It is urgent that FAO return to its original mandate and once again assumes leadership at the international level to promote initiatives and policies that combat hunger and marginalisation in rural areas.
Over the past decades, FAO has progressively drifted away from its original mandate, to the extent that social movements and civil society organisations are starting to believe that FAO is part of the problem, rather than part of a possible solution.
The outcome of The Special Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) of the FAO that ended on the 4th of November 2006 is particularly disappointing. The final report of the session ignores important issues such as Food Sovereignty and the need to protect small farmers from cheap food imports however those issues had been broadly discussed with the civil society.
More over, the United States, Canada and the European Union blocked an initiative by developing countries (Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mali…) to recommend concrete actions to the FAO Council regarding the implementation of conclusions of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD). The French Presidency of the CFS closed the discussions in the CFS and transferred the discussion to the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG) to be held in 2007.
Finally, La Via Campesina and other groups were shocked by the government’s lack of interest and responsibility to eradicate hunger. No single head of state attended the CFS that was held 10 years after the World Food Summit and were many of them committed themselves to reduce hunger.
La Via Campesina calls urgently upon the governments that participate in the FAO Council (20-25 November 2006) to assure the implementation of the ICARRD conclusions as well as other policies and initiatives designed to strengthen peasant based food production. These should become the central, strategic activities of the FAO in the combat against hunger and in its efforts to support the capacity of people to feed them selves.
Social movements and civil society organisations demand that the FAO take on a pro-active and strong role in promoting policies and initiatives that ensure access to land, seeds, water and other productive resources for rural communities.
Today the FAO and IFAD are the only multilateral inter-governmental spaces specifically dedicated to agriculture, fisheries and food. The FAO should defend peasant based production and policies that respect the rights of all rural peoples and are based on sustainability and food sovereignty. The mandate of the FAO does not include working with and supporting the private sector to promote intensive, high input based, export oriented food and agricultural production.
It is scandalous that there are hundreds of millions of peasants, small farmers and indigenous people who are still marginalized and suffer hunger. It is the result of the aggressive liberalization policies of the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and more recently, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Free Trade Agreements (FTA), which have destroyed livelihoods and led to deteriorated living conditions, especially in the countries of the South.
The liberalisation of agricultural and fisheries markets, the manipulation of market prices by transnational corporations, the re-concentration of land in the hands of big land owners and corporations, the patenting of seeds and other life forms, and the slashing and privatization of public services have deepened already existing inequalities, while mainly benefiting transnational corporations and elites around the world.
The result is an increase in poverty and marginalization in the very rural areas where more than two third of poor and hungry people live. The result is the expulsion of millions of peasants from the countryside and a general increase in migratory processes coming from rural areas. The same policies have created an unsustainable situation in which thousands of indebted farmers and peasants have been driven to commit suicide.
Meanwhile the workers in agro export enterprises are forced to accept dangerous, low paying jobs that do not provide social protections nor a life with dignity, essentially amounting to new forms of slavery.
While the FAO's constitution specifies that it should promote international commodity agreements to improve general welfare, it has in fact deferred to the WTO, World Bank, the IMF and the Free Trade Agreements in the progressive dismantling of such agreements and the introduction of free trade policies worldwide, which have dramatically intensified poverty. With the constant pressure exerted by international financial institutions, the international commitments to eradicate hunger and poverty in rural areas are being progressively undermined. It is the responsibility of FAO member nations to provide the financial, institutional and political means for FAO to effectively fulfil its mandate. Alternative funding mechanisms like the Global Donor Platform would only reduce the autonomy of FAO.
Both transnational corporations and "Aid for Trade" strategies promote export oriented, high input agriculture, monocultures and industrial aquaculture, pushing peasant agriculture, rural culture, natural resources, and rural peoples to the brink of extinction. The corporate, export-based model of production has had dramatic negative impacts on the environment and on biodiversity.
The FAO has not taken a critical stance on the market-based land polices promoted by the World Bank, which have demonstrably failed in the countries where they have been implemented, contributing to the further displacement of peasant agriculture and the deepening of poverty in rural areas.
In this context, it is urgent that the goals set by the FAO at its last Food Summit be realized.
One positive step regarding the FAO's original mandate is the final declaration of this year's International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) which states that: "We, the Member States… strongly believe in the essential role of agrarian reform and rural development to promote sustainable development, which includes, inter alia, the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication, and the strengthening of social justice…" And, furthermore, "We reiterate the importance of traditional and family agriculture, and other smallholder production as well as the roles of traditional rural communities and indigenous groups in contributing to food security and the eradication of poverty." Finally, the document proposes, "to include the participation of civil society and other UN Organizations dealing with food sovereignty, food security, agrarian reform and rural development".
Therefore we call on the FAO that we should work proactively towards:
1. The formulation of policies for integral agrarian reform that includes the redistribution of land and the recognition and respect of production systems used by fishing communities.
2. Protection of the rights of peoples and communities over seeds and traditional knowledge, including a ban on patenting of life and on terminator technology;
3. Protection of the collective rights of peoples and communities over natural resources as well as their public and social rights to education, health and social security.
4. Protection for peasant and family farm based production of food for local and national consumption, and the promotion of agro ecological production methods.
5. Promote the recovery of the traditional technologies and traditional methods of peasants, which are indispensable for the protection of the soil and the preservation of biodiversity.
The dialogue with the FAO that arose as part of the International Parallel Forum to the World Food Summit+5 in Rome, in 2002 — which gave the IPC (International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty) a broader make-up – has permitted the organization of regional consultations, debates and exchanges between FAO departments, committees and specialized groups, governments, and social movements. While there have been increasing tensions as FAO continues to drift away from its original mandate, this has still been a motivating space which shows the importance of the issues within the purview of the FAO.
Therefore, to be able to build up a constructive relationship, we press the FAO to urgently consider the following:
1. The need for the FAO to play a strong and pro-active role in international trade negotiations, to protect the production of food, for local and national markets, by peasant and family farm agriculture and by artesanal fishing and aquaculture.
2. The FAO must establish mechanisms that allow us to move forward on international agreements related to food, agriculture and fisheries that respect human rights, and especially peasant rights, and that take primacy over free trade agreements.
3. It is indispensable that there be concrete follow up of the ICARRD Conference, and that the FAO take the steps needed to create a fund and international financial mechanisms to support national governments who are willing to carry out effective programs of genuine and integral agrarian reform and rural development, based on the ICARRD principles, and in cooperation with social organizations and movements.
4. Mechanisms of implementation, follow-up and monitoring of the Porto Alegre commitments (ICARRD) should be defined in consultation with international civil society organizations via the process of the IPC.
5. The FAO must take a clear stand against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and terminator technology in agriculture, fisheries, livestock raising, and forestry.
6. FAO must revise the International Agreement on Plant Genetic Resources by establishing an unequivocal ban on the patenting and other forms of intellectual property rights (including UPOV) on plant genetic materials and the corporate control of seeds.
7. Agricultural research under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system is oriented towards private sector interests and against the interests of small farmers and sustainable agriculture. FAO must proactively push for alternative forms of research oriented towards small farmer and peasant-led research to find solutions to hunger and marginalisation through ecological production methods that respond to the needs of those working on the land, rivers and seas.
8. FAO should recognize the concept of “territory”, which is broader than “Land”, in order to defend biodiversity, water, forests, fishing areas and other indigenous and peasant’s communities’ basic resources and to protect them from privatization and encroachment from multinational corporations.
9. Specific attention must be given to the needs and priorities of artisanal fishers, originary, indigenous peoples and rural women. All of the original peoples, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, tribes, fisher folk, rural workers, peasants, the landless, nomadic pastoralists and displaced peoples, have the right maintain their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands and territories. This implies the recognition of their laws, traditions, customs and tenure systems. The FAO must urgently develop initiatives to address these issues.
10. The need to adopt mechanisms of social dialogue on global, regional, national and local levels, that allow for the cooperation of among different actors and for the follow-up and evaluation of progress on agrarian reform and rural development, respecting the principle of autonomy and strengthening the effective participation of social movements and diverse civil society formations at various levels in decision making processes.
The FAO reform must generate the institutional and political capacity to adequately address the above issues. La Via Campesina expects the FAO and national governments to act urgently on these issues to stop the growing catastrophe in peasant agriculture and food for our peoples.
We will continue to struggle for policies that are based on food sovereignty, and that include, among other things, the right of peoples and communities to define their own models and production and consumption of food, and their right to access and control over their local resources.
We will not wait another 10 years for real change!
It is Time for Food Sovereignty!
20 November 2006