After 20 Years, It’s Time to Listen to Vía Campesina

Food First | 07.01.2013

by Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director

This June in Jakarta, Indonesia, over 400 farmers from 70 countries gathered at the 6th International Conference of La Vía 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. The smallholders growing 70 percent of the world’s food have a plan to save the world from hunger: it’s called food sovereignty.

The 183 member organizations of Vía Campesina know that hunger is caused by injustice—not scarcity. (The world already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people.) Vía Campesina sees smallholder farmers, fishers, herders, people of color and women as the protagonists rather than the “clients” in solutions to hunger, poverty and climate change.

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 smallholders growing 70 percent of the world’s food have a plan to save the world from hunger: it’s called food sovereignty.

“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 “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 extractive industries like palm oil, agrofuels and mining have unleashed upon the world’s peasantry. It is not unusual in countries like Guatemala or Honduras for the army to enforce this “modernization” of the countryside at the barrel of a gun.

After eight years in Indonesia, Vía 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.”

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If the world’s leaders are interested in real solutions to hunger—and not just business as usual—they should listen to the voices of farmers and food producers calling for a different way forward: food sovereignty.

Also in this issue of News & Views:

  • “Immigration Reform: A path to servitude?” by Leah Scrivener and Eric Holt-Giménez
  • “Changing Contexts, Consistent Principles: A conversation with former Food First Director Walden Bello” by Leah Scrivener