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Peasants at the frontline of the climate struggle share testimonies

By Jang Su-ji - La Via Campesina, January 10, 2024

Peasants around the globe find themselves at the forefront of the intensifying climate crisis, grappling with scorching droughts, heatwaves, torrential downpours, typhoons, and hailstorms. The adverse impacts of climate change is escalating rapidly, posing a direct threat to agriculture and food production worldwide. The 8th International Conference of La Via Campesina, held in Bogotá, Colombia, in December, provided a space for its members – small-holder farmers from more than 80 countries – to highlight the ongoing crises in their territories.

Chilean beekeepers, who spoke during the meeting, explained how they were among those who bore the brunt of this crisis. Extreme droughts had ignited forest fires, wreaking havoc on their livelihoods. In Turkey, according to peasant accounts, agricultural production plummeted by 50-60% in 2023 due to climate change effects, and the government’s responses, such as investing in solar panels on farmland and promoting electric vehicles, faced criticism for their inadequacy and unintended consequences – as they often came up on greenfield and fertile lands. In Sri Lanka, floods and droughts regularly disrupt farming, exacerbated by the government’s sale of natural resources to multinational corporations, leading to deforestation and hindering tea cultivation. Cambodian peasants explained how they grapple with the fallout of repeated typhoons, floods, and severe droughts, causing a 30% decline in agricultural production and forcing rural youth to migrate, jeopardizing food security.

Senegalese peasants also shared about their challenges. Fisherfolk and farmers are losing jobs due to flooding, prompting calls for international prosecution of transnational corporations responsible for climate impacts. Guatemalan peasants recounted how they are combating water resource depletion and forest loss, promoting agroecological farming to respond to climate change. Paraguayan peasants, facing deforestation and fires, are also advocating for agroecology as a solution. Those who came from Niger shared their experiences of severe food crises due to temperature increases, drought, and flooding, emphasizing the need to reduce carbon emissions and produce locally accessible agricultural products.

In Palestine, the combination of war and occupation accelerated climate change, diminishing agricultural production and food sovereignty. Palestinian peasants confront the accelerated impact of climate change under Israeli occupation, with olive trees being cut down, water resources seized, and high water prices imposed.

The Korean peasants who spoke at the Conference urged global unity against capitalist forces and multinational corporations to address the social and environmental aspects of the climate crisis. They also reflected on the global impact of the climate crisis, highlighting unpredictable losses for farmers and advocating against agrochemicals. This found echo among the French peasants who also called for international solidarity, prioritizing agroecology, and exposing false solutions and colonialist land grabs. Brazilian peasants who spoke at the event decried transnational corporations exploiting land and people, emphasizing the importance of concrete proposals and alternative solutions.

Congolese peasants asserted that the fight against climate change was a collective struggle, emphasizing biodiversity conservation and ecological agriculture for healthy food and planet protection. Honduran peasants stressed the importance of supporting agroecology schools and international aid to combat climate change. Peasants in the Dominican Republic emphasized the need to mobilize against neoliberal policies, capitalism, and imperialism in both rural and urban areas, advocating for large-scale campaigns to shift to ecological agriculture and achieve food sovereignty.

These testimonies of peasants worldwide revealed a shared struggle against the escalating climate crisis. From South America to Asia and Africa, the call for sustainable alternatives, such as agroecology, and the denouncement of inadequate responses and corporate exploitation echoed a united plea for global action to safeguard the future of agriculture and food production.

La Via Campesina Calls for a Proactive Boycott of the Israeli Goods- Reiterates Support for the Global BDS Campaign

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 22, 2023

(Bagnolet: November 24, 2023) In response to the genocidal war being waged on the people of Palestine, we, La Via Campesina, reiterate our steadfast solidarity with the peasants, fisherfolk and working families of Palestine. Many of them dedicate themselves daily to the realization of Peasants Rights and Food Sovereignty, engage in heroic acts such as planting their lands, caring for their orchards, fishing in their rivers and sea, and organizing themselves within the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a longstanding member of La Via Campesina.

There are no words to describe the pain and the heartbreak felt within all of La Via Campesina with each life lost, each child maimed and orphaned, each home and hospital destroyed, each farm and field abandoned for fear of death by air raids in Gaza or armed emboldened settlers across the West Bank. This illegal Israeli occupation that has lasted far too long now carries out what one UN official described as a “textbook case of genocide”.

Over 13,500 civilians have been killed, at the time of writing this press release, and the numbers of lost souls continue to increase. The majority of the casualties are women and children. Another 3,000 missing trapped under the rubble. A ceasefire is imperative to prevent further horrors. It is our duty as social movements, organizations, and individuals within society to globalize the struggle and solidarity, and put to an end these shameful crimes that do not lead to peace and undermine sovereignty, destroying the future of generations.

UN Working Group is a much-needed boost in the struggle for the rights of peasants

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 3, 2023

On the 11th of October, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution to establish a Working Group on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. This resolution (A/HRC/54/L.11), tabled by the Plurinational State of Bolivia and supported by other members, including Cuba, Costa Rica, South Africa, Gambia, Paraguay, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, and Luxembourg, was adopted at the 54th session of the Council in Geneva, with an overwhelming majority, with 38 out of the 47 members supporting it.

The group, which will be established for a period of three years, will consist of five independent experts, with balanced geographical representation, to be appointed by the Human Rights Council at its fifty-fifth session.

This marks a great leap forward in meaningfully translating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) into pragmatic public policies at the national and local levels.

As the resolution rightly notes, ‘the UNDROP is an important recognition of the past, present, and future contributions of peasants and other people working in rural areas in all regions of the world to development and to conserving and improving biodiversity, which constitutes the basis of food and agricultural production throughout the world, and their contribution to ensuring the right to adequate food and food security, which is fundamental to attaining the internationally agreed development goals, including those in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.

The 28 specific articles within UNDROP offer a much-needed framework for governments worldwide to craft national and state-level policies that genuinely support and strengthen local food production and empower local food producers. UNDROP lays down the pathway to fight against hunger, protect and nourish biodiversity, and preserve cultural heritage. It forms the basis for advocating food sovereignty, agroecology, climate justice, agrarian reform, and human rights.

Hunger, like poverty, is still predominantly a rural problem. It is also ironic that in the rural population, it is those who produce food who suffer disproportionately. Eighty percent of people suffering from hunger live in rural areas, particularly in developing countries, and 50 percent are small-scale and traditional farm-holders, as well as subsistence peasants and other people working in rural areas, and they are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, discrimination, and exploitation.

It is this difficult reality that prompted the majority of countries in the Global South to overwhelmingly support the adoption of the Declaration in 2018 at the UN General Assembly in New York, with 121 nations voting in favour. Notably, 54 countries abstained from voting. In essence, 90% of the world’s nations either supported or did not oppose the need for a global framework that addresses the concerns and aspirations of billions of small-scale food producers.

However, like many UN Declarations, even after five years, UNDROP has yet to meaningfully influence national food and agriculture policies because it is not legally binding on the member states of the United Nations to implement it. This is why the resolution for a UN Working Group is all the more important in facilitating mechanisms that encourage member states to frame national policies based on the framework this Declaration provides.

Women small-scale farmers demand equitable access to and control over agricultural resources

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 2, 2023

On 27th October 2023, ESAFF Uganda, through the ESAFF Women Forum together with partners, organised the 5th Women in Agriculture (WiA) Conference, an annual event that empowers small-scale women in agriculture. This year, with support from Oxfam in Uganda, Humundi and GIZ, the 5th National Women in Agriculture (WiA) Conference was conducted under the theme “Equal access and control of agricultural resources for all”. Small-scale women from 54 districts under the ESAFF Women Forum, a platform set up by ESAFF Uganda to purposefully position women’s issues for policy and practice change in Uganda. Apart from small-scale farmers, the conference also attracted local leaders, investors, and farmer leaders, among others. The discussions focused on the constraints they face in accessing equal rights of agricultural resources and what should be done for them to have equal access.

The National Chairperson ESAFF Uganda Mr Hakim Baliraine, acknowledged that 88% of women in Uganda engage in agriculture, and from the majority of the ESAFF Uganda membership districts, women have been empowered in different capacities to enable them to achieve equal access to agricultural resources. “Over 70% of the women empowered by ESAFF Uganda know their land rights, and they have come to appreciate and believe that the resilient way of farming is agroecology. Women small-scale farmers can now fight for their resources for production.” Mr. Hakim added.

During the conference, women small-scale farmer leaders highlighted key agricultural resource challenges, including access to land, access to water, access to quality seeds and access to finance, among others.

La Via Campesina Stands in solidarity with Kenyan Peasant League in the struggle against GMOs

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 1, 2023

We, La Via Campesina, the international peasant movement with over 182 local and national organisations in 81 countries from Africa, Asia Europe and Americas stands in solidarity with the Kenyan Peasants League (KPL) our member organization in their legal struggle to continue the ban on GMOs in Kenya. In October 2022 the Kenyan Government lifted the ban on importation and cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that had been in place for ten years.

The conservatory orders maintaining the GMO ban by the High Court in December 2022 and the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the conservatory orders due to a lack of adequate public participation in the decision by the government to lift the GMO ban gave a temporary relief to the struggle.

The legal struggle will start at the High Court soon. We call upon all social movements and activists to mobilize and support the Kenya Peasant League in their continued struggle against the lifting of the ban on importation and cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in Kenya.

We call on the government of Kenya to respect the rights of peasants to determine their future. Lifting the GMO ban goes against the rights of the peasants (article 10 – Right to Participation; 15- Right to Food and Food Sovereignty; 19 – Right to Seeds and 20 – Right to Biological Diversity) enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP).

Again, lifting the GMO ban contravenes Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), also known as “Seed Treaty”, which affirms that no law(s) should “limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material”. We know from experiences in many countries that have allowed GMO production that the local seed systems suffered a lot. The local biodiversity and the environment suffered too due to excessive use of toxic agro-inputs required to guarantee GMO crops maximum yield. People’s health suffered too.

We, thus believe that if the ban on GMOs is lifted, this will not only be a direct attack on the peasants way of life in Kenya, but the East African region and the African Continent as it will unleash the untold destruction of the peasant managed seeds systems. The continent is already under enormous pressure to reformed seed legislations in favour of commercial seed companies and big agribusinesses.

Peasants’ organizations and other social movements will continue to mobilize so that the general GMO ban in Kenya prevails.

Binding Treaty negotiations in the UN unveil linkages between transnational corporate impunity and imperialism

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 25, 2023

This week (23-27 October) United Nations member states resume historical negotiations in the ninth session at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs).

The consistent participation of members of communities affected by activities of transnational corporations, civil-society organisations, trade unions and social movements makes it one of the most strongly supported processes in the history of UN human rights treaty negotiations. The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign), representing more than 260 million people globally affected by Transnational Corporations has, once again, a strong presence in Geneva, where it is contributing decisively to the negotiations.

At the opening day, a broad group of states blocked the adoption of the program of work because of their concerns about the new text’s failure to incorporate their views and address the core mandate of the treaty to focus on transnationals. They also raised broader concerns regarding the non-democratic and non-transparent methodology of the Chair of the process, Ecuador.

In particular, the African group –representing all 54 African states took the lead and was backed by numerous state delegates from Global South countries, such as Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The backlash was so strong that the Chair had to suspend the morning session to seek consensus, and was only able to proceed after conceding to use a track-changes version of the text, which reflected prior proposals of states they felt had been unfairly removed. The Chair was also forced to defend the shift in focus from transnational corporations to all businesses – a shift that accommodates the positions of the EU, US, other developed countries, as well as industry trade groups involved in the process. He insisted he was not trying to impose a new focus for the treaty, and agreed that it was not within his power to make such a shift and that issues of scope would decided through negotiations.

Vermont dairy farmers are calling on Hannaford Supermarkets to join the Milk with Dignity program

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, November 2, 2022

Farmworkers spent October picketing outside Hannaford Supermarket on Shelburne Road in South Burlington, Vermont, calling on the national grocery store chain to join the nonprofit, farmworker-driven Milk with Dignity program to end systemic human rights violations in the northeast dairy industry. The Vermont workers, organized with Migrant Justice, have been calling on Hannaford to join the program since 2019 with little success. The picket is just one of many actions farmworkers have leveraged to urge the company to improve its dairy sourcing practices.

“We’re calling up Hannaford to take action and to take responsibility for the rights of the dairy farm workers in their supply chain,” said Marino Chun, a farmworker and member of the Migrant Justice Farmworker Coordinating Committee, outside a Hannaford market in Shelburne, Vermont. According to Migrant Justice, Hannaford’s store brand of milk is produced in Vermont dairy farms where systemic human rights violations still occur. 

Inspired by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, Migrant Justice launched the Milk with Dignity program in 2017, with Ben & Jerry’s as the first company to commit to the program. To join the program, a company must commit to sourcing from farms that enroll in this worker-driven human rights program, which includes paying a premium to participating farms in exchange for the farm’s commitment to improving conditions to meet a worker-authored code of conduct. “Hannaford hasn’t joined yet, but we aren’t giving up and we’re gonna keep taking action until we get a positive response.”

Migrant Justice also helps to educate workers on their rights in the program, and a third-party auditor—the Milk with Dignity Standards Council (MDSC)—monitors farms’ compliance. Labor conditions for many dairy farm workers are often dangerous and even life-threatening. In 2014, there were 49 reported fatalities in dairy cattle and milk production; one worker was mauled by a two-year-old bull or dairy cow while herding 40-50 other cows into a holding pen, and she was pronounced dead at the scene. In the same year, a survey of nearly 200 Vermont dairy workers revealed the average laborer works 60-80 hours per week, and 40% of farmworkers are paid less than the state minimum wage. Dairy workers also reported having no days off, routinely working seven hours or more without a break to eat, having their pay illegally withheld, not getting eight consecutive hours off per day to sleep, and living in overcrowded housing with inadequate heat.

Three Workers Dead in Grain Silo, Including a Child. OSHA Can Do Nothing

By Jordan Barab - Confined Space, September 22, 2022

In what may be the largest mass casualty workplace event this year, three workers were killed after being trapped in a grain silo in Pennsylvania. The workers included a 47-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old. A 16-year-old boy died at the same farm in March when he was trapped under a horse-drawn manure spreader that weighed more than 10 tons.

And despite the high death toll and age of the workers, neither OSHA nor the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division (which enforces child labor laws) can do anything about it.

The Center Daily Times reports that Andrew Beiler, 47, and his two sons — a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old whose names were not released — died of asphyxiation from “silo gas.” Apparently, “One of Beiler’s sons was working in the silo when his father checked on him, Michael said, citing first responder reports. The eldest Beiler jumped in to help, but was overcome by the gas. His second son followed, but was also overcome.”

Rescuers dying when trying to rescue the original victims is not uncommon in confined space or trenching incidents. Before OSHA’s confined space standard was issued in 1993, more rescuers died in confined spaces than initial victims.

Grain silos are well known death traps that kill dozens of workers, often children, every year. When grain gets stuck, workers often go in at the top of a silo to loosen the grain or “walk it down.” But when the grain starts flowing, it can suck the worker down like quick sand causing suffocation. Often multiple workers die when others go into the grain in an attempt to rescue the first victim. Although there has been no investigation yet, these deaths are currently being blamed on “silo gas” (usually carbon dioxide or nitrogen dioxide) which forms when grain decomposes and can result in a person collapsing and dying within minutes, either due to oxygen displacement or toxicity.

OSHA’s grain handling standard requires employers to protect workers by training them, stop the conveyor system that moves grain at the bottom of the silo, use safety harnesses and provide a trained observer to respond to trouble. The standard also requires the air to be tested before entry and that the silo be ventilated.

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.

The Rural Climate Dialogues: A Community-Driven Roadmap for Climate Action in Rural Minnesota

By Tara Ritter - Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, November 17, 2020

Rural America has a central role to play in meeting the climate crisis and rural residents have innovative ideas about how to do it. Rural America encompasses 97% of the land area in the United States and is home to nearly all the nation’s energy production, including wind and solar farms, oil drilling and power plants. The nation’s vast agricultural and forested land, which are essential natural resources in responding to climate change, are managed by the 19% of the population that lives in rural America. It seems obvious that rural Americans should be deeply involved in developing climate policy; yet, rural perspectives and ideas are too often not part of the discussion.

There are real challenges in engaging rural communities on climate policy, including longstanding political obstacles that run deeper than views on climate change. The divide between rural and urban is not just geographic, but also cultural and political, and here in Minnesota the gap is widening. Urban and rural Minnesotans have grown apart in many ways — age, income, educational attainment, race and culture. Ignoring these differences, or trying to ram through them, has thus far delayed action on climate change.

Climate change offers an opportunity to engage differently with rural communities in a way that focuses on solutions rather than assigning blame. Instead of trying to “sell” climate policy to rural communities, we must engage organizations and leaders rooted in rural areas in the development stage to identify solutions that work for them. As important, we need community-level engagement tools designed to overcome our current toxic political environment and map out rural-appropriate responses to climate change that feed up into policy and concrete action.

Since 2014, IATP, in partnership with the Jefferson Center, has hosted Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs) in five Minnesota counties. This method of civic engagement emphasizes listening and empathy building; focuses on each community’s distinct hopes, challenges and sense of place; and ultimately creates locally driven climate action plans. This report will discuss the context in which we have done this work, provide an overview of each community’s recommendations and actions, and share what we have learned.

Read the text (PDF).


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