Rights of Peasants: ending the discrimination against peasants

Speech delivered on Wednesday, 27 January 2010, at the Fourth Session of the Advisory Committee of UN Human Rights Council, Geneva 25-29 January 2010; responding to the report of the Advisory Committee “Discrimination in the context of Right to Food” (A/HRC/AC/4/2) and addressing the Advisory Committee on the need to take further study into standard-setting on rights of peasants.

Madame la Presidente,
I am Henry Saragih, general coordinator of La Via Campesina. I am coming here on behalf of La Via Campesina and the CETIM to congratulate you for the work of the Advisory Committee on establishing the groundwork for the promotion and the protection of the rights of peasants. As it is mentioned in the official report of the Advisory Committee, peasants rights are fundamental for our world. La Via Campesina is a global movement with organisations based in many countries. We have about 200 millions members active in our movement. .

The food crisis shows that the world need to act to respond to that challenge. The victims of the food crisis are not only deprived from food, many of them are also dying. Many fall into hunger, acute poverty, and are subject to various kinds of discriminations. The economic system and profit-making in the food production chain are clearly in the picture of the food crisis. Today, in many parts of the world, the food crisis is far from over. We still see that profit-making in the sector of food production has been justified by many arguments including those used by transnational corporations. While the rhetoric of transnational corporations seems convincing (when they say that they can feed the world), the stark food shortages and speculation only confirms the fears that their solutions are misleading.

Records show that more than 1 billion people are undernourished worldwide. According to FAO, the Asia and Pacific region has the largest number of hungry people (642 million), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (264 million).

Hunger is mainly rural: peasants, small landholders, landless workers, fisher folk, hunters and gatherers suffer disproportionately. The United Nations Millennium Development Project Task Force on Hunger has shown that 80 percent of the world’s hungry live in rural areas. Some 50 per cent of the world’s hungry are smallholder farmers who depend mainly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods, but lack sufficient access to productive resources. Therefore, the food crisis only reaffirms the urgent need for the recognition of the fundamental rights of peasants. The ability of the world to create food sovereignty is very much linked to the peasant’s way of life and mode of production. Various reports of intergovernmental organisations, independent experts and researchers, development cooperation organisations and state-commissioned reports show the importance of peasants in solving the food crisis. La Via Campesina has also documented many cases showing how the food crisis happened and how peasants’ organisations are vital in responding to it. The Advisory Committee recognise this in its latest report.

By the struggle, peasants’ organisations are now earning the long-sought recognition of their rights. La Via Campesina has started to promote peasant’s rights in 2002 and has adopted the Declaration of the rights of peasants at the International Conference of Peasants Rights in June 2008, in Jakarta, Indonesia and at the Via Campesina International Conference in October 2008 in Maputo, Mozambique. As peasants, with our allies, we can promote our own rights. La Via Campesina engaged in many consultations with members organisations, governments, experts and researchers, and other sector of the society. Those have intensified after the international conference in Jakarta 2008. We went to many parts of the world to support this effort, including to Bolivia, Brazil, Mozambique, Thailand, India, Belgium, Spain, Indonesia and Italy. We also joined some sessions of the UN bodies, including the joint initiative of the office of the President of the UN General Assembly on “the Global Food Crisis and Right to Food” in April 2009. Today, we are convinced that the right of peasants is supported and fought for by many sectors of society and policy makers.

The challenge relies on how to reach the best cooperation among various international policy making bodies. It is important that the international community recognises the role of peasants at the policy level too. We believe that working with various institutions and at various levels will generate wider opportunities to implement good practices. Heavily leaning on one policy-making structure is not helpful for all of us. In this context, I see that the world need more cooperation between institutions, and a broader recognition of the marginalisation of pedant’s lives. With this report, the Advisory Committee clearly shows the way to respond positively to the food crisis.

The report of the Advisory Committee values the importance of the peasant’s rights recognition by the UN process. With this, the UN begins to unravel the discriminations against peasants. I warmly thank the Advisory Committee for having the Peasant’s rights declaration included in the present report. It is very important. This is a landmark in the road towards the full recognition of the peasants’ struggle.

I also strongly urges the Advisory Committee to hold various and wider consultations, studies, and engagements going in the same direction as this report. We believe that by doing so, the Advisory Committee brings real support to peasants, women and men. We hope that the present deliberations will bring a stronger support to the process already going on in the UN human rights mechanism. This will represent a crucial effort to really end hunger and poverty.

I thank you.


Geneva, 27th January 2010