those who capture essential resources seek to commodify them – whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds, for example – and force everyone else to pay for access.

While spouting platitudes about ‘choice’, ‘democracy’ and ‘feeding the world’, the corporate agribusiness/agritech industry is destroying the commons and democracy and displacing existing localised systems of production. Economies are being “opened up through the concurrent displacement of pre-existing productive systems. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished” (Michel Chossudovsky in The Globalization of Poverty, p16).

As described here, for thousands of years farmers experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. By learning and doing, trial and error, new knowledge was blended with older, traditional knowledge systems. The farmer possesses acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and story-telling. The same farmers whose seeds and knowledge were stolen by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids, now to be genetically engineered

Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced, and we have bad food and diets, degraded soils, water pollution and scarcity and spiralling rates of poor health.

The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding.

We have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surplus in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has merely served to undermine indigenous farming sectors centred on highly productive small farms that catered for the diverse dietary needs and climatic conditions of the country. It has actually produced and fuelled drought and degraded soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition, farmer distress and many other problems.

What really irks the corporate vultures which fuel the current industrial model of agriculture is that critics are offering genuine alternatives. They advocate a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

What we sow is what we eat

By Michael Yates - Climate and Capitalism, September 19, 2017

I am lying in a meadow high in the Rocky Mountains. The sun is warm and comforting. I watch the clouds, puffy white in the blue sky, but soon pull a cap over my eyes and enter that state where thoughts swirl through your head and you don’t know if you’re sleeping or not.

While I rest, Karen is looking for wild strawberries. She has a remarkable eye for them, and has found the delicate plants everywhere from along the ocean in Nova Scotia to the volcanic highlands of the Big Island in Hawai’i. She remembers as she is searching the hard labor of picking the tiny berries as a girl, gathering enough for her mother to make jelly. No easy task as I have learned when she finds a patch big enough for me to collect some too.

When all you have ever eaten are the overly large and often woody and tasteless strawberries sold in grocery stores, putting a wild one in your mouth is a revelation. A gift from the earth, sweet, tart, wonderful, perfect. They leave your fingers smelling like, well, strawberries.

We’ve found many fruits on our hikes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries sweet and sour, currants, huckleberries, apples, plums, even liliko’i (passion fruit), guava, lemons, and limes. Some like the berries grow wild. Others have flourished long after they were planted and then abandoned.

Seeing and tasting these gifts of nature can’t help but make you think of the foods most of us eat.  Heavily processed and full of salt, hydrogenated oil, and high fructose corn syrup; loaded with chemicals; laden with pesticides; grown on factory farms; treated like any other mass-produced products, aimed for the market with costs per unit low and profits high. Our crops are planted and harvested in this country by a largely black and brown workforce, poorly paid and forced to live in shacks and tents. They are poisoned, along with their children, every day they labor, and their life expectancy, in the United States, is barely fifty years. What it was when Edward R. Murrow’s documentary, Harvest of Shame, was shown on television in 1960. Much the same can be said about farm laborers anywhere in the world.

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