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A Report from the World Forum on Agrarian Reform

December 2004

The World Forum on Agrarian Reform, held from December 5-8, 2004, in Valencia, Spain, exceeded all expectations in terms of participation by grassroots social movements and other actors, real advances in analysis, and a renewed sense of commitment to forcing the topic of agrarian reform back into the center of the political debate over the future of rural areas worldwide.

More than 500 delegates came together from 68 countries in five continents, including 13 European countries, 20 countries in Africa, 18 in Latin America, 2 in North America, 16 in Asia, and 1 in Oceania. 56% were men, and 44% women, and well over half came from organizations of peasants, family farmers, indigenous peoples, the landless, forest dwellers and fisherfolk. If one word can be used to describe the Forum, it would be “mobilizing.” The delegates were virtually unanimous in their belief that the magnitude of the global problem of landlessness and exclusion from access to natural resources is so great that only the ‘politicization’ of the issue, leading to massive social mobilization, has a hope of addressing it. The delegates left more committed than ever to building that mobilization. The presence of nearly 100 delegates from the Via Campesina, the global alliance of rural movements, a key force behind the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform, helped to leave the mobilization stamp on the Forum.

The relatively successful example in Brazil of ‘land reform from below’ being carried out but the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) was inspirational for the delegates. The MST is in the leadership role in a global trend toward the increasing use of occupations of idle lands as both a tool for settling the landless and for putting pressure on governments to engage in real land reform. It is quite clear that land occupations will increasingly be carried out by rural movements around the world, and a key task is to build solidarity for these occupations, and for the better government-led agrarian reforms as in Cuba and Venezuela, as these increasingly come under attack from the powerful.

The consensus that emerged from the plenary panels — where the majority of the speakers came from grassroots movements — and the numerous workshops, is that the global crisis affecting rural areas can best be understood as a clash of models of agriculture, food systems, and rural development, and must be addressed as such. The draft sign-on declaration from the Forum (available for sign-on at the Forum web site) said, in part:

“Today, the people of the world are facing a clash between two models… The dominant agro-export model is based on the neo-liberal logic of free trade and the privatization of land, water, forests, fisheries, seeds, knowledge and even life itself…and is responsible for the growing concentration of land, resources, chains of production and distribution of food and other agricultural products, in the hands of ever fewer corporations. The prices of crops drop constantly due to dumping and other factors, while consumer prices continue to rise…. On the other hand, the alternative model based on family farming and peasant agriculture and on

the principles of food sovereignty, prioritizes local production for local and national markets, rejects dumping, and uses sustainable production practices based on local knowledge. Experience shows that this model is potentially more productive per unit area, more compatible with the environment, and far more capable of providing rural peoples with a life with dignity, while offering urban and rural consumers healthy, affordable and locally produced food…”

The shared belief is that the uncontrolled expansion of the dominant model, driven by the land policies of the World Bank and the free trade policies of the WTO (and regional and bilateral trade agreements), is undercutting our hope for the obviously better small farm model. The good news is that peasant, family farmer, landless and indigenous movements are more alive, better organized and more sophisticated than they have been in a long time, are in full resistance to the dominant model, and are pulling together to build political alliances with consumer, urban poor, church, human rights and environmental groups to push for comprehensive food sovereignty policies that begin with true agrarian reform and with an end to indiscriminate trade liberalization in farm products (more background).

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