Monday, April 12, 2010

Food Sovereignty and Via Campesina


At the end of World War II, the United States assumed a key role in relation to the rest of the world. The U.S. provided many of its citizens with secure jobs, decent wages, affordable housing, and publicly-funded education for the children. This was in part funded because of the successful economy in the U.S., and a progressive tax system by which the rich paid more, and business paid their fair share.

The world looked to the U.S. for guidance and assistance in many fields, including that of agriculture. The U.S. promoted the view that our foreign aid programs could bring to third world countries a certain knowledge about agriculture which would allow them to feed themselves and end hunger.

The truth devolved quickly into something less altruistic. As the anti-communist 1950s devoured the nation and the government, our foreign aid became more aimed at stopping communism instead of helping the less fortunate. One way to try to keep control of other nations is by keeping them poor and dependent. The new U.S. food programs therefore concentrated more on dumping excess products onto third world countries in bags and containers marked "U.S.A."

Under recent neo-imperialism policies, the entire economies and agricultural systems of other countries were taken over by "market forces." For example, as more countries became mired in debt, the IMF and World Bank began to condition loans on countries making certain specific structural changes in their economy. Among those changes are to drive the people off of their small farms and into the city to work in small factories at slave wages, and to populate the new third world slums. Farming was turned over to export products, those that could be quickly sold to the developed world for cash. Cash was used to pay down the debt to the IMF and World Bank.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is nothing more than a front-group for the major corporations of the world. The WTO claims to be dedicated to helping all countries and economies develop. But in fact, it is just a smokescreen for the corporate rich to go into third world countries, take over, steal their resources, turn their citizens into slaves, destroy the environment, then leave the country only when everything of value has been stripped away. In food, the WTO is trying to control all food production and distribution in the world without regard to local practices or preferences.

As local small farmers were driven off their lands, nations lost the ability to feed their own people. In addition, when the U.S. dumps products onto other markets, that cuts down the prices and also serves to drive local farmers out of business. That's what happened to Haitian rice farmers: the U.S. dumped subsidized and underpriced surplus rice into their country and drove the small farmers out of business. Once the small farmers were out of business, the U.S. jacked up the price of rice, and the people of Haiti began to starve.

Corporations are trying to take control of all the food in the world. Chemical corporations like Monsanto and Bayer take basic seeds, like for wheat, then genetically and chemically alter the seed. The new seeds (FrankenSeeds) have included a type of bar-code, so that the corporation can always prove that it is their seed in somebody's field. The corporations get a patent on the seed from the U.S. Patent office. The patent provides that nobody can use that seed, or eat food from those seeds, without paying money to the corporation. This is called the IP issue -- Intellectual Property claims.

The corporations then sell their FrankenSeeds for very cheap in third world countries. Most third world farmers save seeds from one crop to use in next year' s crop, but the Genetically Modified seeds are sold in packages that include the provision that the seeds may not be used. When farmers re-use the seeds, Monsanto sends their enforcers around to sue the farmers. Monsanto has won enormous judgments against farmers around the world. Some of those farmers swear they did not use Monsanto seeds -- but they can blow over from a neighbors' fields. Chemical corporation wins, farmer loses everything.

One of the biggest dangers of Genetically Modified seeds is that these corporations may eradicate all natural seed, so that the only wheat that can be grown anywhere in the world, for example, is Monsanto Wheat -- which seed will be sold at a premium to reflect the fact that all other wheat seed has been wiped out. Biodiversity is the common situation in the world -- there are many different kinds of seeds. The corporate Frankenseed threatens to destroy biodiversity by eradicating all seeds other than Frankenseeds.

There is some evidence that the bee hive collapse of recent years is caused by genetically modified foods. Bee hives have been disappearing. Bees are a critical part in the growth of food and other plants each year. Without bees, we might all starve. Yet bees are disappearing, and large number of hives are collapsing, failing. Some believe that when the bees go to the chemical-company genetically modified seeds, they absorb chemicals that kill the bees and destroy the hives. Why is Monsanto allowed to take over our food supply?

In response to Agribusiness -- the corporate takeover of food -- a group of small farmers, organic farmers, and citizens opposed to genetically modified food, formed an organization in the 1990s which is called Via Campesina. Via Campesina is an international organization with 148 member groups from 69 different countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Via Campesina is devoted to retaking control of agriculture and food for the benefit of the people. Small farms, local farmers devoted to raising basic crops (rice, wheat, corn) can feed their entire nations. With the corporate control of agriculture, the ability to eat is dependent on the hungry having a good deal of cash to buy corporate food. Small farmers are more likely to sell for amounts that are affordable in their local communities.

Here is a link to the Via Campesina website in English:

The primary doctrine of Via Campesina is called "Food Sovereignty." This is different from the idea of food security -- the ability to be reasonably sure you can eat today and tomorrow. Food Sovereignty promotes the view that all food issues are local and must be handled by the people, not by international corporations, not by the IMF and World Bank. For example, Haiti should return to growing their rice as they have done for generations, and the U.S. should be legally forbidden from dumping rice or other food in that country at prices or terms which will undermine local farmers.

The movie "Darwin's Nightmare" is an excellent documentary that shows the effects of turning food over to market forces. The focus is an African nation where starvation is widespread and poverty is everywhere. Despite that, the country turned over a large lake to control of certain corporations which stocked the lake with a new predatory form of fish to be sold to Europe. Local fisherman catch the fish from their rowboats, but if they capsize they will lose a leg to the alligator-infested lake. A local facility freezes the fish, and planes leave hourly to take it to be sold in Europe. All this while the local people starve. The foreign fish, in the meantime, is destroying the lake by eating everything else that is part of the lake's natural environment. Here's a link to a website where Darwin's Nightmare can be watched online:

Here is a general description of Via Campesina's seven principles of food sovereignty:

Food: A Basic Human Right. Every person in the world is entitled to have safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Access to food should be a constitutional right. Food production and policies must be consistent with ensuring that right and guarantee the required development to ensure this happens.

Agrarian Reform. Agrarian reform is necessary to give landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and to return territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology. People who farm the land are entitled to own land.

Protecting Natural Resources. All agriculture must include practices that allow sustainable care and use of natural resources such as land, water, and seeds. Biodiversity must be maintained. We need to get the chemical companies and their patent claims based on genetically modified seeds out of the business of food, and all people should be free to completely ignore any claims by corporations that they own seed, or have an enforceable patent on them. We should move towards limiting the use of chemicals in food production.

Reorganizing Food Trade. Each country must establish and maintain agricultural policies which focus first on providing food for the people of the nation. Neither food imports or exports should be a significant factor in the country's food production. The focus of food for each country must be to produce nutritious food for home consumption, not to produce luxury items to be sold abroad to rich people.

Ending the Globalization of Hunger. The international predatory practices of rich people and financial institutions have significantly undermined the food sources of the world. The WTO, the World Bank, the IMF, hedge funds, corporations, chemical companies should have no involvement whatsoever in food production inside any country. These rich people and financial institutions tend to destroy local food efforts by promoting the production of luxury items to be sold to the rich at a large profit, and undermining the efforts of each country to feed their own people.

Social Peace. Food (and denial of food) is increasingly used as a weapon against the poor. As part of the individual's right to decent food, they should also be entitled to be free from violence. Minorities, ethnic groups, and indigenous people should be protected in their own food policies and production, and kept free from violence. Displacing small land-owners from their land and forcing them into cities to live in slums is a form of violence which must be prevented.

Democratic control. The people of a nation must set the agricultural and food policies consistent with these rules. Individual and small farmers must be guaranteed a strong voice in developing agricultural policies. Women must be involved in decision-making in all issues relating to food and small farms.

The basic idea of food sovereignty is that the citizens of the world, the individuals, including the poorest people, have the absolute right to have nutritious decent food, and to have agricultural systems in their country run for their benefit, not for the benefit of corporations. The fact is that people all over the world are hungry every day because of the corporate greed and dominance of the food system of the world.

Here's a link to an international group called First First, which is also dedicated to promoting the concept of Food Sovereignty.

Postscript: 4/13/10, I got an e-mail from another organization discussing the destruction of small rice farmers in Haiti, and much of what I've discussed above:

1 comment:

  1. Love your altruism and erudition. Thank you.