Brazilian landless workers’ movement, children and food sovereignty

Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) is organised around three main objectives : Struggles for land, agrarian reform and for socialism. They have organised on several fronts; namely production, health, youth, culture, education and human rights.

The participation of their children, the so-called “Sem-Terrinha” (Landless Children), within the MST organisation has been around since the beginning in the first land occupations.

Over time MST has developed activities with children as protagonists, such as: children’s “cirandas” (pedagogical spaces for development and care; gatherings of the “Sem-Terrinha”; the Journey of Struggles for rural schools, as well as publications such as the “Sem-Terrinha” newspaper and the “Sem Terrinha” Magazine.

The most recent experience with the “Sem Terrinha” has been the Cultural Journey …Healthy Eating: A Right of All. This Journey was started in 2015 and is at the heart of the debate on Popular Agrarian Reform. It involves children and adolescents in rural schools and encampment schools throughout the country. The main objectives of the Journey are:

  1. To strengthen and disseminate different experiences from different regions on healthy eating and its relation with Popular Agrarian Reform ;
  2. To work together with families on the issue of food and food production in both settlements and encampments ;
  3. To contribute to the food education of landless families and to the general struggle for the right to adequate food free of pesticides ;
  4. To strengthen initiatives to reorganise school canteens ;
  5. To study and debate the relations between healthy eating, food sovereignty, agro-ecology, peasant agriculture and Popular Agrarian Reform ;
  6. To introduce, in elementary schools, the debate on agroecology and on practices of ecological agriculture ;
  7. To resume the debate on how the link between education, socially productive work and educational content needs to be guaranteed.

During the Journey hundreds of activities have been carried out throughout the country – specific studies in schools on eating habits and food history, understanding what is produced in local settlements, research into agro-eco-systems, workshops related to local cooking, field practices and agro-ecology experiences.

The founding elements of MST’s struggles were also present during the activities of the Journey, i.e. there were theatrical interventions, awareness campaigns, public hearings, marches seeking to denounce the use of pesticides and of transgenic seeds, as well as the monopoly and food standardization that has been imposed by transnational corporations and agribusiness.

During the Journey itself, substantial changes took place in the schools where the debate was promoted, abolishing the use of soft drinks and processed foods from school meals, introducing agro-ecological food produced in the settlements, starting vegetable gardens to supply schools and initiating a native seed bank.

Eating is a political act !

Over 33,000 fed up citizens joined in the streets of Berlin to tell the world – Food is Political!

This year’s Wir Haben Es Satt (We Are Fed Up) demonstration featured a wide and colourful array of people from a number of food farming and environmental perspectives.

The focus of the protest was on farmers – loss of farmers and small scale farmer’s rights, and land access. Highlighted also were GMO free food, refugee solidarity, animal welfare, food sovereignty, fair trade, bee friendly agriculture, climate and environment, CAP reform for rural and ecological improvements.

Food is Political ...!

Joel Labbe (pictured) also spoke at the rally. He was the driving force behind the successful banning of herbicides from public use in France. This means that public parks, schools forests and other areas are no longer treated with these agri-chemicals in France. Further restrictions are coming in in the coming months and years.

WTO – Out of Agriculture !

Face off at WTO Conference, Argentina

The WTO: since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organisation has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism,

The WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. On this basis and by making use of governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) are seeking to undermine democracy and all of the institutional instruments for defending the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stockholding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

This year, with Macri Inc. in the Casa Rosada (Government House in Argentina), the coup leader Michel Temer in the Palacio del Planalto (the oficial workplace of the president of Brazil), and Brazilian Roberto Azevedo as its Director General, the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from Washington and London, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

During these 20 years of struggle against the WTO, the world’s peoples have resisted its attempt to globalize everything, including the food and agricultural systems, for the benefit of the TNCs. Our struggles have been the biggest impediment to the advance of the WTO, and there is no doubt that La Via Campesina has played a decisive part. Our resistance to market liberalisation under this neoliberal regime has continued since the Uruguay round conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Ever since, La Via Campesina has mobilised against almost all of the Ministerial Conferences since Seattle (1999) and Cancún (2003) – where our brother Lee Kyung Hae, holding a banner declaring that “The WTO kills peasants”, sacrificed his own life – and up to Bali (2013) and Nairobi (2015).

From December 10 to 13, an international delegation of La Via Campesina will be in Buenos Aires to participate actively in multiple mobilisations, forums and debates of the organised people, at the Peoples’ Summit “WTO, Out! – Building Alternatives“. We will denounce the WTO as the criminal organization that it is and will raise our flag of Food Sovereignty. We will denounce all governments, which, after having understood that the WTO had been weakened, resorted to mega free trade agreements, bilateral and regional, that threaten to annihilate our food systems, just as the WTO has done in the last two decades.

The fight over who will control our food, countryside and natural resources is heating up

“Feed the World” – a battle-cry for both sides in a fight heating up over who will control our food, countryside and natural resources.

Today, April 17th, marks the International Day of Peasant Struggles. These ‘peasants’, or paysans in French, are the hundreds of millions of small farmers who currently produce the majority of the world’s food. They are the David struggling against the agribusiness Goliath – the large corporations consolidating control over global food production.

There is little in common between these two sides. The former know that food sovereignty and small-scale ecological farming can feed the world – once food production is fully in the hands of producers and consumers. The latter desire a resource intensive, chemical-based industrial farming model where control over seeds, chemical inputs, machinery, distribution and most importantly profits, sits in the hands of corporations.

In the last month the European Commission approved the merger of Dow Chemicals and DuPont, and Chinese state company ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta. Next up is the potential merger of Bayer and Monsanto – a ‘marriage made in hell’. These are some of the biggest agricultural companies ever known, true Goliaths, with market power that sends shudders through small-scale farmers worldwide.peasants_feed_the_people.jpg

Click to support the rights of peasants

We cannot allow corporations bent on profit at any cost to take control over our food and farming. Increasing corporate control, combined with a political fixation on export-led growth has tipped the scales in favour of industrial agriculture, threatening the existence of small-scale farmers, biodiversity and the environment.

In Europe, four million small farms disappeared between 2003 and 2013, a staggering 33% of all farms in the European Union. In contrast, three percent of industrial farms now control 52% of the European Union’s agricultural land.

Exacerbating this are trade deals that favour global food chains instead of de-centralised local markets – benefitting a small number of transnational companies. If the current trend of chemical-intensive industrial farming persists, the UN estimates we may have fewer than 60 years of farming left. The status quo is simply not an option.

Resistance to this trend has begun. Direct food distribution like Community Supported Agriculture initiatives and organic sales are booming, and opposition to trade deals that only cater for corporate wishes is increasing. The myths of industrial agriculture are being busted at the highest level, and now peasant farmers, as well as a large number of civil society organisations are pressing the United Nations to recognise the rights of peasants. A petition to European foreign ministers calls for support from European governments for the rights of peasants to land, seeds, a decent income and livelihood, and means of production.

It is time for political leaders to catch up. The European institutions, as well as national governments across Europe, need to unshackle themselves from corporate influence, and focus support on truly sustainable food and farming.

Nothing less than a radical overhaul of trade deals and the Common Agricultural Policy is needed. Putting peasants and a locally-based food system at the core of policy-making means shifting public money away from industrial agriculture to those who deliver for the environment and society.

This would mean ensuring fair prices for farmers, providing support for agro-ecological food production and artisanal infrastructure, such as small-scale food processing facilities and farmers’ cooperatives, to help them thrive.

At a local level, authorities can help by providing support to revitalise local shops, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, and fair-trade schemes. Internationally, it means recognising the rights of peasants and communities to define and build the food system.

The Davids of this world are not alone, and they have their slingshots full of public support. The fight to ensure that food and farming works for people, and the planet, has begun.


Stanka Becheva is food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe where she coordinates  work on agroecology and food sovereignty.


Right for Peasants

Join the movement for Peasants’ Rights and ask the EU and its Member States to actively participate in good faith in the elaboration of a “UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas“.

Background:

“Peasants and others working in rural areas  represent the largest group of people in the world  suffering from hunger and malnutrition. These  people have faced political and economic  discriminations for decades. In light of this situation,  the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)  undertook several studies that ultimately asserted  the need for an international protection instrument.  Consequently, a working group was created to draft  a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other  People Working in Rural Areas. The first draft of the  declaration was completed in early 2015, following  two rounds of negotiation. The current challenge is  to pressure States to actively engage in the process  so that an ambitious declaration can be adopted.” ~ Factsheet: Hands on the Land (2015)

Join the movement and ask for the adoption of
the UN Declaration on Peasants’ Rights!

Sign the petition here …
No peasants, no food. Let’s grow their rights!


Resources:

FACTSHEET Declaration of the Rights of Peasants: Special Protection is Needed”


Videos:

“Towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants”

References:

International focus:
International Congress on Global Peasants’ Rights (7-10 March 2017, Schwäbisch Hall, Germany)

European focus:


Sign the petition here …
No peasants, no food. Let’s grow their rights!

Peasants Struggles: Commemorated

The international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina calls all its members and allies to mobilise on April 17, the International Day of Peasant’s struggles.

(March 2017): This year, we want the world to know that peasants and other people working in rural areas have been working very hard for their rights. The rights of peasants initiative, which La Via Campesina started 17 years ago, is now at the final stages of a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, within the United Nations. Once approved  this declaration will create an international legal instrument to protect the rights of, and draw attention to, the threats and discrimination suffered by peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The need for such a UN Declaration of Rights has become more urgent in the 21st century. Peasants, those who produce the bulk of the world’s food, continue to face criminalisation, discrimination, displacements and persecution despite the existence of numerous international legal instruments for the recognition and protection of such rights.

Peasants’ basic rights are increasingly vulnerable as the economic and ecological crisis worsens. This situation is closely linked to human rights violations: expropriation of land, forced eviction, gender discrimination, the absence of right to land and lack of rural development, low income and lack access to means of production, insufficient social protection, and criminalisation of movements defending the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas.

For instance, in Africa, over 70% of the agricultural production and care-giving is done by women but there is little recognition of their rights in relation to asset ownership, access to credit, information and participation in policy making etc. In Brazil, despite many years of peasants struggling for comprehensive agrarian reform, fair redistribution of land remains unfulfilled. In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy and market recent deregulation of the milk sector affect hundreds of thousands of family farmers. In Asia, as in rest of the world, free-trade agreements and bilateral treaties have destroyed local markets and continue to threaten local and traditional ways of farming and farmers’ exchange. Land concentration has increased as some farmers are forced to sell their land; youth participation in farming is at its lowest level ever.

We call upon the people around the world to celebrate the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle by continuing to work to reinforce food sovereignty; the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity; to fight for a genuine agrarian reform and a better protection against land-grabbing; continue to conserve, use, and exchange our seeds; and strengthen the solidarity among ourselves. These combined struggles give us the strength to defend our land against corporate interests, persecution and violence against peasants and other people working in rural areas.

This year in July 2017 in the Basque Country (Northern Spain), La Via Campesina will hold its VIIth International Conference to deepen our analysis of the current crisis and work on strategic lines of action to strengthen our movement.


— International Conference on Agrarian Reform , April 2016 (Brazil).

We also call upon countries to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. We will mobilise our members and allies to pressure our governments to make the next negotiation in the 4th session of Open Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on rights of peasants and other people working in rural area at UN HR Council Geneva successful. We believe in championing the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, humanity also wins.

Swiss citizens intiate campaign to write Food Sovereignty into nation’s constitution

Arising from the call for action on food sovereignty and reshaping domestic laws on agriculture and food policy at the 5th International Peasants Conference (Maputo, 2009) a campaign to incorporate food sovereignty into the Swiss Constitution is taking shape under Uniterre, a member of European Coordination Via Campesina.

A lengthy undertaking

The Swiss system of direct democracy povides for changes to the constitution by popular initiative. First, proponents of change must produce a draft of the new constitutional article. After its approval by the Federal Chancellery, the draft’s creators are given 18 months to collect 100,000 signatures from eligible Swiss voters. The text is then reviewed by the Swiss Federal Council (the executive branch) and Parliament (the legislative) and an assessment made. These bodies, which have roughly three years to submit the text to popular vote, can issue a favourable or unfavourable review and even prepare a counter draft which will additionally be put to vote.

An ambitious text

The choice for Uniterre was between a broader form of food sovereignty, or a detailed delineation of their vision for the constitution that would narrow opportunities for re-interpreting the text in other ways. Uniterre chose the latter, addressing in ten parts, the questions of production, access to land and seeds, income, wages, production management, international trade and free access to information.

A popular push to collect signatures

In September 2014 Uniterre got the green light to pursue signature collections. Without any significant funding the project moved ahead thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers, braving the weather to assure a presence on the streets. Every opportunity to reach out to potential sympathisers was seized: parties, street protests, marches, outreach stands, national votes, conferences, mailings, and inserts – a truly colossal undertaking. The required numbers were reached just weeks before the deadline

Moving it forward in parliament

In June 2016, the Swiss Federal Council issued a communiqué in which it both declared the initiative unfavourable to the Swiss economy and announced it would not put forward a counter draft. The council has until March 2017 to issue an explanation of its position.

It is worth noting in passing that there are currently other popular initiatives in agriculture and food being debated in Swiss parliament. Namely, an initiative was launched by Union Suisse des Paysans, the umbrella organisation of Swiss farming groups,  which acts to safeguard existing policies and steer the industry. An additional initiative proposed by the Green Party “for food equity” aims to hold food imported into Switzerland to the same social and environmental standards as those that govern Swiss farmers. Pricked by this welter of initiatives, the parliament has no choice but to take note of the unrest laid bare by the more than 400,000 signatures.

Returning to the “food security” initiative, as soon as the federal council’s announcement is made the parliament must begin preparation of its own position. There is every indication that parliament will oppose the text and urge the Swiss people to do the same.  Thee public vote is expected to be called between autumn 2018 and winter 2019.

Towards a popular vote

Uniterre has taken steps aimed at broadening their support base. The task includes convincing a wider cross-section of the population on the issues of food sovereignty. The challenge is significant given the diverse activist and political agendas at play,  all the more so in an environment where many are hesitant to support ambitious and visionary initiatives. The real mobilisation for the vote will begin the second half of 2018.

Source: La Via Campesina: – Towards a popular vote on food sovereignty in Switzerland

Election campaign – help stop National’s healthcare cuts this election

ActionStation (NZ) has started an election campaign to save our public healthcare system from National’s  plan to slash funding for public health, putting good health and peace of mind out of reach for hundreds of thousands of people.

Each cut the Government makes to our health budget represents a person who might not receive a hip operation, cancer screening, counseling service, or a hospital bed that can’t be funded.

The worst part? The Government could afford to fund healthcare properly. They choose not to. [1] Some speculate that this is how the National Government plan to pay for vote-bribing tax cuts next (Election) year. [2] We’re looking for people around New Zealand to help us pull it off.

Here’s what they’re going to do:

We’re going to build a community-led movement so powerful that whoever wants to win our vote in 2017 has to commit to at least $200 million in additional funding in our annual Health Budget. Two hundred million is the minimum amount we need to bring health care funding in line with inflation, population growth and an ageing population. It is a massive ask, and will take a serious re-prioritising in Government spending, but we believe if our movement can build grassroots popular community support for this, we can make health funding one of the key Election issues in 2017.

But we have to start now:

We’ve set up 20 local campaigns – one for each DHB in New Zealand – in the different regions. All 20 campaigns have petitions focused on pressuring local MPs to step up to invest in our health system. Five of these campaigns already have teams of people or individuals committed to making sure they gather community support. We’re now looking for people to step up and get to work for our public health system in the following areas:

  • Waitemata
  • Counties Manukau
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Gisborne
  • South Canterbury
  • West Coast
  • Wairarapa
  • Hutt
  • Waikato
  • Nelson-Marlborough
  • Rotorua
  • Whanganui
  • Otago
  • Taranaki
  • Canterbury

Ready to help save our public health system from under-funding?

Here’s what’s involved:
  • Second – if the fit is good, we’ll sign you up as a local leader of the campaign, send you a handy guide and give you a call to ensure you have all the information you need to start collecting signatures in your community. We’ll provide online and over the phone training in the key tactics for winning campaigns, like writing emails that inspire people to join your campaign, and getting media coverage for your effort.

  • Finally – we’ll support you to organise a petition delivery to your local MP – and help you get media coverage too.

This combination of community-led campaigning and widespread media coverage will ensure that health is a key election issue in 2017.

In order for this to work, we need ActionStation members in every corner of the country signing up to drive local campaign action. We’re looking for both leaders and people who can be part of a team, who will work with ActionStation staff to collect signatures online and in the community, and organise a petition delivery to your local MP. The best part? You’ll be supported every step of the way.

You don’t need expert skills to apply, just commitment to the cause, determination, and at least one hour a week to give to this. Apply here to help lead your local campaign today for health care … ActionStation campaigners will be just one email away.

This is a long-term strategy, and we can’t pull it off without your help, but I reckon together we can help lay the foundations for a strong and secure future where all New Zealanders can receive the quality healthcare they need.

PS. If you don’t want to be a petition leader, you can still find and sign your local petition by clicking here. Simply type in your address or region to be directed to your nearest campaign!

References:

  1.  ‘Funding New Zealand’s public healthcare system: time for an honest appraisal and public debate’, New Zealand Medical Journal (pay-walled)
  2. John Key hints he’ll fight election $3 billion package tax cuts (NZ Herald, 16 May 2016).

Monsanto spells failure – peasants want it gone

Many of the studies Monsanto uses to justify its claims did not look at hybridised and indigenous seed (non-GM).

In Argentina

Monsanto has now announced that it will dismantle its multi-million dollar GMO seed plant in Malvinas.
A spokesman for the company conceded that protests, local pressure, and resistance by environmentalists, anti-GMO activists and local residents was indeed part of the reason the company decided to dismantle the plant. In addition, a number of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto over the legality of the construction permit as well as environmental impacts.

It’s been almost three years that Monsanto has not been able to put a brick or a wire at the construction site… The company is leaving the field but does not yet recognize its defeat in this battle. We remain on alert and continue blocking, waiting to see what will happen. We want the site to now be devoted to organic and sustainable agriculture.” – Sofia Gatica, one of the main activists and leaders of the protest blockade.

In India

The Indian government is now actively promoting the use of indigenous seed, and has called Monsanto out for profiteering illegally on Bt cotton seed.

Monsanto has already lost nearly $75 million in royalties this year (5 billion rupees) due to the change in seed choice by farmers. Sales in India have fallen by 15 percent, and though this is a relatively small market share, it is still making a huge impact on the company’s bottom line.

This could be the end of Monsanto altogether, in India. Just wait for the crucial three to four years to see a complete, natural turnaround. By then most farmers will give up Bt cotton and go for the indigenous variety.” – Keshav Raj Kranthi, head of India’s Central Institute for Cotton Research

In Africa

Drought-hit Burkina Fasso (West Africa) also recently rejected Monsanto’s Bt cotton seed after finding the seed produced a poor quality cotton that fetched low prices for the farmers who bothered to grow it.

In Russia

In 2015 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, at the 12th International ‘Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum’ in Kyoto, stated that it is not necessary to use genetic modification to feed the world. The Russian Government has stood firm against increasing pressure from U.S. biotech companies, managing to see through the U.S-based pro-GMO forces’ misleading claims and pseudoscience.

In February (2016) they banned all imports of U.S. soybeans and corn due to microbial and GMO contamination. Russian authorities are now stepping up efforts to limit the import of GMO animal feed, the country’s food safety regulator Rosselkhoznadzor announced in August. The move comes following a complete ban on the cultivation of GM crops and the breeding of GMO animals that was signed in to law by President Vladimir Putin in June.

In July Russia introduced temporary bans on imports from a number of Brazilian, Chinese, Argentinian and German trading companies, due to the large percentage of GMOs in their animal feed products.


References

  1. Monsanto Backs Out of Seed Plant in Argentina After Protests: Activist Post
  2. Argentina Has A “City Of Death” Thanks To Monsanto: Natural Blaze
  3. India Calls Out Monsanto: Underground Reporter
  4. Russia Sets Limits to Animal-feed Imports: Sustainable Pulse

Largest anti-fracking march in history

(24 July: Phil., Penn.)  More than 10,000  marched in the streets of Philadelphia for a Clean Energy Revolution calling on political leaders to act quickly to ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dirty energy; to transition to 100% renewable energy and ensure environmental justice for all.

The March for a Clean Energy Revolution was organised by U.S-based Food & Water Watch, the first national organisation in America to call for a total ban on fracking. Fracking has now become a major issue in the debates over the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Img Food & water 10,000 march

Participating were more than 900 environmental, indigenous, health, justice, labour, political, faith and student organisations from all 50 states who endorsed the March and are calling for the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and to focus on renewable energy options.

Check out some of the media coverage of the event: The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, MSNBC, and Reuters.

(More Photos)