From her humble beginnings, Sayra never imagined the profound impact she would have on the global movement for food sovereignty.
Sayra Ticay was born into a poor farming family in southern Nicaragua. When her mother left the house in the morning to work alongside her father in the fields, she put eight-year-old Sayra in charge of cooking rice for her five siblings. Now 22, Sayra chuckles remembering that the fire was too smoky, the rice was half raw and the other half burnt. Today, Sayra is the Latin American Youth Commission Coordinator within the world’s largest and most powerful small farmer/peasant movement, the Via Campesina. Sayra’s parents were active in the Association of Rural Workers, a Nicaraguan member organization of the Via Campesina. Sayra has seen firsthand that the majority of hungry people in the world are small farmers and farmworkers. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 60 percent of the world’s hungry are farmers; another 20 percent are landless workers who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. She believes that organized small farmers hold the key to repairing a broken global food system. Sayra, along with Jose Ruben Lobo from the National Movement of Peasants and Indigenous People of Argentina, is part of the youth leadership team of the Via Campesina. The success of this youth movement is critical to threats small farmers around the globe experience: deteriorating farmworker salaries and working conditions; increasing rates of small farm failure and rural-to-urban migration; and “land grabs” by transnational companies gobbling up precious land and water resources. Sayra’s search for a dignified livelihood for Latin America’s poor majority has been strongly influenced by her country’s inspiring march towards agrarian reform, truncated by political changes that happened when she was a baby. It is time, says Sayra, to help young people rediscover the value of the land and rethink their relationship as caretakers to earth. This includes training youth in new techniques of agronomy and administration so that they can return to their rural communities; build sustainable livelihoods; and work for climate justice. Sayra’s vision focuses on agroecology and food sovereignty: the right of peoples to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced through ecological, sustainable methods within a food system that they help shape. Sayra’s transformational work to rethink our relationship to food and land is substantiated by recent findings of the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)—a four-year study carried out by 600 scientists which demonstrates that agroecological techniques are the best hedge against hunger. Sayra has organized assemblies and workshops around the world for youth to learn hands-on sustainable techniques like composting and farm administration as well as how to analyze industrial agriculture’s impact on rural economies, food security and climate change. Sayra’s days are filled with:
- Providing political and technical training in Latin America on the roots of the food crisis as well as solutions. She produces and distributes training materials linked to the Via Campesina’s worldwide sustainable food system campaign.
- Strengthening agroecology leadership schools and collaborations with agronomy departments of universities across Latin America. Sayra coordinates leadership trainings for young people from six countries in Central America. Through a travel grant from Grassroots International, Sayra received her training in Brazil’s Peasant School maintained by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in the state of São Paulo.
- Improving communication among youth organizations of the Via Campesina and its allies to strengthen the coordinated activism of young people. Sayra helps organize apprenticeships, internships and learning exchanges.
- Supporting male and female youth leadership to serve on the Via Campesina’s International Coordinating Committee.
Sayra is in every way a social justice leader within a critically important movement that has much to teach about viable and just ways to live in harmony with the earth. Sayra’s work—and the food sovereignty movement she helps lead—addresses issues beyond just farming, connecting agricultural methods with economic development, climate justice and sustainability. Sayra and her colleagues work diligently to build youth and women’s leadership. In her short life, Sayra has seen farmer leaders murdered for protecting resources and livelihoods. That is one reason she has vowed to carry their work forward. Together with other youth leaders of the Via Campesina, Sayra encourages young people to recommit themselves to the land and viable rural enterprises as a way of promoting not only community strength but global justice and sustainability.
Daniel Moss co-authored this article, with additional help from Saulo Araujo.