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AGRICULTURE: Social Movements Call for “New Agrarian Reform”

Mario Osava

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Mar 10 2006 (IPS) - Rural social movements are calling for a “new agrarian reform based on food sovereignty,” that would incorporate a range of sectors, including peasant farmers, women, and ethnic minorities, in order to build an effective, and more just, development model.
     “The states and the international system have been incapable of defeating poverty and hunger in the world.”

Rural social movements are calling for a “new agrarian reform based on food sovereignty,” that would incorporate a range of sectors, including peasant farmers, women, and ethnic minorities, in order to build an effective, and more just, development model.

“The states and the international system have been incapable of defeating poverty and hunger in the world,” declares the final document issued by the ‘Land, Territory and Dignity’ Forum, which ended Thursday in Porto Alegre.

The civil society Forum was held parallel to the Mar. 7-10 second International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in this southern Brazilian city.

Indigenous people, fisherfolk, migrants, nomadic herders, descendants of African slaves and other ethnic minorities are among the groups that should be incorporated into “genuine agrarian reform,” which is impossible without “gender equity,” just as “there is no future for our societies without young people in the countryside,” states the declaration, to be presented to the intergovernmental ICARRD meeting Friday.

To fulfill these conditions, it is indispensable to go beyond mere land distribution, and to take into account the broader concept of communal “territory” that serves as home to campesino (peasant) communities, indigenous peoples and fish harvesters, recognising “their right to maintain their own spiritual relations,” culture, traditions and institutions; in other words, their autonomy and self-determination.


Access to the sea must also be respected, in order to rescue fisherfolk from the neglect in which they have been steeped for years, despite the fact that seafood accounts for 16 percent of the protein consumed worldwide, said Pedro Avendaño, a Chilean representative of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF).

If fishworkers are not included in the policies of the new agrarian reform, “there will be no food security,” he said in an open debate Thursday among seven representatives of civil society and seven government delegates, which formed part of ICARRD’s aim of promoting dialogue and cooperation between the two sectors.

The need for a new model that would ensure “access to the sea” for those who depend on small-scale fishing for their livelihood was defended by Sri Lankan fisherman Herman Kumara with the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, in the presentation of the document approved by the Forum

“Half of the 200,000 fishermen in my country were affected by the (December 2004) tsunami,” Kumara told IPS.

Without international aid and national policies that guarantee them the right to fish and to housing, it will be impossible to pull out of the most dire poverty the tens of thousands of families who lost everything, he added.

Food sovereignty and the power to decide on national policies in that area, with autonomy, is based on a set of rights that begin with the right of people to a “healthy diet” and to “produce their own food,” said Rafael Alegría, a Honduran activist with Vía Campesina, a global movement of peasants and small farmers.

Further, agrarian reform must include the right to productive and cultural diversity, and the right to “seeds, as a heritage of humanity that cannot be privatised,” as well as social control of the market to ensure “fair prices” without the European or U.S. policies that benefit agroexports, and the “dumping” of products on markets at artificially low prices, in favour of large corporations, said Alegría.

Food sovereignty also means “the defence of life,” because a “slow death” will be in store for rural communities if the current policies imposed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and global finance are not modified, he said to loud applause by the hundreds of campesinos attending the debate.

The government representatives, from Mexico, the European Union, Madagascar, Morocco, India, China and Nigeria, described initiatives by their governments in the area of agriculture, which in some cases included the distribution of land and measures to foment small-scale farming, with assistance and social benefits.

But it was a dialogue of the deaf when it came to concepts, with the social activists complaining that governments ignore the principle of food sovereignty, one of the central issues in the debate.

Food sovereignty is defined as the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.

However, the description of the “right to work,” as ensured by a recent law in India that is already being implemented in 800 poor districts, captured the attention of listeners.

The representative of that country’s Ministry of Agriculture explained that the rural employment guarantee act promises wage employment to every rural household, in which adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. Through the new law, the government aims at removing poverty by assuring at least 100 days’ paid employment a year to one person in every household.

The Nigerian delegate was also applauded when he proposed that the third ICARRD be held within three or “a maximum of five years,” recalling that 27 long years went by since the first edition took place in 1979 in Rome.

The 550 participants in the ‘Land, Territory and Dignity’ Forum included 150 delegates of organisations of women peasant farmers, fisherfolk, young people, herders, and ethnic groups from 67 countries, representing every continent.

The “new agrarian reform” should ensure the exercise of the rights to education, health, housing, social security and recreation, as well as access not only to land but to natural resources like water, forests and biodiversity.

“Neoliberal globalisation”, megaprojects that expel peasant farmers from the countryside, like dams, airports and highways, and trade policies that fuel the rural exodus were targets of their complaints, as well as the persecution and repression of rural activists.

 
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AGRICULTURE: Social Movements Call for “New Agrarian Reform”

Mario Osava

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Mar 10 2006 (IPS) - Rural social movements are calling for a “new agrarian reform based on food sovereignty,” that would incorporate a range of sectors, including peasant farmers, women, and ethnic minorities, in order to build an effective, and more just, development model.
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