Source: Viacampesina.org / The Dawn News / April, 15, 2016. Conference for the Agrarian Reform – International Day of Peasant Struggles
On the first day of the International Conference for Agrarian Reform, which continues until April 17, in the municipality of Marabá, in Pará, Brazil, the 170 attendees discussed the situation of agricultural workers around the world.
Themba, representative of the African Landless Movement, stressed that the capital intends to control everything, not just production. “They don’t not just want to control food, they want to control your mind, they want to control everything. One percent of the world’s population wants to control all natural resources of the planet”. Video
Themba denounced that in Africa food is overpriced, due to control on the forms of production. “Peasants can’t have their own production matrix, they must produce under an imposed model, with GMOs and other elements of the capital, such as poison”.
Another element highlighted by the African comrade was State repression and the impunity of its actions. “There is much impunity, the guilty ones are never punished for their actions. The government sends police to guarantee this repression policy, this happens in Africa as it happened here in Pará”.
Shalmali, representative of Focus on the Global South, an organization from India, allied to La Via Campesina, analysed the Asian juncture. Like Themba, Shalmali stressed that criminalization and impunity are elements that determine the agrarian reality in India. According to her, this is part of the current development project that is underway in Asia.
Another problem in this region are free trade agreements. The free trade zones, for example, near the borders, are huge areas with special policies to attract investors in detriment of worker’s rights. Many families are expelled from those lands so that they can guarantee this projects.
Apart from this free zones, Shalmali also stressed some other mega projects that have a direct impact on people from rural areas. “These mega investments are programs financed by companies and international banks, among which are the hydroelectric project, mining, and other projects that take over huge areas, expelling people from their land”.
Colonization, according to her, is advancing on greater areas in Asia. “When a large amount of land in Bangladesh is bought, you do not know who is buying it, because these funds come from tax havens and we can’t see the names of the people behind the money”.
And, as happens in other regions, repression and impunity mark social struggles. “We see human rights advocates, workers, peasants in their struggles and their are not safe. Those who resist are considered terrorists. We are currently helping with cases of disappearings, prison, murders. And often, we don’t know who did it, if it was the state police or private security. Impunity reigns. And this is supported by many social classes in our country, even by NGOs. The good news is that people are not immobile. There is resistance, there are struggles in many parts of Asia”, she concluded.
Omar, from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees of Palestine, synthesized the struggle of the Palestinian people who face the continuous attempts to expel them from their original territory. According to him, “Palestine has suffered successive occupations, quite differently from other countries. After leaving the Ottoman Empire, they fell under the British mandate, in which England allied to Egypt. Years later, in 1947, Britain gave all the territory to Israel. The Palestinian people ended up restricted to a small area of the Gaza Strip. Israel knows that Palestinians are small farmers who live off their land, so what they do is expel Palestinians from their land, offering jobs with good wages. That way, when they leave their lands, Israelites take them. Therefore, the work of the Committees focuses on trying to keep the Palestinians in their lands to ensure that Israel won’t take them. In addition, Israel controls nearly 90% of the sources of water and, therefore, Palestinians have no direct access to water, unless they are authorized by Israel”, said Omar.
Palestine’s main crop are olives from the olive trees, destined to the production of oil. Olive tree plantations cover almost 70% of Palestine’s productive lands. “We produce bread, olive oil, eggs and we import most cereals and other food we consume. And we import, mainly, from Israel. 25% of our population works in the field. As we don’t have any other industries, rural areas are fundamental for Palestine’s economy”, he concluded.
Miklos Attila, from Romania, stressed that in Europe the reality is quite similar. “The problem, in both Romania and Ukraine, is that large companies hold more than one million hectares of land. All of the farmers produce goods; nevertheless, we import products from other countries, like Brazil. And this is a consequence of the neoliberal model. Land is not being used to produce food for its people. Federico, from Andalusia, Spain, also highlighted that in the European East, there is a high degree of land concentration, as in many other parts of the world. “They are diminishing the amount of public and communal land and increasing the control of land by a small number of companies”, he said.
The Urgency of the Agrarian Reform
Perla, from Paraguay, also discussed the issue of land concentration under control of the capital, and highlighted the reality of the Americas. “Our territories are being subject to the capital’s projects, which are competing with workers in the field and the city”. She added that: “Our claims of struggle for the agrarian reform are now even more urgent and necessary than ever. But it’s different from that land reform that was discussed 20 years ago. It must be an integrated and popular project of agrarian reform, where we return to live again with nature, and recover our ancestral knowledge. Without land and without territories we are not going to have our food sovereignty. We are many men and women! We need to unify our struggle”
Friar Sérgio Görgen, from the Movement of Small Farmers in Brazil (MPA) highlighted the fallacy that is present in the discourse of agribusiness about being responsible for food production in the world. “The grain is what enables capital to dominate agriculture, it’s easy to plant, harvest, dry and transform those grains into commodities. Their main concern is not whether people are suffering from hunger or not, but whether the invested capital returns. Its production, therefore, is not intended for supplying population”.
Moreover, according to the friar, this agricultural model is a major producer of carbon. It is a “petro-dependent” model from beginning to end. Poisons, fertilizers, machineries, transportation, everything entails the use of oil. “Monoculture itself reduces biodiversity, and it destroys biomes and ecosystems. It works with only a few varieties of food, plants and animals and with little diversity of seeds”, he said.
Parallelly, this productive model impacts on water. “On the water issue, I will give the example of Brazil’s Cerrado, which is a large water tank. Nearly every major river of the country is born in the Brazilian Cerrado biome. As soy dominates the Cerrado, it damages the entire water tank of the Brazilian territory. We do not know the possible effects that this could have in a long-term period” analyzed the Friar Sérgio.
Friar Sérgio Görgen believes that peasants and social movements that struggle for land have great challenges ahead and the task of offering society a sustainable model for the future. “We, the peasants and indigenous people, represent the only hope that humanity has to ensure that in the future we’ll have services that are healthy for the ecosystem and can put food on everyone’s tables. We must have a proposal that guarantees quality of life, genetic and energetic autonomy, beneficial control of territory, among other things, that offers an alternative to the discourse of the past years. Only we can feed the world’s population, with capacity and quality”.
Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC of Mexico highlights the oppression and violence that social movements are going through. “We are living a moment of violence. The death of Berta Caceres, the murder of two landless workers in Parana, and even the massacre in this place where we are now, Eldorado dos Carajas. There is also violence in the coups, such as the ones of Paraguay and Honduras, that were supported by agribusiness. The level of violence continues to grow, because we are on a finite planet. Companies are also in crisis and they want to pass it on us. The Land reform, apart from being fair, is mandatory, it’s essential and intelligent. Land reform is necessary as it involves us all, it’s a matter of survival. It’s not only relevant to farmers”, she said.
Authors: Cristiane Passos – Advisor Communication from the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) – Communication Collective of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform. Researcher of Agroambiental Law and Human Rights of the Paulista State University – UNESP.