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Globalization-from-Below: Building a Better Future from the Grassroots at the World Social Forum

January 2006

Editor’s note: This week, Maria Aguiar and Corrina Steward are attending the World Social Forum (Foro Soical Mundial (FSM)) in Caracas, Venezuela. The FSM originated as an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switerzland, where the world’s global elite–CEOs and OECD politicians–meet to exchange ideas to improve their nations’ systems of commerce.

The FSM, alternatively, is a space for all to participate–social movements, coalitions, NGOs, unions–and the goal is to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions in their communities and around the world.

Corrina’s sends her first report from the Forum:

Greetings from Caracas!

I’m writing from our hotel, where FMS delegates from all over the Americas are meeting and mingling, continuing to make connections after a long day of learning, listening and presenting. I have come to the FSM to meet with our partners and to learn more about their struggles for food, water and land. What I have learned so far is that for every local problem, there is a solution when communities unite and build global networks.

My mandate for the day was clear:

Begin to piece together the global story of the family farmer and their struggles and hopes for the future of family farming and sustainable agriculture.

My starting place was the Via Campesina tent, where a strategy meeting for their Global Agrarian Reform Campaign was happening. Several of Grassroots’ partners were there as presenters and participants, including the MST, the CLOC, and the Via Campesina-International.

Person, after person, from Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia, rose to share their experiences with the struggle for land.

The same challenges came to light: corporate control of agriculture pushing for land and business concentration and export agriculture, but in their solidarity they spoke with passion about their work and the sense of energy and excitement in the room was palpable.

At the the height of the presentations, Bill Christison of the NFFC stood to address the crowd. In an audience where there were only a handful of Americans, all heads turned, intrigued to hear what a U.S. farmer might have to say about the struggle for land.

He boomed, “I am here to let you know that we at the NFFC stand in solidarity with you and are proud to be long-time members of the Via Campesina. We share the same fight. The U.S. used to be an agrarian country where 80% of the population was agrarian. Today, in the US, 143,000 farmers produce 75% of U.S. food production.”

In a quieter moment, Bill, a fourth-generation farmer from Missouri, explained to me, “The Via Campesina is our only hope.” Without their global organizing efforts that pressure the WTO and the U.S. government to protect family farmers and small producers, Bill fears that family farming will disappear entirely from the U.S..

For their part, the NFFC, in coordination with Grassroots, will be educating U.S. family farmers and allies about the land and food struggles in the global South and building the movement for food sovereignty in the U.S..

In another session, Alberto Gomez, a leader for Via Campesina-member organization UNORCA, from Mexico, summarized the concept of food sovereignty: “It is a means for making changes in national, state and local laws to root agriculture back in our communities and countries.”

This fight, as Bill reminded me early in the day and Alberto did at the end, is so we won’t lose more family farmers around the world, and so the marginalized and the poor will have land to cultivate, providing sustenance for generations to come.

Buenas Noches and Hasta Pronto!


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