This month, as we wrap up our celebration of the 25th anniversary of food sovereignty, we’re highlighting our partners’ struggles for land and territory.
Small farmers and peasants have faced land grabs since the dawn of capitalism. These violent thefts have gone hand-in-hand with the capitalist system from its birth straight to the present. Still, if land grabs have a long history, so too does rural resistance. That includes both the 500-years’ long struggle of Indigenous Peoples and flashes of brilliance stretching from 17th-century Europe to 21st-century Africa. It includes Black farmers demanding a fair deal, parity, and land justice, as well as landless Brazilian workers occupying big landowners’ tracts.
Thankfully today, mobilizing in the face of multiple assaults and making gains after hard-fought struggles, movements for food sovereignty and territorial rights are growing. And thanks to international partners like La Via Campesina, they are more connected to each other around the world than perhaps at any point in the past.
Territory, Culture and Resistance
“Our ancestral territory is not just a piece of land under our feet. For us it means spirituality, food, language, and culture.” – Alfredo Lopez, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)
OFRANEH has struggled alongside Afro-descendant communities in Honduras for decades. Narco traffickers, military police, hired guns of multinational corporations, and others constantly repress the Garifuna people’s access to ancestral lands along the Honduran coast. They threaten the Garifunas’ very existence.
Even so, through a combination of mass mobilizations, cultural resistance, and practicing food sovereignty, OFRANEH is pushing back against these attacks. For their tireless work, the Institute for Policy Studies just awarded them the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.
OFRANEH and the Garifuna people are not alone in their connection to their territory. Land means something deep and profound to each one of our partners and grantees. Just as Afro-descendant peoples in Honduras declared “Las vidas Garifunas importan” as people chanted “Black Lives Matter” in US streets, Black farmers in the US are facing similar land grabs in the Mississippi Delta.
Between 1910 to 1992, Black farmers lost more than 11 million of their original 15 million acres of farmland. Through laws like North Carolina’s Torrens Act, investors can file bogus claims on inherited land that lack clear titles, stripping farmers (especially Black farmers) of their families’ estates. Today, according to The Atlantic, the financial investment firm TIAA owns more than 130,000 acres along the Mississippi River, much of it once belonging to Black farmers.
But farmers are fighting back against these historically-rooted injustices. This was among the themes of a recent workshop organized by Grassroots International for the Environmental Grantmakers Association featuring Dãnia Davy of Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a member of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), a Grassroots International partner and ally. NFFC has joined with organizations across the country to defend Black farmers through the “Stop Land Grabs” and “From Disparity to Parity” campaigns.
Resisting Agribusiness and Speculators
Corporate agriculture and financial speculators like TIAA remain major players in the land grabbing business — not just in the US but around the world. They have used both hired guns and state militaries in their attempts to expel peasants and Indigenous Peoples. But rural resistance continues.
Last year, Brazil’s movements faced the most dangerous year for rural land conflicts in 35 years. Activists from the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) recorded some 1,576 land conflicts in 2020, with 171,625 families affected. Grassroots partners and grantees Rede Social and CPT are pushing back on TIAA’s and American universities’ land grabs in the Brazilian cerrado. Our partner, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), is keeping up the struggle against both far-right president Bolsonaro and specific attacks on rural encampments and settlements. And Quilombola movements like grantee MOQUIBOM are leading a fight to defend Afro-descendant territories in Maranhão after armed men invaded in September.
Rural movements in Africa face similar challenges and are mounting their own resistance, too. The Malian Convergence Against Land Grabbing (CMAT) has played an important role cohering both national and regional movements to resist agribusiness. Starting October 28, CMAT members and nearly 300 people (with a focus on women and youth) will travel across West Africa for 21 days on a caravan of protest, popular education, and grassroots organizing. As the third caravan conducted since 2016, the West Africa Caravan for Land, Water, and Seeds will be linking up with local movements and pressuring elected officials to strengthen protections for peasants and small farmers.
These are just a few of the struggles spreading around the world in defense of land and territory. There are others: Haitian women resisting both the government and multinationals like Coca-Cola; Palestinian farmers standing up for their lands against colonization; Mexican and Guatemalan peasants resisting mining and other extractive projects. Many of these struggles are linked together through our partner, the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, and the broader struggle for food sovereignty.
Food is life, and it depends on land and territory to grow. That’s why, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of food sovereignty and envision what lies ahead, we can’t neglect the essential struggle for land and territory. Grassroots International will continue to stand with and resource small farmers, peasants, Indigenous Peoples, and fisherfolk as they fight for a world free of land grabs and for sovereignty over their territories.