Jakarta: The expansion of agribusiness and the resulting land grab has displaced rural communities, mainly the young peasants. The youth wing of La Via Campesina’s South East and East Asian region highlighted this rural agrarian crisis in a series of webinars held during October while marking the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational Corporations.
“The current world economic system is dominated by capitalism, guided by human greed and stacked against the interests of the poorest. It has robbed young peasants of a future, made them dependent on a city-centric development model, and put the future of food in jeopardy,” said Medan from the Indonesia Peasants’ Union (SPI), while introducing the webinar.
“It is urgent and important for young peasants to think about this unfair system, study it and find ways to resist its expansion. In our villages, we must find ways to challenge this dominant system and create people’s alternatives. This webinar is just another space to expand on this idea of alternatives”, he added.
Youth from different countries in the South East and East Asian region spoke during the webinar. Marlan Ifantri Lase, SPI North Sumatra and Tri Ema Marini, SPI Central Java, Indonesia; Estanislau Claudio Ximenes, youth from Mokatil – Timor Leste, and Navarat Siangsanan (Mob), youth Assembly of the Poor (AoP), Thailand were among the speakers.
Henry Saragih, General Chairperson of SPI, opened the session and insisted that public policies that ensure and enable food sovereignty in our villages and towns can bring hope and confidence in the future of our planet and guarantee a better life for the younger generations. “It is our only hope, and we must defend it in the face of adversity. Without peasants, there is no food. Without young people, there cannot be a change.” he added.
Navarat Siangsanan , who spoke on behalf of the peasant youth from the Assembly of Poor (AoP), Thailand, argued that local actions that guarantee food sovereignty would build an alternative that will make agriculture sustainable and economically beneficial for small-scale food producers. “Fighting for food sovereignty means protecting and caring for our nature. Realising food sovereignty is not easy, so we start from groups and defend it. We learn together, share agricultural knowledge and techniques, process our products, and create alternative markets. We, young people, have an essential role here,” he said.
Tri Ema Marini, an SPI young woman from Central Java continued, Covid-19 pandemic made many people aware of the importance of agriculture and youth in the life of the nation and state especially when we were faced with a situation of economic crisis, health and hunger everywhere. “We, the young people who work in agriculture, know that this pandemic has caused harm to us, but we are also aware that we cannot stop planting, we must share seeds with the community, share agricultural produce with people in need. We survive, we plant, we share, we strengthen the organisation to face bigger challenges,” said Ema.
Estanislau Claudio Ximenes from Mokatil, Timor Leste echoed this sentiment. He emphasised that during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mokatil organised students and youth to produce food with the approach of finding common problems and solving problems together.
“Food sovereignty is a concept of fulfilling human rights. We are practising this concept in our environment, organisations and communities. In Timor Leste, we are also building peasant-based cooperatives. “said Claudio.
Marlan Ifantri Lase, from SPI, reiterated that youth must defend rural areas, become peasants and build a better life. “We must force our leaders to stop policies that forcefully evict youth from agriculture. Instead, we must call for the urgent implementation of food sovereignty. Currently, Indonesian farmers are faced with a [controversial] Job Creation Law. This rule will hinder food sovereignty, agrarian reform, and damage the environment. SPI rejects this law,” said Marlan.
“We are clear what we stand for. We want agrarian reform, agroecological agriculture and cooperative economy. We can win this through the unity and active involvement of youth in the struggle,” he emphasised.
Zainal Arifin Fuad, a member of the La Via Campesina International Coordination Committee, reminded the participants that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, officially adopted in 2018, guarantees the rights of peasants, rural communities, including the rights of youth.
“It is important that the youth must study the elements of this Declaration and use it as a reference while negotiating for favorable public policies. Hope is our biggest strength. It is important that young peasants who active in our movements, carry these messages to their counterparts in the villages and towns, and pass on this ray of light we call as food sovereignty.”