Local food production proved resilient in a pandemic year, yet governments fail to guarantee peasants’ rights!

Press Release : Harare, Zimbabwe

The 17th of December 2020 marks the second anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Peasants and Other People working in the Rural Areas (UNDROP). For La Via Campesina, this is a moment to remind governments to urgently implement this critical human rights instrument, as humanity faces one of the most acute crises of the last half-century. Guaranteeing the rights of peasants and rural workers is essential not only to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic but also to bring in systemic and transformative changes that put human health and welfare before profits.

As the turbulent 2020 draws to an end, many hope that 2021 will be a better year. However, the current surge in new infections, as most countries enter the much-dreaded second wave, show no return to “normalcy” of the pre-COVID times. The world needs urgent actions, from the grassroots to state level, to transform and rebuild hundreds of millions of lives pushed to starvation and poverty by the COVID pandemic, adding to over a billion people already living in poverty.

Over the past ten excruciating months, millions of people lost their jobs while billionaires increased their wealth by over $10 trillion, further concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing how neo-liberalism is incompatible with humanity and destructive to nature. We have witnessed the industrial food system grind to halt this year, disrupting global food production and distribution. Millions of tonnes of crops have rotted in the field. Countless livestock have been killed to depopulate as slaughterhouses shutdown, and big industrial farms cleared space for new animals.

As the pandemic began, many import-dependent nations worried about their food security. Agribusiness corporations responded by forcing the migrant farmworkers to work under risky conditions, with poor protection, little access to healthcare, and no regard for their well-being. Governments shut down local food markets, while corporate-owned retail chains continued to operate! What is more ironic than the news of peasants forced to dump their produce, appearing alongside the increased reports of hunger and starvation? Instead of supporting local agriculture systems, State officials and policy-makers buried their heads in the sand, increased “stimulus packages” to the private sector and imposed restrictions on movement leading to increased criminalisation of peasants and human rights violations.

Now, more than ever, principles of food sovereignty must be implemented and upheld. Amidst the chaos, it is the local agriculture systems based on agroecological peasant production that not only proves its resilience but has also become a lifeline for many. The need for building local food systems that are diverse and agroecological has never been more urgent. To accomplish this, implementing genuine agrarian reform and supporting local seeds is essential. The UNDROP plays a central role here. It lays down the path to food sovereignty. It provides a framework to build public policies that are diverse, resilient and rooted in the wisdom, culture and customs of local communities, and their visions for food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty and peasant agroecology are solutions to intersecting crises facing humanity. The UNDROP offers a clear, rights-based roadmap to building and strengthening food sovereignty and a shift away from market-based food systems based on environmental destruction, pollution, and overconsumption.

As La Via Campesina, we believe that no systemic transformation is possible without recognising and protecting at the local level the rights of those who are the heart of the food systems: the peasants, fisherfolks, indigenous people, pastoralists, forest dwellers, agriculture workers, as well as consumers in the cities and rural areas.

Therefore, the governments must guarantee the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) at all levels as a critical instrument for the defence and promotion of human and labour rights.

La Via Campesina encourages members and allies to persevere in the struggle for adoption and implementation of the UNDROP in their regions. It is only from below and with our voices that we can build the change we need for our rights to be respected; such as the Right to Participation in decision making, Access to Health, Access to the Markets, Fair Income, etc. – affected the most during the pandemic.

Governments will rarely push for these rights of their own political will, so we must continue the unified struggle as peasants to educate and mobilise our organisations around the UNDROP. Our joint efforts and solidarity as peasants is the platform from which we survive the pandemic together.  The rights enshrined in United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas will be our guide.


For media inquiries, write to lvcweb@viacampesina.org