On April 17th each year La Via Campesina (LVC), the international movement of 200 million peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, Indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world, commemorates the massacre of landless peasants in Eldorado dos Carajás, Brazil in 1996. The peasants were slaughtered while struggling for agrarian and land reform and were part of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement or MST (read more about the massacre and the continued impunity here). The date was established as a day of remembrance, action, and protest for member organizations – the NFU being one of 182 members globally – to fight for changes in public policies for rural areas.
This year, the International Day for Peasant Struggle is marked by new hope in the form of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP – read the text here). On December 18, 2018, the General Assembly in New York adopted UNDROP, a declaration unique in its formation and process. La Via Campesina – a truly grassroots global social movement without state or NGO leadership – led the discussion and defined articles using its own language. It aims to identify how peasants access and control land, seeds, water and natural resources. Today, the NFU and La Via Campesina North America recognize peasant struggles globally and in our regional contexts, and demand sweeping policy changes that promote agrarian reform and social justice under the umbrella of agroecology and food sovereignty.
Canada is not immune from corporate-driven, trade-oriented agriculture and social policies that undermine our ability to live sustainable livelihoods. We as family and/or small-scale farmers and farmworkers of the NFU stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters globally in the struggle for peasant rights. We urge the Canadian government to ratify the the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural areas and demonstrate their commitment to peasant farmers above corporate interest.
Here are a few ways the NFU is actively fighting for fair and just policies as related to UNDROP:
Article 19.2: Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their own seeds and traditional knowledge.
19.5: States shall recognize the rights of peasants to rely either on their own seeds or on other locally available seeds of their choice and to decide on the crops and species that they wish to grow.
Seed Synergy, the corporate seed industry lobby, wants the federal government to bring in new regulations under Canada’s Plant Breeders Rights Act to set up a system that would force farmers who plant newer varieties to pay a royalty every year even when planting farm-saved seed. NFU policy calls for farmers’ continued right to save and use our own seed, and for public funding to support plant breeding. The Save our Seed campaign is engaging in actions to pressure the government away from oppressive, corporate-dominated seed policy and towards seed sovereignty. Find out more and take action here
Article 14 1. Peasants and other people working in rural areas, irrespective of whether they are temporary, seasonal or migrant workers, have the rights to work in safe and healthy working conditions, to participate in the application and review of safety and health measures, to select safety and health representatives and representatives in safety and health committees, to the implementation of measures to prevent, reduce and control hazards and risks, to have access to adequate and appropriate protective clothing and equipment and to adequate information and training on occupational safety, to work free from violence and harassment, including sexual harassment, to report unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and to remove themselves from danger resulting from their work activity when they reasonably believe that there is an imminent and serious risk to their safety or health, without being subjected to any work-related retaliation for exercising such rights.
Article 22.2: States shall, according to their national circumstances, take appropriate steps to promote the enjoyment of the right to social security of all migrant workers in rural areas.
The Migrant Worker Subcommittee is an active part of the NFU’s International Programs Committee (IPC). The subcommittee meets regularly and supports the Canada-wide campaign for Mobility, Voice and Equality for Migrant Workers which calls for a change in Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program to allow farm workers (quite likely peasants in their own countries) to become permanent residents in a country where they may have been seasonally employed for many years.
Article 17.6: Where appropriate, States shall take appropriate measures to carry out agrarian reforms in order to facilitate the broad and equitable access to land and other natural resources necessary to ensure that peasants and other people working in rural areas enjoy adequate living conditions, and to limit excessive concentration and control of land, taking into account its social function. Landless peasants, young people, small scale fishers and other rural workers should be given priority in the allocation of public lands, fisheries and forests.
Article 17.7: States shall take measures aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of land and other natural resources used in their production, including through agroecology, and ensure the conditions for the regeneration of biological and other natural capacities and cycles.
Land grabbing is increasingly common practice across Canada, and Prince Edward Island is experiencing it at an alarming rate. The P.E.I Lands Protection Act, however, is unique and should, in theory, protect rural communities from large tracts of land being transferred to foreign investors and corporate interests. However, the government has failed to uphold the act as a means to protect land on behalf of rural communities. The NFU in P.E.I has focused much of its attention in the last year on the intensity of the land grab on the island. Read more about their efforts in the Spring 2019 edition of the Union Farmer Quarterly
Article 2.3: Without disregarding specific legislation on indigenous peoples, before adopting and implementing legislation and policies, international agreements and other decision-making processes that may affect the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with peasants and other people working in rural areas through their own representative institutions, engaging with and seeking the support of peasants and other people working in rural areas who could be affected by decisions before those decisions are made, and responding to their contributions, taking into consideration existing power imbalances between different parties and ensuring active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of individuals and groups in associated decision-making processes.
The NFU is committed to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. As settler farmers, we are obliged to inform ourselves and deepen our understanding of Indigenous food sovereignty, acknowledging that policies we seek to change at the national level impact the territories and rights of Indigenous peoples. In an effort to better act in solidarity, the NFU has formed a special working group to foster space for self-education and relationship building with Indigenous peoples: the Indigenous Solidarity Working Group (also a subcommittee of the IPC) was started in 2015. The Working Group launched a Webinar Series in 2019 focusing on deepening our understanding of settler-colonialism and finding ways to take action in solidarity with Indigenous peoples for food sovereignty. Find out more here.
On April 17th, the NFU and La Via Campesina acknowledge the need for the realization of peasant rights. We will continue to struggle for just and fair societies where peasant farmers and rural communities are valued. Peasant rights are human rights.
Peasant Rights NOW! With Agrarian Reform and social justice!
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For more information contact:
Jessie MacInnis – National Farmers Union Region 1 (Atlantic) International Programs Committee Representative, NFU Youth Vice President: firstname.lastname@example.org