Solidarity the Peasant Way
by Denise O'Brien
One-hundred advocates of rural and farm organizations gathered from 37 countries
around the world to Tlaxcala, in central Mexico, this past April to discuss
ways to develop solidarity and unity among rural organizations. The Via
Campesina, as the international group is called, promotes:
The Via Campesina (literally translated "Peasant Road") coordinates
organizations of peasants, small and medium-sized producers, agricultural
workers and indigenous communities. It is independent of any political,
economic or other type of attribution and is composed of national, representative
organizations, whose autonomy is fervently respected.
- · economic relationships that are socially just;
- · the defense of land;
- food sovereignty and equitable agricultural production based on small
and medium sized producers.
As one of the few North Americans participating in this second triennial
conference, I came away with a feeling of awe and responsibility. The awe
comes from my days of participation with people from all over the world
who are rising to meet the challenge of the globalized economy. Some had
to struggle just to get there: 14 participants could not get their visas
on time. One man from Pakistan arrived a day later than others because of
visa complications. A man from the Philippines had to find a route that
did not stop in the United States, because he is not allowed here.
My responsibility is to convince small and medium-sized producers in the
United States that we must join with our brothers and sisters to counteract
the devastation of the globalized economy. We all know that the same transnational
corporations are affecting all of us in adverse ways. What are we going
to do about it?
The four-day meeting was a lesson in consensus building and democracy in
action. There was translation in three languages: Spanish, English and French
as people from around the world reported on the social, political and economic
situations in their respective regions.
The regional reports had some common threads: the same transnational corporations
are subjecting farmers around the world to marginalization, as the farmers
lose their land, access to credit and markets. Meanwhile, privatization
takes away government programs designed to help low-income farmers and those
with limited resources. And trade agreements place farmers in competition
with each other to produce commodities at the lowest cost, which usually
comes at great cost to the environment.
Joe Luis Lisbbey from Belize stated, "I begin to feel the problems
are the same -- agribusiness - and the only alternative we have left is
to develop our own responses to the problems with productive strategies."
Nettie Weibe, President of National Farmers Union Canada, urged people to
"look past terms such as rich/poor, developed/developing, north/south
and see the battle for what it is - farmers against global agro-industry
The conference's Tlaxcala Declaration blamed "the prevailing neo-liberal
economic system" as the main cause for the increasing impoverishment
of farmers and rural peoples in general. "This economic system treats
both nature and people as a means to an end, with the sole aim of generating
profits. The concentration of all this wealth in the hands of a small minority
has created dramatic constraints on farmers throughout the world, pushing
them to the brink of irredeemable extinction."
The declaration expressed determination "to create a rural economy
which is based on respect for ourselves and the earth, on food sovereignty,
and on fair trade."
It expressed a commitment to rural development that recognizes the contribution
of women, it demanded agrarian reform that returns territories to indigenous
peoples and gives landless farmers ownership and control of the land they
The challenge ahead is implementation of strategies.
It is hoped that the presence of Via Campesina at the World Food Summit
in Rome, Italy, this November will help raise the issues of concern to peasants
and farmers to the attention of world leaders. Many world leaders have the
mentality of "charity" or "helping" poor countries,
but fewer leaders seem to recognize that producers and rural communities
should have a say in determining their future.
Denise O'Brien is a farmer from southwestern Iowa, former president of
the National Family Farm Coalition and is forming a new organization, Women,
Food and Agriculture. Contact her at RR#2 Box 79, Atlantic, IA 50022 or
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