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National Farmers Union (NFU)

“When UNDROP was adopted in 2018, Canada abstained but the country among the first to use it in a case on migrant workers’ rights”

By Jessie MacInnis - La Via Campesina, July 11, 2023

When the UNDROP was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, Canada abstained. Despite that, Canada is one of the first places where UNDROP has been explicitly cited by a provincial court in a case related to migrant workers’ rights. Jessie MacInnis explains for us the dynamics at play in Canada on Peasants’ Rights and the importance of case law.

First, to give us some context, could you describe us the general landscape of agriculture in Canada?

Agricultural policies have increasingly tied agriculture to a corporate system in Canada. Recent examples relate to the reduction of government oversight of seeds and gene-edited plants. The Canadian government has put its faith in agribusiness and biotech corporations instead of science and public interest. It’s very scary for farmers, especially for organic farmers, such as myself, who may suffer financial, health, and ecological implications from increasing corporate capture of seeds and the gutting of publicly-funded seed research and development.

COVID-19 has shown the cracks and deep rooted inequities that keep land inaccessible, rural communities gutted of resources, and farmers indebted and dependent on the companies selling inputs and chemicals. It also showed the dependence on a constant supply of migrant workers who suffer from human rights abuses. Yet it has been a time of enormous profit increases for corporations in the sector. On top of that we have the climate crisis and the income crisis, with income that have been stagnant for years and many farmers relying on off-farm work to make ends meet. Agriculture policies are beginning to wake up to the realities of the climate crisis, with more funding available for on-farm climate adaptation, but the income crisis is still prevalent for small-scale and family farms, which are the backbone of the food system.

Ƒinally, If we talk about agriculture in Canada, we have to acknowledge that it is built on settler colonization and stolen land. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is engaging in conversations between farmers and Indigenous Peoples, conversations about land equity, land back, and food sovereignty, but it’s just the beginning. Our agriculture is built on colonial violence that still hasn’t been reconciled. Farmers have a critical role to play in both acknowledging our relationship to the land and finding pathways forward towards living in right relations with Indigenous Peoples.

In this agricultural landscape we have a plurality of perspectives with regards to how agriculture policies should be developed, and whose goals it seeks to achieve. Some of the bigger agriculture organizations definitively may have historically had more sway with policymakers, but the NFU and other food sovereignty activists are gaining ground, especially at local and regional levels.

In 2020, Ontario Superior Court of Justice released a decision based on UNDROP in defense of a group of migrant farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more on this decision?

This case shows the legal potential of the UNDROP, I think legal action is one pathway for countries who have not approved the Declaration at the United Nations to incorporate its articles and set legal precedents.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights used Article 23 of UNDROP in a provincial court in defense of a group of migrant workers facing dangerous, overcrowded living conditions.

To give some context, Canadian farms employ nearly half a million agricultural workers through a federal program. This program has been riddled with accusations of human rights violations over the years: poor living conditions, low wages and no pathways to permanent residency. At the same time, Canada is dependent on their labour to ensure the food supply.

In March 2020, just after the state of emergency was announced, the federal government mandated a 14-days isolation period for all temporary foreign workers entering Canada, at the same time ensuring workers subjected to isolation in groups would have at least 2 meters per person at all time and limiting the numbers of workers living together in a lodging.

When this policy was mandated, a major industrial farm in Ontario (central Canada) that employs migrant workers, submitted two inadequate self-isolation plans before requesting a hearing regarding the public health order limiting the numbers of farm workers in one lodging. At the hearing the farm argued that the requirement of three farm workers per lodging was arbitrary and failed to recognize the significance of migrant farm workers to Canada food supply. They argued they had not been able to bring in as many migrants as they would normally, and this jeopardized their food production.

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario responded by saying that: “decreasing health inequities as required under the guidelines requires that the number of workers that are allowed to isolate together is such that the risk posed to their health is comparable to the rest of the population when they’re quarantined. Allowing larger numbers to isolate together exposes migrants farm workers to a level of risk not tolerated for others in the community, thereby increasing vulnerability of an already vulnerable group.

In reaching this outcome, the Court cited the UNDROP for the first time in Canada. The way they cited it is important: “…furthermore the UNDROP is part of the body of HR laws and norms to which Canadian adjudicators may look in interpreting statutory or common-law obligations and in reviewing administrative decisions.”. They cited article 23.1, which states: “Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”.

So the context and the outcome of the case is demonstrative of the applicability of the Declaration in the Canadian context. Promoting this case is something we need to keep doing. It’s strategic to expand the network of human rights lawyers that are aware of UNDROP and to give them this as an example.

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: Jessie MacInnis – NFU – Canada

#8M2022: Break the Bias, says National Farmers Union, Canada

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 10, 2022

Women grow much of the world’s food, often on small scale farms and often to feed our own local communities, but too often the word farmer is associated with men. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Break the Bias. Under this theme we are all asked to imagine and work towards a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. We are asked to come together to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive world where difference is valued and celebrated.

To Break the Bias, we as women farmers need our stories and experiences told and shared, not just among ourselves but with the wider community. We need to hear and celebrate the stories of a diversity of women farmers and food growers, including from those of us who are part of BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. 

But we are aware that increasingly in Canada and around the world, the journalists who can help us Break the Bias by learning about and better understanding each other as well as the power struggles and structures which aim to maintain the bias, are facing intimidation, abuse and harassment. In Canada in the last few months, we have seen female photojournalists, reporters and opinion writers arrested, subjected to online hate and threats of violence, and sent death threats. Around the world women journalists and journalists from Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and 2SLGBTQ+ backgrounds are too often subjected to intimidation, online harassment and threats of violence. Journalists from diverse backgrounds have important experience when it comes to understanding and sharing our diverse stories and experiences. As women farmers and women from rural communities our stories and experiences are already too often not told and too often deemed unimportant.

As we strive to Break the Bias, on this International Women’s Day, we are calling on each of us to speak out against the initimidation, online harassment and threats of violence against women jounalists in Canada and around the world. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for support for a diversity of women journalists across alternative and mainstream media, in the hope these women will help us tell our stories as women farmers and food growers committed to food sovereignty.

Spirituality is key to building solidarity: An interview with La Via Campesina’s Nettie Wiebe

By Priscilla Claeys, Jasber Singh, and Nettie Wiebe - Agroecology Now, March 1, 2022

Nettie Wiebe, you are one of the women leaders of La Via Campesina (LVC), a transnational peasant movement that defends food sovereignty and unites over 200 million small-scale farmers, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples working the land. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got involved in LVC?

I have farmed all my life. I may have missed a few harvests when I was abroad studying, but otherwise I am committed to, and deeply rooted in, farming. That’s been my life along with academia. I have a PhD in philosophy and in ethics. I have always, in my mind, in my life, made the link between how we live, what we eat and how we think about ourselves. I see it as one package. My intellectual life is not separated from my lived, practical life. I’ve always integrated those two. People sometimes have asked me, what do you need a philosophy degree for? That seems so impractical. And I say no, it’s in fact very practical. I have lots of time to think when I’m driving around and around on fields, but more importantly, our ethical and our intellectual or academic lives need to be embedded in our practical lives. I don’t think we will make any progress on the serious climate and ecological issues unless we think collectively and individually about our positioning here. It’s not just an economic issue, it’s an ethical one.

I have been involved in La Via Campesina for many years. We are small scale farmers here in Saskatchewan (Canada) and when we started farming on our own, we immediately became members of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU, a LVC member organization). Because I am a woman and, because of how academia was then, and maybe still is, in terms of the role of women, I failed to get a permanent position teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. I then stepped away from the University and decided to use my qualifications in the movement, where my heart really was. I became active in the National Farmers’ Union and became the women’s president, for six years and then for the first time in the history of the NFU, actually in the history of any national farm organization in Canada, they elected a woman as their president. So I was the president of the NFU. This was the late 1980s, and the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations were going on. At the NFU, we had already been resisting the US-Canada free trade agreements, which set the parameters for the neoliberal globalization of agriculture. So we had that experience here in Canada, and we knew this corporatization of agriculture was going to be devastating for small-scale farming. In 1993, we sent a delegate to Mons, Belgium where La Via Campesina was created, and we played a major role in organizing the second International Conference of La Via Campesina in Tlaxcala, Mexico in 1996. We already had good relations with peasant groups in the Central American region.

Strengthening the Canada Grain Act and the CGC is critical to farmers’ future

By National Farmers Union - La Via Campesina, April 29, 2021

Today, the National Farmers Union (NFU) provided detailed input to the federal government’s review of the Canada Grain Act (CGA) and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). The NFU submission considers the future of grain production in Canada and makes fifteen major recommendations to strengthen and equip the Act and the Commission for expected challenges and opportunities.

“The climate crisis and international measures to deal with it, increasing digitization and data-driven technology, ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the grain trade, and international trade agreements will have big impacts on farmers,” said NFU President, Katie Ward. “We will need a strong and effective CGC to regulate the grain handling system in the interest of farmers, and ensure that Canada will continue to be recognized for the quality of our grain.”

The CGC’s mandate is to “in the interests of the grain producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.” The NFU’s first and foremost point is that this mandate must not be changed.

“The CGC has proved its worth as Canada’s grain system regulator for over a century. The global corporations that dominate the grain trade constantly seek to cut costs and unfairly lower prices paid to farmers in ways that not only remove wealth from our economy, but also compromise the quality of Canadian grain,” said Stewart Wells, NFU 2nd Vice President. “Changes in the grain handling system since the last major review of the Act have resulted in gaps where CGC lacks the authority to fully safeguard farmers’ interests. The need for a strong regulator has not gone away.”

The Act is the solid foundation of our grain economy, our farmers’ livelihoods and our domestic and international customers’ confidence. The NFU is pleased to offer recommendations for making the CGA and the CGC even stronger.

NFU Statement on the International Day of Peasant Struggle: Food Sovereignty in Canada

By Jessie MacInnis - La Via Campesina, April 16, 2021

Every year on April 17, La Via Campesina (LVC) honours the work of peasants, small-scale farmers, rural workers, and Indigenous peoples around the globe by marking the International Day of Peasant Struggle. This year is especially notable, being the 25th anniversary of the term “food sovereignty”, coined by LVC members in 1996 while demonstrating against the capitalist industrial food systems’ model being proposed at the World Food Summit in Rome. As defined by LVC, food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It emphasizes democratically controlled food and agriculture systems, horizontal learning networks, and agroecology. The National Farmers Union, a founding member of LVC, quickly resonated with the concept, and it is now a deep-rooted principle and vision for an alternative food system that informs our policy, movement-building, and solidarity work. 

The NFU takes this occasion to reflect on the struggles of its farmer members, as well as those of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities across Turtle Island, migrant farmworkers, the food insecure, and all food producers and rural workers whose right to food sovereignty is challenged. We stand in solidarity with you.

Who represents the peasantry in Canada? 

La Via Campesina is attempting to reclaim the word ‘peasant’ from its derogatory, pejorative connotations to represent a distinct political social group with specific human rights demands. According to the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) – a landmark achievement for LVC, who developed and pushed the UNDROP from local peasant organizations to the UN – peasants are those who engage in small-scale or family-based agriculture, pastoralism, fishing, forestry, hunting or gathering, migrant and hired farmworkers. This wide-reaching definition acknowledges that despite differences, people in these categories often face similar oppressive forces when engaging in their livelihoods. Forces of neoliberalism, globalization, and corporate driven food systems leading to human rights violations. The undermining of dignity and justice of peasants brings together seemingly disparate farmer organizations around the globe into LVC. In Canada, though many do not relate to the word ‘peasant’ in a literal sense, as farmers in the NFU we are part of this wider umbrella of the peasant movement that seeks food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty. 

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis

By Darrin Qualman - National Farmers Union, November 2019

The farm crisis is real, as is the climate crisis. Left unchecked, the climate crisis will dramatically deepen the income crisis on Canada’s farms as farmers struggle to deal with continued warming, more intense storms, and increasingly unpredictable weather. It is clear that climate change represents a major challenge to agriculture, but it also represents an opportunity.

Farmers and policymakers are encouraged to recognize that we are facing an existential crisis, which means that all of our options must be on the table for consideration, even if they are uncomfortable to consider. If we commit to an open and honest conversation about the causes and effects of climate change and how they are intertwined with our agricultural sector, we also take the first steps towards a transition that will benefit us all.

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis does not claim to have all the answers. Both the climate crisis and the farm crisis are so complex that no single report can provide all the answers. However, this report does have many answers — some of which could be implemented right away. Others provide a starting point to opening up the climate conversation in the agricultural sector. Options that will work for different geographic locations, soil types, or types of farms will be explored, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Read the text (link).

National Farmers Union joins#MyActionsMatter campaign against Gender Based Violence

By Coral Sproule, Katie Ward, and Toby Malloy - La Via Campesina, December 5, 2017

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is participating in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign started on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and continues until International Human Rights Day on December 10.

“We stand in solidarity with our global counterparts and add our voices to those of peasant farmers in our sister organizations in La Via Campesina,” said Coral Sproule, NFU President. “In Canada on December 6th, we recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and remember the 13 engineering students and one worker who were murdered by an act of gender-based violence at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. We would also like to stand in solidarity at the many vigils that will take place this night in communities across Canada. We wish to acknowledge the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and also of incidents involving members of the LGBTQ2 community.”

“Recently we have been hearing many stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, as people are now more willing to come forward and speak about an issue that has far too long been silenced,” said Katie Ward, NFU Women’s President. “We add our voices to those who denounce any and all forms of gender based violence. We have seen a surge of stories that many of us know are all too common — of workplace, household, and everyday incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence against someone based on their gender (biological gender and gender identity or expression).”

“In particular, the rural communities where many of our members reside lack resources to support persons affected by gender based violence,” added Toby Malloy, NFU Women’s Advisory representative in Alberta. “We hope to work with our communities to increase both the awareness and resources needed to bring about positive change for everyone affected by any sort of violence or discrimination in rural Canada.”

“The National Farmers Union has taken concrete steps within the organization by adopting a comprehensive Harassment Policy along with a Code of Conduct and a Safe Spaces policy for our meetings. These mechanisms are now available to address issues related to gender based violence and discrimination,” noted Sproule.  “We have also called for the reinstatement of the STC bus service (Saskatchewan’s rural public transportation system). Safe rural public transportation for people in rural communities in every province is needed to prevent violence against vulnerable travellers and to provide access to support services for isolated rural residents who need them.”

“This year we are sharing the theme of #MyActionsMatter and asking everyone to step up, call out, and speak up on issues involving gender based violence and sexism,” added Ward.

The National Farmers Union endorses, and encourages our members, Locals, and Regions to embrace the following actions as set out on the Status of Women Canada website:

  • Listen – be open to learning from the experiences of others.
  • Believe – support survivors and those affected by violence.
  • Speak out – add your voice to call out violence.
  • Intervene – find a safe way to help when you see acts of gender based violence.
  • Act – give your time to organizations working to end violence, and be the change you want to see.

“Please share this information and do your part to put an end to gender based violence and empower the voices of victims who may have lived in silence far too long,” urged Sproule.

NFU expresses solidarity with Indigenous land protectors at Standing Rock

By Katie Ward - La Via Campesina, December 1, 2016

(Saskatoon, SK, November 30, 2016) – The 47th Annual National Convention of the National Farmers Union (NFU) resolved to denounce the repression of peaceful protesters, including Indigenous land protectors, and expressed its support for the rights of people to engage in acts of civil disobedience in defence of the preservation of water, air, land and wildlife for future generations.

"With this statement, the NFU joins the many thousands of grassroots groups, unions, and Indigenous communities around the world in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they defend the land and water on their traditional territories," said Katie Ward, NFU Women's Vice President. "As family farmers, we are also people of the land who, like the Indigenous water protectors in North Dakota, want our children and their children after them to be able to cultivate healthy soils, drink clean water and live in a just society."

Since April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have put their bodies on the line to stop construction of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) in North Dakota. DAPL plans to go through Sioux territory because its original route under Bismarck was changed due to the town's concern for their water. The DAPL not only threatens the Missouri River and Lake Oahe reservoir which are the drinking water sources of the Standing Rock Sioux, but also burial grounds and sacred sites essential to the community's traditions and practices. In September, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples called on the USA to halt construction of the DAPL.

The water protectors' peaceful camps have been attacked by heavily militarized Morton County police and the pipeline company's private security guards using dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and concussion grenades. Hundreds of people have been injured.

"The Dakota Access Pipeline struggle comes out of a long history of racism and colonialism in North America that has pushed Indigenous people to the margins of society," continued Ward. "It also signals that today, thousands of people from hundreds of Indigenous nations along with non-Indigenous supporters, are able to come together to resist the oil industry's power and create a space to live on the land in a good way."

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