Monday, 19 December 2011

International tribunal finds agrochemical TNCs ‘guilty’ of violating human rights

Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the defendant agrochemical TNCs “responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.”


MANILA – In a momentous gathering earlier last week in Bangalore, India, The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) laid down a guilty verdict against six of the world’s biggest agrochemical companies Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF.

Jobert Pahilga, a Filipino lawyer representing the Sentro Para Sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) was among the legal counsels who helped the PPT arrive at the verdict. He stood as one of the prosecutors against the agrochemical firms.

The PPT, founded in 1979 in Italy, is an international opinion tribunal that looks into complaints of human rights violations. Borne out of the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships, the PPT has held 37 sessions so far using the rigorous conventional court format. While its verdicts are not legally binding, these can set precedent for future legal actions against Defendants, and can pressure governments and institutions.

The PPT session on agrochemical TNCs drew the support of individuals and organizations around the world. More than 400 organizations representing civil society and people’s organizations of farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples, as well as 7,000 concerned individuals signed on to an international petition circulated by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

Pahiliga, who also stands as the lead counsel of Hacienda Luisita farm workers, said the verdict upheld the people’s collective sentiment against agrochemical giants which have laid waste to the lives and livelihood of millions all over the world.

“The tribunal is a commencement of the people’s struggle against exploiting and destructive agrochemical giants. This verdict must be disseminated to the people for appropriate political and collective action,” Pahilga said.

In a statement, the PAN, the largest assemblage of groups critical of the operations of agro-chemical corporations also hailed the PPT’s verdict . Victims and survivors of the pesticide industry from all over the world, represented by PAN International, testified before a distinguished international jury to indict the “Big 6” for human rights violations.

Sarojeni Rengam, PAN Asia Pacific Executive Director, said the Tribunal’s verdict is a victory for peoples who have been most affected by the Big 6’s control over food and agriculture. She delivered the People’s Submission, or the response of people’s organizations that took part in the tribunal.

“We are elated with the verdict. It affirms what people all over the world already know and are experiencing: that the pesticide industry is to blame and should be held accountable for the systematic poisoning of human health and the environment, loss of food sovereignty and self-determination, and increased world hunger and poverty,” she said.

Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the defendant agrochemical TNCs “responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.”

The Tribunal also found agrochemical TNCs responsible for violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights, and further found that “their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.”

Jurors for the PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs are Indian legal scholar Upendra Baxi, British scientist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, African environmental lawyer Ibrahima Ly, German economist Elmar Altvater, Italian professor Paolo Ramazotti, and PPT Secretary General Dr. Gianni Tognoni.

TNCs and government-states guilty of destructive collusion
The Tribunal said that the home States of the Big 6, namely the United States, Switzerland, and Germany, “failed to comply with their internationally accepted responsibility to promote and protect human rights,” by not adequately regulating, monitoring and disciplining these corporations.

The Tribunal further said that these States have “unjustifiably promoted a double standard approach prohibiting the production of hazardous chemicals at home while allowing their own TNCs unrestrained license for these enterprises in other States, especially of the Global South.”

The Tribunal also found host States responsible for failure to protect the human rights of its citizens by offering “magic carpet type hospitality” to agrochemical TNCs and therefore not adequately protecting social movement activists or independent scientists from harassment, not limiting the “global corporate ownership of knowledge production in universities and related research sites,” “not recognizing the value of indigenous knowledge and social relationships they create and sustain,” and “not fully pursuing alternative and less hazardous forms of agricultural production without having learnt the full lessons from the First Green Revolution.”

The Tribunal also found that the policies of World Trade Organization (WTO) in relation to Intellectual Property Rights are “not balanced with any sincere regard for the grave long-term hazards to humans and nature already posed by the activities of agribusiness and agrochemical industries.”

International financial institutions, named in the indictment as the International Monetary Fund-World Bank, do not follow “a strict regime of human rights conditionalities” and “have yet to develop policies concerning their support for hazardous manufacture, application or process,” said the Tribunal.

The Tribunal recommended that national governments should “prosecute the Defendant agrochemical companies in terms of criminal liability rather than civil liability.” It also urged governments to take action to “restructure international law” to ensure the accountability of transnational corporations, to “accept a less heavy burden of proof on the victims and to fully commit to and legislate for the precautionary principle,” and “to prevent TNCs from directly or indirectly harassing and intimidating scientists, farmers and human rights and environmental defenders.”

It also urged international organizations and intergovernmental institutions to uphold human rights and the welfare of populations, and protect of biodiversity and ecosystems by subordinating the interests of corporations pursuing patents.

“The Tribunal’s recommendations must immediately be acted upon, for they echo what civil society and people’s organizations have been demanding for a very long time.”

In the People’s Submission, Rengam said, the prosecution of the Big 6 must be started to bring justice to fruition for the thousands of victims and survivors of the pesticide industry. The precautionary principle must be put into place and the patent regime abolished, as recommended by the Tribunal.

“That is the only way to stop these human rights violations, which continue every day without impunity,” she said. She went on to say that the PPT’s verdict marks the beginning of an escalated international people’s movement against agrochemical TNCs.

“The next step towards justice and liberation from the Big 6’s control will be determined by the people’s unity, strength, and determination to stand up against corporate greed and aggression, just as was shown in this victorious PPT Session,” she said.

Victims of agrochemicals companies speak

Victims of the agrochemical firms also spoke out.

“The testimonies of these witnesses clearly show that the Big 6 is guilty of gross, systematic, and widespread violations of human rights by what they have done and what they have failed to do. They are guilty of wilful manufacturing and selling products that have harmed humans and the environment, of manipulating science and the truth, of violating the sovereign right of peoples. They are guilty of evading responsibility for their crimes and denying victims proper redress,” said Pahilga as one of the prosecutors.

In her testimony, Petrona Villasboa, the mother of eleven-year old Paraguayan Silvino Talavera who died last January 7, 2003 because of exposure to glyphosate being applied to Monsanto’s genetically engineered RR soybeans,said they had proof that there was poison in the boy’s blood.

“We want Monsanto accountable for the death of my son,” she said.

Nagama Raman, a former oil palm plantation worker who was forced to resign because of ill health caused by paraquat spraying, told the Tribunal: “Paraquat is banned in Switzerland (Syngenta’s home state), why then is it still sold and used in Malaysia?”

Dr. Abou Thiam from Africa, testified that there are 100,000 tons of prohibited and obsolete pesticides in the region which are often stored in deteriorating and leaky containers. He said the obsolete dumps in Africa “are like ecological bombs waiting to go off.”

A former child labourer from India, Ashwini, testified that she worked from the time she was seven years old up to her 11th year in cotton plantations. There, she applied pesticides for $0.50 a day.

It is estimated that around 170,000 children, mostly girls, are exposed to Bayer’s endosulfan, monocrotophos, and other toxic chemicals while working in cotton plantations.

In the meantime, an American scientist Dr. Tyrone Hayes conducted studies linking atrazine to the feminization of frogs. He testified during the tribunal that Syngenta asked him to manipulate data, hide data, or purchase his data.

When Hayes refused to do so, he said that he was threatened and harassed repeatedly by the company.

A British beekeeper Graham White testified that queen bees that used to live two to three years now only live two to three months because of Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides. This has serious effects not only on the livelihood of beekepers but on food security as well.

PAN International recommended to the PPT the elimination of highly hazardous pesticides, the protection of genetic resources, the advancement of food sovereignty and ecological agriculture, restructuring of international financial institutions, and upholding the precautionary principle.

“This overwhelming show of support from around the world bolsters the legitimacy of this Tribunal as a recourse for people who have been denied justice by their own governments and international institutions that aid and abet chemical companies in their war against all forms of life,” said Rengam.

In March 2007, the PPT held its Second Session on human rights violations in the Philippines. Organizations Hustisya!, Desaparecidos, Selda, Karapatan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Public Interest Law Center, Peace for Life, Philippine Peace Center, IBON Foundation, Ecumenical Bishops Forum, and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the name of the Filipino people and of the national minorities testified against the President of the Republic of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its representatives; the President of the United States of America George Walker Bush; the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the World Bank (WB); World Trade Organization (WTO); Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and Foreigns Banks doing business in the Philippines.

The First Session on the Philippines, in the meantime, was in 1980 in Antwerp, Belgium on the violations of the fundamental rights of the Filipino People and the Bangsa-Moro minority by the Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. The complaints were brought to the judgment of the PPT by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

No pesticides day

The PAN AP in the Philippines also led local actions coinciding with the PPT Tribunal in India and to commemorate ” No Pesticides Day.” The group said agrochemical companies and plantations should be held accountable for chemical disasters in the Philippines.

December 3, dubbed as World No Pesticides Day, is the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy in India wherein the chemical spill of the pesticides company Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) in 1984 caused the instant death of 8,000 people and injured more than 500,000.

The campaign kicked off in Mindanao. Villagers victimized by pesticide use in nearby banana plantations in Mindanao attended two forums jointly hosted by local farmer organizations and PAN AP titled “Pesticide Poisoning and Corporate Accountability: Remembering the Bhopal Tragedy.*

Dr. Romeo Quijano, president of PAN Philippines and a professor of the University of the Philippines, talked on the adverse effects of pesticides on health and the environment.

Dr. Quijano is currently battling in court a damage suit filed by Lapanday Agricultural Development Corporation owned by former Agriculture secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., for an expose’ on the banana plantation’s harmful pesticide use affecting a nearby village in Digos, Davao del Sur called Kamukhaan. The Kamukhaan case has gained wide public support since it was first published in 2000, yet until now the villagers continue to fall sick, having no respite from the plantation’s pesticide use.

Hundreds of villagers who attended PAN AP’s forums in Digos and Nabunturan, Davao del Norte, related well to the yearly commemoration of the Bhopal tragedy, since they find it similar to their situation living near or working in banana plantations using highly toxic pesticides. For instance, paraquat, produced by Syngenta Corporation, have been used by plantations such as AMS Farming Corporation, Davao Agricultural Ventures Corp, Del Monte Fresh Produce Phils., Dole Philippines Inc, FS Dizon & Sons Inc., Kenram (Phils.), Inc., Lapanday Foods Corporation, Marsman-Drysdale Agribusiness Group, Oribanex Trading Corp, Stanfilco,Tadeco, Tri Star Group of Companies and Tropifresh, most of which are found in Mindanao.

Paraquat is part of the “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticides that have been proven to cause severe health and environmental damage. It is already banned in Malaysia and other European countries. Unfortunately, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority revoked a previous order restricting its use due to intense lobbying by Syngenta. Right now, there is an international effort led by environmental NGOs such as PAN, Berne Declaration, and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation to stop its production, importation, and use, particularly in Third World countries like the Philippines.

“Agrochemical transnationals and big plantations must be made accountable for the country’s worst chemical disasters in far-flung areas such as Kamukhaan. At the same time, the government must resist the influence of these corporations in order to stop the terrible waste of human life and the environment caused by pesticides,” said Dr. Quijano.

In Manila, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Bicol, Cordillera, and Cagayan Valley, the RESIST alliance (Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs) also held a a series of forums and photo-exhibit entitled “The Politics of Pesticides: Changing the World’s Agriculture and People’s Resistance” that began December 8. The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) also held a forum in North Cotabato from December 6-7 about genetically-modified organisms. The forum focused on how GMO crops actually increase pesticide use. Producers of GMOs, such as Monsanto, are the same agro-chemical transnationals who introduced pesticides in agriculture.

December 3, dubbed as World No Pesticides Day, is the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy in India wherein the chemical spill of the pesticides company Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) in 1984 caused the instant death of 8,000 people and injured more than 500,000.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal reports that today, more than 150,000 people are still reeling from the health effects of the world’s worst chemical disaster two decades ago. These include children born to parents who survived the disaster, who are suffering from cancer, neurological damage, nausea, breathlessness, numb limbs, headaches, body aches, fevers, anxiety attacks, chaotic menstrual cycles, depression and mental illness.

This year, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, has also called this year’s two-decade commemoration as the International Day of Action Against Corporate Crime, in order to pressure Dow Chemicals to face criminal charges filed against them in the Bhopal District Court.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The great milk robbery

A new report by GRAIN documents the importance of milk to the livelihoods and health of the poor in many countries of the global South. Most dairy markets are supplied by small-scale vendors who collect milk from small farmers and pastoralists. But they are under threat from dairy corporations,
Selling milk in Colombia.
Selling milk in Colombia.
like Nestlé, and other players, like PepsiCo and Cargill, that are trying to take over the dairy sectors in these countries, from the farms to the markets.

"People's milk" involves hundreds of millions of people around the world, from small-scale farmers and pastoralists to local cheesemakers and fresh milk vendors. They supply safe, nutritious and affordable milk to hundreds of millions of poor families.

    •    80% of the dairy markets in developing countries are supplied by these "people's milk" systems, often referred to as the "informal sector"
    •    15% of the global population is involved in dairy production
    •    Small-scale dairy systems in the South create 200 rural jobs per million litres of milk/year compared to 5 rural jobs per million litres of milk/year in the industrial milk production systems of the North
    •    In Pakistan, Kenya and Colombia, fresh people's milk sells for half the price of packaged milk in the supermarket.

Small-scale farmers, pastoralists and vendors are doing an amazing job of supplying the growing markets for dairy in the South. The problem is that corporate interests are after these same markets and they are using heavy tactics to steal them from the poor, while governments are lending a helping hand.

    •    Bilateral trade agreements allow transnational dairy corporations to periodically dump subsidised powdered milk and undercut local producers
    •    Regulations and private standards are biased towards the corporate sector and shut people's milk out of markets.
Financial investors and big dairy corporations are joining forces to set up mega dairy farms throughout the South. Cargill's hedge fund is committing $300 million to factory dairy farms in China and India. The world's biggest dairy cooperative, Fonterra, is building farms in China, India, and Brazil on a scale that it could never get away with in its home country New Zealand. A bank in Vietnam is building a 137,000 cow farm. These are social and ecological disasters that will bring hardship to millions of people.

Several actions and measures are suggested to stop the corporate hijack of dairy markets:
    •    High, comprehensive tariffs to prevent the periodic dumping of imported milk powder and cheap dairy products
    •    A reorientation of dairy production to domestic markets among exporting countries, with programmes such as supply management
    •    Food safety systems suited to the needs of people not corporate bottom-lines
    •    Boycotts of large dairy companies and supermarkets
    •    Divestment campaigns targeted at funds that invest in industrial dairy production in the South
    •    Solidarity within and across borders between dairy producers, small-scale vendors and processors, consumers and dairy industry workers

People's milk is up against some powerful forces. But experience in Colombia and elsewhere shows that it can prevail because so many people depend on it for their livelihoods and the well-being of their families. These are the kind of food systems the world needs to deal with poverty, hunger and climate change and we should all be supporting them.

The full report, The great milk robbery: How corporations are stealing livelihoods and a vital source of nutrition from the poor, is available here:

Friday, 16 December 2011

Indian Farmers Protest Outside Governments "Unsustainable" Agribusiness Meet

Dec 2, Bangalore: Farmers from South India organized a parallel platform and protest at Karnataka governments Global Agri-business and food-processing Meet of 2011. This was Karnataka governments attempt to lure foreign corporate investment in the agriculture sector of the state- starting from seeds to retailing and food processing, from dairy to fishing and apiculture. 
Farmers movements of south India members of LVC have been opposing the corporate onslaught on India's and global agriculture. These agribusiness companies they say are not interested in feeding people, preserving the ecology and biodiversity or generating livelihoods. Their main aim is to patent nature for themselves, industrialize farming for exports, monopolize nature and make farmers and people dependent on them for food and farming. Their primary concern is the generating profits while the continue to cause climate change and increase hunger. Ironically the Karnataka government called it “sustainable” agribusiness summit, when agribusiness promotes a type of agriculture that is far from sustainable.
                                                                             Read More at LVC South Asia

Indigenous peasant farmers have their say at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, Dec 2011

Check out this latest webcast of a press briefing with indigenous peasant farmers talking about how the REDD* will impact upon them. 

*REDD:  Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
Read more about REDD here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa launched

A 14-member ''network of African networks'', tagged the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), was launched in Durban, South Africa on Sunday, 4 December, to help promote agro-ecology as a solution to climate change, feeding people, biodiversity, livelihoods and healing the soils.  

According to its sponsors, AFSA began amid joyful singing from African women farmers; sobering facts about the multiple threats from climate change and false solutions such as the Bill Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), GMOs, biofuel land grabbing and carbon trading; and inspiring discussions about agroecological solutions for food, farmers and biodiversity.

AFSA immediately released a report emphasising that Food Sovereignty can cool the planet, while feeding the world and regenerating ecosystems.  

“There are so many challenges facing our continent,” Anne Maina of the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), one of AFSA’s member networks, was quoted as saying. 

“As 14 Pan African networks, representing a huge constituency in Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone Africa, we are in agreement that Food Sovereignty must be way forward to ensure resilient food systems and ecosystems in the face of climate change and destructive development,” Maina said. 

Also speaking, Million Belay of Melca Mahiber, an Ethiopian member of ABN, said Food Sovereignty is an approach to agriculture that is radical, but it is self-evident too.

''It holds the interests of small-scale food producers, their communities and ecosystems, as critical to strengthening resilient food systems. For too long, food policy has focused on yield at any cost – and undermined the very systems and people on which food production depends.  Food Sovereignty is a powerful concept and framework that is clear about embracing solutions, and challenging the threats,” Belay explained.

Agnes Yawe of Participatory Ecological Land Use  Management (PELUM), a network with members in 10, said AFSA is about using and conserving the resources that are freely available to communities . 

''These are appropriate for our economies, and our small scale farmers, who don’t need the expensive chemical inputs that are being pushed on us,” Yawe said.

Meanwhile, AFSA is observing Monday (5Dec) as “Food Sovereignty Day”. As part of the Day, farmers will march through Durban, venue of the ongoing UN Climate Change conference.

Source:  Panapress

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Women of Corn

In the countries of the Global South, women are the principal producers of food, those in charge of working the land, safegaurding the seeds, gathering the fruit, obtaining water. Between 60 to 80% of food production in these countries is down to women, and worldwide at a level of 50%. These women are the main producers of the staple crops, such as rice, wheat and maize, which go to feed the most impoverished populations of the South. But despite their key role in agriculture and provision of food, they are, together with children, the most affected by hunger.

For centuries, rural women have been responsible for domestic chores, care of people, feeding of families, and cultivation and marketing of surplus from their gardens, and have borne this load of reproductive, productive and community work in a private and invisible domain. In contrast, the principal economic transactions of agriculture, the trading of livestock and bulk buying and selling of cereals in the market, have been carried out by men... occupying the public rural domain.

This division of roles assigns to women the upkeep of home, of health, of education and of families and gives men the management of land and machinery and most significantly the”know-how”, thus perpetuating the roles allotted as masculine and feminine which for centuries and even today persist in our societies.

Nonetheless, in many regions of the Global South, in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, there exists an evident “feminisation” of paid agricultural work. Between 1994 and 2000, women occupied 83% of new employment created in the sector of non-traditional agricultual export. But this tendency includes a marked division of gender; on the plantations, women perform the unskilled tasks such as collection and packaging, while men carry out the harvesting and planting.

This incorporation of women into the paid workplace entails a double burden for women, who continue to carry out the care of their families whilst working to obtain an income from an employment which for the most part is precarious. They can expect worse working conditions than their male counterparts and lower pay for the same tasks, therefore having to work longer to earn the same.

Another difficulty is access to land. In several countries of the South, laws deny women this right, and in those that legally concede tenure, tradition and custom impede disposition to them. However, this problem not only occurs in the Global South. In Europe, many women farmers do not have their entitlements recognised and despite working on the land like their male peers, farm ownership and payment of social security, etc is usually commanded by men. Consequently, women, on retirement, cannot count on any pension, nor have claim to assistance or to payments, etc

The degradation of farmland in these Southern countries and the increase in migration to the cities has provoked a process of agricultural disintegration. Women are an essential component of this national and international migration, engendering a disruption and abandoment of families, land, and processes of production whilst increasing the family and community burden of the women who remain. In Europe, the United States, Canada... migrant women end up taking the jobs that years back were filled by locals, reproducing a cycle of oppression, burden and ‘invisibilisation’ of care, whilst externalising its social and economic costs to the communities of origin of the migrant women.

The incapacity to resolve the current crisis of caretaking in western countries, the combined result of massive incorporation of women into the labour market, the aging of the population, and the non-existent response from the state to these needs, leads to the massive importation of female labour into domestic work and paid care, from the countries of the Global South.

In opposition to this intensive and unsustainable neoliberal agricultural model which has demonstrated a complete inability to satisfy dietary needs of people and a complete disrespect for Nature, and which is especially adverse to women, arises the alternative paradigm of food sovereignty. This deals with the recuperation of our right to determine the what, the how and the source of what we eat; that the land, the water and the seeds are in the hands of small farmers (male and female); and the fight against the monopoly of agrifoods.

And it is requisite that this food sovereignty is profoundly feminist and internationalist, and that its accomplishment will only be possible from full equality between men and women and free access to the means of food production, distribution and consumption, along with solidarity among peoples, far from the chauvinistic cries of “ours first.”

We must reclaim the role of women farmers in food and agricultural production, and recognise the part played by the “women of corn”, those that work the land. To make visible the invisible. And to promote alliances between rural and urban women, from the North and the South. To globalise a resistance… feminine.

Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is author of the book in Spanish “Stand Up against external debt” and co-coordinator of the books also in Spanish “Supermarkets, No Thanks” and “Where is Fair Trade headed?”. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur

Source:  International Viewpoint

Monday, 12 December 2011

Elizabeth Mpofu: Agroecology is the solution

Big La Via Campesina mobilization in Durban

“Climate change is not something which is inevitable, it can be managed, it can be stopped”, Zimbabwan peasant Elizabet Mpofu would say this to any official delegate of an industrialized country at the United Nations Climate negotiations (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa.

She would add something else if she had the chance: “Please can you keep your money and I will keep my land?”.

This was the answer of La Via Campesina’s activist to the question of what she would ask an official representative at the COP.

La Via Campesina organized a march in the streets of Durban as part of what they called “International Food Sovereignty Day to Cool Down the Earth”. Nearly 2,000 people participated in the demonstration.

“La Via Campesina has called for mobilizations in Durban and around the world to demand a change of the entire capitalist system. The fight against climate change is a fight against neoliberal capitalism, landlessness, dispossession, hunger, poverty and inequality.”, reads a press release issued to call the march.

During the demonstration people would chant slogans like “agroecology cools down the planet”, “agriculture is not for sale, food sovereignty now!” and “Yes to Cochabamba, No to REDD”, in reference to the Peoples’ Agreement signed in the Bolivian city in April of 2010 at the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The public protest of La Via Campesina included exposing big transnational corporations like Monsanto, which appropriate seeds through patents and violate peasant rights to use and exchange their own seeds.

Elizabeth Mpofu warned that the new climate patterns are affecting peasant production, many time with totally unexpected and unprecedented events in certain times of the year. She said in October a heat wave affected Zimbabwe causing the temperature to raise up to 40°Celsius, which she had never witnessed in her entire life.

La Via Campesina promotes peasant agriculture and agroecology as sustainable alternatives to cool down the planet. “With our agroecological system we find it very easy to preserve our soils and to produce what we really want”, said Mpofu. Peasants manage to get enough grains for their consumption and for sale despite all the weather events.

Zimbabwan leader admitted that the governments usually fail to implement the peasant proposals, but she said rural workers will keep up their fight. She also criticized the concept of “climate-smart agriculture”, promoted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). She said it is “none sense”. The proposal would include technology and financial packages that especially concern peasants, as it would include new waves of licenses for genetically modified crops and the extension of carbon markets to agriculture.

She shared a reflection with her colleagues of La Via Campesina: “The struggle is ours, no one can come and rescue the Africans, the small scale farmers. We have to unite, we have to struggle until we win”. She admitted it is challenging because they are fighting powerful people, while they are just poor people but she said “we are not going to go back”.

Source:  Via Campesina

Saturday, 10 December 2011

La Via Campesina Durban Declaration

Assembly of the Oppressed, 5th December 2011, Durban, South Africa
Articles pictures and videos from Durban on

As the Assembly of the Oppressed we are gathered here to demand the transformation of the entire neo liberal capitalist system. The fight against climate change is a fight against neo liberal capitalism, landlessness, dispossession, hunger, poverty and the re-colonization of the territories of the people’s of Africa and the global South. We are here to declare that direct action is the only weapon of the oppressed people of the world to end all forms of oppression in the world.

We are here in Durban, South Africa where the 17th United Nations Conference of Parties is taking place and are discussing false solutions to the climate crisis. And we can see that the future of Mother Earth and of humanity is in peril as those responsible for nature’s destruction are attempting to escape their responsibility and erase history.

 We, La Via Campesina, the global movement of peasants, small-scale and agricultural family farmers, is severely dismayed at the attempts of the developed countries to further escape their historic responsibility to make real emission cuts and push for more false and market based solutions to the climate crisis.

 Here in Durban, they are discussing a “new mandate” as an outcome of the COP 17, one which contains market mechanisms and a voluntary pledge system in order to move away from the mandated program of working towards legally binding commitments to cut emissions. Also, developed countries are working hard to escape their historical responsibility and not pay their climate debt by pushing for a green climate fund that involves private capital and the World Bank. Finally, there is a push to include agriculture in the negotiations, treating agriculture as a carbon sink rather than a source of food and livelihood. For La Via Campesina, with this trend of negotiations, it is better to have no deal than a bad deal that condemns humanity and our planet to a future of climate catastrophe.

 We are now at the worst moment for agriculture and small farmers and for nature. The impacts of climate change are steadily worsening, leading to harvest failures, destruction of habitats and homes, hunger and famine and loss of lives. The future of humanity and the planet is in critical danger and if these false solutions push through, it will be a catastrophe for nature, future generations and the whole planet.

 We therefore demand to all governments in the negotiations:

- For all countries from the global South to stand up for their people and to defend the people and the planet with dignity and conviction. The government of South Africa has already sold out its people in this regard.

- For all the developed countries to live up to their historical responsibility of causing this climate crisis and to pay their climate debt and commit themselves to at least 50% domestic emission reductions based on 1990 levels, without conditions and excluding carbon markets or other offset mechanisms.

- Stop industrial farming that promotes pollution and climate change through high levels of use of petroleum based chemicals

- Governments must support agro-ecology

- For all countries to listen and work for their people and not be under the control of transnational corporations.

- For all countries to stop trying to save capitalism and making the people, including small farmers, pay for their economic and financial crisis.

We as La Via Campesina, demand the implementation of the people’s global agreement on climate agreed on in Cochabamba. And here in Durban and in a thousand Durbans, we strongly reiterate our solutions to the climate crisis.

- Further global warming must be limited to a rise of 1 degree Celsius only.

- Developed countries must make domestic emission reductions of at least 50% based on 1990 levels, without conditions and excluding carbon markets or other offset mechanisms.

- Developed countries must commit to payment of their climate debt and give funding from at least 6% of their GDP. All funds for this climate finance must be public and be free from the control of the World Bank and private corporations.

- All market mechanisms must be stopped, including REDD, REDD++ and the proposed carbon markets for agriculture.

We reiterate that there will be no solution to climate change and the predatory neo-liberal system that causes it, without the liberation of women, and rural women in particular, from age old patriarchy and sexist discrimination. We therefore demand as part of comprehensive action against patriarchy and sexism:
The promotion of women’s land access and rights through targeted redistribution
Laws and policies must be made responsive to the particular needs of women

We as La Via Campesina, demand an end to the commodification of our Mother Earth reject the mechanisms of the carbon market. Furthermore, we reject the proposed inclusion of a work program on agriculture in the negotiations and reject all proposals of market mechanisms surrounding agriculture.

We as La Via Campesina and the people of the world have the real solutions to the climate crisis and we call on all governments to heed them before it is too late. At this assembly of the oppressed we declare to the people of the world that the solutions are in their hands. Through building social movements and mobilizing popular struggles for social change the world’s people will overcome the close alliance between governments and multinational corporations that is strangling the world. In Africa at the moment this alliance is perpetrating one of the biggest land grabs in history, which would mean more chemical-industrial farming, more poverty and exploitation, and more climate change. The only serious counter to this is the land occupations initiated by the landless themselves. From the perspective of food sovereignty, agrarian reform and climate justice, these land occupations deserve the fullest support.

Sustainable peasant’s agriculture and agroecology cool down the planet. 
Food Sovereignty is the solution! 
Peasant agriculture is not for sale! 
Globalize the struggle, Globalize the hope!
Media contacts: email:

International Operational Secretariat: 
Jln. Mampang Prapatan XIV no 5 Jakarta Selatan 12790, Indonesia
Tel/fax: +62-21-7991890/+62-21-7993426

Friday, 9 December 2011

Farmers oppose agri-meet

A KRRS rally in Mysore, India.

Bangalore:  Consider this: A multi-national company will enter into an agreement in the upcoming Global Agri-investors' Meet with the state government to buy/lease over 2,000 hectares in Gangavati for growing paddy. The company eventually uses the world's best practices to grow high-quality basmati rice and later sells them in the foreign market at thrice the rate at which it's available in the local market.

While the government will earn a handsome royalty, farmers will get a lucrative price for their land sold or leased to investors for a period ranging from 20 to 100 years. And local labourers will obviously be happy with jobs coming to their doorstep.

Wait till you read the flipside of such investment. "If we lose our family farmers, we'll lose the diversity in our food supply, and what we eat will be dictated to us by a few large corporations. Family farms are a valuable resource worth preserving. The government should avoid providing land to private investors and encourage local farmers for rapid poverty reduction and food security in the country,'' said Chukki Nanjundaswamy, of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) which plans to hold a parrallel meet to educate farmers about the looming dangers of the Global Agri-business meet.

She said the most profound long-term consequence is the expansion of corporate control over food production. It would not only destroy local agriculture but also result in severe food insecurity and increased poverty,'' she added

Endorsing her views, K S Puttannaiah, leader of another faction of the KRRS, said: Karnataka in a bid to lure multinationals in the agricultural sector will convert the state from food producer to food exporter.''

According to them, small farmers are more efficient, usually making good use of their resources and are certainly more efficient than many large farmers. Most importantly, family farmers serve as responsible stewards of the land. They produce more food, they are sustainable, they are environmentally friendly, and they do not displace large numbers of farmers from the land.

Source:  Food crises and the global land grab

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Uniting Palestinian farmers with International farmers

Representatives from Via Campesina Brazil met and discussed with UAWC, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and other Palestinian grassroots social movements for a conference in the Hebron district, West Bank in November. The meeting was an effort to include Palestinians in the largest, social popular movement in the world. Source:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Small scale fishing communities fighting for their way of life

The November issue of Nyéléni focuses on the essential role that small scale fishing communities play in the livelihoods of and providing access to food for millions of people around the world.

Here's the editorial from this November edition.  The complete copy of the newsletter can be found here.


Developing countries are generally more vulnerable to the effects of climate change
than more developed countries due to their low capacity to adapt to climate change and
variability. Increasing global surface temperatures, rising sea levels, irregular changes
in average annual precipitation and increases in the variability and intensity of extreme
weather events pose a major threat to coastal and island communities, which are heavily dependent on fish resources for their wellbeing – communities in which poverty is
widespread and few alternative livelihoods are available. 

Amidst the destruction caused by a lack of responsible governance of the use of land
and natural resources, small-scale fishing communities are fighting to claim back their
fishing grounds as governments and land use planners are seizing the catastrophe as
an opportunity to halt small-scale fishing activities in such areas and allocate the
areas to the development of tourist infrastructures and other uses. Fishing is not
only a source of employment, income and food for small-scale fishery; it is a way of life
based on social and environmental harmony which strengthens communities and
supports adaptation measures particularly for the most vulnerable, especially women.
Small-scale fishing communities can build and strengthen their capacity to adapt if
they are supported, and not forced to leave their waters. 

Margaret Nakato
Co- President of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Worker

Who is Nyéléni?

In the last years hundreds of organizations and movements have been engaged in
struggles, activities, and various kinds of work to defend and promote the right of people
to Food Sovereignty around the world. Many of these organizations were present in
the Nyéléni Forum 2007 and feel part of a broader Food Sovereignty Movement, that
considers the Nyéléni 2007 declaration as its political platform. The Nyéléni Newsletter wants to be the voice of this international movement.

Organizations involved: Development Fund, ETC, FIAN, Focus on the Global South,
Food First, Friends of the Earth International, GRAIN, Grassroots International, IPC for
food sovereignty, La Via Campesina, Marcha Mundial de las Mujeres, Oxfam Solidarity, Real World Radio, Roppa, The World Forum Of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers, Veterinarios Sin Fronteras.

Now is the time for Food Sovereignty

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

MST Receives 2011 Food Sovereignty Prize

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) received the 2011 Food Sovereignty Prize. Inaugurated in 2009, the Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the Community Food Security Coalition at its 15th annual conference, held this year in Oakland California. The prize recognizes leaders in the global movement for food sovereignty. The movement works to ensure the right of all people to control their own food and agriculture systems in the face of a food crisis that has driven over a billion people into hunger worldwide. The MST has been recognized as the 2011 Food Sovereignty Prize winner for addressing the extreme disparities in land access in Brazil by organizing over 350,000 landless rural families to resettle and farm formerly idle land.

This prize is a refreshing alternative to the World Food Prize created by ‘the father of the Green Revolution,’ the late Norman Borlaug,” says Christina Schiavoni of Why Hunger’s Global Movements Program. “The Food Sovereignty Prize challenges the notion that we can produce our way out of the current food crisis through technological packages or by focusing solely on food access. With a billion hungry people in the world—the majority of whom are food producers and landless workers—we need a drastically different approach to ending hunger, one that is based on equitable distribution of resources, sustainability, and dignity for those who produce our food. The honorees exemplify this.”

This year the prize, awarded by a committee of nationally recognized food system leaders (information on the nomination and selection process can be found at had the theme “From Panthers to Pitchforks.” The keynote speaker was David Hilliard, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party. Hilliard stated that while the Panthers were known for their militancy, it was actually their community service programs that struck terror into the heart of the US government and put the Panthers on the government target list. Hilliard spoke about the Panther’s connection to food – their early support for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers and free breakfast program for children. Hilliard recounted how Huey Newton had told him that politics begin with a hungry stomach. Hilliard described how the Panthers also distributed food to the community. “We have always been involved with food because food is a very basic necessity and it is the stuff revolutions are made of.”

Click on photo for a link to Hilliard's remarks

Elias Araujo and Janaina Stronzake accepted the award on behalf of the MST. Araujo thanked the Community Food Security Coalition and all those supporters of the MST. In describing the MST’s accomplishments, he acknowledged the role of all those who had struggled before them, including the Black Panthers. Stronzake urged the crowd to “Globalize Hope, Globalize Struggle!”
Elias Araujo and Janaina Stronzake Accept the Prize

In making the award to the MST, the Community Food Security Coalition issued the following statement:

The Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil has been a leader in social action for agrarian reform and food sovereignty for over 25 years. MST organizes landless workers to reclaim idle land, obtain legal title, and use the land productively. Through these efforts, more than 350,000 families have been settled on over 17 million hectares of land, with an additional 90,000 families organized in encampments and awaiting titles. These actions have called both domestic and international attention to unequal land distribution and to the need for agrarian reform, food sovereignty and gender equity. Additionally, the MST has established over 1000 schools serving over 150,000 students, and through its cooperatives has created 900,000 new jobs in the area of agriculture alone. In areas of MST settlements, social health indicators from infant mortality rates to school attendance tend to be exponentially better than in other parts of rural Brazil. Through international learning exchanges and service brigades, such as e.g., the MST inspires and shows solidarity with communities working towards food sovereignty across the globe.

By Jeff Frank with acknowledgement to US Food Sovereignty Alliance

All photographs by Rick Gerharter at Rick Gerharter Photography.

Monday, 5 December 2011

In Kenya, famine's lessons

From 'The Axis of Logic' a well written article on the lessons learned from the current famine in Kenya.

Editorial comment:
"The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The right to food is not about charity, but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity.

The right to food is protected under international human rights and humanitarian law and the correlative state obligations are equally well-established under international law. The right to food is recognized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as a plethora of other instruments. Noteworthy is also the recognition of the right to food in numerous national constitutions." (Right to food)

"Multinational companies play an increasingly large role in the world, and have been responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Although the legal and moral environment surrounding the actions of governments is reasonably well developed, that surrounding multinational companies is both controversial and ill-defined. Multinational companies' primary responsibility is to their shareholders, not to those affected by their actions. Such companies may be larger than the economies of some of the states within which they operate, and can wield significant economic and political power. No international treaties exist to specifically cover the behavior of companies with regard to human rights, and national legislation is very variable. 

Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food stated in a report in 2003:  "The growing power of transnational corporations and their extension of power through privatization, deregulation and the rolling back of the State also mean that it is now time to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power."  (Human rights - Wikipedia) 


La Corne de l’Est de l’Afrique frappée par la famine, (The Horn of Africa hit by famine) juillet 2011. Getty Images /AFP/Oli Scarff (Photo borrowed from Secours Populaire)

THIS past summer I came across a camel that had lost its hump. After a long journey in search of pasture, the beast was swaying beside a brackish well, its ribs and hip bones showing. The hump hung flaccid off its back like a deflated balloon. 

I was in northern Kenya, which is suffering through the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years. The toll of deprivation is everywhere. In the village of Kursin, emaciated livestock are collapsing in the middle of town; the local headmaster, Ismael Ali, told me they've "had a problem with dead carcasses around the school." Attendance dropped sharply since the beginning of the year, as many families left the parched region with their flocks, some even crossing into war-torn Somalia in search of food. 

American attention to the hunger crisis has focused on the dire conditions of Somalis, but they account for just about a third of the 13 million people affected. According to the United Nations, hunger afflicts 4.5 million people in Ethiopia and 3.75 million people in Kenya, which has about half of Ethiopia's population. An estimated half a million Kenyan children and pregnant or breast-feeding women suffer acute malnutrition.

The drought has been mounting for a year, but it wasn't until the crisis peaked over the summer that the news media and most international donors took notice. It's a familiar cycle: first come the news media pictures of emaciated infants, followed by conferences on how to do better next time, visits from top-level government officials and large financial commitments from international organizations and even donors like China and the Ikea Foundation. The United States Agency for International Development and the Ad Council have even begun a celebrity public service campaign with the actors Uma Thurman and Josh Hartnett. 

This is good news; the assistance is badly needed. Yet the mismatch in timing raises a question that bedevils aid agencies. Unlike earthquakes or hurricanes, droughts and food price increases take time to develop, and the resulting hunger crises are forecast well in advance. From water harvesting to livestock support to cash assistance, there are a plethora of steps that could have significantly ameliorated the current crisis. Why weren't they taken?

This year's drought followed two failed rainy seasons, leaving farmers and herders fragile. When coupled with skyrocketing food and fuel prices, catastrophe loomed. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, financed by U.S.A.I.D., anticipated it as early as August 2010, and by January the American ambassador to Kenya had declared a disaster and called for urgent assistance.

Although the United States began stockpiling emergency food in the region, that wasn't enough. On June 7, the warning network announced, "This is the most severe food security emergency in the world today, and the current humanitarian response is inadequate to prevent further deterioration." At that time, there were 7 million people in jeopardy. Now, the number is 13 million.

A common misconception is that hunger crises are about a lack of food. Yet there is food in Kenya and Ethiopia, and even in many parts of Somalia. The real issue is poverty. The people affected are poor to begin with; when things turned bad, they had no recourse. In April the World Bank reported that 44 million people worldwide were pushed over the edge by skyrocketing food prices.

Such a perspective is largely missing in our food-aid program. It's like a health insurance system that waits until someone has a full-blown illness before he or she can get treatment. By the end of June, with the crisis in full swing, the United States had committed a total of about $64 million to Kenya, much of it in the form of food supplies (this doesn't include relief for the Somali refugees). But food aid loses at least half of its value, according to the Government Accountability Office, because we ship actual food instead of sending cash for local purchase, like most countries. And only $5 million was allocated to agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation - about $1.33 per hungry person - things that would have helped people during lean times. 

Blame politics. Medium- and long-term planning is often the first thing to be cut from an aid budget. After the food price crisis of 2008, when hunger riots erupted around the globe, President Obama got the Group of 8 to promise $22 billion for agricultural development and food security. But many of those commitments have not been met. Meanwhile, this summer Congressional Republicans voted to cut the foreign food aid budget by a third, and more cuts are planned.

And, of course, there is the matter of optics: donors want to see dead babies before they provide significant assistance, one frustrated aid worker told me. 

Blame also lies with the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments. In the northern district of Wajir, for instance, by July the central government provided only about half the food assistance that local governments requested, while Ethiopia, according to the BBC, misused aid for political purposes. It is an old story: sending emergency aid is clumsy, and often fraught with problems. As I was leaving a village that depended entirely on delivered water, I passed the water truck the villagers were waiting for, broken down by the side of the road. 

Aid officials say they realize that prevention is better than reaction. "We know how to do this," Rajiv Shah, the head of U.S.A.I.D., told me during a trip he made in July to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. "It is one-tenth the cost to provide effective agricultural support and help communities gain food security than it is to provide food aid at a time of famine." 

Our shortsighted response also highlights a misunderstanding about foreign assistance and prevention. "We are not investing in relatively obvious solutions," said Christopher Barrett, an expert on food aid at Cornell University. Those mundane but vital interventions include shoring up the water supply and helping to bolster markets and transportation so that economies continue during lean times. The best assistance, people in Wajir told me, would be a decent road to the south, which would cheapen imports and give them a market for their animals. 

DRIVING through Wajir's sandy, arid landscape, we turned the corner to an amazing sight: a green oasis - a farm, a greenhouse, a well, a water pump, a windmill. Running around were the first happy, healthy-looking children I had seen. This is the Kutulo Farm, a women's cooperative in Wagberi, where they grow kale, cabbage and peppers. They received money for the well from the European Union, but otherwise have done everything on their own. They would like to expand, said Adey Issack, one of the founders, but have no access to credit. 

Programs like the Kutulo Farm are significantly cheaper to start and maintain than sending mounds of food aid at the last minute, in large part because they leverage the skills and knowledge of local residents to do the work. The current crisis is a painful demonstration of how well such an approach works: those few communities that received small, well-designed assistance are weathering the drought relatively well. 

While recent rain has eased the pressure, much of it will be lost because of a lack of water-collection facilities. And experts warn that so many in Kenya are weakened and destitute that the cycle is expected to start up again in May. In other words, droughts cannot be stopped. But the economics that link drought and famine can be upended, so that next time, the people of Wajir, and dozens of countries around the world, might be able to avoid untold, and unnecessary, suffering.

Samuel Loewenberg is a Nieman Foundation global health reporting fellow at Harvard. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting provided a travel grant for the reporting of this essay.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Free Markets and the Food Crisis in Central America

Here's a great article written by Carlos G. Aguilar Sanchez.  He talks about the way in which Central America provides a good example of how trade liberalisation can be the source of inequality and international exclusion - and provides proposals for Central American integration to move forward towards food sovereignty, and guaranteeing access to food for the people.

“Free markets can still feed the world.” - Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank

“Institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, as well as a few governments, are making the argument for more investment in agriculture, for increasing food aid for poor food-importing countries and for liberalizing markets so these countries can increase incomes through exports. Many argue that we need more intensive models of production, which for proponents means more industrial inputs- including GMOs and fossil fuels!” La Via Campesina, 2008

Poverty and Agriculture in the Central American Transition
During the 1990s, Central America underwent a series of socioeconomic transformations that affects specific sectors, including small and mid-sized agricultural producers and middle-class consumers. New regional patterns of trade and accumulation have redefined the role of local markets and have led to an increase in food imports to meet the nutritional and food needs of Central Americans. According to the FAO, the region is home to two countries that suffer from severe poverty and malnutrition—Nicaragua and Honduras—and the region as a whole has been become heavily dependent on imports and “aid” through free trade agreements, mostly with the United States and the European Union.

During that same period, the tertiary sector of the economy (services, off-shore manufacturing and business) displaced agriculture at the center of the economy, causing widespread migration from the countryside to the cities, contributing to slums around the area’s metropolises and an influx of informal day workers who had formerly made their livings in farming.[2]

According to the State of the Region Report-2008, in 2005 agriculture contributed less to the regional GDP than remittances. The service industry, meanwhile, accounted for about 67% of regional GDP. Along the same lines, agricultural land use decreased by 7.4% between 2005 and 2008.

In only 15 years—from the early 1990s to 2005—land planted in rice, beans, corn, sorghum (staple foods for the poor) fell by half, substituted by exportable goods.[3]The recession of 2008-2009 wiped out some of the supposed economic advances in combating poverty in that period.

The most recent figures from the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) show that the region continued to have “very high” levels of income inequality as measured by the GINI coefficient. A study by the UN’s Fund for Children and Adolescents carried out in 2008-2009 shows that 78.5% of Nicaraguan and Guatemalan children and adolescents live in poverty and in El Salvador the number rises to 86%. Since poverty affects women more severely, significant disparities show up when gender variables are introduced.

Even though many point out some achievements in cash transfer programs and public investment, official poverty statistics have been going up and hunger has emerged as an urgent problem in certain critical areas of the region.[4] The so-called “Dry Corridor” of Central America (Eastern Guatemala, Northern Nicaragua, and South Central Honduras) has been one of the most hard hit by adverse weather, but it’s mainly the insufficiency and/or absence of national and regional policies related to crop loss (principally corn, sorghum, and beans) that is causing the suffering there. In 2009, the Guatemalan government had to declare a state of national disaster because it found more than four thousand at-risk communities, representing some 400,000 thousand families going hungry and malnourished.

A recent State of the Region Report- 2011 highlights, “In 2008 poverty was affected by the rise in international prices of basic goods […] For example, in El Salvador the per capita cost of the basic food basket went from $38.40 monthly in 2007, to $44.8 in 2008 in urban areas, and from $25.10 to $29.10 in rural areas. It was the same situation in all of the other countries of the isthmus as well.”[5]

New information confirms the scope of this region-wide calamity; for example, in 2009 the Center for Latin American Social Ecology (CLAES, by its Spanish initials) incorporated a variable on food security in their country risk-assessment measurements. Its application demonstrated how the food crisis of 2008 placed most of the Central American countries in critical condition or in socio-environmental default. Defaulting countries included Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama.[6]

Economic restructuring in the region has spurred the import of basic grains and led to a change in production in most of the countries. It has also caused a fragmentation of national territory that deepens the divisions between the centers of political and economic power and the periphery— rural areas, indigenous peoples, people of African descent (most of whom are located on the Caribbean coastline). This breakdown makes real regional integration impossible.

Food availability, especially of basic grains, is strongly controlled by import chains, posing a special challenge to attaining food sovereignty and the right to food.[7] The Guatemalan case illustrates clearly the relationship between the food crisis and neoliberal policies promoted by the free market. According to the Institute of Agricultural and Rural Studies, “Commercial liberalisation, with its maximum expression in the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), has been problematic by de-incentivising the domestic production of the same goods that are entering the country at highly subsidised prices and flooding local markets. So when prices in those products rise, there has already been a reduction in the capacity to produce them internally—especially in the crops that are the most heavily imported. As such, the applied model has generated dependency that worsens the crisis.”[8]

At the same time, according to the Association of Guatemalan Palm Growers palm oil monocultures are growing about 3,238 thousand acres per year in that country alone. This rate makes Guatemala the world’s foremost producer in palm oil by area[9] and affects agricultural production in places like San Marcos, Retalhuleu, Suchitepéquez, Escuintla, Quiché, Izabal and the south of Petén.[10] While Central American nations suffer from the food crisis, the cultivation of crops for biofuels is being expanded in numerous countries, promoting the systematic territorial displacement of local indigenous and farming communities.

Export-based agriculture is currently concentrated in extensive monocultures for foreign markets (e.g. pineapple, bananas and biofuel-producing crops like cane sugar and palm oil). This leads to a rise in the use of fertilizers and pesticides that has in turn produced the release of tons of contaminating and greenhouse gases[11]documented over the period between 2003-2005.[12]

Central America serves as a good example of how trade liberalization can be the source of inequality and international exclusion, destroying the potential for regional integration based on the specific needs of the countries in the region.

The link between trade liberalization and food availability is becoming a critical factor that, far from improving living conditions, threatens to deepen and entrench the structural causes of hunger, violence and malnutrition in the region.

Prelude to the crisis: free trade and food prices

Central America continues to suffer from historical conditions of malnutrition and poverty that are getting worse as a result of its form of insertion into the globalized economy, and especially its trade and financial liberalization policies. Free trade, which is commonly claimed to be a fundamental component of development for impoverished countries, seems to be operating in the current framework as a source of inequality and inequity at a regional and international level.

As underlined in the State of the Region Report-2008, “[…] the accessibility of food hadn’t been a problem in Central America. However, through the effects of international economic integration, the agricultural sector has been neglected, especially in the areas of domestic food production […] and dependency on imported food increased, most of all in basic grains; […] the situation has been further complicated by the recent spike in these prices (international food prices), among other reasons, due to the increased use of food products to generate biofuels.”[13]

In its 2008 report entitled The State of Food Insecurity in the World, the FAO pointed out that among the many causes driving the elevation of food prices was the growth in food crops used for agrofuels (the FAO calls them “biofuels”) and trade policies that favor “[…] practices of re-supplying or pre-supplying large importers for speculative purposes…”[14] A similar situation began to develop again in 2010, when grain prices increased up to 50%, pushing more than 70 million people worldwide into extreme poverty.

According to the FAO report, socioeconomic factors (this includes changes in imports and exports) represent 27% of the cause of the food crisis since 2000, as opposed to only 2% in the 1980’s.[15] The links between globalization and food availability have grown in recent decades so that international trade agreements cannot be separated from the issue of the right to food in low-income countries.

Just to give an idea of what this means, when prices of basic grains began to rise in 2010, countries with a food deficit were forced to spend 20% of their budgets on importing food than in 2009 — $164 billion USD.[16]

In regards to Central America, the 2008 State of the Region Report, based on indicators from ECLAC, calculated that an increase of 15% in the price of food could mean 2.5 million more people in extreme poverty, particularly in Guatemala and Honduras. A model of rising imports (wheat, rice and corn went up to about 30% in available food between 1990-2003) with tripled prices for wheat and doubled prices for corn and rice (2008-2009), leads to profits for the companies that import the goods, but growing malnutrition, especially among the region’s rural and indigenous poor.

Trade and investment rules negotiated within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and bilateral trade and investment agreements assure a base for the exportation of specific local stock agricultural products and a wide range of facilities for the massive imports of food products controlled by large global marketing and distribution chains.

GRAIN eloquently sums up this international problems:

“These policy prescriptions were reinforced in the 1990s with the establishment of the World Trade Organization and more recently through the avalanche of bilateral trade, free trade, and investment agreements. Together with a package of other measures, they have implacably dismantled tariffs and other means of protection that developing countries had in order to protect their local agricultural production, and forced open their markets and land to global agribusiness, to speculators and subsidized exports coming from rich countries. Today, approximately 70% of so-called developing countries are net importers of food.”[17]

Trade agreements have caused a reduction in the diversity of crops grown in the area as growers concentrate their yields around exportable goods.[18] So although the total availability of goods rises, it isn’t destined for local consumption, or it is based on imported goods, which means that price hikes primarily affect the poor and extremely poor. We quit producing food for the local market and what we do produce is sent abroad through trade agreements. The diversification of production has been done at the expense of starving the local population to satisfy demand for tropical products in “developed countries.”

In the past couple of years, this trend has led to an exponential increase in the production of tropical goods while growth of staple grains for the local market has experienced a dramatic decline. Costa Rica, the country with the highest percentage of exports in the region, is a case in point. From 1990 to 2005, the land area devoted to rice, beans, corn, and sorghum declined by 52%, while land devoted to crops for foreign markets (mainly the United States and the European Union)–such as fruits, legumes, vegetables, and oils–doubled.[19]

The result is an apparent paradox provoked by the insertion of regional economies into the world market: a greater availability of food—based on the imports of grain, meat, and milk— that heightens international dependency and weakens food sovereignty. The more trade and investment that flow in the region, the more imports are needed to satisfy food demands.

When we analyze the composition of regional markets and companies, we find that the majority are small or medium-sized and operate on a local or regional level. This creates a two-pronged economy: One prong is linked to foreign markets through trade agreements (agribusiness for export), and the other is rural-indigenous, family subsistence-level agriculture, which is currently threatened by structural conditions of violence and poverty.

On the basis of this dual and unequal structure, the countries in the region have failed to comply with a single criterion of adequate nutrition (with a few limited exceptions). The direct availability of food through natural resources and access to arable land is severely limited or poorly distributed, the systems for distribution and marketing are oriented toward satisfying the demand of foreign markets, and physical and economic access to food is impossible in the face of a growing pattern of unemployment and poverty concentrated in rural areas and among African descendents, indigenous groups and peasant communities.

Food supply, where possible, is acquired through greater dependence on imports and is severely threatened by all of the above conditions.[20] Guaranteeing the Human Right to Adequate Food as a principle formally incorporated into the body of Human Rights, is impeded by trade agreements that limit the capacity of autonomous economics, politics and production for small farmer in Central America.

Proposals for Central American Regional Integration to Confront Poverty and Guarantee Access to Food for the People
Central American countries urgently need to open up debate and begin to develop new proposals for integration that break with the current model of open regionalism promoted by ECLAC in accordance with the globalization tenets of attracting foreign investment and aggressive trade liberalization.

The starting point for alternative integration proposals should consider that no country in the region can face the multiple challenges inherent in escaping poverty and misery alone. What’s needed is a coordinated regional strategy with supranational policies (joint sovereignty)[21] based on new principles of institutional and political organization.[22] We urgently need a concrete mechanism for maintaining reserves of the foods that make up the mainstay of the Central American diet, regionally administered with the goal of controlling price volatility and imports of grains and cereals in the area.


1. Develop a coordinated regional plan with supranational policies on the basis of new organizational and political principles

2. Establish a mechanism for regionally administered food reserves

3. Strengthen state investment in agriculture

4. Strengthen the democratic participation of diverse sectors of the population in the definition, creation, and implementation of public policies addressing hunger

5. Advance agrarian reform to guarantee that food production returns to the hands of small farmers

6. Establish policies that provide credit and technology transfer for production of basic foods and support agroecology production and marketing.

7. Develop agricultural policies that take into account environmental impact on ecosystems and biomes and seek alternatives

These policies would require Central American governments to strengthen agricultural investment and political control in defining national and regional strategies, based on broader and more informed democratic participation by diverse sectors of society in defining, producing, and implementing public policy aimed at eliminating hunger and poverty. They require deep democracy, which at present doesn’t exist in the region and can’t exist under the current institutional conditions of violence and displacement.

The right to food plays a major role in this perspective, since the process of integration must deal with the immediate urgency to confront increasing malnutrition and hunger, and not just the demands of foreign markets. There is a documented link between poverty and limited access to land, which proves the need to move forward with agrarian reform so small farmers can feed their families and their nations.

The starting point should be that every Central American has adequate access to food, and for this to happen, the structure of production and commerce must change. National and regional production should, first and foremost, attend to the needs of local markets. We must produce to cover the food and nutritional needs of Central America. But it’s not only about guaranteeing food, which could be achieved in the short term through imports. It’s about creating and strengthening the production chain of local and regional markets.

Figures from 2009 show that approximately 45.6% of intraregional trade comes from agriculture.[23] Redeveloping the role of the Central American common market and the responsibilities of regional producers requires the urgent task of defining a strategy that slows massive food imports. Thus businesses in the region have an important role in this strategy and should be more proactive in developing policies to enhance their capacity to interact with other productive sectors in the region.

In Central America most trade is carried out by small and medium-sized producers, marketers, and distributors. Without a shared, common policy that strengthens these sectors, it is impossible to think about better access to food. The current structure needs to be complemented and supported by policies that provide credit to those producing staple goods and foodstuffs. Policies also need to provide new technologies and promote agro-ecological production and commercialization.

Agricultural Policy and the Environment

Central America is a very small but growing region. If we continue using a model of production and marketing of the same products in each of the countries, we run the risk of worsening hunger and malnutrition and irreparably damaging the area’s delicate ecosystems and overall environment.
The entire region shows critical levels of social and environmental vulnerability, especially in Nicaragua and Honduras. The State of the Region- 2011 signaled, “Among the major areas of impact of climate change, are pressures on food security, the availability water (including its potential energy use), alteration and loss of biodiversity in its ecosystems (with an emphasis on forests and marine-coastal resources), all this alongside an increased propensity toward natural disasters, harm to human health and livelihoods (particularly in indigenous and rural communities).[24]

This means that the strategy must prioritize and reorganize the basis of agriculture policy that coordinates with estimates of ecological impact and alternatives to protect ecosystems and biomes. This also means that joint management needs to extend beyond political boundaries, especially in relation to transnational water basins that are currently threatened by mineral extraction projects, and a new form of geopolitics based on bioregions. In general, what predominates today is the fragmentation of habitats and a concentration of economic and productive activities along the coasts.

It’s no coincidence that from the mid-1980s to the middle of the last decade the region lost 35% of its wetlands, causing serious impacts on local flora and fauna. The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, a shared area threatened by a series of initiatives to link up physical and informatic infrastructure, is an area of high biodiversity, especially in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and Bosawas Biosphere on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.[25]

Large consortiums for tourism and mineral extractions, along with increased agricultural activity for the production of monocultures, are causing pressure on ecosystems that destroys not only forests but also any possibility of food sovereignty. The region urgently needs to reorient its physical and infrastructure capacity to incorporate the goals of the right to food, the protection and rehabilitation of fundamental ecosystems, coordinated policies of complementary and competitive production, and more control by the people in defining and implementing public policy on territory and common goods.[26]

A new structuring of land use will mean that some areas should be totally protected, while others can be selectively used for certain activities. Some areas present better conditions for growing basic foods, while others are better used for farming exportable products. What we can’t continue to allow is a trade regime that concentrates profits while shunting the environmental costs onto local populations and continuing to make crucial political decisions within small, anti-democratic elites of businessmen and women.

Central America needs a new form of alternative integration based on a new institutional architecture–one with broad participation from social movements and strict application of the right to food and food sovereignty. The current conditions of the crisis and the accumulated effects of liberalization should urgently point to the need to restore the strategic leading role that rural farmers have had in the region’s historical development. The present threat to our indigenous-African descendent-peasant populations signals that it is time to think about and build a Central America without hunger and poverty. It’s time for a present with promise for all generations of Central Americans.

Carlos G. Aguilar Sanchez is a member of the regional coordination of Grito de los Excluidos Mesoamérica (Cry of the Excluded Mesoamerica