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La Via Campesina

Agroecology in Puerto Rico

By Corbin Laedlein - Why Hunger, January 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kathryn Hindess - The Ecologist, January 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would it take to mainstream “alternative” agriculture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together We Can Cool the Planet

By Eugenia Izquierdo and IvanZigarán - La Via Campesina and GRAIN - December 2016

Based on the video Together we can cool the planet! co-produced by La Vía Campesina and GRAIN in 2015, we have created a comic book to support training activities of social movements and civil society organisations around climate change. This comic book looks at how the industrial food system impacts our climate and also explains what we can do to change course and start cooling the planet.

La Via Campesina and GRAIN have pointed out that the industrial food system is responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa, we have been denouncing the false solutions to climate change such as GMOs, the “green economy” and "climate-smart agriculture".

We say loud and clear: it is peasants and small farmers, along with consumers who choose agroecological products from local markets, who hold the solution to the climate crisis.

We must all rise to the challenge!

Read the report (PDF).

Watch the video, too:

Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice

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

ABSTRACT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsanto Facing Public Trial for Ecocide and Violation of Farmers’ Rights

By Staff - Global Justice Ecology Project, October 6, 2016

THE HAGUE – Navdanya,  the organization founded and led by Vandana Shiva, is co organizing, along with multiple civil society organizations, the Monsanto Tribunal and People’s Assembly to take place at the Hague from 14 to 16 October 2016. The Monsanto Tribunal will hold Monsanto accountable for their crimes against humanity, human rights violations and ecocide, in tandem with the People’s Assembly, a gathering of leading movements and activists working to defend our ecosystem and food sovereignty, to lay out the effects of industrial agrochemicals on our lives, our soils, our atmosphere and climate. Over 800 organizations from around the world are supporting and participating in this process while over 100 people’s assemblies and tribunals are being held across the world.

In the last century, giant agribusiness interests which came out of the war industry, have poisoned life and our ecosystem, are destroying our biodiversity and the lives of small farmers, appropriating their land, in an attempt to control and profit from these essentials for life on earth.  The risks keep increasing as these multinationals diminish in number as a result of aggressive takeovers and mega-mergers – such is the case with the recent 66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger.  A merger which serves to further extend the control of these multinationals over agricultural and food production systems.  There is only one way to translate this process:  maximum focus on potential profit, and a minimal concern towards the environment, to the quality of our food, to consumers and to workers in the sector.

Large multinationals are lobbying democratically elected governments to take on neoliberal policies and international ‘free’ trade agreements such a TTIP and TTP:  the race towards deregulation is an unprecedented attack on biodiversity and to life itself on Earth.  Multinationals like Monsanto have already expanded their control over our seeds, our food and our freedom, depriving us of our basic human rights and our right to democracy.  With  patents and international property rights (IPRs) as their tools,  they have established monopolies and threatened the rights of farmers and consumers.

Participating at the People’s Assembly will be leading representatives of movements and associations, seed custodians, farmers and journalists from all over the world.  The aim of the Assembly is to shine the light on crimes against nature and humanity of  mega chemical and biotechnological industrial corporations which through patents on seed have opened the doors to the invasion of GMOs.  Based on the ecocide and genocide of the past century, the Assembly will lay out the necessary actions for a future based on the rights of small farmers to save and exchange seed, on self determination of food, on agroecology, the rights of consumers and workers in the sector,  on the commons and a sharing economy, as well as  on the rights of nature and a true Earth Democracy.

EcoUnionist News #121 - #NoDAPL Update

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 13, 2016

The following unions have issued statements in solidarity with those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline; we will add additional unions to this list as we become aware of their having taken a similar stand:

  1. IWW - September 3, 2016
  2. Border Agricultural Workers - September 7, 2016
  3. Amalgamated Transport Union - September 9, 2016
  4. Communications Workers of America - September 9, 2016
  5. National Nurses United - September 9, 2016
  6. ILWU Local 19 - September 12, 2016
  7. United Electrical Workers - September 12, 2016

(This may not be a complete list, but we will endeavor to correct any oversights as we find them. If you know of additional unions who have joined this list, please contact us at euc@iww.org.)

On the other hand, some unions insist on staying on the wrong side of history:

Dakota Access Pipeline Halted (or was it?):

Amy Goodman Targeted:

Jill Stein Arrested:

Tin Soldiers and Nixon's Comin'...

Men Behind the Curtain:

The Dark Side of Local

By Margaret Gray - Jacobin, August 21, 2016

We live in the shadows,” explained Javier, a Hudson Valley farmworker, while describing his life to me. “We are treated like unknown people . . . We are not paid well and cannot ask for more.” A worker on another farm said, “They treat us like nothing; they only want the work . . . Whether we like it or not, we have to like it.”

Some of today’s liveliest political conversations concern agricultural production and distribution. But these discussions are also among the most confused.

Exploitative conditions on factory farms have rightly drawn the attention of academics, activists, and journalists. Indeed, the vast majority of research on farmworkers focuses on the largest farming sites. Consumers are offered countless reasons to avoid produce from them — but few alternatives other than to “buy local.”

Much contemporary food writing argues that when we buy locally grown food directly from farms, we not only secure fresher, more seasonal produce, but we also create an intimate, trusting relationship with the farmer. This supposed bond reinforces the common understanding that the local food production process is more wholesome than the industrial agricultural system.

Food writers and scholars have highlighted the many positive aspects of local food systems: economic and social justice, the sense of community facilitated by face-to-face interactions with food producers, and the civic engagement and democracy promoted by alternative agri-systems.

For example, as Barbara Kingsolver argues in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “‘locally grown’ is a denomination whose meaning in incorruptible.” Later in the book she addresses the poor pay and conditions of workers on factory farms, citing their average annual income of $7,500. Clearly, she intends readers to feel grateful that local farms offer a more just and well-paid alternative.

Or take another prominent example: in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a landmark in the new food literature, Michael Pollan describes two types of farming — industrial and pastoral — and offers no in-between.

In promoting local diets as healthy and righteous alternatives to the capitalist-industrial monoculture food system, such writers have sold us an idea premised on a false dichotomy.

On one hand, they demonize factory farms for poisoning the land and local waterways, for confining and mistreating animals, and for exploiting their workers in the name of earning profits. On the other hand, they promote local agriculture as the antidote to the factory farms’ corporate ills.

By shopping at the farmers market or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, consumers support smaller (though not necessarily small) farmers, keep food dollars local, encourage limited pesticide use, and ensure animals are treated humanely.

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

By the Land Workers' Alliance - August 2016

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

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

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

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

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