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‘Food sovereignty guarantees a future’

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Picture: La Via Campesina/ Taken on December 3, 2023 More than 180 movements from all regions of the world participate in debates, giving prominence to Colombia and Palestine, at the 8th International Conference of La Via Campesina on Sunday December 3 in Bogotá, Colombia.

By Lucas Estanislau

Another production model in the field is possible. This was the statement gleaned from several speeches by representatives of more than 180 peasant organisations from different regions of the world during the opening of the 8th International Conference of La Via Campesina , which took place on Sunday, December 3, 2023 in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.

The event opened a day of debates, which will continue until Thursday, December 7, 2023, with the participation of more than 500 representatives of movements in the field from more than 82 countries. The conference will discuss experiences for building food sovereignty, combating hunger and alternative projects to agribusiness.

Founded in 1993, Via Campesina brings together the main peasant organisations from all continents and seeks to establish international consensus and practices for agroecological production that can combat food insecurity.

According to the platform’s general co-ordinator, Morgan Ody, Via Campesina, the gathering represents more than 200 million rural workers and “is stronger than ever”.

“A unique element of Via Campesina is that we are very diverse and, at the same time, we manage to maintain unity. The conference must be a space for decision-making to face the global crises of capitalism, because without food sovereignty there is no future for humanity,” she said.

Ody also highlighted the importance of making “peasant feminism visible and creating allies with other organisations”. The general co-ordinator also mentioned the choice of Colombia to host this edition of the conference, stating that the country “is going through a period of transformation” under the government of President Gustavo Petro.

“Seeing a country where social mobilisations are so strong and where this is transformed into public policies that recognise the social function of land, that recognise peasants as political subjects with rights, this is very important,” she said.

Picture: Via Campesina – Morgan Ody, left, says ‘without food sovereignty there is no future for humanity’.

‘Agrarian reform in Colombia has many enemies’

Representing the Colombian government, the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Jhenifer Mojica, was present at the opening of the conference and assured that Petro’s mandate “is committed to the peasant struggle”.

“On the government’s part, we adopted all the decisions we have within our reach, we reactivated the agrarian reform system, and our most important political commitment is to achieve agrarian reform to guarantee full access to our territories,” he said.

The minister, however, stated that the executive has been facing problems implementing these policies in the countryside and encouraged popular mobilisations so that they can put pressure on other sectors of Colombian society.

“The government’s will alone is not enough, we have enormous difficulties, we have opponents, forces of power that resist change and, often, these forces are in different bodies of the State,” he said.

The situation in the Colombian the countryside was addressed by economist Héctor Mondragón Báez, who led a specific conference on the reality of peasant struggles in the country. An activist and peasant, Báez trained as an economist, but had to leave Colombia after he and his family faced death threats from paramilitary groups.

“The most important thing this Petro government can do is empower the peasants, as we need to unite and express ourselves in a programmatic way. It will be the peasants who will make the changes, not a government,” he said.

Like Báez, millions of rural workers also had to leave their territories due to threats from armed groups, a side effect of the Colombian conflict between the State and guerrillas.

“The forced removal of populations allowed agribusiness to take over the land, they buy the land from those who carry out the massacres. So, it’s not just a fight for the land, but against agribusiness,” he stated.

‘Palestine will be free’

Another topic that gained prominence at the opening of the conference was Israel’s attacks against the Gaza Strip that intensified on October 7th. The movements expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemned Israeli actions that have left more than 15,000 dead, including more than 6,000 children and 4,000 women since October 7.

Picture: Via Campesina – Activist Yasmeen El-Hasan, centre, says that Israel’s action in Gaza are genocide, and she accuses that country of ‘using hunger as a weapon of war’. The activist’s presence marked the creation of a special committee at Via Campesina for the Arab and North African region, which includes movements from Palestine, Tunisia and Morocco, the writer says.

A debate panel made up of representatives from the five continents included the participation of Yasmeen El-Hasan, from the Union of Palestinian Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), who classified Israel’s actions in Gaza as a genocide and accused the country of “using hunger as a weapon of war” due to the blockade imposed by the country in the region.

“We need to guarantee an end to the bombings of Gaza right now. We will continue to apply pressure, because this is working and in Palestine we feel the effects of solidarity, so we cannot stop,” she said.

El-Hasan also spoke about the organisation’s work to stop the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and said that “we are not going to ask for liberation, we are going to free ourselves with the solidarity of all of you”.

The activist’s presence marked the creation of a special committee at Via Campesina for the Arab and North African region, which includes movements from Palestine, Tunisia and Morocco.

Unity in the global south

African and Asian movements are also present at the conference and have highlighted the common issues that countries in the global south must face in the agrarian issue, such as combating the export monoculture model and the fight to pressure governments to develop land distribution and restitution policies.

Anuka de Silva, youth representative of the National Movement for Agrarian Reform in Sri Lanka, explains that the organisation’s main current demand is to guarantee access to land and natural resources.

“Without this, we are unable to fight for agroecology. At the same time, we are fighting the government to change state policies on access to land, which are very different in Sri Lanka”, he says.

The activist explains that the agrarian reform of the 1970s has contributed to the production of monocultures, which harms small food producers in the country.

The problem of the single-producer model was also highlighted by Luis Muchanga, member of the National Union of Peasants of Mozambique. According to him, “when discussing the issue of agrarian productivity in the African country, only the production of tobacco and cotton is put in the balance, which are not products to feed the people, but to satisfy capital on international exchanges”.

“They are commodities and here we are not discussing commodities, we are discussing human lives, the human right to food, to dignity and, therefore, we are sure that our model is the most viable, it is the correct alternative,” he says. – Editing by Rodrigo Durão Coelho

This article was first published on Brasil de Fato