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Via Campesina calls for Peasant Rights

March 2009

On February 23, Grassroots International partner, the Via Campesina met with representatives of the United Nations in New York City to discuss ways to address the chronic problems faced by peasant communities around the globe.

The growing violation of resources rights of peasants by development policies – especially mega-projects whose main goal is to speed up the extraction and export of resources for corporate profits – is an issue that demands immediate attention.

For too long, policy makers have neglected the impact of development policies on the resource rights of indigenous and peasant communities. As pointed out by John Gibler in Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, the use of development policies in the name of progress has “dispossessed indigenous communities and force[d] the conversion of subsistence farmers to wage laborers.”

As peasants rights’ advocates in the United States and abroad have stated, food and energy sovereignty, in which peasant andindigenous peoples play a vital role, are critical for a world without hunger. By writing a “blank check” of free trade agreements (such as NAFTA) to corporations, we have reached a “triple crises” moment.

First, our development policies have accelarated the pace of resource consumption. Projections of global demands for raw materials and energy require currently 140% of existing resources. It means that we now need another planet Earth’s worth of resources to maintain the lifestyle of wealthier consumers. This environmental collapse or ecological crisis affects everyone; nevertheless, peasants and indigenous people have paid a much larger price.

Second, a food crisis has affected the poorest populations and has exposed the failed global food system. The dispossession of peasants from their land and water rights has turned small food producers into a mass of unemployed and hungry people, many forced to migrate and without any access to health care and education.

Third, a financial crisis fueled by speculation, greed, and deregulation has globalized poverty and brought both poor and wealthy nations to near bankruptcy. Without adequate regulation, the global financial system encouraged gambling by greedy investors instead of sustainable development. Small-scale farmers and peasants, for instance, are losing their land and livelihood, due to the fluctuations in the global markets of food and energy commodities.

The call from Via Campesina renews our hope that the United Nations will address this long standing human rights issue. We believe that a formal address on Peasant Rights by the U.N. would be an important step towards universal human rights. Most importantly, it would be an opportunity to raise awareness among us in urban areas and in the Global North about the plight of peasant communities and recognize that without peasant rights we can not have a better and more just world.

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