It’s Time for Food Sovereignty

Contribution of Henry Saragih, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina,
during the session of Committee on Food Security, FAO Rome, 31 October 2006.

My dear friends,
I want to begin with a small story. Some of you may remember that four years ago I was in this same place, in this building of the FAO, and I tore up the food security declaration and I ate it. This was a protest because I didn’t believe that the concept of food security which was being stated by the FAO would help eliminate hunger in the world, so eating the document was the only way that this so-called food security concept based on trade was going to help with hunger.  Please don’t make me eat another declaration.

Dear friends,
Now it is ten years after that World Food Summit (WFS), and apparently we have not succeeded in decreasing the number of malnourished people in this world; in fact we face a rise in hunger. Today there are more than 800 million people who face hunger, even though world food production has increased.  There is more food in the world today than what is actually needed to feed the whole worlds population. In other words,  world food production is growing faster than the human population, yet hunger persists.  Doesn’t this tell us something?  It tells us we are doing something wrong.

Dear people,
I have a question: ¨Why has malnourishment not been eliminated?¨ Where lies the cause of the problem?  We find the cause of the problem nearby: the very principles of Food Security that were chosen by the FAO to eliminate hunger are based on the mistaken principles of trade  as the solution to all problems, and on the development of expensive and dangerous technology like GMO´s as the way to supposedly boost production. Let us be serious now: We all know that this is suspiciously close to the shape of the neo-liberal policies called the Washington Consensus. This so-called consensus promotes the privatization of all sectors and services, including land, water, forests, sea, credit, marketing, extension, and really agriculture as a whole.  But how can privatization possibly help poor and hungry people, when privatization means that resources and services are only available to those who can pay for them?  How can trade liberalization possibly help peasant farmers when trade liberalization puts them in unfair competition with artificially cheap imports?  

In every country of the world peasants and artesanal fisherfolk are able and ready to feed the entire population of their nation, but they cannot do so if they are driven off their land by unethical trade practices.  Peasants around the world have lost the subsidized public sectors and services that all farmers need to produce, and in addition they must face the flooding of their local markets with imports.  When we look to see who is behind this policy-driven disaster for local food production we find several decades of IMF and World Bank policies, and more recently, the presence of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as institutions which are eclipsing the influence of the United Nations systems.  In India, in the United States, in South Korea, privatization, free trade and other low price policies are driving farmers to suicide.  Who can face the shame of being the first in the family to lose the ancestral land to a bank?  In Cancun, South Korean peasant leader Lee Kyung Hae declared “WTO KILLS FARMERS” as he gave his life in the name of the international peasant cause.

Dear people,
I say that under principles of neo-liberal policy it is impossible to wipe away hunger in this world. It won’t be possible to build social  justice. Neo-liberalism puts all the countries of the world into competition with each. A competition in which the winner is the one who drives their own farmers deepest into misery.  This is going to fail. It is puts all people in a game with many, many more losers than winners.

We see today how the surplus production of palm oil in Indonesia is flooding India. This will mean that Indian coconut oil farmers will lose their home market, which implies the killing of farmers in India. At the same time the export of sugar from India to Indonesia is driving Indonesian farmers into bankruptcy, is killing farmers in Indonesia.  Meanwhile wealthy Indonesians invest in India and wealthy Indians invest in Indonesia.  Who are the losers in this game?  Farmers in both countries.  Who are the winners?  A small handful of rich investors.   

Dear people,
How can we allow food to become a good that can be traded like any other, like a car or a television? Agricultural products are meant for feeding people.  Food is not just a commodity, food is life itself, and depends on different cultures and ecosystems.

How will Japanese and Korean farmers continue producing food when they must face massive imports of artificially cheap food? How can we create open competition between farmers of Japan and Korea with farmers from Vietnam and Thailand, when farmers in Japan and Korea can only plant rice once a year while Vietnam and Thailand are harvesting rice two times a year with the same yields?  We know that Japanese and Korean farmers CAN feed their nations, but they cannot do so without protection from imports.  What will happen to the world if countries like Japan and Korea do not protect their own farmers?  Japan and South Korea will become the biggest food importers in the world.  For the Japanese people to eat three meals a day, Japan will have to import two meals per person per day from outside. Just Japan will need to import around 10% of all food traded in the world.  Even though Japan COULD feed itself.

Another case is Indonesia and soy beans.  Indonesia could be self-sufficient in soy.  We Indonesian farmers WANT to supply our people with all the soy they need.  But we cannot if we, with our small plots of land, must compete with massive imports of cheap soybeans from huge plantations where the forest has been destroyed in Brasil, or with artificially cheap soy from the United States, where low prices drive farmers in Iowa into suicide.  We lose, American farmers lose, peasants in Brazil lose, everybody looses except Transnational companies as Cargill and ADM, they are the winners.  We are the worlds largest importer of soy when we could easily produce it ourselves.  I ask you: does this make sense to you?  It does NOT make sense to us.

My respected friends,
These past ten years should be named the “decade of transnational companies.”  Free trade has led to massive corporate mergers, take-overs and market concentration.  They pay cheap to farmers and sell expensive to consumers.  During these ten years these companies, like Cargill, Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer, Syngenta, Parmalat, Nestle, ConAgra, Zen Noh and CP from Thailand have grown to such a size that today they are the true weapons of mass destruction in rural areas of the world.  They are killing our farmers.

My respected friends,
The human condition today is the proof that the assumptions behind the food security concept of FAO to eliminate hunger are false.   We must be brave and speak the truth.  Free trade is not ending hunger.  You know it and I know it.  Privatization is not helping poor people.  You know and I know it.  The transnational corporation do not really care about human beings.  You know it and I know it.  Let us not fool ourselves any longer.  Let us join together in the construction of a better concept and better principles to end hunger.

Dearest friends,
La Via Campesina and other organizations of peasants, family farmers, indigenous people, artesanal fisherfolk, nomadic pastoralists and others, are ready and able to feed the populations of our own countries.  We just need something better than the failed prescription of food security to do so.

We call on you to study, learn about, embrace and contribute to our concept of FOOD SOVEREIGNTY.  Food sovereignty means as rural peoples we have the right to produce food.  It means every people and nation has the right to determine its own food and agriculture policies.  It means that with fair prices instead of free trade, with true agrarian reform to give us land and other productive resources, with control over our own seeds, and when we are safe from repression and assassination by wealthy landlords, that we can produce healthy, affordable and good food for everybody.  We must take the WTO, IMF, and World Bank out of food and agriculture.  We can replace them with a better FAO, a better UNCTAD with better commodity agreements, with other institutions, with supply management and by enforcing antimonopoly policies.  

In every nation of the world, except a few small city states, there are sufficient human and natural resources to feed everybody.  Think about it.  You know this is true.  We just need better policies, propeasant, profarmer, policies.  I know it and you know it.  The farmers and fisherfolk of every country can and want to feed our people and feed them well. NOW IS TIME FOR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY.  

Dear friends….
Instead of free trade, or aid which is actually trade, we need principles of true solidarity between peoples.  To show this true solidarity we invite you as our friends to support the  Nyeleni 2007, the International Forum for Food Sovereignty to be held next February in Selingue, Mali.  Help us build a better world together.

Globalize struggle.  Globalize hope.
Globalicemos la lucha. Globalicemos la esperanza.