COVID-19: Several members of La Via Campesina highlight the vulnerability of peasants and workers

As Corona Virus spreads across countries and continents, several members of La Via Campesina have issued statements highlighting the precarious situation of peasants and migrant workers around the world.

Here is a compilation of different Statements issued by the members;

“Coronavirus hit the Migrant Farm Workers” Border Farm Workers Project – Unión de Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronterizos

The current pandemic crisis is a real threat to the entire population. We cannot close our eyes to the deaths, contagions, quarantine closures, social distancing, shortages of basic products in the homes, speculation and hoarding of food, school closings, curfews, insufficient response from governments and authorities of health, indifference towards the pressing conditions of the most marginalized people and communities, as well as an increase in precariousness and inequality, is not acceptable. We are mired in a crisis of life that affects us all and it’s time to act.

However, there are sectors of the population that are in a more fragile situation, and that are the most affected by the threat of Covid-19 contagion, than all. This sector is made up of unprotected poor migrants who not only do not have access to health programs and medical services due to lack of money or basic health insurance, but can also spread the infection to their families and rural communities because they live in fear and why they don’t get treatment or don’t seek treatment if they get sick in the United States.

And as if the threat of getting sick and perhaps dying from the coronavirus was not enough, the crisis has also exacerbated the national security system with its impacts of increased police persecution, more authoritarianism, and more militarism against immigrant and border communities. The state, which is supposed to provide security and tranquility to the people, has fostered social divisions and an atmosphere of fear by executing a war strategy to face the current crisis. Instead of an urgent public mobilization to confront the Covid-19 crisis, the state has taken advantage of humanitarian disgrace to exercise more authoritarian control over the population, a greater restriction of human rights, the tightening of anti-migrant policies, a domain rigorously paramilitary cut of the borders and the containment of the free movement of people….

The statement also highlights the situation of farmworkers in Southern Mexico and other areas.

….On the other hand, the thousands of farmworkers working in the southern New Mexico farming region and El Paso and Hudspeth counties on the Texas side have too low wages that place them even below the Poverty Level set by the same federal government, so they do not have access to medical services or health services. Most do not qualify for low-cost health insurance and rarely go to community clinics, even when they are in very serious condition….

“Minimise Losses, Increase Solidarity”, says Confederation Paysanne in France

….We expect the government to establish priority protective measures so that peasants and all those involved in food can continue their work. In particular childcare measures while ensuring the safety of those in charge.
It is also important that a census be made of all the productions and producers whose outlets have been and will be affected by the economic slowdown, by difficulties in export, the stopping of catering away from home and school canteens … This census must, first of all, allow the taking into account and compensation of all production losses, and then, it must help to quickly redirect towards new outlets that meet the needs of the territory according to a principle of solidarity which guarantees peasants fair remuneration by avoiding any speculation.

The Confédération paysanne undertakes to identify, classify and report all the problems identified in the field. But it is urgent that the public authorities also get involved , ensuring the link between production and food needs across the country, this time again according to a principle of solidarity…”

Full Statement is available in French here

In Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committee (UAWC) has mobilised its members and technical teams to fight the outbreak of the virus. Many cases have been reported, mostly in Bethlehem. The committee fears that as the virus spreads to more regions, it will cripple public life and cause catastrophic losses for small-scale food producers. UAWC has developed an emergency action plan in line with the government’s declaration of a national emergency.

Read the full statement here

In Indonesia, Serikat Petani Indonesia urged the Indonesian government to anticipate the impact of the COVID-19 Virus on the food sector and take immediate steps to address the crisis. The Indonesian government had earlier announced that that it will use the funds set aside for infrastructure development to handle the COVID-19 Virus. SPI insisted that diversion of funds should also include strengthening food systems that are not dependent on the global food market. SPI also warned that the country’s food system would become more fragile if it relies on global distribution or supply chains that are oriented to market interests and vulnerable to speculation.

Read the full statement in Bahasa here

In Italy, Associazione Rurale Italiana (ARI) committed to ensuring that Italians have access to quality and local food even in this emergency situation. In a statement issued on 19 March 2020, the movement also reminded the government, “When this will come to an end, it will not be the “injections of liquidity” that will determine the recovery, but the ability, willingness, resistance and productive autonomy of peasants, artisans, small and medium-sized companies operating locally, the real backbone of the national economy. Only if in the meantime they will not be definitively annihilated.”

ARI also put forth several demands to the government that included purchase of food and agricultural products for fresh consumption from farms; keeping open and reorganising the food markets in the streets, with the necessary measures in terms of controlled and quota controlled entries; placing effective control over prices paid to producers and consumer prices for food and agricultural products; extending support to seasonal and migrant workers; clearing of due payments; support the debt incurred by small business, and small and medium size farms; importance of keeping the rural peasant markets open thereby guaranteeing access to food for the population, especially for the elderly who find it more difficult to go to shopping centres.

The full statement in Italian is available here

In Canada, the National Farmers Union pointed out that farmers markets are an essential component of local food systems and food sovereignty. But, as non-essential businesses are shut down across the country, many farmers markets are also being forced to close due to emergency measures undertaken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This action not only creates economic harm for local farmers but it also reduces public access to safe, healthy food.

“…We call on governments across Canada to declare farmers markets an essential service, and to work with markets to ensure their continued safe operation and food provision capacity during the pandemic crisis. We also call on eaters to support their local farmers and other local businesses during this difficult and uncertain time...”, the Union said.

To read the media release from NFU, click here

In the UK the Landworkers’ Alliance issued a call for emergency measures and also reiterated that “this crisis highlights the vulnerability of our globalised food system, which in coming years will only get worse if we don’t invest in building a resilient, diverse, local food system. To secure our food supply, we need emergency government action to make sure we get the crops we need in the ground and ensure that it all gets picked and distributed safely so that everyone can access healthy, affordable food. It is essential that farmers get the help they need to survive this crisis. We need our local farms for our own survival- let’s not lose them when we need them most

Read the full statement from Landworkers Alliance here

Eco Ruralis in Romania has mobilised its members over the last two weeks to distribute vegetable seeds to more than 3000 families in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. In a statement issued, Eco Ruralis said, “It is essential to promote the autonomy of peasant seeds and small scale agriculture! They are an absolute necessity for the continuous renewal of biodiversity, local production of diverse and nutritional food and sovereignty. So we will continue to keep the seeds alive in the fields of as many people as possible and show that peasant agriculture is an ideal model of agriculture in Romania, and elsewhere.”

In Peru National Agrarian Confederation (CNA) stressed that “the effort made by the women and men of the countryside is vital, but unfortunately not at all valued by the government. Peasant modes of production enable food sovereignty and allow us to face any crisis with greater resilience, including the crisis we are going through now”.

Read the full statement from CNA here

In Brazil, MST called for public policies to strengthen peasant family agriculture. The movement warned of an impending food crisis as a fallout of the current pandemic, and reminded that only the peasants and small-scale food producers can guarantee a steady food supply for the people.

In Argentina, the National Indigenous Peasant Movement – MNC – called to stay at home, while reminding that the peasantry has the task of guaranteeing food for the cities with healthy and sufficient production. In addition, they also made themselves available to the State to guarantee food in case of shortages and stressed that they will maintain prices. Statement here

In Portugal, the Confederación Nacional Agraria issued an open letter to the President, the National Assembly and the Prime Minister and called for defending family farming.

In Venezuela, the virus takes grip in the backdrop of a severe blockade and sanctions that has crippled the economy. El Frente Nacional Campesino Ezequiel Zamora (FNCEZ) shared some of the initiatives they are carrying out in their territories where the people demonstrate levels of organization and awareness that allow the country to be an example in the eyes of the world.

ANAP of Cuba is collaborating with medical professionals to organise health camps at the level of cooperatives and communities to inform and prepare workers about personal, family, and labour protection measures against the new #coronavirus #covid19. These actions are carried out within the framework of the National Health Plan, where emphasis is placed on preventive measures to avoid the spread of the disease as a top priority.

In Switzerland, Uniterre and allies issued a joint statement and reacted to the closure of markets that affected the delivery of vegetables.

In Belgium, FUGEA called on the Belgian government to act to enable peasants to continue their work and thus provide the necessary food to the population, stressing the importance of the role played by food producers.

La Via Campesina has issued a statement that calls for urgent attention to workers and rural poor. “In many other countries, economic packages to support vulnerable workers have been announced before announcing lockdowns. In South Asia, our governments have waited for infections to spread and have announced sudden lockdowns without enforcing any measures to protect the working poor. Vulnerable workers living in precarious economic conditions, who already struggle to find daily work, are not only concerned about their health, they are struggling to figure out how they will put the next meal on the table for themselves and their families.”

Read the full statement from South Asian members here

(This is a developing situation in most parts of the world and this article will be updated as more information trickle in)

Cover Image: Workers were fumigated with DDT as part of the entry process into the U.S. 1956. (Leonard Nadel/National Museum of American History)