La Via Campesina: The peasants' struggle, relevant as ever!

12 July 2013 - 1:19pm

La Via Campesina, the world's largest peasants' movement, held its sixth international conference last month in Jakarta. The conference marked 20 years of the plight and resistance of peasants around the globe. About 500 people from 70 countries in all continents gathered to celebrate their victories and plan for the future.

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Every four years the movement holds its international meeting, which has become a symbol of unity and commitment. As a membership movement, La Via Campesina represents millions of members from 200 organisations - small-scale farmers, crofters, fisherfolk, indigenous groups, small-scale women farmers and artisanal food producers. As one delegates said, La Via Campesina is a movement that works on the basis of consensus building and takes no final decision without the whole collective's acceptance. The decision-making process proves long and sometimes slow, but a price worth paying for participation and collaborative ownership.

La Via Campesina's existence reminds us about the continuing relevance of the peasants' struggle in the fight against imperialism and against the reconsolidation of the capitalist system. The movement represents a paradigm through shaping means to mobilise the grassroots beyond workplaces. During the last two decades, La Via Campesina has positioned itself as the social movement defending not only the livelihoods of millions of peasants, but the future of the planet. Oliver De Schutter, the United Nations rapporteur on the right to food, addressed the conference via Skype. De Schutter congratulated La Via Campesina and told delegates that small agriculture, far from belonging to the past, represents the way to feed the world now and in the future. 

“Globalisation of struggle! Globalisation of Hope!” - the best known slogan from the movement - speaks about the huge challenges taken on by La Via Campesina. To globalise the struggle also means to bring unity. But achieving unity, while respecting diverse cultures, identities and political tendencies, presents a persistent challenge. And La Via Campesina must face that challenge to keep the movement alive, according to Paul Nicholson, a farmer from the Basque Country and a longstanding member and fighter of the movement.

This year La Via Campesina gave a special welcome to two organisations - the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Boricua, from Puerto Rico. Speeches from both their representatives brought them loud receptions and long applause. Such warm support for the Palestinian cause and respect for the Puerto Ricans reflected admiration for people still fighting US imperialism.

The conference opened with assembles for young people and women, followed by regional meetings and plenary sessions, where delegates helped frame the final statement outlining the main challenges, principles and thematic areas for the next period.

The movement has undertaken internal debate throughout its existence about how to work with political allies, those who share political values, but are not landless people or peasants. This year La Via Campesina invited political allies as observes. War on Want was proud to be invited to participate in the conference and reasserted its long commitment to the movement and food sovereignty.

Access to land was one of the first issues that mobilised small-scale farmers within La Via Campesina. Many have been killed and unlawfully jailed under state repression, often in complicity with private security firms protecting multinational companies. In the conference plenary session, a representative of the Centro American region, told of the brutal repression suffered by Honduran peasants amid landowners clearing land for foreign investors.

Land reform has evolved from a single issue struggle into the food sovereignty framework. It was conceived that food sovereignty not only would respond to technical production issues, distribution or consumption. It would tackle above all the political, financial and economic structure that underpins the entire global food system.

La Via Campesina's ultimate goal is to achieve food sovereignty for all. During the closing plenary ceremony, The Jakarta Call, the movement's general statement was issued and accepted. It was a poignant moment, underlining hope and determination by La Via Campesina's members and allies to continue working towards the full realisation of food sovereignty.


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