G20: Put people first (and farmers next)

Summary of the Intervention of Joop de Koeijer, member of the coordinating committee of the European Coordination Via Campesina at the climate panel during the Put People First mobilisation on the 28th of March in London at the occasion of the G20 meeting.

The members of la Via Campesina – smallscale, sustainable family farmers are providing a basic need to all people: food.

For two other reasons it is important to take into account the Via Campesina positions: firstly, the vulnerability of peasants to climate change is huge, but also these same peasants can contribute to the solution of the climate problem.

Of course one would expect a farmer from the Global South to give testimony on the vulnerability of the livelihoods of many peasant families due to climate change. However, the values and proposals for agriculture and food are shared by our whole international movement.

I am an arable farmer from the southwest of the Netherlands, living in a delta below sealevel, and my region was struck by a terrible flood some years before I was born, killing over 2000 people.

In Nyéléni, Mali an international forum on food sovereignty took place in 2007. There, we saw the harshness of farming conditions too: the heat, the shortage of water and so on.

The fear for people living in deltas of more flooding and the difficulties for people living in areas hit by drought are facts that society needs to fight.

We know how to solve the climate problem, but we first need to repair some of the wrong decisions taken in the recent past. A neoliberal past that many of you declare dead today. Deregulation in agriculture meant that countries had to open their markets for cheap subisdised imports of basic food: traditional corn in Mexico, local rice in the Philippines and to a lesser extent plant protein production in Europe were the victims amongst others.

At the same time freemarketeers such as the Worldbank and the agroindustry pushed hand in hand for more export-oriented production: “The opportunities for agriculure are on the worldmarket!” But everyone in agriculture knows that when we all do the same overproduction, low prices are the inevitable result. So here is the picture of agriculture at the end of the neoliberal era: hundreds of millions of  tonnes of food dragged from continent to continent, farmers driven off their land or having to use more (energy-)intensive production methods than before as opposed to more agricultural practices adapted to local conditions. The solution lies in Food sovereignty: the right of peoples to define their own farm policies, to protect themselves against cheap imports without harming the development of agriculture elsewhere. And that will give us the space to do what we are supposed and want to do: produce good and healthy food for people first instead of the agroindustry first.

Contacts: Joop de Koeijer +31 6-12784009