Via Campesina statement at the UN General Assembly on The Global Food Crisis and the Right to Food


Distinguished delegates,
Therefore, a policy change regarding food and agriculture is fundamental to cope with the current crisis. As a matter of fact, we have enough food in the world, but the question is: who controls our food? People’s access to healthy and adequate food is currently curtailed by TNC’s monopolistic power over the food system.

It is urgent that the FAO, the United Nations and Member States adopt policies based on food sovereignty. We have deliberated the concept of food sovereignty in the FAO World Food Summit (1996), in a fashion that also predicted the future and inevitable danger of global food crisis under the practice of food security— food security which only makes sure that people are fed, is not necessarily concerned with how food is produced, who produces it, and where it comes from. We also denounce green revolution practices, monoculture, and export-oriented agriculture practices which is promoted by the current food and agriculture regime. This mode of production and these practices have been damaging to our environment and planet. We support sustainable agriculture (agroecology) based on family-farming for people’s food sovereignty and to cool down the planet.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Food sovereignty prioritizes local and national economies and markets, empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisan-style fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and protects food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability.

It also means genuine agrarian reform through redistribution of land towards landless and peasants as well as access to other productive resources, access and control over seeds by peasants and small farmers, and the promotion of family-based sustainable agriculture. Therefore, food sovereignty will reassure stabilisation and protection of domestic markets through import control and state market intervention mechanisms. Consequently, policy should contribute to the effort of rebuilding national food economies, as the policy would create jobs, ensure national food sufficiency, and address the problem of poverty.

We have occupied and reclaimed millions of hectares of land all over the world; our members act directly to change the root of the problem. Many of our members are landless, or own a very small part of land; that is why even if food is available in the market we cannot reach it because of lack of purchasing power. Meanwhile, the right to land and territory is closely related to our ability to produce food and provide income for our family. A number of human rights mechanisms mentioned this in particular, especially in relation to the right to food. Guideline 8 paragraph 10 of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food emphasize the need to promote and protect the security of land tenure, especially with respect to women and poor and disadvantaged segments of society, through legislation that protects the full and equal right to own land and other property, including the right to inherit; and it recommends advancing land reform to enhance access for the poor and for women. The mandate of International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (2006) reiterated the importance of agrarian reform in the realisation of basic human rights and people’s food sovereignty.

The current battle of food and agriculture is not between the developed and developing countries, as is always echoed in the multilateral forum of the WTO. We challenge that notion, as our members—peasants, small farmers and small producers—from Europe and the US are also suffering from the food, climate, and financial crises. This is the battle of modes of production, as is mentioned by La Via Campesina. For example, we use minimal external inputs: we use local seeds preserved by people and our community in seed banks, we plant polycultures, we use compost, bokashi, or fertiliser made from cattle’s manure, our agriculture is mostly labor-intensive (not capital-intensive), and produced for local communities and markets. We create this in our villages one by one in order to exemplify how food sovereignty comes into practice. These villages are found from the fishery village in northern shore of Java to Andean Mountain, from the fertile lands of Africa to Europe.

This effort, little by little, is now substantially showing outcomes. The fall of Doha Round in 2006, is part of our struggle to keep ‘WTO Out of Agriculture’ since 1995. The current global meltdown in food and financial system is a good opportunity to raise our alternatives that have been voiced in various forum.

Finally, in light of these two crises, there is an urgent need to regulate the international markets. We echo the opinion of Jean Ziegler, member of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council, saying explicitly that agricultural liberalization and export subsidies is one of the long term causes of the current food crisis. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), states that member states must respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to food. The decisions taken in the WTO, IMF or the World Bank, should not be in conflict with the this human rights mechanism and member states ability to fully comply with their obligations under the right to food. The human rights approach is necessary to provide for a holistic notion of food sovereignty. In other words, efforts to combat the current food crisis will not be solved by economic solutions alone. A human rights approach will help us identify the socio-economic and cultural problems of the people—those who are most vulnerable. WTO negotiations should not violate peoples rights!

We are fighting at the international level for measures to be implemented to stabilize volatile prices both for farmers and consumers. International food reserves have to be built up as well as intervention mechanisms to stabilise prices on the international markets at a reasonable level. Exporting countries have to accept international rules that control the quantities they can bring to the market. Furthermore, countries should have the freedom to control imports in order to protect domestic food production. The influence of TNCs has to be limited and the international trade in staple foods has to be brought to a necessary minimum level. As much as possible domestic production should fulfill internal demand. This is the only way to protect peasants, small producers and consumers against the current sudden price fluctuations that result from the international market.

We are promoting food sovereignty as an alternative concept and practice for a more just and sustainable food and agriculture system, and this supports a human rights approach, particularly with regard to the right to food. The right to food can be realized if states promote food sovereignty. Food sovereignty will guarantee the realization and protection of the rights of peasants. This will contribute to the institutionalisation and the realization of the right to food. Without food sovereignty, states cannot protect their people’s right to access food.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I do hope that this short speech shed light upon the current policies of Member States and our potential collective response to the international food crisis. We need radical actions and fundamental solutions. If we are to combat the food crisis, those actions and solutions must be based on human rights, and therefore, the rights of peasants. I want to reassure that we are in this together.

Globalise the hope, globalise the struggle!