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Advances on the Journey to Food Sovereignty and Human Rights

December 2013

This last year has seen many advances around the globe for communities and activists pushing to regain their fundamental human rights to land, water, and food.  As we now approach the end of 2013, we take this opportunity a look back at some of the accomplishments that have marked the year.  In spite of the great challenges—and seemingly insurmountable odds—there is much to celebrate.  Below are some of many highlights from the last year.

Winning land for formerly landless farmers in Brazil
After 20 years of struggle and waiting, the families camped out in the municipality of Prado (in extreme south of Brazil’s Bahia state) finally received legal title to their land. These members of the Landless Workers Movement, long-term partners of Grassroots International, have received crucial legal and technical support as they struggle to regain their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to land and a decent livelihood.  For the families who have gained legal rights to the roughly 5000 acres, the settlement means much more than a deed to land – it represents 20 years of struggle and resistance by families who endured many hardships during this period, with solidarity from people around the world who care about land rights.

Spreading food sovereignty across Central America
More than 600 peasant and indigenous farm leaders from across Central America received training in agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and strategies for winning land rights thanks to support from Grassroots International. Based out of the Central American Peasant School in Nicaragua, the program strengthens farmer and rural campaigns and organizations working for justice. This year, an estimated 350 newly trained graduates from the program spread out across five Central American countries to begin mobilizing hundreds more in their communities to push for their rights to land, water and food, and to take leadership in rural community struggles for a better future.

Winning the Food Sovereignty Prize
Five Grassroots International grantees from Haiti and Brazil recently won the Food Sovereignty Prize.  The Food Sovereignty Prize recognizes community-based efforts that promote a more democratic food system. This year’s winners (the Dessalines Brigade and Haiti’s Group of Four/G4) and honorable mention recipients (Tamal Nadu Women’s Collective, the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali, and a Via Campesina group from the Basque Country in Europe) included peasant organizations and movements that Grassroots’ has supported over many years, even decades. Additionally, Grassroots collaborated with other organizations in the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (of which we are a founding member), to bring the partners to various locations around the US to speak about the human right to food and to a more just and democratic food system.

Environmentally harmful hydro mega-dam stopped in planning stages
In June 2013, anti-dam efforts supported by Grassroots International succeeded in suspending government studies about building one of the world’s largest dams along the Tapajos River, a major waterway in the Brazilian Amazon. This marked a considerable victory for our partner, the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), as well as the allied indigenous communities that would have seen their lands and livelihood destroyed.  These community-led efforts also succeeded in shelving plans last year for another dam in southern Brazil.

Haitian agroecology school graduates a third class, addresses water issues
Haiti faces tremendous ecological challenges ranging from vast deforestation and overuse of charcol to floods and drought. Small farmers and peasant organizations are learning sustainable ways to care for the earth, advance food sovereignty and mitigate damage from climate change. With our partners, the Peasant Movement of Papaye, Grassroots is helping a new generation of farmers employ techniques that protect the water and soil, plant trees to lessen risks of floods, and advocate for agrarian reform. A third class of students graduated from the Agroecology School this year.

Human rights documentation receives international acclaim
The founder of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Raji Sourani, received the 2013 Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, recognizing the vital work of PCHR for human rights and justice. Raji and the staff of PCHR worked around the clock during the November, 2012 Israeli attack on Gaza, at great personal risk, to meticulously document violations during the eight-day offensive.  They continue  to pursue justice for those whose human rights and livelihoods are violated.

Marching to stop violence against women
Thousands of Guatemalan women joined groupsof women around the world to mark the 25th of November – the International Day to Eliminate Violence against women – with a march in Guatemala City.  The rally brought indigenous Mayan women together with other campesina women in common cause to stop the high levels of domestic, institutional, and physical violence that women experience in that nation.

140 indigenous families win back land in Guatemala
After enduring the largest violent evictions in recent history (when nearly 800 families were forced off their ancestral land), the community refused to give up. Working with our partner, the Peasant Unity Committee, the evicted families reoccupied the land, while simulateously taking their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Their courage and organizing won a rare victory as 140 families secured title to their land. The group is continuing to organize for the remaining families to come home, too.

Court rules in favor of women’s group seeking land
In a victory for peasant land rights, a group of mostly women landless farmers in Choluteca, Honduras succeeded in securing a Honduran court ruling which clarifies that the land they have been occupying for over a year and a half is state land. The women are members of the Via Campesina in Honduras, a partner of Grassroots International. Their victory means that a private landholder who has been trying to evict them through a range of intimidation tactics and violence – including burning down their homes and crops – has no claim on the land.  The ruling also opens the door to a process through which the women’s group hopes to secure title to the land. Even though this is a right guaranteed within the Honduran constitution, it is a significant victory given that Honduras’ legal and political system is renowned for its corruption and domination by powerful land-owning families.

Fighting subjugation with food production
In Gaza, food is used as a weapon of subjugation.  With Grassroots’ support, women in Gaza are converting rooftops, spaces between buildings—even bomb craters—to grow nutritious food in urban gardens. Despite the set-backs and immense challenges of living under siege and embargo, over 2,500 urban gardens have been created through the Women’s Urban Garden Project with our partners the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees.

Combating sexual violence in displacement camps
Sexual violence against women and physical safety are a major concern in the numerous camps of people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Grassroots has responded by backing the creation last year of a strong network of human rights teams in 30 of the camps. These teams, comprising volunteer camp residents, are denouncing human rights violations, organizing defense committees, and educating camp residents of their rights. Thousands of displaced families, many of them headed by single mothers, are benefitting.

Confronting the Wall in Palestine
Last year, dozens of young Palestinian activists advanced their leadership, communication and advocacy skills through intensive workshops across the West Bank with support from Grassroots International.  Newly equipped with the skills and confidence, they are taking their knowledge back to communities across Palestine to bolster the campaign to stop construction of the Separation Wall.  Using their new social media organizing abilities, these young women and men are also becoming part of an increasingly powerful engine driving global solidarity with Palestine.

Working the corridors of change from the micro to the macro
The majority of the world’s smallholder farmers are women.  Thus, international regulations and policies affecting agriculture can have huge and direct impacts for rural women—often literally the difference between survival and starvation. That’s why Grassroots supported the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective’s (TNWC) advocacy for land rights, agroecology and rural women’s rights in India last year.  TNWC participated in a meeting of civil society organizations in Rome, Italy, advocating for the insertion of pro-agroecology language in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on World Food Security. Grassroots also helped bring TNWC to a South Asia Learning Exchange, along with partners of our ally International Development Exchange, to share their successes, challenges and strategies for transforming agriculture to safer, more ecological methods.

Mexican tribunal suspends GMO corn plantations
Peasant farmers and environmentalists alike are working tirelessly to protect Mexico from invasion by genetically modified corn. And their labor earned a victory when a Federal Mexican Tribunal suspended authorization for planting all GM corn by transnational corporations like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta, until a collective action lawsuit is resolved. Grassroots International partners, including the Vía Campesina Mexico, the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA), the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), and Mixe Peoples Services (SER Mixe) are part of the Network in Defense of Corn which has been organizing against GMO corn and promoting native corn varieties, and whose work over more than the past decade laid the groundwork for this victory.  They are committed to continuing the struggle to make this victory a permanent one in the years to come.

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