Family farmers of the entire world meet in Mozambique in defense of rural life

Luis Hernández Navarro (Enviado) – La Jornada, Mexico

(Maputo, October 16)  They number almost 650, those who arrived in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, from 86 countries on five continents. They are delegates, translators, technical support team members and special guests of the V International Congress of the Via Campesina.

To reach there, most of the delegates have made a considerable economic and human effort. Maputo is not a city you get to easily. The hosts, the farmers of the National Union of Mozambique Farmers (UNAC in Portuguese), have organically grown the food that will be served to guests. But that is just how this international movement behaves. >From its birthing, 18 years ago, they have taken initiatives in defense of the rural world and small farmers that simultaneously defy the laws of gravity and the parameters of reason, but which, with the passage of time, demonstrate not only that they are viable, but absolutely necessary. At a moment when the world economy has yet come up for air, in which the credit, environmental, food, trade and finance crises bump up against each other in the international economic architecture, farmer leaders of all the regions of the planet have arrived at this corner of Africa to reflect on the future of agriculture and family farmers and come to agreement on the actions to take.

The headquarters for the job is the central school of Frelimo, the party that successfully lead the struggle for national liberation and against Portuguese colonialism and which, already transformed, governs Mozambique today. It is an austere and semi-arid place that still conserves some of its original nature.

Via Campesina emerged formally in 1993, in a conference that took place in Mons, Belgium. Annette Aurélie Desmarais, who for various years was a small organic farmer in Canada and who now has become a kind of historian of the organization, insists that those who brought it together had known each other and struggled together. Their common objectives were an explicit rejection of the neoliberal model for rural development.

The conference is taking place at a very peculiar moment for Mozambique. The big projects of political transformation that followed the proclamation of independence in June of 1975, that nationalized private property and the exercise of popular power, have been severely weakened, such that in 1987 the country received a loan from the World Bank. The US is today the principal direct foreign investor.

Nevertheless, the situation is changing. The president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, arrived today at the invitation of his counterpart Armando Guebuza, another step in the Brazilian diplomatic offensive to form relations with South Africa and the ex-Portuguese colonies of Africa. A chess move that shows the potential Brazil has on the international stage, to a nation who played a key role in the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations born out of the conference of Bandung.

Lula has taken advantage of his tour to try to un-block the Doha Round on international trade, stuck over serious disagreements between the US and India on agricultural questions. Via Campesina will look at this issue to update their historic position on this matter: that agriculture must remain outside of international trade agreements and the nations ought to have the right to determine their food policies.

Henry Saragih, current general secretary of the Via Campesina, summed up in a prepared document for the conference the changes in the international context that will be touched in this gathering. Among these are the reality that, in addition to the failure of trade liberalization, the conflict between rich and poor over climate change, the instability in the production of foods, the use of land to produce agrofuels, changes in the geopolitical balance, the relative weakness of the multilateral financial organisms, the crisis of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the growing concentration of multinationals, is the decision made by various governments to seriously consider some of the proposals of the Via Campesina as public policy.

The Via Campesina Congress is, among many other things, an invaluable x-ray to diagnose the situation in which the family farmers of the world are living across the entire planet. All of this in the midst of the worst food crisis in many years.