From Declarations to Action: Empowering Lower Government Structures and Rural Communities Through UNDROP

On December 17, 2018, the UN General Assembly finally adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). At the forefront of this struggle was La Via Campesina, a global social movement fighting for the rights and independence of small-scale farmers. Through the work of La Via Campesina and allies, the collective rights of small-scale farmers and peasants were recognised when the UN adopted the declaration as an international legal instrument. In order to guarantee the fair and comprehensive conversion of the declaration into law and practice, the struggle has now moved from the offices of diplomats to those of national and local parliaments, mayors, council members, and extension officers.

Pushing for small-scale farmers and peasant rights requires both the basic support of the small-scale farmers and duty bearers to secure the basis and capacity of these stakeholders. Through different interventions, ESAFF Uganda ensures that it caters for both the needs of small-scale farmers by providing concrete knowledge and information and supporting concrete actions to push duty-bearers at all levels to recognise the collective rights of peasants, as enshrined in the UNDROP.

ESAFF Uganda values the Ugandan government’s dedication to advancing the rights, development, and empowerment of peasants and other rural residents through a variety of political and economic initiatives. Nonetheless, the majority of implementation plans at the local level have not taken into account UNDROP’s adoption, domestication, and institutionalization. In light of this declaration’s importance and possible effects on farming communities, ESAFF Uganda participated in the special council session with the town council members to discuss and present UNDROP on April 17, 2024, in Ttamu division, Mityana district. The Ttamu division council is one of the divisions that make up the Mityana Municipal Council. Other council speakers from different sub-counties and local governments attended this informative session, where members showed their dedication to protecting human rights and advancing the welfare of the community at large, particularly that of rural residents who frequently encounter severe difficulties and disparities.

Nabwami Christine, a small-scale farmer in Mityana district and one of the facilitators of UNDROP in Uganda, enlightened the councillors about UNDROP and stressed the need for the domestication of UNDROP from the grassroots to the national level. On the presentation of the UNDROP declaration to the council, Nabwami Christine stressed that the declaration is not only a concern for small-scale farmers but for every person who eats and drinks. “If we do not defend the rights of small-scale farmers to produce food in a favourable environment, the entire nation is bound to suffer since small-scale farmers produce the biggest percentage of the food grown across the country,” Christine added.

 “There is a need for a mindset change exercise within our division. A lot of our small-scale farmers in the Ttamu division have a negative attitude towards the adoption of agroecology and think that it cannot be practised on a large scale for them to get yields for both home consumption and sale in the market. All the council members should start with this sensitization process,” said Hon. Lukyamuzi, Mayor of Ttamu Division.

During the council session, Honourable Kassim Ssentongo expressed his fear of exercising some of the rights expressed in the UNDROP. He highlighted freedom of expression and urged his fellow council members not to misunderstand it. “The declaration may give us this freedom, but let us not go against the laws governing our country because of this right. Our thoughts can be heard and handled amicably without exercising violence,” Hon. Kassim added.

Council members thanked ESAFF Uganda for taking such a crucial initiative in popularising and translating the UNDROP because they had no idea of this document and how it’s very important for improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in communities. “I want to thank ESAFF Uganda for this work and also consider taking the bottom-up approach of popularising this document on the rights of peasants. “If our people at the grass-roots level are aware of and know the impact of this declaration, it will be very easy to demand its adoption by our government.”  Harriet Mulumba, Speaker, Ttamu Division

Council members collectively agreed to adopt the UNDROP declaration and further spread awareness about the key rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. They further requested training in agroecology to better equip themselves with what the declaration is advocating for.

Mr. Hakim Baliraine, the ESAFF Uganda National Chairperson, thanked the council members for agreeing to deliberate on the UNDROP declaration. “This is our first session with council members, and I am glad that you have collectively agreed to work with ESAFF Uganda to push for the domestication of this declaration. This declaration encompasses various aspects, such as the right to land, seeds, adequate living conditions, social security, and access to justice. These rights are fundamental to ensuring our well-being at the community level.” Hakim said.

He further highlighted the need for each of us to reflect on our livelihoods and how we live on a day-to-day basis, starting with the food we consume, as that may be the key to popularising UNDROP.

The council session resolved that ESAFF Uganda, through ESAFF Mityana, should equip the council members on agroecology, climate justice, and food sovereignty to better understand the issues that the UNDROP declaration stands for. On the other hand, the Ttamu Division Mayor pledged to lead the council members in the popularisation of the UNDROP by first organising village meetings to create awareness about the UNDROP and the key rights of small-scale farmers.

This engagement with the lower government structures has exposed the dire need for information and capacity at these levels of government to defend the rights of small-scale farmers, peasants, and people working in rural areas. Moving forward, ESAFF Uganda will continue to build the capacity of local leaders to defend the rights of small-scale farmers in their communities. This will also be done by providing informative resources.