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Global Free Trade is on its deathbed. Globalized Solidarity and Localized Agriculture will bring food sovereignty: Korean Peasants’ League

By Lee Kyung Hae - La Via Campesina, September 10, 2021

In a statement issued to commemorate the International Day of Action against WTO and FTAs, the South East and East Asian members of La Via Campesina have issued a statement reminding that free-market economy has failed the world and food sovereignty is our future. Read the full statement below.

“WTO Kills Farmers!”—it is what Lee Kyung Hae, who took his own life during a protest against WTO in Cancun, Mexico, shouted out on September 10, 2003. The world was outraged by his death. Peasants from the world once again strengthened their will to fight against WTO at the global peasant funeral for Lee. The anniversary of Lee’s death has been designated as the International Day of Action against WTO and FTA.

18 years have passed since Lee’s death. For 18 years—even before Lee’s death, free trade with an arsenal of FTA, mainly led by WTO, has threatened the lives of the people all over the world, including peasants; it has influenced all parts of the world—from cities’ dense buildings, jungle and grasslands to deserts.

Over the past 30 years, free trade has only satisfied global capital’s appetite by emptying out people’s money and depriving freedom to peasants in smaller nations. And its result has been disastrous. Under different names, free trade has brought poverty, starvation, deprivation of resources, and destruction of environment; degrading food producers to food importers; privatizing water resources and public service; obliterating native seeds; and destroying a traditional mode of agriculture. Then, a nation has lost their own sovereignty, while multinational capital replacing for its place.

However, we are facing the end of free trade now. Every country has taken its leave of free trade, for national borders are closed with a movement restricted among nations due to COVID-19, and for the world is confronted with a new kind of food crisis from climate change. Those who used to insist free trade, claim protectionism now; agriculture is no exception. In the midst of this crisis, the world is struggling to secure foods to provide their people. The opportunity to achieve food sovereignty is right ahead of us.

Due to unjust capital and policies, free trade threatening lives of peasants and the people all over the world, has almost drawn its last breath; globalized solidarity and localized agriculture will fill in for it. Finishing free trade, peasants and the people will pave, on their own, the way toward a new era of food sovereignty.

Korea Peasant League resolves to lead this way, requesting as follows:

  • Against free trade threatening peasants’ right to live in the pursuit of the benefits of capital!
  • Against free trade bringing debt, poverty, hunger, and death!
  • Against free trade expelling peasants from the community!
  • Let’s build a new trade order based on peasants’ dignity, self-supply, and solidarity!

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.

Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas

By Lara R. Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Hunter Moskowitz, and Matt Phillips - ILR Worker Institute, Cornell, July 26, 2021

Texas is currently confronted by three major, intersecting crises: the COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which continues to take its toll on Texans through hurricanes, major flood events, wildfires, debilitating heat waves and the significant economic cost of these extreme weather events. These crises both expose and deepen existing inequalities, disproportionately impacting working families, women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, immigrants, and the most vulnerable in our society.

A well-designed recovery from the COVID-19 global health pandemic, however, can simultaneously tackle these intersecting crises. We can put people to work in high-quality, family- and community-sustaining careers, and we can build the 21st century infrastructure we need to tackle the climate crisis and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Indeed, in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is essential that our economic recovery focus on developing a climate-friendly economy. Moreover, there are significant jobs and economic development opportunities related to building a clean energy economy. One study shows that 25 million jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next three decades by electrifying our building and transportation sectors, manufacturing electric vehicles and other low-carbon products, installing solar, wind and other renewables, making our homes and buildings highly-efficient, massively expanding and improving public transit, and much more.

Conversely, a clean, low-carbon economy built with low-wage, low-quality jobs will only exacerbate our current crisis of inequality. The new clean energy economy can support good jobs with good benefits and a pipeline for historically disadvantaged communities to high-quality, paid on-the-job training programs that lead to career advancement. Currently, the vast majority of energy efficiency, solar and wind work is non-union, and the work can be low-wage and low-quality, even as the safety requirements of solar electrical systems, for example, necesitate well-trained, highly-skilled workers.

Read the text (PDF).

Why we need a UK Food Sovereignty Movement

By Staff - Land Workers Alliance, June 16, 2021

“Food sovereignty” as a term and a movement has become more prominent in the last few decades, but its reception by governments and institutions in wealthier countries, including the UK, has been unenthusiastic, to say the least.

What is food sovereignty?

“Food sovereignty” is a relatively new way of describing and unifying longstanding aims and methods of the work of peasants, indigenous people, and communities as well as that of various food justice campaigns and organisations. Its six unifying principles are providing food for people; valuing food providers; localising food systems; centring local control; building knowledge and skills; and working with nature. By centring these 6 key principles, the food sovereignty movement seeks to guarantee and protect people’s space, ability and right to define their own models of food production, distribution and consumption.

Where has it grown from?

In 2007, more than 500 people gathered at the Nyéléni forum in Mali, so-called after a Malian peasant farmer who developed crops to feed her people. This forum brought together many diverse groups and individuals working on food issues, and united them under the Declaration of Nyeleni. The food sovereignty movement transformed from being disparate and lacking in visibility into being an interconnected movement, with strong underlying principles, coordination and solidarity between countries, communities and activists working together towards a common goal.

Anti-imperialist Manifesto in Defense of the Environment

Labour on the farm

By Chris Smaje - Small Farm Future, May 26, 2021

The first draft of A Small Farm Future had a chapter called ‘Labour on the farm’ which didn’t make the final version. I needed to cut the length, and although there were parts of this chapter I was quite attached to, I felt I hadn’t nailed the issues as well as I’d like, so it was easy to spike. Some passages found their way into other parts of the book, but I’d been hoping to make good on the issue in this blog cycle with parts of the deleted chapter and my own more polished thoughts. Trouble is, I still don’t feel I’ve nailed this issue sufficiently. So instead I offer this post as a placeholder for a more distant day when I hope I can offer something more up to scratch.

What I’ll do here instead is provide a few brief thoughts on the topic prompted by a deeper dive I took recently into Francesca Bray’s fascinating book The Rice Economies (University of California Press, 1986) – an old book, but a very good one. Then I’m hoping I can come back in the future with something a bit more expansive.

A key organizing theme in Bray’s book is her contention that wheat in western countries and dryland cereal crops in general offer economies of scale in production that don’t exist in the case of the wet rice cultivation that dominates much of the populous regions of East, South and Southeast Asia. The combination of relatively scarce labour and relatively abundant land in the west (albeit that the latter was too often a function of colonial dispossession) created a dynamic of labour substitution and mechanization geared to increasing the per worker productivity of farming as an economic sector that’s come to be seen as exemplary of agricultural ‘progress’. In the wet rice regions, on the other hand, relatively abundant labour and relatively scarce land created a dynamic of agricultural development where the focus was using more (skilled) labour to increase the per acre productivity of the land.

From this point of departure, Bray unfurls an enormously detailed and sophisticated discussion of poverty, development, mechanization, landownership, credit, state formation, agrarian organization and much else besides which I hope to draw and elaborate from in future posts. But for now I’ll restrict myself to a couple of main points.

In certain situations of economic growth and capitalist development, there can be a compelling logic to agricultural labour substitution of the western kind. People quit the toilsome agrarian life for better paid jobs in industry or services, helping fuel an accumulation of capital and resources that redounds to the net benefit of all.

This is a pretty idealized vision of how capitalism works in practice, but it has a sufficient grain of historical truth to it in western societies to colour notions of a more labour-intensive agricultural future with a sense of regress and misplaced romanticism. Nevertheless, it matters where the accumulated capital and resources go. If labour substitution helps generate extra income that doesn’t find its way back to labourers, then to them there is no benefit. And this is basically what’s happening in the present phase of the global economy.

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.

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