On 10 September 2003 and outside the WTO Ministerial meeting venue in Cancun Mexico, Lee Kyung Hae, a small-scale rice producer and peasant activist from South Korea, martyred himself by stabbing in the chest, to protest the neoliberal policies pushed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Lee acted in revolt because he was among the thousands of farmers in Korea who lost their farm and livelihoods after the country decided to import its food. This policy had the blessing of the WTO.
“Since (massive importing) we small farmers have never been paid over our production costs. What would be your emotional reaction if your salary dropped to half without understanding the reasons?”,a letter Lee wrote in the months leading to Cancun reveals the desperation of a peasant who felt helpless and neglected in a free-market economy.
Seventeen years later, despite massive demonstrations and protests by La Via Campesina and other social movements, the deadly expansionist policies of Global Capital continues – often with, and sometimes without the help of WTO – using the instruments of Free Trade Agreements and conditional Aid programs. As a result, many countries, including South Korea, have traded their peoples’ food sovereignty and become heavily dependant on food imports.
Over the last several decades, enabled by this neo-liberal push, the global food system, right from the point of production, processing and distribution, has come under the firm grip of a handful of Transnational Corporations. The COVID 19 crisis has exposed the limitations of this system by throwing it out of gear in a matter of weeks, putting countries at real risk of food insecurity. Even wealthy nations like Singapore, South Korea and several others in Europe suddenly realised the dangers of this corporate concentration in people’s food systems, which failed at the first signs of a global pandemic. In countries such as Haiti, this led to fears of hunger and starvation among its citizens.
None of this was surprising to peasants and small-scale food producers who indeed feed 70% of the world’s population despite only having access to 25% of the resources. On the contrary, the pandemic made evident to all the people of the world that it is the peasants, the fishers, the small-scale food producers who are stepping up when countries were facing food shortages, by continuing to produce food despite all the neglect, challenges and risks.
Yet, our governments have not learned their lessons.
They continue to tilt in favour of promoting corporate monoculture and encourage the entry of private companies into agriculture. In the last six months of the pandemic, several free trade negotiations have advanced considerably. EU-Mercosur, RCEP, USMCA, CETA, TPP, TTIP and a host of bilateral and regional trade negotiations continue to take place, all with the intent of deepening the corporate capture of our food systems. Several governments have also misused lock-down restrictions to push through market reforms and land reforms that allow for corporate capture of our countrysides. Governments are eager to return to business as usual and remain oblivious to the despair and poverty of our people.
It must stop. Time has come for us to take back control of our food systems and promote local production of our food systems because the importance of our demand is more evident than ever: we must continue to fight for food sovereignty. That is, people in each region must have autonomy in the production of their food.
The global trade of agricultural commodities has failed. The visible devastation caused by the current pandemic highlights the need to discuss issues such as food sovereignty, as well as the need for agroecology, healthier food and the need to produce food closer to consumer markets. It is only possible through family farming and peasant agriculture.
On 10 September 2020, La Via Campesina will once again mark the International Day of Action against WTO and FTAs. On this day, in memory of Lee Kyung Hae’ sacrifice, we intend to hold a web-dialogue between peasant leaders and activists from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. They will elaborate and argue why agriculture must remain out of all Free Trade Negotiations that take place both inside and outside the WTO.
The dialogue titled “Globalize Solidarity, Localize Agriculture” will focus on people’s alternatives that emerge from centuries of peasant experiences and evidence. The exchange will be an opportunity to highlight the assault of free-market-capitalism on rural families. It will be a space to re-assert that food sovereignty and the production of healthy food can only emerge from family farming and peasant-agriculture using agroecological means.
Food Sovereignty Now, Free Trade Agreements Out!
WTOKillsPeasants #TimetoTransform FTAsOut
Help us spread the word! The communication kit for the International Day of Action against WTO and FTAs can be downloaded here. You can also download all the promotional materials of the web-dialogue here. Please download and use them in your movements and organisations.