“In Europe People Think Potatoes Grow in Supermarkets”

Interview with Paul Nicholson, leader of La Via Campesina in the Basque Country.

The Ninth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 9) began in Bonn, Germany, on Monday. La Via Campesina has been carrying out activities in the city to express its absolute rejection to the model of privatization of natural resources and to promote their own alternative.

The peasants mobilized against agrofuels outside a Shell gas station in the city. They did the same on Monday outside the Maritim Hotel, where the COP negotiations are taking place. There, they demanded “to stop the privatization of biodiversity and to implement food sovereignty to solve the global food and environmental crisis”.

José María Oviedo, a peasant member of the National Farmers’ Federation of Costa Rica, which is part of La Vía Campesina, made a strong speech on behalf of the international peasant network in one of the COP’s official meetings. He demanded the enforcement of comunities’ collective rights to biodiversity, especially the rigths over seeds, phitogenetic resources, land and water, a ban on all GM and agrofuel crops, and demanded food sovereignty to face hunger in the world.

Real World Radio interviewed Paul Nicholson, from the EHNE trade union, member of La Via Campesina in the Basque Country. He is also part of the European Peasant Coordinator.

What are the main concerns of La Via Campesina and the main reasons why it is here in Bonn, with representatives from different parts of the world?

We are going through a very fast process, we are now at the Convention on Biological Diversity, the (FAO’s) Conference on Climate Change (and Food Sovereignty) will take place in two weeks in Rome, and the G8 will be held a month later. All these meetings are discussing how to solve the climate change crisis, the food crisis and the energy crisis. At Via Campesina we say (the solution) is a model of agro-ecologic farming, peasant farming that feeds the world, renews it and makes it socially and environmentally sustainable. In parallel to this proposal, which we believe is the only possible solution, there is the neoliberal technlological proposal that is being discussed at the COP. That means more technology, more GMO, second generation GMO, and a production model that leaves no space to peasant agriculture, nor to social or sustainable agriculture.

What impacts is this capitalist model of agribusiness having on the peasant communities around the world?

The first thing is the exclusion of farmers, an exclusion that means the aging of the rural model, young people are forced to migrate, there are no capacities, no policies to include new peasants. And there is also the imposition of a model of agriculture without farmers, where small and medium peasants and farmers are turned into mere workers of transnational corporations, working under very bad conditions. It means socially changing a diverse agriculture that creates employment, that participates in the local economy instead of an economy and culture that depend on transnational corporations, which turn us into mere market objetcts instead of subjects of change.

What are the main consequences on the natural goods, for example on the imposition of monocultures for agrofuel production?

We should not only focus on monocultures, this also happens with conventional farming. We realize (that the consequences) the increasing green revolution, the use of agrochemical supplies, the increasing agriculture production, the use of hybrid seeds.
On the one hand, there is a huge dependence on transnational corporations, but there is also a strong impact on land. This abuse of agrochemicals and of hybrid seeds leads to a huge loss of biodiversity, of the diversity of seeds, a loss of fertility of land, an unbalance on land.

Is it really hard to help the European lay person understand what this model means for rural communities and how this may affect their own life?

Very hard, that is our great challenge. Farmers represent four per cent of the population, only four per cent. The great challenge for peasant organizations is to tell the society what is happening. Today, family land, a family farm disappears every minute. It is a huge destruction, which is not acknowledged by the society. The society showed some sensitivity during the mad cow disease, or during food crises. But the neoliberal model of life is instilled here, a model which is benefitial for part of the European population. It should be noted that in Europe 20% of the population is marginalized, poor, and poor among the rich. And they are marginalized from any political or social process. Our struggle is to be able to tell the social movements what is going on, and it is quite difficult. So they think potatoes are grown in supermarkets, instead of being produced by the peasants. So we have a strong work ahead of us.

You were saying that the climate , food and energy crisis are absolutely related. Can you explain why?

The causes are converging, they are interrelated. This is a crisis of the development model that depends on fossil energy, on oil, an energy that exploits the environment and the people. It is clear that today there is no food shortage in the world, there is plenty of food, and there is also plenty of capacity to produce food. What happens is that there is an unfair and absurd distribution of food and of the production. When we saw the riots against the raise of food prices on TV, we saw in the very same images supermarkets with plenty of food. There is food, and there is enough food for all, the thing is that the distribution of resources is such that it prevents many people around the world from having access to food.

The FAO provided some important information in April: an estimated 110 million people are expected to suffer hunger during this year. So there will be a billion people suffering from hunger in a situation in which the oil price continues rising. We have to change the transportation of food, for example. How come Chilean lettuce is exported to Europe? It makes no sense. We can produce most food locally. So favoring this agriexporting, intensive, industrialized, agrochemical model, based on GMO is totally insane for the planet and it endangers its future and the future of its population.