Monday, September 16, 2019

“No one has consulted us on RCEP”, say farmers movements and trade unions in India


“A number of farmer organisations, trade unions, livestock and fisheries groups and civil society bodies have written an open letter to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal stating that most of them had not been consulted on the on-going negotiations for the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact and expressed concerns that their concerns may not have been taken on board.

The representatives of various organisations and individuals from across the country, who signed the letter, demanded that the on-going negotiations be put on hold till consultations are conducted with those left out including small farmers, fishing communities, dairy keepers, fruit and vegetable growers, tribal populations, trade unions and other marginalised sections of society.

They also asked for the key representations made in the consultations that the government has had with industry be made public.

The RCEP is a mega trade agreement being negotiated between 16 countries including the 10-member ASEAN, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Once implemented it would lead to zero-duty imports on most products between the participating countries.

Referring to media reports on the Department of Commerce’s assertion that it held over 100 consultations across the country over the last six years to gather reactions to the proposed RCEP, the letter said that it was misleading on two accounts.

“On one hand, internal briefings and inter-ministerial consultations form a significant part of these so called stakeholder consultations, and on the other hand, the only stakeholder that has been consulted is the industry,” it said.

The complainants further said that despite there being evidence to show that the lives of people at large can end up getting traded away through free trade pacts such as the RCEP, their participation during the negotiation process has not been elicited.

While the Indian industry is most apprehensive about increased competition from China once import duties are eliminated or reduced, Indian farmers and dairy producers are additionally concerned about cheap imports from New Zealand and Australia that they fear could destroy their livelihoods.”

The Hindu Business newsline has reported on 15 September. Read the full report here.

Download the full text of the letter here

Cover Image by: Joe Athialy

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements


La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

02 September, Harare:

Two decades after coming into being, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – one of the flag bearers of globalisation and neo-liberalism – is facing an existential crisis that is precipitated by the same group of people who created it. This is also happening at a time when peasants and indigenous people are several degrees worse off than they were two decades ago; with their land, rivers, oceans and forests having undergone massive erosion and forced evictions are inflicted upon them by profit-hungry corporations. Local peasant markets and food systems in several countries have been decimated by an order of international trade that only looks at the commodification of everything, including the food that people eat.

For an organisation that inscribed among its founding objectives, its aim “to help developing countries benefit fully from the global trading system”, WTO’s greatest indictment has indeed come from the following realities confronting the developing world today; rising rural unemployment, rising hunger, staggering levels of inequality that exists between countries and within countries, and rising per capita world debt.


La Via Campesina has long been warning the world of the risks of deregulation and unbridled expansion of global capital. As people working in the field to feed 70% of the world’s population, we were the first to face the brunt of free trade agreements that were pushed forth by WTO and other multilateral institutions. WTO led the pack in seducing and coercing our governments to sign up to the grand plans of a few rich countries. The devastation caused by this top-down model of global governance was first felt in our territories when it crashed the prices of our produce, destroyed local peasant markets, wiped away the rich biodiversity that existed in our fields, took away our autonomy over seeds and evicted millions of our sisters and brothers from their territories.

It is this destruction of the country side that forced one of our own, Lee Kyung Hae from South Korea, to take his life outside the venue of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. On the 10th of September that year when he committed this tragic act, he had a banner that hung around his neck which read “WTO Kills Farmers”. Once a self-sufficient rice farmer in rural Korea, Lee had lost everything to cheap dumping of imported rice and meat, the result of free trade agreements pushed through WTO. He took such an extreme step because the rich and few who ran these institutions or lobbied around them, were too far away from the lived realities of the countryside. His act of sacrifice brought the depressing account of the rural world right outside their gates, even as in his last moments he bravely echoed the demands of peasants and rural communities worldwide; “to keep agriculture out of WTO’s free trade negotiations”.





Since then, La Via Campesina marks 10th of September every year as the International Day of Struggle against WTO and Free Trade Agreements – to keep the memory of Lee Kyung Hae alive and also to not remain mute to the calamitous consequences of international free trade.











16 years hence that tragic incident, what has changed? Nothing, except that the hands that feed WTO is now refusing to continue. It is ironical when the rich captains of capitalism claim that they got a bad deal from WTO. It begs the question, “then who got the good deal?” .

But let us not be fooled by this charade of false threats made by rich western countries to withdraw from WTO. What we have been seeing over the past one decade is the establishment of several bilateral and regional mega-free trade agreements and creation of newer unified trade blocks.

So while WTO may eventually be weakened or be dead, capitalism wants to continue to thrive through other means. It goes by different names in different continents.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) comprising ASEAN nations, India, Australia and New Zealand is one among this new age trade agreements that wants to create a unified market in the region, being negotiated ‘outside of WTO’. Peasant organisations here have been pointing out how it could severely impact their livelihoods, particularly those of small scale dairy farmers, how it could impose restrictive seeds laws and more. Yet these negotiations continue behind closed doors in the most opaque ways possible led by a few who have never held a plough in their hands!

The EU – MERCOSUR deal between Europe and the economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, under negotiations for 17 years and finally signed onto by the European Commission in July this year, is another case in point. European Coordination of Via Campesina (ECVC) had warned that the deal with MERCOSUR threatens to undermine standards on health, the environment and animal welfare in the European Union, in addition to lacking any policy coherence with the tall promises made at COP 23. Peasant organisations in the MERCOSUR block calls it a neocolonial model that will result in a capital concentration for the few and poverty for the majority.

In Africa, the creation of African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a mega regional free trade agreement, is ‘premised on the notion that trade liberalisation, through both tariff and non-tariff barrier reduction, will drastically increase intra-continental trade, and that this increased trade will be beneficial for all.’ [CADTM, 2019]. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Farmers organisations in Canada have also called out U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, earlier known as NAFTA) for failing to address the concerns of grain farmers and dairy farmers in the country.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) between Australia,Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru,Singapore, and Vietnam. has sown the fears of corporate capture of seed systems, dilution in the regulation for GMOs and serious worries for small-scale food producers.

Many, if not all, of these trade agreements carry within it the controversial provision of Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS), which in all instances invariably allow private corporations to override sovereign national laws and sue the national governments for threatening their profitability. A system that allows multinational private corporations to take a sovereign nation to trial in front of an opaquely set up international tribunal, for the ‘crime’ of choosing people’s welfare over profit is indeed a dangerous one and must be fiercely opposed.

REJECT WTO AND FTAs! MOBILISE FOR A PEASANT-LED ALTERNATIVE!
It is in this vein that La Via Campesina is calling upon its members and allies to not be misled by the smokescreen of a ‘weakening WTO’ and be aware of the new age mega and bilateral free trade agreements are equally if not more harmful.

As we remember Lee Kyung Hae this September, let us also agitate, educate and organise the rural members of our movement and our allies about the lurking dangers of these closed room trade negotiations. It is important that we reject all kinds of free trade agreements and work towards the complete dismantling of WTO as it prepares to meet for the next Ministerial in Kazakhstan.

It is important to inform the people of peasant-led-alternatives that exist, which can feed the people and also save the planet. The UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), which our movement won through 17 years of hard fought negotiations, are an instrument to protect the rights of our people and our efforts must be to have it implemented in our countries.

It is vital for our movements to promote and strengthen the local peasant markets selling locally produced food using agroecological methods to local customers, and that which represents and respects the diversity of local food systems. We demand for national policies that strengthen these peasant market systems and reject free trade agreements that pose an existential threat to it.

It is important that our movements on the ground also support the Global Campaign for a UN Binding Treaty for Transnational Corporations on Human Rights that aims to end the impunity of transnational corporations and work to strike out the controversial provisions of ISDS from all free trade agreements.

Starting 10 September, we are exhorting the 182 peasant organisations of La Via Campesina in 81 countries, all our allied social movements, academic institutions, political schools of training and NGOs to organise direct actions, public events, study sessions and demonstrations to expose the dangers of these free trade agreements in your own region and countries and also to present an alternative that is rooted in local cultures, context and biodiversity.

Let the rallying call for our global actions once again be
“WTO, FTAs Out of Agriculture and Food!”
“Peasant Trade Systems Over Free Trade”
“Food Sovereignty, not Free Trade!”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Pakistan: Peasant organisations pledge to push back against Industrial Farming

The Pakistan Kissan Rabta Committee (PKRC) on Sunday vowed to lead the fight against industrial farming practice advocated by multinationals across Pakistan. The members of the committee pledged to aggressively promote and adopt “natural sustainable crop production”.

After a two-day national convention, “Building a Peasant Movement in Pakistan” held in Lahore, the PKRC elected a new Coordination Committee and inducted new member organisations. The two days meeting was chaired by a panel of Nazli Javed, Mian Mohammed Ashraf and Tariq Mahmood.

The meeting was attended by 21 peasant and food producer organisations from across Pakistan, while a number of organisations were unable to attend. The new organising committee of the PKRC will include the Anjuman Mazaareen Punjab (Okara and Lahore), Akhuwat-e-Kissan Pakistan, Anjuman Kashtkaraan (Khyber Pakthunkhwa), Kissan Karkela (KP), Khoj, Crofter Foundation, Pedaver, Sawera Foundation, Hari Poriat Tanzeem (Sindh), Tameer-e-Nau Women’s Workers Organisation, Kissan Akath (Rajanpur), Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement, Agrarian Collective, Dastak, Khushaali, Aisaar, Sanjh, Milli Zameen Zada, Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum and Alfalah Welfare Organisation FATA.

The forum criticised the dominant mode of agriculture that was sold to farmers during the Green Revolution. Speaking at the forum, MiN Asif Sharif of Pedaver and Nusrat Habib of Khoj Foundation agreed that corporate interests had been the main reason for advocating a system of farming that spreads poison and destroys nature. Instead, the PKRC will struggle for creating a natural system of farming, based on rebuilding the natural composition of the soil, which rejects the use of corporate seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

The PKRC vowed to renew the struggle for land reform, market reform, moving towards natural farming and oppose corporate farming. The meeting also expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Anjuman Mazareen Punjab and called for the release of its leadership, including AMP leader Mehr Abdul Sattar. It called for the recognition of the land rights of the tenants of the Okara Military Farms.

The PKRC also calls on peasants to participate in Climate Strike being organising on September 20 across Pakistan, noting that Pakistan’s farmers have been amongst the most affected by extreme weather patterns, including floods, unpredictable rainfall and changing weather patterns.

Those who spoke on the occasion include Dr Ammar Ali Jan, Hshaim Bin Rashid, Farooq Tariq, Muhsin Abdali and others.

Press coverage of the meeting - https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/520798-farmer-body-for-natural-sustainable-crop-system

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Keep Agriculture and Dairy out of RCEP, Demand Farmer Unions

The unions fear dilution of seed rights of Indian farmers and massive dumping of dairy products from milk-producing countries.



















NewsClick Report

Several farmer unions under the banner of the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement, on Wednesday, submitted a memorandum to the Union Minister of State of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, demanding to keep agriculture and dairy out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement.

The submission of the memorandum came ahead of the 27th round of RCEP negotiations that is going to be held at Zhengzhou in China on August 2-3.

RCEP is a trade and investment agreement that is being negotiated among 16 countries – 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six regional partners, one of which is India.

The unions fear massive dumping of dairy products from milk-producing countries like New Zealand and Australia, which according to the unions, are aiming to exploit the huge Indian dairy market through their surplus, though at the cost of the local livestock farmers.

“Going by the numbers that the NITI Aayog has projected, India is in no need to import milk or milk products till 2030s as the supply will be more than the demand,” Yudhvir Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union told NewsClick indicating that the demand to keep dairy out of RCEP talks is even economically legitimate.

It was reported earlier that India’s milk production will touch 330 mt by 2033 with a demand projection to be around 292mt.

In addition to it, the memorandum also pointed towards the provisions of RCEP, which are meant to dilute the seed rights of Indian farmers, which include criminalisation of seed saving and seed exchange – a method which provides more diversity to the farmers, significant especially under the pressures of climate change – giving more power to corporations over the seeds.

Pressure from the seed companies must be viewed in light of the attempt to monopolise the seed industry and then using the patent laws to kowtow the local farmers in purchasing the seeds that will then require certain type of fertilisers and pesticides. Such measures only restrict the independence of a farmer in deciding what to grow and how to grow. A textbook example being the recent PepsiCo’s lawsuit against the potato farmers in Gujarat, though the company withdrew later in response to the media outcry and protests.

Now with RCEP, the objective is to strengthen the patent laws which will allow the seed companies to tame the local farmers in a bid to appropriate more profits.

NewsClick has earlier reported on the secretive negotiations and oppositions from various civil organizations from ASEAN member countries against the provisions of the RCEP, one of them to allow the foreign companies to sue governments for pursuing policies which will reduce their profits.

Since 2012, when the formal negotiations began, representatives of various unions of farmers, trade unions, and civil society groups have been voicing their serious criticism against the RCEP, which according to them, is even worse than WTO.

Reblogged from NewsClick

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Major Indian farm union cautions government over China-backed trade deal


Reuters Report 
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A leading Indian farmers’ organisation on Wednesday warned the government against joining a major 16-member Asia-Pacific trade pact that the union fears could spur imports of cheaper produce, undermining its agricultural sector.

A team of top Indian government officials will be in Beijing between Aug. 2 and 3 to negotiate the terms of the China-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that has been held up by disputes between Beijing and New Delhi over access to markets and protected lists of goods.

Indian farmers believe that the pact will force India to cut tariffs on farm goods, leading to imports of cheaper products such as dairy into the country where agriculture is still the mainstay for its 1.3 billion people.

“Representatives of all prominent farmers’ unions in India have unanimously rejected the RCEP,” Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union, or Indian Farmers’ Union, which represents millions of farmers across the country, told a news conference.

India’s dairy farmers are especially vulnerable, he said, fearing potentially low tariffs on milk and milk products would lead to a glut on the local market and a collapse in prices.

India is the world’s biggest milk producer and its dairy industry provides critical revenue to farmers especially during poor crop years. Indian farmers earn more money from the sale of milk than from wheat and rice combined.

About 80 million Indian rural households are engaged in milk production which provides livelihood to poor and small farmers, according to official estimates.

Farmers complained that joining the RCEP would encourage foreign dairy producers like New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, to dump their surplus dairy products in India.

“We have written a letter to the trade minister but so far there is no assurance from the government,” said Dharmendra Malik, a farm leader from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Several other industry groups in India such as steel, engineering and auto makers have opposed New Delhi’s participation in the RCEP, citing the threat of cheaper imports from China.

Negotiations began in 2012 for RCEP, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone that will encompass 45% of the world’s population and more than a third of its gross domestic product, but does not involve the United States.


Reuters reported on 31st July, Read the full report here

Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, major farmers union tells government


PRESS RELEASE
INDIAN COORDINATION COMMITTEE OF FARMERS’ MOVEMENTS

Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, farmers’ body tells government 



The RCEP will destroy farm livelihoods, especially in the domestic dairy sector. 


31 July, New Delhi: Representatives of all prominent farmers’ unions in India have unanimously rejected the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), warning that the mega-trade agreement threatens farm livelihoods, autonomy over seeds and also endangering the country’s self-sufficient dairy sector.
At a press conference in Delhi today, farmers’ leaders warned the government not to bow down to pressure from the 16 other negotiating countries like China, New Zealand, Australia and ASEAN who are eager to close the deal, that only stands to benefit large agribusinesses in these countries.
RCEP will increase the benefits of trading partners because of India’s massive market, while India will lose revenues of up to 60,000 crores if the deal is fully implemented”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

RCEP would force India to remove tariffs on 92% of traded commodities. India has already lost 26,000 crores of revenue in 2018-2019 by allowing cheap imports from the ASEAN bloc with which India has an existing free trade deal.

Dairy brings daily cash to our marginal and small farmers, a large majority of them women. India is already self-sufficient in dairy. But through RCEP, foreign players like Fonterra, Danone, want to dump their surplus into our country. Why should we import what we don’t need? What about our poor farmers' livelihoods?” asked Rakesh Tikait, from Bharatiya Kisan Union.
India’s mostly unorganized dairy sector currently provides livelihoods to over 150 million people. Projections by Niti Ayog upto 2033 show that India’s national dairy supply will reach 330 mt, beating the national demand of 292 mt, thus negating any needs for additional imports.[2]
New Zealand is spreading half-truth when they claim that only an insignificant 5% of its dairy exports are destined for India. But this 5% still amounts to a large loss for our domestic producers! We will lose that much to one country alone, and imagine the danger if we add up others” said Sellamuttu of Tamila Vyavasaigal Sangam of Tamil Nadu.
RCEP is more threatening than other trade regimes like the World Trade Organization. While India has been resisting tariff cuts to only 80% of traded goods as compared to 92 % demanded in RCEP, India will not be able to raise duties at a later date – a provision that even the WTO did not impose, putting serious restrictions on India’s ability to protect its farmers and workers' livelihoods.
Aside from dairy, RCEP will also give more concessions to foreign players in critical areas like seeds and patents. An important concern about RCEP is the demand from member countries, especially Japan and South Korea, for ‘TRIPS-plus’ intellectual property (IP) protection for seeds, medicines, and agrochemicals. This will be disastrous for Indian farmers because the country is under pressure to accede to the 1991 International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties Convention (UPOV) and comply with its standards. UPOV is a system of seed patenting that undermines farmers’ rights, gives primacy to corporate plant breeders and restricts freedom of researchers and breeders to access protected plant varieties for further research and development.
The manufacturing sector is also under serious threat. Farmers warned of national protests if agriculture was not taken out of RCEP.
The RCEP would be the largest FTA in terms of population, it would reach 49% of the global population and will encompass 40% of all global trade making up a third of the global GDP.

Contact
Yudhvir Singh BKU - 9899435968
S Kanniayan, – 9444989543
Dharmendra, BKU – 9219691168


NOTES


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

OPINION: Adoption of the Peasant’s Rights Declaration enriches the human rights system



The approval and adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas represent a historic event for the international human rights system itself, as well as for the peasant communities of the world. This has been a 17-year struggle on the part of La Via Campesina, which, along with allies, has managed to galvanize debate within the United Nations on the role and circumstances of the peasantry.

In full neoliberal offensive, at the end of the 1990s, financial capital wrapped its tentacles even more tightly around the countryside, and the commercialization and financialization of agriculture resulted in dispossession and evictions, an increase in violence and the persecution of peasant communities, the privatization of seeds, slave labour, the destruction of local markets and an increase in hunger and migration, the destruction of nature and pollution, among other scourges.

This neoliberal onslaught deepened the mechanisms of the Green Revolution, increasing its capacity for hoarding and destruction, hand in hand with transgenic technology associated with the massive use of agrotoxics. The only objective: huge profits for transnational companies, but at the cost of serious consequences for humanity.

In the countryside, the concentration and privatization of land, insecure and slave labour, pollution with agrotoxics, and the destruction of millions of hectares of native jungle and forest have increased. As this process progressed, resistance in the countryside grew, which brought along with it the persecution and criminalization of peasants. Violence in the countryside is an element that sustains agribusiness; peasants are murdered and imprisoned, and the reallocation of public resources to agribusiness deprives peasants of access to credit and markets.

Neoliberal propaganda included the idea of the end of history as part of its attempt to depoliticize society.  In the agricultural sphere, the “End of the Peasantry” theory was launched, suggesting that peasant families would disappear, and that only agribusiness was capable of feeding humanity.

In the field of international governance, the international neoliberal lobby promoted new institutions, treaties and agreements that constructed a framework of jurisprudence, which, instead of being anchored in human rights and democracy, is based on the Freedom of financial capital and the shielding of companies from the resistance and struggle of the people. A clear example is the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants), which is responsible for legitimizing the appropriation of traditional, hereditary knowledge.

Peasant organizations resisted in every corner of the world. The establishment of La Via Campesina exists in this context, bringing to light the struggle for land and against the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free market policies, which have opened the door to corporations on every continent.

As industrial agriculture develops, the global food crisis, as well as the climate crisis, become even more severe. Faced with this situation, La Via Campesina, as well as giving a voice to the resistance, systematizes its proposals and its outlook to give hope. Not only is this not the end of the peasantry, but, on the contrary, the peasantry is part of the possible solution to the crises caused by the capital accumulation dynamics. This is how the debate on food sovereignty began, and the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform was launched. These debates burst onto the scene of the United Nations World Food Security Council in 1996. The idea was put forward that into order to solve the food crisis, the development and strengthening of peasant and local agriculture is a necessary, and to achieve this, land must be democratized.

In this way, the discussion on peasant rights has always gone hand in hand with proposals on the agrarian policy necessary to overcome the food crisis.

In 2001, an international congress on peasant rights was held in Indonesia, which was coordinated by the Peasant Union of Indonesia (SPI), and in which the need to build a declaration on peasant rights within the United Nations was raised for the first time.

In 2003, at the 4th International Conference of LVC, which was held in Sao Paulo, Brasil, the final declaration stated that: “We will acquire a new commitment to driving the fight for Human and Peasant Rights. As international peasant organizations, we will develop an International Charter of Peasant Rights”. Between 2004 and 2006, together with CETIM and FIAN, paradigmatic cases of violations of peasant rights were verified and documented on all continents.

Intense work in the Human Rights Council

In June 2008, the International Conference on Peasant Rights took place in Jakarta, with the participation of more than a hundred representatives from the organizations that make up La Via Campesina all over the world, and of more than a thousand members of SPI; in the same year, in October, the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina, held in Mozambique, approved the Charter of Peasant Rights. Propelled by the support of thousands of local struggles, and hundreds of reports documenting violations in rural communities, the challenge began in the United Nations.

This charter, that would later be the starting point for the Declaration, was born directly from the experiences and struggles of peasants all over the world. Because of this, we affirm that the Declaration is a direct representation of this reality and its recognition by the UN.

In 2012, after much hard work, the UN Human Rights Council resolved to create an Intergovernmental Working Group, the mission of which would be to propose to the Council a text declaring the rights of peasants. This Group was chaired by the Plurinational State of Bolivia, supported by South Africa and the Philippines in coordination. Since then, a group of experts has carried out a study on the situation and proposed a text based on the charter of La Via Campesina, adapting the language to the standards of the United Nations.

Bolivia guaranteed a transparent and participatory process in the Council. Over six years, five drafts were modified after each session, taking into account the contributions of States and civil society, the latter of which actively aligned itself with the process, represented by organizations of peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, agrarian workers, indigenous peoples and human rights (HR) organizations, who actively participated with their proposals.

During 2013 and 2014, the debate was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where CLOC LVC, together with FIAN and CELS presented reports on the relationship between the violation of peasant rights in the region and transnational corporations.

On 28 September 2018, the Human Rights Council adopted the declaration, which was voted in by a comfortable margin, and which represented, without a doubt, an important step forward on the part of the human rights system from a pluricultural and humanist perspective. The official report presenting the definitive text highlighted the urgent call of the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, to finalize work on the draft Declaration, “in order to respond to more than a billion people who live in rural areas and who provide a significant proportion of the world’s food”. The report also underlined the support of FAO for the Declaration, considering that it will contribute to the zero-hunger objective and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, helping these people to achieve their potential to overcome the challenges that they face in their day-to-day life.

This process sparked various debates within the United Nations; firstly, on the recognition of the peasantry as a significant, worldwide class, who suffer systematic violations of their rights, and secondly, whether the interests of human rights or the corporate interests of transnationals should take precedence. In this regard, the answer of the Human Rights Council was unmistakeable: Human Rights should prevail, and this Declaration is an essential instrument to allow the establishment of standards and policies in the countryside that guarantee the rights of peasants. The perspective of collective human rights is also an important part of the pluricultural worldview of the system.

Since the beginning, the process was supported by the Latin American integration process, with CELAC itself backing it, as well as GRULAC (Group of Latin American Countries in the United Nations); the G77 later added their support, paving the way for Asia and Africa, where it also received widespread endorsement. As expected, the countries that are most subservient to the interests of transnationals, and that are most imperialistic and colonialist, opposed the process from the beginning: the USA, the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and most of the European Union were unwavering in their negative position.

However, in December 2018, and by a broad majority, the United Nations General Assembly approved and adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

Brazil and Argentina had given their support throughout the process, but when Macri and Bolsonaro came to power, they moved to abstain; conversely, Mexico, which had expressed misgivings, voted in favour after Andres Manel López Obrador was elected President.

The adoption of the Declaration puts an end to the neoliberal idea of the “end of the peasantry” and strongly calls upon States not just to recognise peasants’ identity, but also their role, and to work to put an end to violations of their rights. This takes place in the context of serious global rural violence, with extreme situations such as that of Colombia, in which, in 2018, 105 peasant leaders and 44 indigenous leaders were killed, or that of Brazil, where in 2017, 71 peasants were killed as a result of land or environmental conflicts.

According to the ETC Group, peasant agriculture makes use of only a quarter of world’s farmland, but feeds more than 75% of the world population, while agroindustry, subservient to financial capital, feeds only 25% of the population with three quarters of the farmland.

Guaranteeing the survival of the peasant lifestyle and mode of production is strategic for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the process coincides with the launch of the Decade for Family Farming, reaffirming the importance of the topic in this context.

Peasant rights and States’ obligations

In its Preamble and 28 articles, the Declaration establishes the rights of peasants and the obligations of States; the text is an essential overview for the planning and renewal of global agrarian policy at all levels.

Elements to be underlined:

Article 15 stresses that: “Peasants have the right to define their own food production systems, this being recognised by many States and regions as the right to food sovereignty”. Thus, the United Nations recognises and backs the policy proposal that La Via Campesina introduced in 1996 into the debates of the United Nations Food Security Council regarding how to tackle the food crisis, which affects more than a billion people all over the world.

Article 16 establishes that: “States will take appropriate measures to strengthen and support local, national and regional markets in ways that facilitate and guarantee that peasants and other people working in rural areas have access to these markets and participate fully in them under equal conditions in order to sell their products at prices that allow them and their families to reach a decent standard of living”. The importance of state intervention to guarantee fair prices and a decent income is underlined. In Argentina, the price difference between what the peasant receives and what the consumer pays is between 500 and 1600%, a situation that can only be resolved with public policies that intervene in defence of producers and consumers.

Article 17 states that: “Peasants and other people living in rural areas have rights to the land, either individually or collectively (…) and in particular, they have the right to access the land, bodies of water and forests, as well as to use them and manage them sustainably in order to reach decent living standards and to have a place in which they can live safely and securely, in peace and with dignity, and in which to develop their culture” and it recommends to States “Agrarian Reform, to facilitate fair access to the Land and its social function, avoiding the concentration of land”.

This article is vital in the current context of land concentration and land grabbing. In Latin America, half of all land is concentrated in the hands of 1% of landholders, and this region has the most unequal land distribution on the planet: the Gini coefficient – which measures inequality, with 0 for complete equality and 1 for extreme inequality – applied to the land distribution in the continent is 0.79, much higher than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to OXFAM, in Argentina, 83% of Agricultural Productive Units possess only 13.3% of the productive land. According to another study, Family Farming represents two-thirds of producers, but these only have access to 13.5% of the farmland. In 2014, the Argentinian Government carried out a case study on peasant land conflict: as a result, 752 cases involving more than 9 million hectares in conflict were found.

Land concentration is a structural barrier to the development of a nation and peasants’ full enjoyment of their rights.

Article 19 states that: “Peasants have the right to seeds (…) The right to protect their traditional knowledge relating to phylogenetic resources for food and agriculture; (…) The right to participate in decision-making on issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of phylogenetic resources for food and agriculture”.  Faced with the permanent advance of transnationals in the appropriation of genetic material and strong pressure for seed laws that support it among outrage, this article takes on a particular significance.

Another troubling recent piece of information concerns agrotoxics. The massive use of agrochemicals causes the death by poisoning of around 200,000 people a year all over the world according to a Report from the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. According to the Pan-American Health Organization, in 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, poisoning by agrochemical products causes 15% of recorded deaths.

In Argentina, reports from SENASA show that between 2011 and 2013, 63% of tests conducted on fruit and vegetables on the market detected the presence of chemical residue. This data highlights the limitations to the right to health and to a healthy environment and food set forth in the Declaration.

The adoption of the Declaration enriches the human rights system, managing to place the democratic debate between States before the lobby and interests of capital, updating the system from a pluricultural perspective and respecting the billions of people who consider collective rights essential for the enjoyment of individual rights.

New challenges

We are now entering a stage of new challenges, in which we hope that the Declaration will be a tool for peasant struggles. For this reason, we must work to allow peasant organizations to make the Declaration their own, making their voice heard by academics, trade unions, lawmakers and officials so that the Declaration can be adopted at the local, provincial and national levels, as well as becoming an instrument for dialogue between organizations and States in order to move towards new legislation that translates States’ obligations into suitable agrarian policies. The Declaration will also be an important contribution to the legal aspect of agrarian conflicts.

By bringing the Declaration to all corners of the world, we will move forward in a process of greater global advocacy, as possibilities are emerging for new mechanisms for the promotion and monitoring of the Declaration within the United Nations, as well as the future prospect of building an International Convention on the Rights of Peasants.

In the current context of the global crisis of capitalism, in which American imperialism cannot resign itself to losing parts of the market and seeks to deepen its ties to Latin America, the respect of the rights of peasants will only be possible if we manage to express our extensive and continuous struggles. The Declaration that we achieved in the United Nations is also a tool for grassroots work, social unrest and the organization of peasants all over the world, as well as to allow us to express ourselves for the unity and political education of peasant leaders.

To be effective, peasant rights require Agrarian Reform throughout the world that guarantees Peasant Agriculture and Agroecology in order to reach Food Sovereignty, which is vital for justice and world peace; therefore, we reaffirm that this Declaration, with strong humanist contents, represents a great step forward for global governance and the peoples of the world. Far from being the “end of the peasantry”, we reaffirm that peasants are main actors in the struggles for social justice all over the world, and an undisputed part of the solution to the food crisis and migration, which are caused and worsened by financial capital and agribusiness.

– Diego Montón, International Peasants’ Rights Collective, La Via Campesina.

Reblogged from viacampesina.org/en