Strengthening Food Sovereignty in La Via Campesina’s Regions: Opportunities and Challenges

(Bogotá , December 5, 2023) On the last session of Monday, December 4th, representatives from the ten regions of La Via Campesina presented their analysis of the current political context, focusing on gains and challenges for the peasant movement worldwide. The delegates reflected upon how the climate crisis and rise of the right-wing are posing new challenges to the food sovereignty movement, and how La Via Campesina should work in the future to resist multiple forms of oppression and achieve food sovereignty.

The session was opened by La Via Campesina’s newest region, the Arab Region and North Africa (ARNA). The representatives emphasized the importance of continuing the struggle for food sovereignty at local, national and international levels to fight the multiple crises caused and exacerbated by capitalism.

Despite rich natural resources, many people in the ARNA region, especially peasants, suffer from a lack of access to water and healthy food, due to immense land and water grabs by multinational companies, supported by the governments. Currently, 40 per cent of the agricultural land in the region is owned by three per cent of the population, and multinationals like Syngenta and Corteva control almost 75 per cent of the seeds, explained Abdul Mahmoud Ismael. Therefore, it is crucial that we work to enhance local production, build seed banks, support the organization of local peasant movements and strengthen the education processes on agroecology. “In order to get access to land and water, we must unite our struggle against capitalism through constructing critical, revolutionary media and exchanging experiences from the fight against multinational companies”  continued Samah Odah Mahmoud Abunima.

In Southeast and East Asia, the main challenge for the food sovereignty movement is the strong intellectual property rights on seeds, which take away the farmers’ right to collect and save traditional seeds. Kim Jeongyeol warned that governments are increasingly embracing the digitalization of agriculture, a production model where food production is left in the hands of large companies that produce food through precision technology. “This model is a threat to peasant agroecology and food sovereignty, it gives the power of knowledge to private companies, and takes away the right of local communities to control their food production.”

Southeast and East Asia have had strong mobilizations against the World Trade Organization, and there are many strong peasant organisations in the region who are resisting the neoliberal model. “It is our responsibility to continue, and to strengthen this struggle,” Jeongyeol added. Lastly, she pointed out the importance of continuing to promote peasant feminism and diversity in the movement, “because agroecology is about breaking the patriarchal, exploitative relation between humans and nature and between men and women. We need diversity to be able to resist the multiple repressions that are hindering us from achieving food sovereignty.”

As for South Asia, Golam Sorowor from Bangladesh started by emphasizing that the people of the region have a long history of struggle and resistance since colonial times. Today, the extreme right is growing in the region as a consequence of neoliberal policies introduced in the 80s and 90s that led to concentration of land ownership and increasing inequalities. It is therefore crucial to continue to resist and to fight for land reform, for fair prices for crops, to construct solidarity-based relationships between peasants and consumers, to fight against discrimination and xenophobia and to continue to spread agroecology and food sovereignty. In continuation, Riffat Maqsood from Pakistan explained how the current political context makes it difficult to organize and resist because of government repression. On the other hand, he noted, the work of the peasant movement is even more important in this repressive context.

Moving to Western and Central Africa, Ibrahim Sidibé from Mali emphasized the importance of the struggle of the peasant movement in the region. “We live thanks to our commitment and struggle, and especially thanks to the laws and frameworks we pushed through, making it possible for us to work to construct food sovereignty.” Free trade agreements and dumping are big challenges for peasants in the region, as they make it extremely difficult to establish local markets and to establish fair prices for their produce. The establishment of training centers that promote agroecology, and the sharing of good agroecological practices, has been extremely important for the peasant movement, as it increases the productivity of small farms, added Ouedraogo Ouandegma. Exchanging and saving traditional seeds increases our resilience to the catastrophic consequences of climate change. She concluded her presentation by referring to the Rome Food Sovereignty Declaration from 1996: “Food is a basic human right. This right can only be realized in a system where food sovereignty is guaranteed.”

From Southern and Eastern Africa, Christina Van Wyk from the Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC) in South Africa opened her presentation by announcing that she has been awarded as the best small-scale farmer in her country, South Africa. She continued to elaborate on the challenges for peasants in her country, where lack of access to land and secure land tenure continues to be a reality for many black farmers. “In Western Cape, there is no available farmland. Everything is owned by big landowners and companies, all of them are white.” Hendrick Mgcini Ndhlovu from Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF) in Zimbabwe stressed the importance of land and peasants in strengthening food sovereignty: “There is no food sovereignty without land, without ownership of local seeds.” He explained that commercial agriculture is expanding in Zimbabwe under Command Agriculture – a government input and subsidy support scheme – posing a challenge to the preservation of local seeds and exacerbating class and race inequality as these large farms are owned by a few rich people. Many black farmers are left in a precarious situation, some in exploitative contract farming arrangements. On the positive side, the peasant movement has managed to construct spaces for skills sharing on agroecology and they have created a network of seed custodians to protect traditional seeds.

In Europe, Brais Álvarez and Andoni García (the European Coordination Via Campesina [ECVC] delegates from Spain) that explained that there is a huge concentration of land and that the neoliberal policies have led to the loss of five million small farms over the last 15 years. Therefore, La Via Campesina works to promote policies that allow more people to grow food. In the EU, there is currently a process towards legalizing GMOs which the food sovereignty movement is denouncing and resisting. The European delegates emphasized the work they are carrying out to defend the rights of land workers and improve land regulations so that small-scale farmers can get access to land and oppose free trade agreements that destroy farmers’ livelihoods.

“EU is hypocrite when it comes to climate action. They pretend to be at the forefront, but it is all false solutions and greenwashing. At the same time, the EU promotes policies that make peasants disappear. We denounce this and demand real climate action and accountability,” said García.

Wendy Cruz, from Honduras, explained how big companies, with help from right-wing governments, have dominated the food system in Central America. This has led to a high incidence of food-related illnesses and poverty in the region. “We need to take up our fight for land reform, for our right to use indigenous seeds, and we have to deny the lie that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world,” stated Cruz. Oscar Cruz Cabrera added that the peasant movement has managed to establish spaces for learning so that the youth today have a space to acquire the knowledge to practice agroecology and fight for food sovereignty.

The delegation from South America pointed out that one of their biggest challenges is access to land, and to create opportunities for rural youth so that they stay in the rural areas. Over the last years, with progressive governments in power in various countries, some countries such as Colombia and Bolivia have taken important steps towards land reform. They pointed out the importance of the education processes on agroecology that have been carried out throughout the South American continent. “Challenges remain, but we stay firm in the fight,” declared representatives of the region.

The North American delegation explained that they have been involved in various international campaigns over the last years, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas(UNDROP) and the fight against the imperialist policies of their governments, especially on GMOs and commodity dumping.

In the Caribbean, although there are many similarities between the countries and the problems the peasant movement faces, the context is also very different, with each country facing specific challenges. One positive story is that of the Dominican Republic, where there is a strong feminist peasant movement that has been able to push through public policies against gender-based violence and to strengthen family farming and ensure access to food. Cuba is in many ways the exception in the region, as the country implemented its land reform 64 years ago, and the island currently has around 400,000 small-scale farmers. “Yes to Cuba, no to the blockade!” chanted the 8th International Conference delegates as the last session of this day ended.