For the month of April, we’re looking at the connection between the rights of peasants and the health of Mother Earth.
“Peasant agriculture protects the Earth,” read the banner of our partner, La Via Campesina, at a march through the streets of Paris in 2015. Grassroots International staff had joined the Via and other peasant and Indigenous movements to protest the COP21 climate summit — just as we provided support for similar protests at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland last year.
As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle on April 17, we are highlighting the intersection of peasant movements and the rights of Mother Earth. Our movement partners, in many different ways, feed the world, cool the planet and protect biodiversity.
Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice
Agribusiness is killing the planet.
According to the UN, the global food system sends 34 percent of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Single-crop industrial agriculture, its wasteful mass-clearing of land, its use of fossil fuel inputs such as fertilizers, and the massive supply chains that carry this food on oil and gas-driven ships all contribute to global warming.
While we can lay some of the blame at the feet of the meat industry, changing our eating habits won’t solve the problem. The soybean industry, as a source of both food and fuel, bears major responsibility for destroying the biorich Cerrado and Amazon rainforest — the “lungs of the planet.” Going vegan, like biking or driving a hybrid, isn’t enough when only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, we need to address root causes — and look to and support the power of social movements tackling them. That includes peasant and Indigenous movements at the forefront of blocking oil pipelines, logging operations, and destructive dams. But crucially it also includes peasant and Indigenous movements building food sovereignty and agroecology.
Inputs, Outputs, and Global Governance
Our partners, like those organized in the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, have worked for decades to create an alternative to agribusiness. In West Africa, peasants are creating organic fertilizers free of fossil fuels — and training others in these methods. They, like peasants in Mexico and elsewhere, have fought agribusiness’s stranglehold on biodiversity and protected Indigenous seeds and crop varieties.
Rather than relying on costly food imports, Puerto Rico’s Centros de Apoyo Mutuo Jíbaros (CAM-Ji) and Organización Boricua are bolstering local food production. In part with our support, CAM-Ji Lares has built a hen house with a capacity for 50 hens, several vegetable gardens and a factory and warehouse for fermented probiotics.
Land Grabs and Extracting the Earth
To save the Earth, we must defend it from extraction and theft. Land and natural resources are part of capitalism’s “primitive accumulation”: sources of “free” wealth and profit, no matter the environmental and human consequences. Violently removing communities from their sources of sustenance (and their care for the land), capital has not only found resources to steal but new sources of labor to exploit.
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) campaigned as a left-wing progressive, a break from decades of neoliberalism, and a champion of rural and working classes. But since coming to office, he has carried out the dictates of capital all the same.
La Via Campesina Mexico reports that there are now seven times more military mobilized across Mexico than at the peak of the war on drugs. And the countryside has seen a huge increase in megaprojects — including the so-called Mayan Train and the Trans-Isthmic Corridor — opening up the Mayan region for strip mining, monoculture agribusiness, water contamination and more. In the face of rural resistance to these, AMLO has attacked peasant and Indigenous movements as “ultra-left conservatives” standing in the way of development.
In Haiti, rural peoples have faced land grabs from corporations like Coca-Cola. Jovenel Moïse, up until his assassination last year, amassed a fiefdom in alliance with transnational capital. Thankfully, movements like our partners the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement (MPNKP) have played an important role resisting these thefts.
This destruction of the environment and land grabs have consequences beyond just rural movements and the environment. As epidemiologist Rob Wallace spoke to us last month, capitalist development bears direct responsibility for the “spillover” of viruses like COVID-19.
A Peasant and Planet-Centered Alternative
Defending the planet means winning the struggle against a system that puts profit ahead of life.
At a global level, La Via Campesina, now in its 30th year, has fought against corporate influence and offered an alternative as humanity decides the future of its food systems and the climate. Besides COP26, we have seen the movement also confront the corporate-driven UN Food Systems Summit last year. With the upcoming Nyéléni Process, the Via is working with fellow members of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty to plot out the food sovereignty movement’s future.
The future of our planet depends on powerful peasant and Indigenous movements. To do it, they need our continued solidarity.