Defending the rights of producers and rural people and acting in solidarity on #17April2021
25 years ago at the World Food Summit in Rome, La Via Campesina launched the food sovereignty movement. Peasant farmers coined the phrase to refer to their vision to oppose the industrial model of farming and replace it with one built on “the right of people to autonomously produce healthy, nutritious, climatically, and culturally appropriate food, using local resources and through agroecological means, primarily to address the local food needs of their communities.”
On April 17th, we’re marking the 25th international day of peasant struggles by reflecting on how the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the deep problems in the industrial food system, with a growing understanding that farmworkers and peasant farmers are more essential than ever.
One of the many inequalities that the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened and exposed is how we are able to eat. Instagram feeds were full of sourdough loaves as people with jobs that allowed them to work from home took advantage of the extra time and money to cook and experiment. Essential workers have had no such luxury, and many more have been left in poverty with unemployment and food banks on the rise.
In the farming sector, it has become clear just how essential workers are – although this does not mean their situation has improved. Factory farms have become hotbeds of Covid-19 outbreaks, an indicator of both how poor the working conditions are and how relied-upon cheap meat has become. The main union for workers in the food and agriculture sector in Europe called labour conditions “deplorable”, with workers still being paid poverty wages after a brutal year of keeping the profits coming in for their bosses.
Another group of formerly-ignored workers who lockdown rules have had to be bent for are migrant workers, without whom crops would wither and die in the fields. In a normal season, 300,000 workers would migrate to Germany to harvest asparagus and strawberries, and plant crops. These jobs could not be more essential, but pay so little that exemptions were made to border closures to airlift in tens of thousands of workers from Romania and Bulgaria to work for low wages.
Border closures and temporary trade barriers also forced governments to reconsider how agriculturally self-sufficient they are. The ruptures to the globalised food chain led the French Agriculture Minister to declare “We have one objective: regain some of our food sovereignty” when announcing plans to grow more protein crops to reduce reliance on soybean imports from South America.
Food sovereignty is fundamental to the sustainable food system that we need to build to prevent ecological collapse, but the French move still presupposes having a large and growing industrial meat sector to feed with its protein crops. Real food sovereignty goes far beyond self-sufficiency.
These tweaks around the edges won’t work. As the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) says, ecological collapse is inevitable if we accept the profit-driven vision of the agribusiness industry.
Instead, we need coordinated and strategic action to work with producers to radically overhaul the food system, end the exploitation of farm workers, and build food sovereignty at the local level in a way that respects workers and nature. Policymakers must listen to the demands and calls from farm worker unions, the peasant farming movement, and environmental justice organisations.
Unfortunately, the EU’s food and farming strategy does not look set to deliver. Currently, peasant farmers are doubtful that the Farm to Fork strategy will include the needs and asks of small and medium-sized farmers. https://www.eurovia.org/farm-to-fork-strategy-key-messages-from-ecvc/
Meanwhile, the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (which makes up around 40% of the EU’s budget) does not bode well either. Instead of real transition towards sustainable food systems based on agroecology, it looks set to bring another 5 years of business as usual for European farming.
This is also why campaigners continue to call on the European Commission to #WithdrawTheCAP. Unless policy makes listen to the demands of citizens and farmers, farmworkers, peasants and migrant workers, to also uphold its founding values and act in solidarity with producers, the European Commission must withdraw the current CAP proposals. Farming in a way that respects nature will make our food and farming systems much more resilient to future pandemics.
On #17April2021 we stand in solidarity with food producers and others who have been hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic: indigenous peoples, farm and food workers, women, migrants, refugees, people living in war zones and conflict areas, people living in poverty, people without access to public health systems and especially people living without reliable water, food and sanitation and without possibilities to avoid infection.