by Eric Holt Gimenez, Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
This week in Jakarta, Indonesia over 400 farmers from 70 countries gathered at the 6th International Conference of La Via Campesina to celebrate 20 years of struggle for food sovereignty. The representatives of this 200 million-strong international peasant movement hammered out a global call to action to bring an end to hunger, poverty, environmental destruction and social injustice.
It was a remarkable event.
The smallholders growing 70 percent of the world’s food have a plan to save the world from hunger. It looks nothing like the top-heavy Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID’s “Feed the Future" or the corporate-led "New Vision for Agriculture.” Its called food sovereignty.
The major difference is that La Via Campesina believes hunger is caused by injustice—not scarcity. (The world already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people.) These farmers see smallholder farmers as the protagonists rather than “clients” in solutions to hunger, poverty and climate change.
The list goes on: They support smallholder farming instead of plantation agriculture; They practice agroecology and reject the “New Green Revolution" and GMOs; They demand land reform and an end to land grabs; They reject the neoliberal free trade agenda that has destroyed rural economies over the last 20 years, driving millions to bankruptcy and migration; and they call for an end to all forms of violence against women, who, in fact, grow most of the world’s food.
The gulf between the growing peasant movement and the solutions advanced by the corporate food regime is not only vast, it separates actors and institutions that are diametrically opposed regarding who should control the world’s food system.
"We need an agricultural revolution. Farmers need to take back control over agriculture from agribusiness," said Selene, a farmer from Africa. Edgardo, a farm labor leader from Nicaragua insisted, that "the two models are not compatible. Capitalism can’t resolve the crises. We need a new world order based on social justice."
These are strong words from people that mainstream development institutions are supposed to be helping… One reason for this is the unprecedented levels of violence that development of extractive industries like palm oil, agrofuels and mining has unleashed upon the world’s peasantry. It is not unusual in areas like Guatemala or Honduras for the army to enforce this “modernization” of the countryside at the point of a gun.
After eight years in Indonesia, La Via Campesina is moving its secretariat to Zimbabwe. Said Henry Saragih, global coordinator and head of Indonesia’s farmer’s union, “We will pass on the torch to Africa this year. Africa is a very important continent because the transnationals… are grabbing land there and want to impose the green revolution model with GMOs. We in Asia already know that the green revolution has failed here. We extend solidarity and unite with the African peasant movements to… choose a development path that will actually benefit the African people and peasants.”
The G-8 countries now meeting in Ireland should listen to protesters calling for an end to hunger. But they should listen to the farmers to make sure they support real solutions and not just business as usual.