“Food Sovereignty is the flame that will show us the way”, insists La Via Campesina as it marks #16October in a pandemic year
PRESS STATEMENT: 16 October 2020, International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational Corporations
Harare: Thirty-five million confirmed cases—over a million dead people. All in just eight months. COVID 19 is now an existential crisis for humanity.
Report after report has informed the world of the devastating impact this pandemic has had on the lives of people. No country or community is immune to this. Yet, it is essential to remind ourselves that people who were already poor and marginalised are facing a dilemma like no one else; either die of COVID or die of hunger.
COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (SOFI 2020). A cruel irony here is that this increasingly hungry world also loses or wastes 1.3 billion tons of food a year! FAO estimates that this wasted food would be enough to feed 2 billion people. Yet, the transnational agribusiness corporations that control much of the world’s food supply are unable to do it, even as hunger is a lived reality of nearly a billion people!
The pandemic will undermine international efforts to bring down global poverty. Some 160 million people in Asia alone may be forced below the poverty line. In Latin America, that figure is around 45 million people. UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund, reported that 872 million students in 51 countries are unable to access education. Over 50% of these students live in circumstances where remote learning is impossible — a scale that suggests a generational crisis in education, cites news reports.
In all this doom and gloom, for some, it is as if the pandemic does not exist. Swiss bank UBS reported that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter at the height of the crisis from April to July. Not surprisingly, those in the healthcare their total wealth increased by over 50%.
What do we make of a world like this? Where is justice in all this? It is in this context that La Via Campesina is marking the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty.
La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement that represents millions of peasants, indigenous peoples, fishers, migrants and other small-scale food producers in 82 countries has called upon the world’s governments to recognise the limitations and inherent injustices of the industrial food system. The aggressive expansion of industrial food production in the last five decades has also increasingly put human health in harm’s way. Apart from the overuse of chemicals and over-processing of foods, which makes them less nutritious and more harmful, it has also resulted in a significant increase in zoonotic diseases – those caused by pathogens which jump from animals to humans (just like COVID-19). Yet, at the first signs of a global pandemic, this industrial food complex cracked up and left countries and citizens in disarray.
For decades, governments did little to protect small farms and food producers which were pushed out of business by these growing dysfunctional corporate giants. They stood idle as their countries grew increasingly dependent on a few major suppliers of food who forced local producers to sell their produce at unfairly low prices so corporate executives can keep growing their profit margins.
Even now, amidst the pandemic, we see persistent efforts by the agribusiness lobby to capture all democratic spaces of governance. For instance, the partnership between the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the UN Secretary-General to organise a “Food Systems Summit” in 2021 openly reflects a corporate takeover of the United Nations at the highest level.
If anything, this pandemic has given us enough reasons to resist such corporate capture and instead accelerate our demands for a Binding Treaty that can hold corporations accountable for human rights and peasants rights violations.
Food Sovereignty through Peasant Agroecology
The elected representatives of people must frame public policies in their states to promote local production and distribution of a diverse basket of food.
It is essential that every government everywhere, prioritises the autonomy of their citizens in designing their food systems.
When small-scale food producers are given the power to design and decide, we will have a food system that is not just culturally and climatically appropriate and diverse; but also produced through peasant agroecological methods, based on centuries of evidence and experience. A recent report from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommends an “agroecological transition” to face global food crisis and land degradation.
Food Sovereignty and an urgent Agrarian Reform
Food Sovereignty guarantees the most basic needs of the human society at all times – food.
Pandemic or any other disruptive shocks that the world may witness can be withstood and survived if food is guaranteed to all people. Our food systems must be built on this most fundamental understanding of our basic rights and needs. Eating healthy food is the right of every human being on this planet.
Healthy nutritional food cannot be replaced by tasteless, nutrition-less, homogeneous frozen meat and dairy packs produced in faraway factories. For food sovereignty to be guaranteed, all countries must embark on an agrarian reform that protects farmlands, rivers, oceans and forests from real estate and extractivist industries. How can people produce food if the land is taken away from them? How can a country call itself free, if it cannot feed its citizens healthy nutritious food?
Food Sovereignty can beat recession and revive rural economies and livelihoods
The pandemic has also exposed the everyday horror of migrant workers, living in unsafe conditions in a foreign land that is hostile, xenophobic and patriarchal. It took a global pandemic to make the lives of billions of rural and urban workers visible to the powerful elites of the world, who were quick to sympathise on social media, yet called to make labour laws more “corporate-friendly”. This criminal hypocrisy of the world’s elites must stop. Workers must have the right to find work in or near their native places. Food Sovereignty can guarantee such a system as it involves using local resources – human and capital – in the production, distribution and consumption of food. Why would a worker migrate into a city and lead an undignified pitiful life, if one can find work and food, in or near one’s village?
The hyper-industrialised society that turned cities into economic engines have, for long, denied the workers the right to work closer home and be food sufficient. If anything, this pandemic has exposed the fragility of this model that deserted the workers at the first sign of trouble, forcing them to walk hundreds if not thousands of miles, back home. Corporate food system has exposed many of its workers to infection. This has been the case with the big slaughterhouses in the US, Germany and other countries. Migrant workers continue to work without adequate protection in the big farms in EU and US and many have been infected. Why should workers trust this system anymore?
Food Sovereignty is the flame that can lead the world out of this darkness
This long dark tunnel that the world has found itself in, is desperately seeking light. A majority of the world’s people, living in despair and disarray are looking for a hopeful sign that can guarantee them and their future generations, equity, equality and dignity.
Even in these difficult times, the solidarity among the world’s poorest and most dispossessed people give us that hope. The fraternity and courage displayed by millions of health workers, sanitation workers, domestic workers, farm workers, indigenous peoples, electricians, technicians, delivery agents, drivers, sailors and countless other front-line workers is offering us a lesson; That in times of existential crisis, it is the workers and peasants who can save the world, even while forsaking their own safety and health.
If this solidarity must persist, the world’s governments must listen to the working class people and the peasants who feed the world. As a movement that represents over 200 million peasants in 82 countries, La Via Campesina is echoing the repeated demands for food sovereignty and agrarian reform coming from our territories and is asking for the urgent implementation of the UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.
LA VIA CAMPESINA, 16 OCTOBER 2020
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To follow the solidarity actions around the world, check out the hashtags #FoodSovereigntyNow #TimetoTransform #16October on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.