In the year that Vía Campesina celebrates 25 years of definition, construction and fight for “Food Sovereignty”, the Organization of the United Nations (UN) convenes a meeting with heads of state, members of large companies and private corporations, transnationals and representatives of agribusiness to discuss the process of food systems.
The Food Systems Summit (FSS, acronym in English) will be held in September 2021, during the week of High Level of the Assembly General de las Naciones Unidas. Previa a la Cumbre, a Pre-Cumbre for July 2021 finales will be held in Rome.
Take advantage of this space to debate the subjects that complement each other in the different articles. First, we are going to discuss the 25th anniversary of the debate on food sovereignty. The second theme on the contradictions of the achievement of the Summit on food systems, which is being convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is the decade in which the UN and the member countries should be carrying out activities and actions to fulfill, until 2030, the objectives defined to reach the goals for the construction of Sustainable Development.
The Cumbre on Food Systems was called just at the time when the world was experiencing a pandemic that led to the lives of more than four million people in the world, victims of COVID-19. At the same time, we see a growth, as a result of the crisis, in the number of people who pass through the world, and the increase in unemployment, poverty and violence.
Since the foundation of the Via Campesina in 1993, in the effervescence of the articulation of 500 years of indigenous, black and popular resistance, the first conference in Belgium took place. La Vía Campesina was born as a world articulation of peasant movements. In this conference, it defines among its objectives the construction of solidarity relationships between the pueblos and especially between the peasant organizations and, recognizing the diversity of the peasantry in the world; the construction of an agricultural development model that guarantees food sovereignty as the right of the pueblos to define their own agricultural policies; and the preservation of the environment with the protection of biodiversity.
In the defined objectives, in the Vía Campesina birth, the strategy of opposing agribusiness, the standardization of crops, productivism, monoculture and the agro-export model was clear, which are characteristics of the agribusiness development model.
It is important to contextualize that these ideas do not come from the enlightened heads of peasant leaders and NGO consultants who participated in the conference as guests, a sign of the political and economic conditions of the context of the time.
The 1990s was the period of greater aggression of the capitalist model being implanted in the world; neoliberalism, which in its eagerness to advance in the domain of the nations and the models of agricultural production, imposes, mainly through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), changes in the legislations of the national states, as a way to allow greater circulation of goods between countries, with lower costs and without restrictions or customs barriers.
Neoliberalism promotes the total opening of borders to allow the free circulation of goods, imposes on poor countries and develops a process to reduce State interferences in the economy, weakening States with measures such as privatizations, in particular, of public services and state companies.
Food is now being transformed into commodities, at the conference of the WTO (World Trade Organization), traded on the stock exchanges, without any control by farmers who produce food. On the other hand, the large international corporations, in their large North American and European majority, are now controlling production, agroindustry, stock/storage, distribution and price.
The agribusiness advances in territories promoting violence and destruction of peasant communities, serving the expansion of agribusiness and the advancement of corporations on national sovereignty.
The “food sovereignty” as concept and banner of lucha was one of the definitions of the second conference of the Via Campesina, held in Mexico in April 1996, on the same days it took place in Brazil, in the state of Pará, la massacre in Eldorado dos Carajás on April 17th.
In this same meeting, motivated by a deep indignation for the massacre and great regret for the 19 deaths, April 17 was defined as the World Day of Lucha Campesina. The conference defined food sovereignty as a counterpoint to the institutional definition of the UN of food security created in 1985 with the objective of guaranteeing all persons, regardless of the situation: war, calamity, catastrophes, conflicts. All persons have the right to feed, as an international right and are an obligation of States and international organizations.
If this concept was effectively applied, it could prevent it from harming the world. Only, the home is one of the biggest problems in the world caused mainly by the high concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority, while the great majority lives in subhuman conditions, very much because of the drop in the poverty line. However, food security does not discuss the type of food, the conditions in which food products are produced, often behind exploitation, child labor, work analogous to slavery; the destruction of the environment, the forced labor of women, young people and all the adversities and violence committed against peasant families who are expelled from lands and territories to open a frontier for agribusiness.
Food sovereignty, in its 25 years of construction, has come to debate the idea that it is not enough just for food to reach people. It takes us to discuss what type of food, which are its production conditions, what is the relationship of this food with the production process, with the work, with the environment and with local and original communities. The production of food has to promote a healthy relationship of coexistence with the environment, with conditions of decent work. Food production must be linked to the idea that the food produced must be healthy, without the use of chemical inputs, pesticides, with seeds produced by the peasants themselves.
Food sovereignty is intrinsically linked to the debate of what type of field and type of development is wanted for the field and what type of food is wanted to produce. And what do we want to produce? To prioritize production for the local market, based on local and regional consumer culture. Food sovereignty allows us to think about the strategy of breaking with the policy of the WTO and the big corporations controlling the food market.
For the Via Campesina, food sovereignty is much more than a concept, it is a strategy for development and a way of life in the countryside. This is a principle that should guide peasant organizations around the world. Therefore, when food sovereignty is defined as a principle, a lucha strategy is also defined. In these 25 years of food sovereignty there will be many fights and movements. In particular, we can recall the fights carried out in Europe in the 1990s, against the intervention of the WTO in production and in trade in agricultural production.
We have seen the movements and fights against the genetically modified seeds, the calls for transgenic seeds, the defense of the seeds “heritage of humanity”. I recall here, the act of the women, during the realization of the 1st World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, when a collective of international women carried out an act of protest in the destruction of a research center for transgenic seeds in Monsanto. From this act, the Vía Campesina started to defend: “the semillas are patrimony of the pueblo in the service of humanity, must be preserved and produced by the peasants as indispensable for the production of healthy food”.
In defense of food sovereignty, much has been done in the whole world, as we have seen in the finals of 2020 the movements of peasants in India against the conservative government that is destructuring public policies for the countryside to open up space for agribusiness and foreign agricultural companies . The fight for the construction of the “Buen Vivir” field development model in Bolivia, the “Campesino a Campesino” method developed in Cuba to multiply agroecological production. But I would like to close by recalling three leaders who marked these 25 years and gave us lessons in defense of food sovereignty.
Remember comrade Lee, as he was called, Lee Kyang Hae, was 55 years old, a Korean farmer who, on September 10, 2003, during the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization – WTO in Cancun (Mexico), became loading a cartel that decided “The WTO kills the farmers”. His life for the cause and his death was a message: “Moving struggling or dying weakened by the hambre, losing peasant identity”.
Remember the French compañero Joseph Bové, who still lives. Important comrade in the history of lucha de la Via Campesina. Led the mobilizations in France at the beginning of the secrecy in defense of food sovereignty and against the intervention of agribusiness in food production.
And, finally, to recall comrade Egídio Bruneto, who precociously dumped us as a victim of an accident. He was leader of the MST and member of the international coordination of the Via Campesina. In the fight for the defense of the semillas as a heritage of humanity, whenever he traveled, he carried them hidden in his pockets or in his briefcase some semillas that he delivered to the peasants in a personal and conspiratorial way, and when he traveled through the journey he carried out the same exchange of semillas, epochs, only a few, but delivered them to the activists according to the climate and region of origin of the semillas. It taught us to exchange and globalize the luchas and the semillas.
Food sovereignty as a right of the pueblos to define their agricultural and food policies. Produce healthy foods and foods for the entire pueblo.
Edition: Arturo Hartmann and Vanessa Gonzaga