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LATIN AMERICA
Food Sovereignty movement
José Elosegui*
4/22/2015
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Over 500 representatives from organizations of peasants, family farmers, artisan fishers, indigenous peoples, landless movements, rural workers, migrants, women, youth, consumers and environmentalists met in 2007 at the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in the village of Nyeleni, Selingue, Mali.

Coming from more than 80 countries, the participants of the Forum, organized by La Vía Campesina, stated in the Declaration of Nyeleni that fighting for a world in which “there is a genuine and integral agrarian reform that guarantees peasants full rights to land, defends and recovers the territories of indigenous peoples, [and] ensures the fishing communities access and control over their fishing areas and eco-systems.”

“Most of us are food producers and are ready, able and willing to feed all the world´s peoples. Our heritage as food producers is critical to the future of humanity,” they said.

Food sovereignty is understood by La Vía Campesina as the right of peoples to choose their own models of production, marketing and distribution of food in an environmentally sustainable and culturally appropriate way. The movement launched the concept in 1996 as an alternative to the idea of ”food security.”

On Oct. 15, 2014, La Vía Campesina delegation met in Rome, Italy´s capital, for the 41st Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) of the United Nations. The group reported that “most governments are blind to the challenges of food security around the world.”

Through a press release2, farmers urged governments to take urgent action in favor of peasant and indigenous agriculture, the only model capable of feeding the world. The following day the World Food Day was celebrated. The farmers prefer to call this day “World Food Sovereignty Day” and La Vía Campesina vindicated once again its commitment to achieve food sovereignty. 
 
Challenges of the struggle for food sovereignty
In a world where transnational corporations and governments take over land, food systems and food distribution, farmers continue to feed the majority of the population.
Women play a central role: they make up the majority of the indigenous and non-indigenous peasantry, but women´s contribution to the world food supply is ignored and marginalized.

According to a study by the Grain organization, peasant agriculture produces up to 80 percent of food in non-industrialized countries, although small farms make up less than 25 percent of agricultural land worldwide.

In Latin America, 60 percent of agriculture comes from land dedicated to family farming, says ecologist Martin Drago, co-coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program of the environmental federation Friends of the Earth International.

In Central America, with only 17 percent of agricultural land, small farmers contribute 50 percent of all agricultural production. In El Salvador, with only 29 percent of the land, small farmers produce 90 percent of beans, 84 percent of corn and 63 percent of rice, the three staple foods. 

Over 90 percent of all farms around the world are “small” and are an average of 2.2 hectares. But the trend toward large farms is growing: family farmlands are rapidly disappearing in all continents while large farms have accumulated more land over the last decade.

Argentina lost more than a third of its farms in the two decades between 1988 and 2008; only between 2002 and 2008, the decline was of 18 percent.

In the decade between 1997 and 2007, Chile lost 15 percent of all farms. The largest farms, with more than 2,000 hectares, increased 30 percent in number but doubled their average size from 7,000 to 14,000 hectares per farm.

Among the pressures on the land — pressures that eliminate land for peasant agriculture and threaten food sovereignty — we must emphasize the tremendous expansion of farms dedicated to industrial monocultures (such as soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugarcane), land grabbing by companies and governments, the expansion of extractive industries (mining, oil, gas and fracking more recently), among other causes.

Several Latin American countries dedicate much of their land to industrial monoculture. The case of soybeans in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay is a good example because these countries use many transgenic varieties created by the US company Monsanto. The mining and hydroelectric megaprojects in Colombia, Mexico and Central America also have severe social and environmental impacts on populations and their territories. Oftentimes, these projects, such as grain cultivation for the production of biofuels and the construction of dams, are presented as solutions to climate change.

“Within the proposal of food sovereignty, we stress the need to restore the right of peoples and nations to define their own food systems, food production and consumption based on their needs and cultures. This implies the need to strengthen indigenous peasant agriculture, rebuild local and popular markets, make land reforms and implement public policies that ensure that families will stay in the countryside and bring back from cities the millions of displaced people,” says Argentine peasant leader, Diego Montón, of the Operational Secretariat of the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC-Via Campesina).
 
Food sovereignty in progress
Latin America has successful examples of putting food sovereignty into practice. With its camps and settlements, the Rural Landless Workers Movement of Brazil has managed to sustain itself and grow food for the general population.

The landless peasants have organized more than 100 food production co-ops on their settlements. They have also contributed to the construction of 96 agribusinesses to provide healthy and quality food while improving their incomes and working conditions. 

For example, the northern region of Espírito Santo, in the municipalities of São Mateus and Jaguaré, is an important center for canephora coffee production. The Agricultural Production Cooperative Vale da Vitória (COOPRAVA) is located there. About 2,000 families living in the area are producing coffee as their main source of income. According to data from 2009, that year they planted 10 million feet of coffee, with an average production of 100,000 bags per year.

In Uruguay, the National Native and Criollo Seeds Network consists of 160 family enterprises, involving over 250 farmers from 12 departments of the country.

The Seeds Network’s members are dedicated to recovering native seed varieties, developing them and exchanging them to produce their own food and not rely on seeds from companies. Each producer who receives seeds to cultivate the land and feed his family is also committed to reproduce them to continue increasing the network´s seed bank.

The Santa Rosa Mill project, in the southern department of Canelones, was taken over by the workers and is also an example to highlight from Uruguay. It is the only mill in the country that produces flour with non-GMO corn from family farmers.

In Colombia, the “rural reserve areas” operate under the principles of redistribution and just, equitable, and sustainable peasant access and control of the land and natural resources. These areas have focused on agriculture and family raising of livestock and smaller animals, as well as artisanal fishing. The goal has been to produce food for local and regional consumption.

In Paraguay, the National Coordinator of Organizations of Working, Rural and Indigenous Women (CONAMURI), has a School of Agroecology where it trains its cadres in agroecological production.

Furthermore, there is a National Network for Food Sovereignty in Guatemala, there are seed fairs in almost every country and there are more examples in various corners of the Latin American countries. In some countries, such as Ecuador and Venezuela, food sovereignty is part of the national legal framework. Indigenous and peasant organizations, but also organizations of fishers, landless workers, and environmentalists, have created and led acts of “food sovereignty in progress.”

To address the hunger crisis, it is necessary “to reform the global food system, [to make] a complete change to move from industrial agriculture to agroecology and food sovereignty,” says Drago.

La Vía Campesina said in a statement issued on Sept. 25 of this year (2014) that “science, practices and the agroecology movement are the product of centuries of accumulated peasant and indigenous knowledge, [knowledge] of how to produce food for humanity before the invention of pesticides.” Knowledge that is now systematized through a “dialogue of knowledge” with Western sciences of ecology, agronomy and rural sociology. “For La Vía Campesina, peasant agroecology is a fundamental pillar in building food sovereignty.”  

* He received a degree in Communication Sciences in 2004. He is also a journalist. Since 2004, he has been part of REDES—Friends of the Earth Uruguay, and since 2012 he has been one of the coordinators of Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean of the Climate Justice and Energy Program. Latinamerica Press correspondent since 2010.
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1 http://nyeleni.org/DOWNLOADS/Nyelni_SP.pdf
2 http://viacampesina.org/es/index.php/temas-principales-mainmenu-27/soberanalimentary-comercio-mainmenu-38/2270-csa-en-roma-la-mayoria-de-los-gobiernos-permanecen-ciegos-ante-los-desafios-de-seguridad-alimentaria-en-el-mundo1
3 http://www.grain.org/es/article/entries/4956-hambrientos-de-tierra-los-pueblos-indigenas-y-campesinos-alimentan-al-mundo-con-menos-de-un-cuarto-de-la-tierra-agricola-mundial
4 Idem, Table 5
5 Idem, Table 3
6 http://mst.org.br/taxonomy/term/325
7 http://prensarural.org/spip/spip.php?article9976
8 http://viacampesina.org/es/index.php/temas-principales-mainmenu-27/soberanalimentary-comercio-mainmenu-38/2261-simposio-internacional-de-agroecologia-en-la-fao-en-roma-hoy-se-abre-una-ventana-en-lo-que-por-50-anos-fue-la-catedral-de-la-revolucion-verde


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Family farming in Salto, northern department of Uruguay, includes the use of native seeds. /Lucía Surroca
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