6th Congress of CLOC-Via Campesina
An important achievement from the International Year of Family Farming which the UN declared in 2014, in the context of the food crisis, has been to amplify the debate between agribusiness and peasant agriculture, which the symbiosis between the former and big media had practically silenced.
At the official level, for example, FAO General Director José Graziano da Silva, in his opening speech at the 24th session of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in Rome (September), declared that policymakers should support a broad array of approaches to overhauling global food systems, making them healthier and more sustainable while acknowledging that “we cannot rely on an input intensive model to increase production and that the solutions of the past have shown their limits”… Calling for a “paradigm shift”, he said that today’s main challenges are to lower the use of agricultural inputs, especially water and chemicals, in order to put agriculture, forestry and fisheries on a more sustainable and productive long-term path.[i]
It is in this context that the 6th Congress of the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC) – Via Campesina, will be taking place in Buenos Aires, from April 10 to 17, with the participation of delegations of more than 80 organizations from 18 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The dispute with agribusiness will be one of the central themes of the Congress. The program will also include the 5th Continental Assembly of Women and the 4th Youth Assembly.[ii]
Agribusiness is an expression of the structural changes in agricultural production under the new phase of capitalism hegemonized by finance capital and transnational corporations, that emerged in the 1980s.
According to João Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, this model “can be succinctly characterized by: the organization of agricultural production in the form of monoculture (a single product) on an ever larger scale; intensive use of agricultural machinery, that means expelling labor from the countryside; the practice of agriculture without farmers; the intensive use of agricultural toxins, that destroy the natural fertility of the soil and micro-organisms, contaminate groundwater and even the atmosphere, with the use of defoliants and desiccants that evaporate into the atmosphere and return with the rains. And above all, they contaminate the food produced, with very serious consequences for the health of the population. They make increasing use of genetically modified and standardized seeds, and attack the environment with their production techniques designed for seeking the highest rate of profit in the shortest time.”[iii]
In the face of this agribusiness model – that is socially unjust, economically unviable, unsustainable for the environment and biodiversity, and involves mercantile food production with grave consequences for the health of the population – rural organizations grouped in the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC-Via Campesina) have developed the concept of food sovereignty, based on the principle that food products must not be commodities, since nutrition is a right for the survival of humanity, and, therefore, in all parts of the world people have the right and duty to produce their own food.
In this regard, the preparatory document states[iv]: “in our 6th Congress we will move forwards with the political development of our proposal for a new society, where food sovereignty supported by the implementation of Comprehensive Peoples’ Agrarian Reform will give us back our joy and the sovereign conviction of continuing to cultivate and care for our Mother Earth so as to produce the food that our people need and that humanity needs to ensure its development.” It further states: “Food is a strategic issue for the autonomy of a people and for the sovereignty of a Nation. Thus we consider that indigenous and peasant agriculture plays a fundamental role in any country that aspires to be sovereign.”
Peasant agriculture, says the text, “is a way of being, of living and producing in the countryside; it is based on retrieving traditions, customs and culture of indigenous peoples. Peasants and indigenous peoples live in a constant struggle for productive autonomy, through diversifying production and utilization of by-products from one area of production to another, seeking ecological balance through a close relationship with nature, catering to their own needs and providing a local and regional supply of healthy food, as basic element for promoting food sovereignty.”
Moreover, confirming that peasant agriculture is not less productive than agribusiness and in fact surpasses it due to social, cultural and ecological factors, the document states that: “Peasants and indigenous peoples have access to barely 24.7% of the land and territories, but account for over 70% of world food production. Large amounts of these food products are bought up at low prices by large transnational corporations and transported over long distances from the areas where they are produced, or they are used for purposes other than food; there is also an inequitable distribution of this produce, which generates hunger and extreme destitution among the world’s poorest social groups and countries. Land and territory are the fundamental basis for Peasant and Indigenous Agriculture and for food sovereignty; to access and use them appropriately is vital for equitable human development.”
Global connection: save the planet
Last year, as part of Via Campesina, a delegation of the CLOC participated in the World Meeting of People’s Movements (in the Vatican and Rome, on October 27-29 2014), where rural organizations, in dialogue with Pope Francis, emphasized the seriousness of environmental destruction by “a tiny minority, which with a model of production and consumption that prioritizes profit above life, is devastating the planet and ways of life and culture that support it. Climate change produced by this model and by that minority is threatening the existence of the Earth and all living beings, including humans.”[v] They therefore called for the following commitments:
– Defend the continued inhabitance of rural peoples in their territories and of peasant agriculture and other forms of people’s production, as the basis of our food.
– Call for a stop to the severe social and environmental impacts of mining, deforestation and other polluting industries and advocate for their control.
– Emphatically reject GM organisms and crops and their effects… GMOs are a grave danger and their promise of increased productivity and an end to hunger has no economic, scientific or biological basis.
– Speak out against patenting and manipulation of all living beings.
– Reject the privatization of water, land, seeds and natural assets.
– Reject false “solutions” to climate change, such as nuclear energy, mega-dams, geoengineering and carbon markets.
Along these lines, at its 6th Continental Congress, CLOC-VC intends to advance in the construction of a people’s political project and in generating proposals for public policy. In this regard, the preparatory document states as one of its challenges, that the program “must defend a new production matrix for agricultural goods, one based on agroecology, as a concrete way to combat the capitalist form of plundering nature. Agroecology is more than a set of alternative techniques for rural production, it is a model, a necessary instrument for defeating the capitalist model, which only manages to produce with poisons, destroying nature.”
Osvaldo León, ALAI.
A longer version of this text was published in Spanish in ALAI’s magazine América Latina en Movimiento No. 502, March 2015, titled “Agricultura Campesina para la Soberanía Alimentaria” –http://www.alainet.org/es/revistas/168312
[i] Fao press release, 29/09/2014: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/250148/icode/
[ii] CLOC emerged during the Continental Campaign “500 Years of Indigenous Black and Popular Resistance”, and was formally constituted in the Congress that took place in Lima, Peru, on February 21-25 1994.
[iii] “Las tendencias del capital sobre la agricultura”, América Latina en Movimiento nº 459, ALAI, October 2010.
[iv] Rumbo al VI Congreso Continental. Secretaría Operativa CLOC-VC – Argentina, April 2015.