From all corners of the world, small farmers, indigenous peoples and human rights activists have been percolating solutions upward to advance their rights to land, water and food. With 2011 behind us, Grassroots International celebrates some of the victories and inroads that took place last year, all with funding from Grassroots International and our supporters. Below are just some of the highlights.
Community action brings drinkable water to 6,000 in Haiti In July 2011, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) completed a community-led drinking water system in Marmont, located in Haiti’s central plateau. The project, which was funded by Grassroots International, employed displaced refugees from Port-au-Prince and their local hosts. The project created a reservoir, two water catchments to increase the system’s capacity, 12 public fountains, 356 private water pipes, and a water trough for animals. In addition, the MPP trained two local plumbers to maintain the system. Now, 100 percent of the population, or close to 6,000 people in Marmont, has access to potable water. The project was overseen by the community itself, and became a catalyst for not only uniting the community around an important common need, but also for integrating earthquake refugees in a way that was useful and meaningful for both them and the community. In addition, the drinking water system reduced by 35 percent the number of people within the Marmont region who contract waterborne illnesses over the last year. Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa launched Africa’s nascent movement for food sovereignty scored an important accomplishment in 2011. Farmer and civil society groups from across the continent launched the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) on December 5, 2011 in Durban, South Africa during the UN’s Earth Summit there. They view food sovereignty as the ability of nations to feed their people through local production by small farmers using local resources, local ecological agricultural methods and the traditional knowledge of farmers. The groups in AFSA aim to spread the practice of sustainable ecologically integrated farming agriculture (known as ‘agroecology’) in Africa as a key solution to hunger, poverty, climate change and soil health. AFSA sees agroecology as a crucial and timely alternative to the growing influence of the Gates Foundation’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA aims to increase food production in Africa, but critics see AGRA as a trojan horse to switch control of food production in Africa away from small farmers to large agribusiness corporations like Monsanto in which the Gates Foundation has invested millions. The Gates Foundation has been one of the biggest promoters in Africa of AGRA, which pushes genetically modified foods and the resulting increased use of chemical inputs—which the Alliance views as simply creating more dependency, pollution, indebtedness—and hunger. “Our economies and our small-scale farmers don’t need the expensive chemical inputs that are being pushed on us,” said Agnes Yawe of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, which represents 10 countries and is part of the 14-network alliance. AFSA emphasizes that food sovereignty can cool the planet while feeding the world and regenerating ecosystems. Town in Maine passes landmark food sovereignty ordinance – others including Los Angeles follow suit The food sovereignty movement gained an important foothold in the US in March of last year. The small coastal town of Sedgwick became the first town in Maine (and possibly the nation) to adopt an important local food and self-governance ordinance. The ordinance sets a food sovereignty precedent for other towns across the US looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Sedgwick can now exempt direct farm sales and home-made foods from state and federal licensing and inspection. Since then 14 other municipalities across the US, including Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and Sacramento counties in California are considering or have passed similar food sovereignty ordinances. Interestingly, some of these efforts are being challenged by agriculture authorities defending federal rules which tend to favor large-scale corporate agriculture. Local farmer Bob St. Peter noted that “this ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors.” St. Peter, who serves on the board of Grassroots’ partner and ally, the National Family Farm Coalition, sees the ordinance as an important beachhead for the food sovereignty movement in the US. You can track food sovereignty ordinances across the US at http://growninthecity.com/interactive-food-sovereignty-map/ Indian state passes ‘polluters pay’ law against Coca-Cola for environmental damage In a breakthrough victory for Indian anti-pollution activists, the state legislature of Kerala in south India passed an unprecedented ‘polluters pay’ bill in February, 2011 which will force large corporations to be more accountable for any environmental damages they cause. The legislation allows individuals negatively affected by Coca-Cola’s bottling operations in the community of Plachimada, Kerala to seek compensation from the company. The legislation is based on the recommendations of a state committee which released a report on March 22, 2010 holding Coca-Cola responsible for causing pollution and water depletion and contamination in Plachimada. “This is a massive victory for the community of Plachimada and their supporters who have campaigned successfully all the way from the community to the state legislature, and that too against a global multinational corporation. This should serve as a powerful reminder to corporations across India that there are severe repercussions for operating recklessly,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group. The campaign against Coca-Cola in Plachimada, supported by Grassroots International, has enjoyed tremendous international support, with colleges and universities in the US, UK, Canada and Norway taking action against Coca-Cola. Two other campaigns – in Kala Dera in Rajasthan and Mehdiganj in Uttar Pradesh – are also seeking closure of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. Grassroots International partner wins Olof Palme Prize Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, president of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, won the Swedish Olof Palme Prize early last year. The Swedish jury awarded the prize to Dr. El-Sarraj for his “self-sacrificing and indefatigable struggle for common sense, reconciliation, and peace” between Palestine and Israel. Named after the Swedish Prime Minister killed in February 1986, the Olof Palme Prize is an annual prize awarded for outstanding achievement that helps to advance peace and disarmament and to combat racism. Dr. El-Sarraj commented that “this prize gives me hope and encourages me to continue to fight to defend those whose rights have been abused, and to work for justice and peace.” Throughout his 30-year professional career Dr. El- Sarraj has integrated medicine and human rights. He founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Program in 1990, a non-governmental organization that continues to play a unique role in Gaza as a multi-service clinical provider, professional trainer and educator, and social advocate. Grassroots International has supported the program. Dr. El- Sarraj served as expert witness before the United Nations-mandated Goldstone Commission on the war crimes committed during Israel’s war on Gaza two years ago. He remains in the forefront of efforts to promote national reconciliation between rival Palestinian political groups. GRAIN wins alternative Nobel Prize for blowing the whistle on land grabs On December 5. 2011, Grassroots ally and grantee, GRAIN, received the 2011 Right Livelihood Award, often referred to as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize,’ at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. GRAIN was awarded “for its worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities and to expose the massive purchases of farmland in developing countries by foreign financial interests.” GRAIN seized on the opportunity to demand an immediate end to land grabbing and a restitution of lands to local communities. GRAIN is an international non-profit organization that works to support small farmers and movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiverse food systems. GRAIN’s work goes back to the early 1980s, when a number of activists around the world started drawing attention to the dramatic erosion of genetic diversity – the very cornerstone of agriculture. Since then, GRAIN has been a key player in the global movement to challenge corporate power over people’s food and livelihoods and to promote food sovereignty. In recent years, the organization has been at the forefront of documenting and denouncing the rapidly accelerating phenomenon of land grabbing. In their acceptance speech, GRAIN coordinator Henk Hobbelink said, “There is much to be done. But GRAIN would like to use this opportunity, here in the Swedish Parliament, to call for one specific action. We want an immediate end to the global farmland grab – an urgent and massive “recall” of land grabbers, like what food safety authorities do to get contaminated food out of the food supply. We call on everyone to do whatever is possible to stop the international flow of money for the global acquisition of farmland. And to restitute lands to all affected rural communities. Stopping land grabbing is not just about what is legal. It is about what is just.”