Second in a series of interviews with farmers affiliated with La Via Campesina, an alliance of international peasant farmer organizations.
Elvira Baladad, a mango orchardist visiting Copenhagen to represent La Via Campesina affiliate Paragos Phillipinas in the COP15 civil society discussions, told me that she didn’t want to talk about mangos. She was far more concerned about the wild weather the Phillipines have been having, with such an extended rainy season that she said it seems like they don’t have summer anymore, and the destruction of what she estimated was 70-80 percent of the country’s rice crop by typhoons Katsana and Parma.
Baladad said that rice varieties that were resistant to flooding and could survive long periods in standing water were no use to them, how could they dry it? She gave the example of how the Phillipines had a hard time buying rice from Cambodia anymore because the harvested grain was too wet for the kind of facilities they had, so they had to sell theirs to Vietnam where it could be processed for market.
“We’re a rice eating people, …” Baladad said, “If [this weather] is to continue, what is to happen to us?”
Baladad worried that if the country has to import rice from Vietnam or Thailand and they won’t sell, as happened in 2008, that there might be uprisings or a return of dictatorship. She seemed certain that such a turn of events would hurt rural people the most, particularly economically marginal women who are responsible for feeding their families.
Through Baladad’s membership in the National Coalition of Rural Women, Baladad is also aware of issues among other rural populations in the region. She explained how the REDDinitiative to reduce deforestation emissions from developing nations meant that, for example, Australia could lease Indonesian forest land for emission credits, but that meant no one else could live there. She said they had to first evict all the indigenous peoples who lived in the forest before there could be a deal.
I asked Baladad if that was a problem in the Phillipines and she said no, Phillipine law forbade it. “We acknowledge their rights over their ancestral land. They have prior rights over this land.” She said that, in countries without such laws, implementing REDD without acknowledging indigenous rights would mean many of them will be kicked out of their homes.
The land use problems that concerned Baladad in the Phillipines was the 100,000 hectares (about 250,000 acres) of farm land leased to the Chinese to grow food for export to China so they could continue converting agricultural land to industrial use. While naming China and Saudi Arabia, she said many countries were leasing land from the governments of developing nations for farming or biofuel projects, often displacing local peoples and over their objections.
When local people in the developing nations are hungry because their crops fail in unpredictable weather, Baladad said she expected these foreign-leased farms would be raided by the desperate.
Baladad was urgent about the need for action to stabilize the climate, and for the US to be involved. “If the US doesn’t sign on like they didn’t with Kyoto, this will be a total failure and nobody will want to reduce emissions. … They can’t stop China from emitting so much right now if they can’t agree to an amount everyone has to reduce,” said Baladad.
Baladad seemed to think it might also be a question of experience. “We’re saying maybe if these floods happened in the US,” she said, “the US would sign up.”