Food sovereignty defended at the World Social Forum

World Social Forum discussed food security. Free trade was seen as a threat to peasents and their way of life.
Ruby van der Wekken

Raquel Leandra is one of the numerous organizers at the World Social Forum (Photo: Mika Böök)

PORTO ALEGRE -- "Nobody will give it to us, it is up to us to take it! The struggle for food security has to be of one of whole society, has to be the joint struggle of Africa and Asia. By their alliance we can win! Peasants of this world can not disappear because the Multinationals want more profit!" says Jose Bové, who has been a passionate yet unconfrontational participant at this years World Social Forum.

Large peasant movements - like Via Campesina and Brazilian landless peoples movement MST - are actively fascilitating various seminars on land reform and agricultural production at the WSF. Hundreds of peasants from all the continents have made their way to Porto Alegre.

Food security does not only refer to the right to food, but also to the right to produce food.

"Peasants consitute half of mankind. The threat to their existence is a dramatic concern still unsufficiently addressed also at the WSF," said Samir Amin during a Forum meeting on social movements and alternatives.

"The differences in agricultural production in different parts of the world are enormous. If we say yes to neo-liberalism and the WTO with its continuing imposition on countries to open their markets to competition also with regards to food, 3 billions of peasants will be destroyed in the coming decades. This consent amounts not to the eradication of poverty, but to the eradication of the poor. A genocide." says Amin.

Peasants and all those dependend on them face loss of ownership of planting seeds, and the much feared impact of the use of transgenic seeds.

Silvia Ribeiro, from the Mexican Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (www.etcgroup.org) spoke at the WSF food sovereignty conference on the five companies controlling 90 percent of the global production of seeds which are also the major pharmaceutical empires in this world; Monsanto, Novates, Dow Chemicals, Aventis and Dupont.

Of these companies, Monsanto controls 94 percent of all transgenic production.

"These companies are starting global campaigns telling transgenic products are good for you. The supermarket chain Walmart which has a revenue as large as Norways GDP will believe this and advertise the products. Monsanto will so be at the head of an ever steeper integration between food and the pharmaceutical sector," says Ribeiro.

In September 2001, the World Forum on Food Sovereingty took place in Havanna, Cuba. Hundreds of delagates from peasant and fishing organisations and NGO?s from 60 countries came up with a declaration which entailed a strong demand for agricuture and food issues to be outside the WTO and treaties.

The conference was said to have been a tribute to host country Cuba, which was also at the WSF heralded as a country having held on to food security for its population in spite of the US imposed blockade.

"Political will is at the base of Cuba?s food security today. We are happy with the relations we enjoy today with our state. On May 17 a law on land reform was passed giving a 1000 farmers not only the deeds to their land but also feasible support credit," said a representative of Anape, Cubans National Association of Small Farmers.

"Fair prices are needed for successful land reform. In Cuba peasants get the chance to vote on price levels based on the cost of production," said Anape representative.

"In Cuba we saw the precious revelation of the importance of women in food sovereignty. Their presence was remarkable. The best economists in the world are women.They are the guardians of food safety and souvereignty," said Mano Rodriquez from Colombia.

Next point of mobilization for the activsts around food security is the World Food Summit +5 of the FAO in Rome next June.

"We should have manifestations in front of our parliaments and in front of the International Financial Institutions," said Jose Bové. Via Campesina and others will organize a countersummit in Rome.

"Our farmers are hungry. We too are mobilizing for the Rome meeting and are working together with Via Campesina and peasant organizations in Europe," said Mouhamdy Cissokho, representative of the 35.000 heads strong ROPPA network of peasants and agricultural producers of West-Africa.

Despite the imminent threats to peasants and food security, Samir Amin is optimistic: "Neoliberal policies will have to reckon with great opposition from a steadily growing peasant movement, as is visible in West-Africa. I could not have imagined this ten years ago. The future social movements will build alliances with peasant movements and in this my hope lies."