About 1000 small farmers of the International movement Via Campesina, men and women from 25 different countries and 12 Indonesian provinces gathered today in Jakarta to claim the right to farm their land, the right to eat and to feed their families and communities.
They opened a five-day International Conference on Peasant Rights aiming at attracting world attention to the fate of small producers. Peasants represent almost half of the world population and are the backbone of the food system. However, their rights are systematically violated.
Small farmers are expelled from their land to make room for large plantations, infrastructures and industrial, residential or commercial projects. For example in Indonesia, on the 29th of Januray 2008, 35 security guards of the National Plantation PTPN IV Adolina backed by 70 police officers from Deli Serdang district destroyed 30 hectares of land planted with corn and casava belonging to small farmers. Seven farmers were arrested trying to defend their crops (they are now released). The company has cleared the land in order to grow palm oil. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing calculates that an average of 71,6% of rural households in Africa, Latin America and Western and Eastern Asia (excluding China) are landless or near landess (1). In addition, women farmers suffer from double marginalisation: as farmers and as women. As farmers they do most of the agricultural work but as women their access to land, ressources, incomes and decision-making is restricted.
Trade policies are forcing further liberalisation of food markets. As a consequence, imported goods are flooding domestic markets. In Mexico, free trade policies have led to massive low cost corn imports from the US. Local farmers, unable to compete, have lost their livelihood. The recent rise in corn prices on the world market has drastically increased the number of hungry people in Mexico. Meanwhile, small farms are disappearing all over the world. In Turkey, one farming family leaves the land every 50 seconds. Two years ago farmers unable to repay their bank loans started to commit suicide, this situation has dramatically increased since.
Farmers organisations struggling to defend their rights – access to land, water and seeds, specially those demanding a greater participation in agricultural policies are subject to criminalisation and very violent repression. In Brazil, it is estimated that 4,340 families have been expelled from their land by private companies in 2007, 28 people were assassinated and 259 people received death threats in land conflicts (2). In November 2007, Valmir Mota d’Oliveira (Keno), a peasant leader from Via Campesina Brazil was assassinated during a land occupation by the security guards employed by the transnational company Syngenta (3).
In Indonesia during 2007, over 196,179 hectares of agricultural land were expropriated, more than 166 peasants were arrested and exposed to violence, 12 people were injured and 8 people killed in agrarian conflicts (4).
The peasants and their allies meeting at the International Conference in Jakarta will present the situation in their countries and join forces to have their rights recognised and implemented.
Via Campesina is asking the UN to set up an international legal framework recognising Peasant Rights. Via Campesina requires that each governement and the international institutions take their responsibilities and implement small producers? rights, by supporting sustainable family farming, agrarian reform and promoting local food markets.
The current food and environment crisis are the outcome of extensive farming, food chain control by transnational companies and food market liberalisation. This is destroying the environment, replacing family farms by large agricultural estates. Food is now in the hands of investors and speculators. Such policies have left millions of farmers without a proper income and the world population in a global food crisis.
Now governments have to solve the crisis they created when thinking that free trade would suffice to organise markets and feed the world. The time has come to redirect agricultural policies towards small scale food production, sustainable agriculture and local markets. Food is not only an issue for farmers, it is a concern for all human beings.
2. Conflictos no Campo Brasil, CPT, 2007
3. More information on www.viacampesina.org
4. Serikat Petani Indonesia – Report on Peasant’s Rights Violations 2007
Speakers at the Press conference:
- From Indonesia: Henry Saragih, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and General Secretary of SPI (Indonesian Peasant’s Union)
- From the Basque Country: Paul Nicholson, Member of the international Coordinating Committee of La Via Campesina
- From the Dominican Republic: Juana Mercedes, General Coordinator of CONAMUCA (National Confederation of Rural Women)