“Respect peasants’ rights, COVID 19 has made peasant agroecology an urgent necessity” La Via Campesina at CFS47

On 10 February, representatives of La Via Campesina spoke at a high-level special event of The Committee on World Food Security (CFS47), that deliberated on the steps for implementing the UN Decade of family farming (UNDFF) to face COVID 19 and achieve resilient and sustainable food systems.

Here is the full text of the speech delivered by Paula Gioia, La Via Campesina’s International Coordination Committee member.


The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) was a great achievement which, by no surprise, came almost in coincidence with the adoption of the UNDFF. How do you think that the UNDFF could be a relevant platform to help implementing the UNDROP as well as relevant CFS products, such as the VGGTs and the ‘Connecting Smallholders to Markets’ recommendations?

Paula Gioia:

Thank you Chair.
Our world is facing a big crisis, a crisis of civilisation that has been brewing for hundreds of years and now aggravated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Urban and rural workers, migrants, peasants and indigenous people – a majority of whom do not have access to quality public healthcare – are among the most vulnerable.

As strict lock down measures come into effect, small-scale food producers are unable to trade their produce; fishers are unable to venture into the sea, pastoralists are unable to rear their cattle, and indigenous people are restricted from going into forests. As a result, the world is already facing increased hunger and poverty – perhaps more severe than what we have already witnessed in the last two decades.

So, let me ask you:
Why the UN Decade of Family Farming was approved if farmers are not allowed to sell their production in the marketplace? What for? For what was the UNDROP, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas approved by the UN General Assembly?

We understand that the Decade is able to cover the most of rights anchored in the UNDROP. The UNDFF and UNDROP together are important tools in time of crisis, guiding states to fulfil their obligations to respect the rights not only of peasants and people working in rural areas, but also the right to food of urban people, urban poor, and millions of unemployed due to the impact of Covid-19.

While we are holding here our side event, many violations are happening all around the world. Human rights´ situation has worsened in many countries during the pandemic.

Just to give you a few examples:

  • Thousands of cases of evictions; criminalization and murders of peasants leaders are happening everyday. We face land conflicts with companies who steal land from farmers, who kill us for defending our land, water and territories.

According to UNDROP, these are cases of violation of our Right to Land and Natural Resources (stated by Articles 5 and 17), as well as to our Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Person (Article 6).

They are all also linked to Pilar 1 and 5 of the UNDFF, where we want to improve family farmers’ access to and control over natural resources and productive assets.

In Via Campesina we talk about land grabbing and the need of an Integral Agrarian reform, what the VGGTs (Tenure Guidelines on Land) is also recommending, securing full rights to land for peasants and much more.

  • Our second example refers to the women, who had to double their efforts during the pandemic. At the same time they are offen suffering even more discrimination, inequalities, domestic violence and patriarchal practices than before.

In the UNDROP, Article 4 states “No discrimination against women”.
That´s what the UN Decade of Family Farming is also aiming to in Pilar 3 by promoting gender equity in family farming and the leadership role of rural women. Again, we are talking here also about the implementation of a CFS product endorsed in 2017: the CFS recommendations on Women’s empowerment.

  • My third point is about the increasing migration from rural areas due to climate change and water crises, especially affecting our youth. There has been a scandalous deterioration in the conditions of seasonal and migrant rural workers: no contracts, indecent housing, no social security and many repressions.

According to UNDROP, states have general obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas, ensuring the Right to a Safe and Healthy Work Environment, and the Right to Housing and Clean water systems, among others. This is again related to Pilar 5 of the Global Action Plan; to Pilar 2 which is aiming to support youth and the generational shift of family farms; and to Pilar 6 which is about promoting climate-resilient food systems.

  • In many countries all around the world peasants and small food producers are facing increasing challenges to sell their produce in times of pandemic, while big supermarket chains keep raising their incomes.

Currently thousands of farmers in India are on the streets for over 75 days demanding a fair support price for their harvest. They are worried because of the entry of big agribusinesses and contract farming models that will push down their incomes further and they will have no chance to bargain. In many countries similar protests are going on, led by peasants and small-scale food producers.

Under UNDROP the States also have to guarantee peasant a decent income and livelihood by strenghtening the local, national and regional markets in ways that peasants have full and equitable access and participation in these markets.

Improving small food producers´access to market is one of the highest priorities of the UN Decade of Family Farming through its Pilar 5.
In the same line, one of the main outcomes of the CFS recommendation on Connecting Smallholders to markets is to promote local and territorial markets.

  • Finally, let me conclude with a last word on how covid-19 has an impact in our Freedom of Thought, Opinion, and Expression (stated in Article 8 of UNDROP).

Policy discussions, including all CFS processes and the CFS plenary are taking place now virtually, with modalities that create huge inequalities between the stakeholders. This clearly undermines peasants’ and social movements’ right of participation and information.

I think, one of the main goals we want to achieve in this Decade of Family Farming is to make farmers´voice heard. So let us do what we best do: Let us feed our peoples, let us globalize hope.

Thank you!

Jessie McInnis, a small-scale agroecological farmer, youth vice president of the National Farmers’ Union Canada and a member of the Youth Working Group for the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism, and a member of La Via Campesina, spoke about the need to work towards a coordinated, multilateral response to the food systems crisis laid bare by COVID-19, and the leadership role the CFS should adopt in this response.

Speaking at a side event Tyler Short from the Family Farm Defenders of United States representing the Youth Working Group of the Civil Society Mechanims (CSM) added, “While governments fail in their obligation to uphold basic human rights, we resist and scale agroecology from below. We emerge like seeds planted, nurtured by the leaders of our social movement, our elders, our ancestors”.

Rescheduled from October 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, CFS 47 is being held virtually between 8-11 February 2021. The plenary is a global platform where food security and nutrition stakeholders from all over the world agree on policy guidance, review global progress, network and share experiences.

Also read: CSM Letter to the CFS Chair on Food Systems Summit