April 17 commemorates the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle for land, water, food and justice.
On this day of action, peasant and indigenous people across the world renew their energy for a new year of political activism in their struggle for rights to land, water and food. Thousands of rural families and allies plan to march for days from their communities to cities to foster solidarity between rural and urban communities. Others will hold signs and chant songs about justice and human rights in front of government offices until their voices are heard. “Victory only comes with organizing, sweat and struggle,” said Wendell, a member of the Brazilian Popular Peasant Movement (MCP), a Grassroots International partner. Wendell is a farmer, father of two beautiful girls, and a committed organizer. Small-scale farmers like Wendell will protest on April 17 to defend the food rights of everyone. Rural families recognize that the governance over our food system should be democratic and in the hands of the people, not corporations like Monsanto, Cargill or Pioneer. Wendell began his political involvement only a few years ago. As he describes, “Before, I was dedicated only to my farm and family. I thought I had no business with political organizing. But the situation we are living in forced me to be more active.” Wendell and his wife started attending MCP meetings, but the turning point in his political education came when he faced the challenges of organizing peaceful demonstrations for land rights in the nearby cities. “It was only when I joined in one of the actions that I felt to be part of a movement,” he said. This week, Wendell and thousands of other MCP members are camping for three days in a park in the state capital to build solidarity with city residents and demonstrate for housing, credit and farmers’ seed rights. The action builds on a recent victory. Last Tuesday, the group successfully obtained an appointment with the director of the State Housing Authority to negotiate a date when the families will receive loans to build their houses. According to a press release from MCP, the director signed a formal agreement that the agency will expedite the process. Next on the agenda, Wendell and other MCP organizers plan to demonstrate against the installation of U.S.-based Pioneer in the city of Catalão, near MCP’s home base in the state of Goiás. Pioneer is a transnational corporation that specializes in genetically modified seeds. With support from Grassroots International, MCP teaches farmers on how to save Creole (heirloom) seeds. The dissemination of genetically modified seeds in Goiás will jeopardize MCP’s work and the rights of local farmers to protect their seeds. “Sometimes our struggle seems endless, but little by little we are building a movement to defend our rights and the rights of all peasants,” Wendell said. Thinking back about his first demonstration, Wendell said at that exact moment he learned something new about himself and the world: “I am farmer, but also I am part of a community that pays more than its fair share to society. The struggle gave me a new meaning in life.”