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Agribusiness worsens Global South’s dependence and debts, says co-ordinator of Via Campesina

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Picture: Percurso da cultura/FlickrGeneral – ‘The fight is between the peasant model and the agribusiness model,’ says Co-ordinator of La Via Campesina International Morgan Ody, a French peasant who co-ordinates the platform fighting for rural workers, talked to Brasil de Fato

By Lucas Estanislau (translated by Ana Paula Rocha)

Indebted to multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), many countries in the Global South boost the monoculture production model for export in an attempt to raise dollars to pay off their debts. That is the analysis of Morgan Ody, current co-ordinator of Via Campesina, a platform founded in 1993 that brings together the world’s most relevant rural movements.

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, she stated that agribusiness worsens the dependence many countries have on large foreign corporations of the food production sector and also huge banks and financial entities.

“The World Bank, the Monetary Fund … These multilateral organisations make the countries of the south – and the people of the north too – contract debts to be paid in the dollar, a currency over which no other country except the US has control. These countries need money to pay the debt. To do so, they end up prioritising the agro-export model and not producing food for the people,” she said.

The organisation’s co-ordinator also pointed out that this situation is seen “in many countries that suffer from hunger, where people do not even have access to the products that the country exports, be it coffee, soy, palm oil and others”.

“That is why we believe these illegitimate debts must be cancelled to ensure there are public policies to support small producers who feed the population,” she said.

Summit discusses possibilities

On the other hand, Morgan Ody said the peasant movements from many parts of the country are fighting to build an alternative model to agribusiness, and these proposals were discussed during the 8th International Conference of La Via Campesina in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city.

“The fight is between the peasant model and the agribusiness model. These [agribusiness] companies want to steal the land, water and energy resources of the world. They want to privatise life and accumulate more [money]. That is their only goal, and we oppose this model. We are fighting so that land, water and animals serve for providing a dignifying life for all peoples,” she said.

Also according to Ody, the more than 180 rural organisations participating in the conference should propose discussions and pressure the governments of their respective countries to implement policies to protect and encourage producers, such as agrarian reform, credit projects and insertion into the market.

This relationship between movements and the government encouraged Via Campesina to choose Colombia as the venue for the event. For Ody, the decision of Colombian President Gustavo Petro to resume the national agrarian reform system and propose projects to encourage peasants should serve as an inspiration for movements in other countries.

Main excerpts of the interview:

Brasil de Fato (BdF): Why did you choose Colombia to host the International Conference of La Via Campesina?

Morgan Ody (MO): We chose Colombia precisely because it is a country whose social and political context gives us hope, something the world is lacking right now. There are many wars and armed conflicts, and hunger is rampant. It is important to have a country that sees peasants as political agents and where social mobilisations are very strong, resulting in public policies that recognise the social function of land.

For us, it is an opportunity to support this process and also be inspired by it so we can return to our countries carrying this strength.

BdF: What are the universal challenges that peasants currently face, and how did you manage to summarise the agendas of 180 movements in only one?

MO: There are many topics, but one of the most important issues is access to land and water. Without it, we cannot produce the food we need for our communities. However, even when we have access to land and water, we have the right to choose to live on it and have a decent income. That means that we need trade rules that do not benefit only multinational companies, but are aimed at peasants and small farmers, because if we do not have a decent income, youth will move away from rural areas to seek a new life in the city.

We need youth to fall in love with rural life and believe they can have a good life there. Another very important topic is peasants’ rights. Persecution and criminalisation of peasants are on the rise all around the world.

In many countries, there are cases of leaders killed, people missing or whose houses were set on fire and destroyed. It is unacceptable because we have a very important social role. Everybody needs food. We are the ones producing it, which is why we must be respected. Today, there is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, and we want it to be real.

BdF: How is La Via Campesina’s relationship with UN agencies?

MO: These are spaces of permanent battle because the financial interests of agribusiness are everywhere we are. For example, even before the pandemic, we no longer had the opportunity to go to Rome to attend the United Nations food conferences.

The interests of capitalism are taking over spaces and acting against the interests of the people. Now, we have to retake these spaces. We have to say that it is not normal that billionaires and owners of multinational companies are the ones who have power at the UN. The UN must be the place of the people, and we are there to say people’s voices must be heard.

Picture: Rafael Stedile / La Via Campesina – Morgan Ody says ‘agribusiness wants to privatise life’.

BdF: But the dispute between people’s sectors and agribusiness doesn’t just happen in multilateral spaces, does it? It is a historic dispute between two completely opposite models.

MO: For sure, the struggle is between the peasants’ model and the agribusiness model. In France, for instance, we fight for water reserves that agribusiness wants to take to produce biomass. First, because we need water to drink and, second, to produce healthy food for the population.

I say this to show that, somehow, ongoing disputes take place all over the world. These companies want to steal land, water and energy resources. They want to privatise life and accumulate more [money]. That is their only goal, and we oppose this model. We are fighting so that land, water and animals serve to provide a dignifying life for all people.

BdF: In Latin America and other regions of the Global South, we see countries increasingly in crisis and dependent on large economic centres. Is the agribusiness model related to this process?

MO: The [monetary] dependence issue is still closely linked to the debt issue. The World Bank, the Monetary Fund… These multilateral organisations make the countries of the south – and the people of the north too – contract debts to be paid in the dollar, a currency over which no other country except the US has control. These countries need money to pay the debt. To do so, they end up prioritising the agro-export model and not producing food for the people.

This is the situation in many countries that suffer from hunger, where people do not even have access to the products that the country exports, be it coffee, soy, palm oil and others. That is why we believe these illegitimate debts must be cancelled to ensure there are public policies to support small producers who feed the population.

BdF: Saying that the country does not want to earn dollars to support small farmers may seem counter-intuitive to the population, right?

MO: Right, and it is a challenge we face. Quite frequently, financial groups control media outlets and spread disinformation. For instance, the media repeat the consensus that agribusiness provides food. But we know it isn’t true.

Agribusiness controls 70 percent of land but produces only 30 percent of food. They use these lands for other things, such as biomass production or the production of other kinds of energy sources that do not affect food production. Among the movements that are part of Via Campesina, there are attempts to build communication workshops so that peasants can protect themselves from these lies.

BdF: This is the first post-pandemic conference you have held. The pandemic threw millions of people into hunger. What is Via Campesina’s assessment of the Covid-19 period and its impact on rural areas?

MO: The pandemic had a lot to do with the crisis in the industrial food model. First of all, because people who had no access to healthy food were affected by the disease. We are dealing with a unique situation in the history of humanity. We are facing the material limits of the planet.

In addition, rich countries believe they can find technological solutions without changing the social model. We are saying the problem is this very model, it is capitalism and inequality.

We fight for social change. We fight to overcome a capitalist model of dominance, one that is imperialist, racist and patriarchal. This model is also one of dominance over life, believing that we can manipulate the planet as we wish. We need a respectful relationship with nature and that is a very profound change.

BdF: Is the situation of peasants and La Via Campesina more difficult today, thirty years after its foundation?

MO: Anyone who saw Via Campesina thirty years ago wouldn’t believe we are still here. Today, we are the largest peasant movement in the world.

Many people thought – and still think – that peasants were worthless. They don’t know how to do anything. So being here today, with such strength, is an extraordinary achievement. We are very confident that with our commitment to defending our production model, we will change the world and solve political crises.

Today, we have other struggles to fight, such as [defending] women, young people and diversity [rights]. The latter held an unprecedented meeting this year. At the last conference, in 2017, we had already taken the first steps, but it was a whole process, a seed that bore fruit.

We cannot lose so many people in the countryside because they are lesbians or trans people who, because they are unable to live in the countryside, are forced to migrate to the city. We want all these people to stay in the rural areas so they can work, and we can learn from them.

This article was first published on Basil de Fato