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Peasants still feed the world, even if FAO claims otherwise

By AFSA, et. al. - GRAIN, February 2, 2022

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has bumbled into a controversy over whether peasants or agribusiness feed most of the world. Eight organisations with long experience working on food and farming issues have written to the Director General of the FAO sharply criticizing the UN agency for a 2021 report that is statistically confusing and contradicts FAO positions. The open letter calls upon FAO to examine its methodology, clarify itself and to reaffirm that peasants (including small farmers, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, and urban producers) not only provide more food with fewer resources but are the primary source of nourishment for at least 70% of the world population.

According to the letter’s signatories, the problematic study, “Lowder SK, et al.,(2021) “Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated?”, World Development, 142., reverses a number of well-established positions held by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as many other multilateral organisations and civil society.

The study:

  • Changes the definition of “Family Farmer” adopted by FAO and the UN Decade of the Family Farm by excluding artisanal fishers, pastoralists, urban food producers and other accepted categories. By extension it also excludes these food producers from the definition of “small farmer”.

  • Arbitrarily defines a “small farm” as less than 2 ha contradicting FAO’s own decision in 2018 to reject a universal land area threshold for describing small farms in favour of more sensitive country-specific definitions founded on the relationship between different variables.

  • Discounts or ignores recent FAO and other reports proving that peasant farms produce more food and more nutritious food per hectare than large farms.

  • Without evidence, maintains that policymakers are wrongly focused on peasant production and should give greater attention to larger production units.

The signing organisations also strongly disagree with the study’s assumption that food production is a proxy for food consumption and that the commercial value of food in the marketplace can be equated to the nutritional value of the food consumed.

The paper is not only a clumsy departure from FAO’s previous research and positions, it also feeds into an agribusiness narrative anxious to play down the importance and effectiveness of peasant production in order to build support for their proprietary technologies, subsidies, and regulatory needs.

Thousands mobilize to call for food systems that empower people, not companies

By Staff - La Via Campesina, August 5, 2021

UN Food Systems Pre-Summit falls short on climate, hunger crisis, COVID-19, and food systems transformation, say counter-mobilization participants, totalling almost 9,000 people.

3 August 2021. Rome, Italy. Between 25-28 July 2021, some 9,000 people gathered for a mostly virtual counter-mobilization to oppose the United Nations Food Systems (UNFSS) Pre-Summit. The alternative forum was hailed a huge success, as it drew together a wide variety of attendees and was able to catalyze and amplify a counter-narrative to the official proceedings. With critical articles and pieces published in major media outlets such as the BBC, Al Jazeera and Italian state TV Rai, and several thousands of #FoodSystems4People posts on social media seen by potentially 10 million users, the counter-mobilization succeeded in reaching a broad public with its vision for genuine transformation of unsustainable food systems.

The “People’s counter-mobilization to transform corporate food systems” kicked off with an 8-hour long global virtual rally. This massively-attended event featured messages from offline communities, declarations, artistic performances and live mobilizations by hundreds of individuals and organizations from all continents, representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless peoples, women, youth, consumers, the urban food insecure, NGOs and academics.

The counter-mobilization provided a space for dialogue about the threats posed by increasingly corporate-controlled and globalized food systems, and the already existing viable solutions to overcome them. An opening declaration summarizing the demands of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UNFSS – a platform of 330 organizations who took part in the counter-mobilization – was officially released. This civil society group are urging that policy discussions and decisions be made in the UN Committee on World Food Security, the only multilateral space with established inclusivity and accountability.

Food Sovereignty: 25 years in the making

By Jaime Amorim - La Via Campesina, July 28, 2021

Food sovereignty is intrinsically linked to the debate over what we envision for rural areas and what type of development should be applied, as well as what type of food to produce. And why do we want to produce?”

In the same year that La Via Campesina celebrates 25 years of defining, building, and fighting for “food sovereignty,” the United Nations (UN) will convene a summit for heads of state, members of large businesses and private corporations, multinationals and agribusiness representatives to discuss food systems processes.

The UN Food Systems Summit, or FFS, will take place in September of 2021 during the week of the High-Level panel of the United Nations’ General Assembly. Before the Summit, a pre-Summit will take place in Rome at the end of June.

I will take advantage of this space to debate(discuss?) the two subjects which complement each other in two separate articles. In this first one, I will discuss the 25th anniversary of the debate for food sovereignty. In the second will concern the contradictions surrounding the realization of the Summit on food systems, which will be convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is the decade in which the UN and its member states must accomplish the activities and actions to which they committed by 2030, the objectives defined in order to reach their goals for building Sustainable Development.

The Summit on Food Systems will be held just as the world is experiencing a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than four million people worldwide, victims of COVID-19. At the same time, we see, as a consequence of the crises, the rise in the number of people who suffer hunger worldwide, as well as an increase in unemployment, poverty and violence.

Position Document on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform

By Pier Francesco Pandolfi de Rinaldis, Berthe Darras, Jean-Matthieu Thévenot - European Coordination Via Campesina, July 13, 2021

Today the Youth Articulation of ECVC has released a Position Document on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Following the latest agreement between the EU Commission, EU Parliament and European Council, the young members of ECVC want to express their opinions, concerns and proposals for the reformed CAP and its application at the national level.

“We fear that the reformed CAP will continue to neglect the real needs of young farmers, and in particular small, agroecological farmers. Moreover, we expect that the CAP will continue to miss one of its main objectives: facilitating the entrance of new farmers (…). The CAP policies significantly affect us, yet we have no say in its reform process. It is not sufficient that the role of young farmers is acknowledged on paper, we want effective policies to support us and the right to participate in decision-making. As there can be no future for EU agriculture without young farmers.”

Read the text (PDF).

Anti-imperialist Manifesto in Defense of the Environment

Colombia: Is Access to Land Democratized?

By various - La Via Campesina, May 9, 2021

Sub-point 1.1 of the Peace Agreement establishes mechanisms for access to land for the benefit of peasants without land or with insufficient land, mainly through land allocation processes and formalization of rights. Thus, it has been planned on the one hand, the formalization of 7 million hectares in 10 years, prioritizing areas such as those related to Development Programs with a territorial approach – PDET, in Spanish, and on the other, the allocation of 3 million hectares in the first 12 years of management of the Fondo de Tierras.

However, the implementation is moving slowly. After the first 4 years of the implementation, the National Land Agency – ANT, the entity responsible for carrying out formalization and allocation processes, reports the formalization of 1,966,691 hectares, however, it should be remembered that 1,055,000 of these lands were handed over and registered before the signing of the Peace Accord. Land formalized before the implementation of the Accord should be excluded, which reduces the deal for formalization to 913,548 hectares; the claim to inflate the figures on the achievement of compromises is obvious. Likewise, it is pointed out that this figure is very low in comparison with the pace of implementation needed to achieve the goal set out in the Accord: nearly 700,000 hectares are expected to be formalized annually.

65.2% of the beneficiaries of formalization processes are men and 31.6% are women. It is also interesting to note that the 93.3% of formalized land corresponds to collective titles of black communities and constitution / expansion of indigenous reserves, similarly, only 14% of formalized hectares are in municipalities focused on the implementation of the Agreement.

Regarding the allocation process, the National Land Agency (ANT) presents the entry of about a million hectares to the Fondo de Tierras, however, if the hectares available to be distributed were strictly counted, in which the allocation condition has no restrictions or they are determined, this figure would be reduced to 90%, given that only 2,253 available plots corresponding to 96,471.1 hectares fulfill this condition1. This accentuates, again, the government’s pretention to inflate the figures for the fulfillment with the Agreement, given that only the entry [in the database] of the available land to be handed over to the peasants without land, in other words, the Fondo de Tierras actually has 96,471.1 hectares.

Likewise, the government is accounting for sources of vacant land and the Fondo Nacional Agrario, the land that is available for distribution, however, these are vacant lands with a previous occupation, which cannot be allocated and on which processes formalization of rights must be executed. In other words, these are cases where the formalization of the property is a must and that can feed the results of the formalization of seven million hectares goal, but this does not represent an accomplishment of the compromise to hand over land.

The Office of the Inspector General reports that 8,143.7 hectares have been allocated. It is important to stress that this figure corresponds to direct purchases and full allocations, that is, there were no allocations without previous occupation. Likewise, the regulatory body indicates that only 6.6% of hectares allocated by direct purchase correspond to municipalities prioritized in the implementation of the Agreement.

However, if we consider the figures presented by the ANT in relation to the Fondo de Tierras – in which the condition of land allocation is not considered – there is a 52.2% of the hectares put into the Fondo where the municipalities prioritized by the Territorially Focused Development Plans – PDET, and the 47.8% in non-priority areas. Likewise, 8 out of 16 PDET sub-regions2 each register less than 1% of the hectares included in the Fondo de Tierras.

As it is seen, the government is inflating the figures of the fulfillment of point 1 of the Agreement and there is no progress in democratizing access to land in the country. Additionally, the actions carried out by the government are not focused on the areas prioritized for its implementation, such as the PDET municipalities, which disregards the principle of prioritization established in the Agreement.

Paraguay: The struggle for Food Sovereignty is the struggle for life.

By Perla Alvarez - La Via Campesina, May 4, 2021

Whether in the movement or outside of it, the word “agribusiness” brings to mind instant associations like “soybeans,” “Brazil,” or “the Mennonites.” Why? When did this word first enter common parlance? What are we actually saying when we use this word?

The word “business” is not an accidental component of this portmanteau word; on the contrary, it is central to the whole concept. Agribusiness embodies a different conception of the earth than the one upheld by peasants and Indigenous peoples. For agribusiness, the earth is a commodity, a product to be bought and sold and made profitable, to be commercially exploited. It is no longer seen as tekoha, the place where we are, where we live, produce, and reproduce, where we come into our own, in which our culture is rooted. No: for agribusiness, the earth and its capacity to support life are negotiable. They are measured in terms of uniformity, not diversity; in tonnes of grain, not seeds; in productivity, not safety; in dollars, not life; in contour lines, not disappearing species of trees and birds.

That is agribusiness: the capitalist exploitation of the earth, extracting from it anything that can generate a profit in record time. Agribusiness subjects the earth to “inhuman” treatment because for agribusiness, agriculture has nothing to do with humanity. What’s human about chemical fertilization, constant tillage with heavy machinery, backbreaking labour, the spraying of toxic compounds, an unswerving routine? That’s not how we provide food our bodies or care for our health, is it? But when agribusiness hears the word food, it thinks in terms of commodities. For agribusiness, the earth is not a living thing but a machine, and to be treated as such. It has been that way ever since capitalism set foot in the countryside. True, these tendencies were there earlier, but timidly, at various stages of production, when merchants refused to pay fair prices, or when they started selling seeds, or when they presented themselves as the peasants’ allies and starting hawking poisons. With the rise of agribusiness, this mentality invaded the countryside and stealthily changed everything, even the way we think.

What do I mean by “changed the way we think”? In general, when we talk of agribusiness, we refer to large commercial plantations. But we also see its effects in the luxury vans cruising through villages, in fantastical-looking, robot-like tractors roaming the streets and kicking up so much dust we have to stay indoors. We see the elements of “success” and we think to ourselves: “So much money made in so little time… Why work so hard, if poisons and machines will make you rich?” We think that maybe, if we emulate this model, we’ll get rich too. Or we take a stab at it and become divorced from our communities; we stop being communitarians and start being landowners. We start using “weedkillers” so we can stop hoeing; we buy genetically modified seeds; we go into debt to buy biotoxins; we get someone to harrow so we don’t have to plough. We lease tractors because we can’t afford to buy them, and can’t get a bank loan without giving our land as collateral (but we don’t have the deed). We secretly take after agribusiness, whom we personify as a successful businessman, a role model. So when agribusiness colonized the countryside, it also colonized minds. It planted genetically modified seeds in the countryside and planted new ideas in our heads. As a complex process of rural capitalist accumulation, agribusiness applies costly, high-tech recipes (machinery, hybrid or GM seeds, biotoxins, trucks, etc). It looks easy and attractive on the surface, and that’s how it took hold of our minds. It occupied the countryside, displacing communities, and it occupied our thoughts, displacing knowledge. What we knew became old hat, a thing of the past, for Luddites only. The result, for rural peoples, for peasant and Indigenous communities, has been depopulation of the countryside, disappearance of wild land, lost seed varieties, and changes in food customs. And we didn’t turn into the nouveau riche, not by a long shot. Instead we were impoverished, lost our land, had our knowledge taken from us. Only the old rich kept getting richer, while a few others managed to sweep up some of the crumbs. And all this is by design: The purpose of agribusiness isn’t to enrich us but to fill the coffers of investment banks and multinationals.

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.

Food Sovereignty Is About Deciding To Change the World

By Pancha Rodríguez - La Via Campesina, April 27, 2021

To celebrate April 17th, International Day of Peasant Struggle, Capire publishes this interview with Pancha Rodríguez, a member of the Latin American Coordination of Countryside Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo—CLOC-La Via Campesina) and of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas—ANAMURI). Pancha spoke about a long personal and collective journey of struggle for food sovereignty, feminism, and socialism.

First of all, please introduce yourself, looking back at your struggle as a militant and your life story.

I’m Luz Francisca Rodríguez, and everyone knows me as Pancha, which is short for Francisco and Francisca in our country. I come from a rural village that is now part of the city, because as the city expands, it takes over a big part of the countryside and the sectors that used to feed the villages. This forces me to be constantly migrating from the city. I’m someone who doesn’t have much formal education, but I have a great contribution regarding social, political, ideological, and cultural education within the movement.

I’m a flower farmer—this was my contradiction, I produced flowers, not food. When I was young, my work was dedicated to what now may be called a seasonal worker. I was a farmer, a gatherer. We started with the beans and worked our way to the vineyards.

Since I was very little, I had to take care of my home. I worked in different areas, including seasonal work in the countryside and working several different jobs in the winter. I worked for two years at a casino, the post office, and the telegraph office. Then I started to work in the union, at the youth department of the CUT [Unified Workers’ Central]. At age twelve, I joined the Communist Youth, and I’m “old school”: I’m part of the Communist Party, I do militant work in a cell, I pay my dues, I buy the newspaper, I study, I don’t hold big positions in the party, but I’m dedicated to the organization.

I was the woman in charge of the Communist Youth national office in its Central Committee, I worked a lot with the Women’s Front of the Popular Unity for the people’s government, I was one of the sisters working side by side with great women who built the first Women’s Department in the Allende administration, working for the Ministry of Women. Later, when I went underground, I worked with human rights supporting women who were building collectives with partners of political prisoners and victims of forced disappearance, with political prisoners, and family members in exile.

As of 1979, I was no longer underground and I joined the work of the Peasant Confederation of El Surco, now Ranquil, and became the female head. In 1988, when the “no” plebiscite was about to be held, my partner was elected secretary of the International Union of Agriculture, Forests, and Crops, which at the time was part of the World Federation of Trade Unions. I was in charge of the Women’s Matters office. From this process, I went on to build the campaign to commemorate the 500 years of Indigenous, peasant, Black, and grassroots resistance, and then the constitution of the CLOC and La Vía Campesina, always developing work with women in the organization, side by side with young sisters who come from feminist movements and organizations.

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. 

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