Our time has come: Food Sovereignty Now!

October 29, 2012

Speech by Henry Saragih, Chairperson of Serikat Petani Indonesia and General Coordinator of La Via Campesina

AEPF 9 Plenary on Food Sovereignty, 17 October 2012

My name is Henry Saragih. I am the chairperson of Serikat Petani Indonesia, a mass organization consisting of small-holder farmers, landless, indigenous peoples and also women peasants and youth all across Indonesia. We are a member of La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement spread in 70 countries and of more than 170 organizations. I am also the general coordinator of this international peasant movement.

Allow me to extend support for peasants and small-and medium scale food producers all over the world, as yesterday, 16 October, the world was celebrating the World Food Day–with a strong hope that people can have the rights to healthy and culturally appropiate food that produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods–and to be able to define our own food and agriculture systems. To be able to uphold our rights to land, water, and seeds. The people’s food sovereignty.

In absolute terms, there have never been more peasants in the world than today: around 1.2 billion at the global level. Peasant farmers, landless, rural workers, indigenous peoples, livestock herders and artisanal fisher folk, their families and communities represent about half of the world’s population and constitute the backbone of our food systems. Hence, we must put the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of the food systems and policies–and not let it go to the demands of profits and the interests of corporations.

Paradoxically these people are at the same time particularly affected by hunger: According to the UN, close to 80 percent of the world population suffering from hunger and chronic malnutrition live in rural areas. The small and medium producers are the ones who suffer the most.

According to FAO report, about 870 million people are undernourished in the world, or one in eight people. The vast majority of these unfortunate people, 852 million, live in developing countries–with 563 million people live in Asia.

In Indonesia, 29.13 million people are still living below the poverty line. The number of poor people in rural areas is bigger (18.48 million) than those who live in urban areas (10.65 million). These figures are worse than the World Food Summit 1996–making it impossible to reach the Millenium Development Goals in 2015.

Throughout the history, these people we are talking above: peasants, landless, agricultural workers, fisher folk, pastoralists, herder and hunters, indigenous people and women (half of fisher folk in the world are women!) have been in vulnerable position and suffered a great deal of discrimination of their basic rights.

In a study, the UN Human Rights Council state the causes of this vulnerability and persistent discrimination of peasants and other people working in rural areas. They are, among others, are:

  • Expropriation of land, forced evictions and displacement
  • Gender discrimination
  • Absence of agrarian reform
  • Lack of minimum wage and social protection
  • Repression and criminalization of movements protecting the rights of people working in rural areas

If we want to overturn the bleak situation of our current food system, we need to attack the roots of the problems. Injustice in land, water and seeds must be addressed. Stop land and water grabbing and also patents of seeds. Genuine agrarian reform must be implemented. We need to focus to rural areas to address our hunger problem by restructuring our mode of production to a more sustainable-agroecology farming. This is also to protect and restore our Mother Earth.

Food sovereignty has a set of principles. Many fora and respectable studies have mainstreamed food sovereignty in order to realize a more people’s driven food systems and policies. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has many references of this bottom-up principles especially since it was coined by La Via Campesina in 1996. Many countries translate food sovereignty into their public policies. Constitution of Bolivia. Some elements existed in national law: Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador. Indonesia are considering in our current revision of Food Law.

The public policies alone in national level, especially if partial, will not be enough. This is not only one country’s problem, or region and your local alone. This is the world’s problem. Our problem. There should be a more coordinated effort in international level, considering that we need to revolutionize the current global governance of food and agriculture.

A Committee on Food Security (CFS) reform within the FAO has been actively pursued by people’s movements all over the world including La Via Campesina. This leads to the adoption of Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestries.

We also need to activate the rights of states to fulfill their own needs of food–as indicated in food sovereignty principles. We need to build our own rural economy, so we do not always depend to international market.

We also need to correct the current trade system, especially in relations to food and agricultre. Food is human rights, it must not be traded in the name of profits–and speculations. We must reduce volatility in international agricultural markets to control speculation–one of the cause of 2007-2008 food crisis.

And the WTO and FTAs? We need to shut it down, because food and agriculture trade have been killing small and medium producers. Trade liberalization hinders the ability of countries to protect their own food system. Now that the WTO is dying, we need to make sure food sovereignty prevails–the interest of people is more important than a "1 per cent" of greedy profit seekers.

Moreover, in international society, we need to recognize and further protect the rights of peasants–and other people working in rural areas. This needs to be done in international context. Despite the existing human rights framework, peasants and other people working in rural areas are victims of multiple violations that lead to their extreme vulnerability to hunger and poverty. Look at the current skyrocketing human rights violation caused by land grabbing:

The scale of land grabbing is vast. More than 60 countries are targeted by hundreds of governments or privates. The UN High Level Task Force on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on Food Security estimates that between 50 and 80 millions of hectares of land in poor and developing countries have been under negotiation to be acquired.

To overcome this situation and further advance the peasants’ rights, there is a need to elaborate a new legal instrument on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. The protection of the rights of peasants is a precondition to achieving national food security and the exercising of national sovereignty on territories and natural resources.

After a long fought struggle by La Via Campesina together with FIAN International and Centre-Europe Tiers Monde (CETIM), The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution hinting at a new instrument for the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The resolution (A/HRC/21/L23) adopted this September is monumental in light of peasants’ key role for food production—and also in the wake of contemporary challenges such as growing conflicts over land, water, and also food prices and climate crises.

There are of course other venues open for the realization of food sovereignty. This people-to-people allies in Asia and Europe should do something. We can do something.

I conclude my speech with two provoking thoughts.

Hunger is a political problem. We, peasants, fisher folks, pastoralists, can produce enough food to the world. We are hard working people. Hunger and all chaos in food and agriculture system is often a policy problem. In this sense, states must and can do actions (I have mentioned some of the feasible actions) to combat hunger and malnutrition.

The second one is from Nyeleni Declaration, of which 500 representatives were coming from more than 80 countries to Selingue Village in Mali, West Africa. Saying that "Now is the time for food sovereignty–we will implement these (food sovereignty) actions in our respective local areas and regions, in our movements and jointly in solidarity with other movements."

And food sovereignty, as proved in Nyeleni, is not only needed by peasants and other people who live in rural areas. Women, youth, migrants, consumers, environmental and urban movements–also support the cause.

Asian movements have proved themselves to be united and massive in the struggle against the WTO in 2005 in Hong Kong, FTAs resistances in Korea and Thailand, Lots of local alternatives practicing agroecology in the Philippines and Zero Budget Farming in India. We are sure we can realize people’s food sovereignty. If we, the people, work hard together, nothing is impossible.

Brothers and Sisters, this is our time.

Tags: food and water, food sovereignty, La Via Campesina, peasant farmers