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Agroecology in Puerto Rico

By Corbin Laedlein - Why Hunger, January 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

“Agroecology is a Way of Life”, an in-depth interview with students of agroecologic school EDUCAR

By Umut Kocagöz - The Dawn News, January 2, 2017

From the solidarity group of Çiftçi-SEN / Turkey (Confederation of Small-Farmers’ Unions). A Turkish version of this article is published on karasaban.net / to contact: ukocagoz@gmail.com

I was in Brazil to participate in the “International Encounter of Struggling Youth” as a Turkish delegate, which was held in Marica, Rio de Janeiro in June 2016. After the youth encounter, I had the chance to stay a couple of weeks in Brazil to visit some camps and settlements of the Agrarian Reform, some cooperatives and agroecology schools of MST.

This was a moment great importance to discover, because MST was putting very much importance both on the theoretical and practical sides of agroecology. MST consider agroecology as a way of life, a way connecting to the society, as well as a struggle against agribusiness and the ongoing coup process put in forward by the neoliberal Temer government (1). This means that agroecology is not only a method of farming, but also a life vision, which is build up day by day in the camps and settlements, in the formal or informal agroecology schools, in political formation of the militants. In other words, each space of MST is based on the formation of agroecology, as a political paradigm against the transnational agribusiness hegemony over agriculture and food systems.

In order to achieve a powerful political vision, formation is very important for MST in all its spaces. In terms of agroecology, MST uses its formation and training processes beginning from camps and settlements, practically and theoretically, in schools, in fields, and in the political discourse proposed by its collective leadership.

MST proposes different kinds of formation programmes, some of which are recognised officially by the state and run by a collaborative process with some universities or the national educational system. These formation processes include some courses directly for militants, and some are considered the parts of joint university programs. Instituto Edcuar is one of these schools where militants of MST have the opportunity to deepen their studies on agroecology.

Educar is a school that aims to train farmers; young people settled and camped in the areas of Agrarian Reform(2). This education is based on agroecology, which aims to develop a form of agriculture that preserves and defends the environment. In other words, formation in Educar is a way of systematizing the “peasant agroecology” which is developed over years, which has some new technological inputs, and which is not only a technique of agriculture but as well a life paradigm. Thus, in Educar, and in other formation schools of MST, it is aimed to promote grassroots based projects and models that guarantees food sovereignty and a better life for the people living in rural areas.

Moreover, the formation process is not only limited with “technical” terms. Educar has a pedagogical strategy to work on the construction and training of young farmers with the capacity to analyze the political, cultural and economic realities of the society, discerning the alternative and appropriate technological frameworks for the development of the rural without a dependence on agribusiness.

I had the chance to meet and discuss with five young landless people on how they experience this educational process in order to listen the experience from firsthand. I am very thankful to them for giving me this chance, and MST as well, providing this opportunity to meet and experience agroecology as a way of life.

"Small really is beautiful", claims new report on England's farming

By Kathryn Hindess - The Ecologist, January 4, 2017

"Small-scale food production is more sustainable, provides work for more people, produces food which is consumed locally, has shorter supply chains, and provides greater returns to the farmers," argues author Miles King.

Post-Brexit, he believes: "An England farm support system could inject much more support into small-scale food production."

The Land Workers' Alliance (LWA) agrees. One of eight points raised in its proposed framework for British Agricultural Policy post-Brexit sounds the call: "End the discrimination against small farms".

The report states: "It is unjustifiable for Defra to continue to discriminate against small farms in the allocation of subsidies and collection of farm data."

Instead, Miles King proposes a shift to supporting "small-scale sustainable farming which benefits nature", including paying landowners for the delivery of public goods to society. Public goods "are defined as things which benefit society but do not create a private profit".

Some public goods are: features making up the fabric of the landscape (like hedges, ponds and streams); the provision of clean water, flood prevention; healthy pollinator populations; carbon storage and sequestration; as well as "the many valuable yet intangible things nature provides to people - inspiration, joy, reflection, solace, emotional and spiritual experiences."

"These features need protection and management, but it is right that landowners should be paid to carry out that protection and management on behalf of society," says King.

The EU's Joint Research Centre estimates that food accounts for around a third of the average European's impact on climate change, so policy changes will need to be coupled with awareness campaigns on the benefits of buying local, such as saving long cross-country journeys from farm to plate.

Support for this view is found in a 2013 report from the UN trade and environment review. More than 60 international experts came together to contribute to the Wake Up Before It Is Too Late report, which states that an holistic approach to agricultural management is needed, recognising that "a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services."

Within this approach, there should also be a significant shift from industrial production characterised by monocultures towards "mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."

Fruits and vegetables would be a useful place to start, suggests Miles King. Defra statistics show that 24 countries accounted for 90% of the fruit and vegetable supply of the UK (UK supplied 23%), but King argues that, "Many types of fruit and vegetable can now be grown in England both outside and under cover, on highly productive but small plots".

Worth noting though, is a point made by the EU GLAMUR global and local food chain assessment project which suggests that new policies will need to recognise the "hybridity and interconnectedness of global and local food systems".

The UK's food culture has been Europeanised since joining the Common Market in 1973, a study by City University (London) states. And nothing makes more apparent than the fact that pizza is now UK childrens' favourite food. Membership of the EU has eased the flow of food, yet at the same time local industries have been rebuilt (there are now approximately 100 more UK artisanal cheeses than in France according to the British Cheese Awards).

The study concludes, "Will the British have the confidence to move forward and accept this remarkable post-war culinary learning?"

Now, post-Brexit, this question is more pertinent than ever. Can new policies balance the need for a shift towards small-scale production (for example of pears and apples that don't need to be imported, but often are), while still satisfying consumer tastes?

Promote Peasant Agroecology as an alternative to migration: LVC in Dhaka

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 28, 2016

Dhaka, Bangladesh. December 2016.

La Via Campesina International Working Collective on Migration and Waged Workers represented the concerns of small farmers, indigenous people, landless workers, women and youth at the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights. The People's Global Action is a parallel event to the 9th Global Forum on Migration and Development, and took place 5th December to the 8th of December. Hosted by the Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Workers' Federation (BAFLF) , the group of 31 delegates participated in the PGA process especially on issues connecting migration to climate change and peasant agroecology. Following the PGA, the delegation was hosted on a field visit by BAFLF.

On the 5th of December, Abdul Majeed (President of BAFLF), Nasrin Sultana (NWFA), Omoli Kisku (Bangladesh Adviasi Samiti) and Asma Begum (Bangladesh Krishok Federation) attended the Asia Civil Society meeting. They presented the situation of coastal Bangladeshi communities, rural farm workers and small holder farmers who are facing the brunt of the climate crisis.

Speaking at the working group, Omoli shared, "Very often, the scant attention on rural agriculture aggravates the distress induced by climate change. The depleting groundwater level in rural Bangladesh is forcing the small farmers to go deeper to look for water sources. In the process, they incur huge debts and place high demands on energy needs."

The energy crisis in the country in forcing the government to look for quick fix solutions leading to thermal plants coming up in the eco-sensitive areas of Sunderbans. These quick-fix solutions, she alleges, further endanger an already vulnerable region by forcing locals migrate. Asma Begum and Nasrin also highlighted the increasing micro-credit institutions that are coming up in the countryside are further worsening the debt crisis of small farmers.

"The decision to migrate is very often a forced choice, due to the developmental model that is focused only on production and profit. Unless we question this developmental model, and force the GFMD to acknowledge the linkages between migration and the neo-liberal developmental model, we are not going to address the root causes that lead people to flee their home land and communities", said Nasrin.

On the 6th and 7th of December, a wider delegation of La Via Campesina, comprising of leaders from All Nepal Peasant Federation (ANPFA), Bangladesh Krishok Federation, Bangladesh Adivasi Samiti, Bangladesh Kisani Sabha, BAFLF, Bharatiya Kisan Union (India) and SOC (Spain) intervened at two plenaries on Climate Change and Labor Markets.

Rajbir Singh, a farmer from Bundelkhand region of India, presented the alarming situation of water scarcity and continuous droughts that have forced the region's farmworkers to migrate to the cities in hordes. He said that for farmers farm labour is increasingly hard to find in the region and very often small farmers turn to farm workers. Many a times, he says, cattle are unattended. The worst affected are women and elders who are left behind in the villages. He cited Bundelkhand as an example of how climate induced migration leads to more exploitation of workers in the cities, where they are left with little bargaining power and are often at the mercy of agents who promise work.

Sarita Bhusal and Bimala Kumari, representing the peasant women in Nepal, re-emphasized the increasing feminization of agriculture in and the additional burden on a woman peasant to manage her fields and home.

Speaking at the forum, Lal Bahadur Biswokarma presented the case of Dalit landless farmers who have yet to benefit from the promise of agrarian reform. He attacked the neo-liberal capitalist model that created the crisis of migration in the first place, while questioning its symbolic attempts to now address the same.

La Via Campesina insisted throughout the PGA that peasant agroecology is a solution to climate change and the need to call upon the nation states who are participating in GFMD to rethink the development model they are pursuing.

Young farmers in the group represented the need to make agriculture more viable for small farmers, particularly the youth by providing fair support price to their produce and by investing in rural infrastructure. Gaurav Tikait, Dharmendra Jumar (of BKU) and Pramesh of ANPFA made presentations that asked for implementation of the agrarian reform and increased investment in rural infrastructure that will encourage youth to take up farm and non-farm labour in their communities and country side.

Double Whammy On Farmers

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, December 12, 2016

Washington’s long-term plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This result has been the creation of food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North. Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture for the benefit of transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and global food security.

In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. India was advised to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops. As the largest recipient of loans from the World Bank in the history of that institution, India has been quite obliging and has been opening up its agriculture to foreign corporations.

What would it take to mainstream “alternative” agriculture?

By Maywa Montenegro and Alastair Iles - Ensia, July 25, 2016

This Voices piece is published in collaboration with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Toward thick legitimacy: Creating a web of legitimacy for agroecology,” a peer-reviewed article published July 20 as part of Elementa’s New Pathways to Sustainability in Agroecological Systems forum.

The industrialized food system, studies have shown, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, algal blooms, pesticide pollution, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name a few ecological troubles. Add to this a long list of social ills, from escalating rates of obesity to the demise of the family farmer and deadening of rural landscapes and rural economies across much of the U.S.

In 2010, the National Academies of Science updated its seminal 1989 publication “Alternative Agriculture” with a fresh look at the state of food and farming in America. Its expert panel concluded, “Growing awareness of unintended impacts associated with some agricultural production practices has led to heightened societal expectations for improved environmental, community, labor, and animal welfare standards in agriculture.”

Yet that growing awareness and those heightened expectations haven’t led to alternative agricultural systems becoming the norm in the U.S. Organic has made some headway, but many organic growers have been forced to imitate industrial farming: grow bigger, resort to monocultures instead of truly diversified fields, and sell to large supermarkets — forgoing many of the benefits alternative agricultural systems offer, such as natural pest control, pollination from native bees, and a smaller production scale conducive to family farmers and local food economies.

So, what gives industrialized agriculture such staying power despite its adverse impacts, even as alternatives offer such benefits? And how can more wholesome food production methods such as agroecology become conventional instead of alternative? To achieve real change in how food is produced and eaten, we need to change people’s expectations of what “normal” agriculture should look like.

Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice

By David Barkin - Climate and Capitalism, November 11, 2016

ABSTRACT:

Dominant approaches to rural development have proven unable to confront the structural challenges posed by a system where progress itself generates hunger and increasing environmental damage.

This article places its accent on the direct action of communities to organize themselves to satisfy their food and other basic needs and those of their regions with self-help strategies that could be applied in both rural and urban areas.

While generally applicable, this focus draws its inspiration from the experience of La Via Campesina, the largest social organization in the world, with chapters in more than 80 countries and 200 million members.

The food sovereignty approach offers a forward-looking strategy to social mobilization, confronting the scourge of rural disintegration while also addressing the pressing issue of environmental balance.

It proposes to direct political and social actions to the collective organization of communities to promote local mobilization and cooperation within and among communities, on a regional as well as on a much broader geographic scale.

It functions by integrating experts into a well-proven farmer-to-farmer approach for the exchange of information and materials conducive to improving productivity and promoting diversity in accordance with local customs while also creating possibilities for improving the quality of foods being produced and their nutritional impact.

Most organizations promoting food sovereignty consider agroecology to be the most effective approach to organizing production, emphasizing the use of locally available inputs and technologies as well as a diversity of cropping system adapted to local conditions.

The impacts of the actions of TNCs on peasant communities

By Federico Pacheco - La Via Campesina, October 25, 2016

At the ongoing negotiations in Geneva, of the Open Ended Inter Governmental Working Group (OEIWG) at United Nations, Federico Pacheco of the Union of Land Workers of Andalusia intervened to denounce the actions of transnationals pushing a model of industrial agriculture that pollutes the environment, monopolizes and privatizes the commons, and exploits workers and producers. Here is the full text of the speech. 

La Vía Campesina expresses support to the setup of a Binding Treaty. La Via Campesina, as an international organization of peasants and rural workers, has defended for more than two decades the survival of agriculture and rural livestock worldwide and small-scale fisheries, indigenous communities and sustainability in the use of natural and energy resources.

We have been suffering since the middle of last century of a progressive disappearance of small farms in favor of an agro-industrial system based on large-scale production and distribution, pollution of nature, energy waste and global warming, as well as labor exploitation of workers. The dismantling and destruction of the rural world brings about unemployment, poverty, hunger, and displacement and forced migration around the globe.

The role of Transnational Corporations has been and is decisive in this process. Since the green revolution, in which chemical fertilizers and pesticides began to poison the land, water and people, along with the production of enormous benefits for large international companies, and more than two hundred million hectares grabbed in the last years by pension funds and multinational corporations. We saw as well an unstoppable process of concentration, in which very few corporations control the global markets for seeds, pesticides and agrochemicals among others, as well as price setting. 

The Free Trade Agreements have come to further facilitate their actions to limit and cancel any public policy that harms their interests. The imposition of the opening of borders, tax havens and arbitration tribunals, creates a legal and political framework that guarantees their impunity and makes it impossible to seek reparations against environmental and social disasters that occur.

Even in this difficult situation we find that most of the world's population live in rural areas and peasant agriculture through local distribution, provides most of the food to the populations, creating jobs and protecting biodiversity. 

As La Via Campesina and many other organizations, we have been committed to the primacy of human rights of peoples and individuals, over the interests and profits of big business. In that sense, we are promoting  the framework of the United Nations the Declaration of Peasant Rights, to ensure defend and promote the rights to food sovereignty, access to natural and productive resources, local markets, income and services worthy to farmers and rural workers in general.

However, neither this Declaration nor the major international regulatory achievements related to human rights will have any effectiveness if the activities of the transnational companies are not regulated in a binding way and sovereignty and self-determination to the states and peoples is not regained, as well as the respect for the principles of multilateralism and supremacy of human rights. 

Peasants around the world are suffering under these companies that contaminate our seeds, dispossess us of land, deprive and poison our populations and criminalise and murder our leaders who oppose them. Yet, these transnational companies are operating with impunity.

And this is because these corporations, with more power than many states, effectively use all mechanisms to prevent enforcement of laws, including court judgments at national and international level. 

We have also seen how voluntary, social and environmental commitments made by these big companies are nothing more than a marketing ploy and an attempt at whitewashing their violations, sometimes even to avoid losses.

We urgently need an instrument, specific for transnational corporations, binding and enforceable, which allow states and the United Nations to control them, regulate them and make them respect human rights.  

As Via Campesina, we encourage states to retake the spirit of the United Nations Charter and defend the interests and rights of their populations, including those of the rural world, beyond the pressures and interests of large corporations.

Largest-ever European food sovereignty gathering kicks off in Romania

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 25, 2016

Cluj-Napoca, October 25th – the largest-ever European meeting on food sovereignty starts today, as over 500 people from over 40 countries gather to discuss how to reclaim our ever-more corporate-controlled food and farming system. [1]

The second European Nyéléni Forum for Food Sovereignty runs from October 26-30, and brings together farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, gardeners, food and agricultural workers, researchers, activists and many more.

For Jyoti Fernandes, peasant farmer from the UK and coordination committee member for the European Coordination Via Campesina, « the convergence here in Cluj of so many sectors and constituencies of society is essential in transforming and strengthening our food systems in Europe, based on agroecology. From the farm to the plate, the economic, environmental, social and public health stakes of food production must mobilize all levels of society – local, national and international. Here, in Nyéléni Europe, this is happening.»

 Stanka Becheva, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “The food fight is on against agribusiness mega-mergers, which would rubber-stamp industrial farming. The diversity and size of the movement assembled here this week shows the strength of the food sovereignty movement, and how it is ready to push for better farming for people and planet.”

The forum features a “peasants’ market”, film screenings, and site visits to local peasants demonstrating sustainable local farming methods and environmental justice struggles including the highly controversial proposed gold mine at Roșia Montană.

Themes discussed at the forum include models of food production and consumption, food distribution, the right to natural resources and the commons, and how to improve work and social conditions in food and agricultural systems.

Spokespeople from a variety of professions and backgrounds are available for interview in person or on the phone in English, Romanian, French, German, Turkish, Spanish, Dutch etc.

List of spokespeople: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KIbHCiXgkwY5eKUYkX5sVweaFDsM3IxxZ_21abhxOBI/edit?usp=sharing

More Farmers, Better Food: A framework for British Agricultural Policy

By the Land Workers' Alliance - August 2016

The UK’s small-scale, ecological and family farms are at the heart of our rural culture and communities; they create employment, protect cherished landscapes and provide a huge amount of the food we eat. However, in the past, the UK’s farming strategies have undermined domestic production of healthy, affordable food and left many small farms unfairly disadvantaged in the market place.

The task of creating a post-Brexit ‘British Agricultural Policy’ that support producers, protects the environment and prioritizes access to healthy, nutritious food for all is a complex but essential one. It represents a great opportunity if the Government is ready to listen to the needs of all stakeholders and put in place a truly long-term plan for environmental, social and economic resilience.

In order to contribute to this debate, The Landworkers’ Alliance proposes 8 points that we believe must be integral to forthcoming policy. Over the next 6 months we will carry out an in-depth consultation among our members to draw up a more comprehensive policy proposal that addresses the needs of food producers in the UK. We will also work with other organizations to draw up a framework for a ‘Peoples’ Food Policy’ that can address the systemic inequalities and misguided policies currently afflicting the food and farming sectors.

Download ‘More Farmers, Better Food – A framework for British Agricultural Policy’ here:

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