Voices from the grass-roots

THE golden reign of British athletes and sportspeople at the Rio Olympics, Brexit, back-stabbing politicians, the rise of Trump, the continuing horrors of the Middle East with the occasional terrorist attacks in Europe and other regions – it has been a busy old time for news, hasn’t it?

Some of the media coverage has been intelligent and informed, but when you look more closely what you find is that most broadcasters and newspapers (serious or celebrity/soccer obsessed) actually cover the same stories. So, last weekend we had Rio glory – and congratulations to all the athletes for their amazing achievements – and the breathless anticipation of the imminent return of the Great British Bake Off and Poldark.

Unusually, we had several papers to choose from – the Telegraph both days, the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, and the Observer. Sufficiently different, you would imagine, that you might expect some serious features and investigations into topics beyond the preoccupations with sporting glory, cake porn and comedy, or bodice-ripping glamour (fun though Bake Off and Poldark undoubtedly are).

There seemed to be a tacit agreement between the news media not to cover political issues during the Olympics. Fair enough, we are all pretty exhausted with wall-to-wall Brexit and its associated prophesies of doom, gloom or boom – and the truly terrifying prospect of Trump fancying his chances at the White House. (News of Farage sharing a stage with the apricot horror represents the nadir of politics 2016.)

But leaving the Olympics and the big international and political stories aside, there are so many important stories that don’t attract the media’s attention. Why, for instance, was there NO coverage (that I could find with a trawl of online mainstream media) of a major international meeting, involving a global organisation that represents millions of people?

The organisation is La Via Campesina and the meeting was the 2016 World Social Forum held in Montreal, Quebec, in mid-August.

The revolutionary nature of LVC’s contribution to this gathering is summed up by Carlos Marentes, co-coordinator of the North America region, who said: “We not only believe that another world is necessary – the members of La Vía Campesina are already building a better world.”

You’ve never heard of La Via Campesina? It’s not surprising – it campaigns on issues that affect people who have no voice, no stake in global corporations, no rights in the face of globalised agriculture but who provide much of the food on which we all depend, whether we live in a First World or Third World country.

La Via Campesina is an international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-sized farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies which it believes are destroying people and nature.

The international group is made up of about 164 local and national organisations in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It represents about 200 million farmers, peasants and small-holders.

Founded in 1993, it is an autonomous, multicultural movement, which is independent from political and economic affiliations. Farmers’ representatives – both women and men – from the four continents founded LVC at Mons in Belgium, recognising the need for small farmers to develop a common vision to confront the increasing globalisation of agricultural policies and agribusiness. They wanted to make the voices of small-scale farmers heard and to participate directly in the decisions that were affecting their lives. Within international food and agriculture debates, La Via Campesina is now recognised as an important player, talking to institutions such as the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation)  and the UN Human Rights Council.

Across the world, from Quebec, where LVC supports local members’ struggle to end the monopoly control of agriculture in the province, to Honduras, where environmental and indigenous people’s rights campaigner Berta Caceres was murdered (probably assassinated) earlier this year, the message is: “There is no food sovereignty without peasant sovereignty.”

International trade deals are often portrayed by politicians and the (largely right-wing) media as a good thing. Of course trade is essential, but in many cases what is actually happening is that supra-governmental power is being handed to vast corporations, global agribusinesses and international biotech companies.

La Via Campesina campaigns against the spread of monocultures of feed and fuel plantations, which destroy habitats, the environment and indigenous cultures. At the Montreal meeting, representatives restated their commitment “to the life-or-death struggle for food sovereignty, a people’s agrarian reform, seed and biodiversity sovereignty, the democratisation of the food system and the strong defence of human rights.”

LVC defines food sovereignty as the right of farmers and eaters to control their own food production, processing and distribution. “We assert that small-scale farming, fishing, herding, hunting and gathering are essential in the struggle to bring relief to climate change and continue feeding humanity. We seek access to land for all, especially youth with the drive to feed their communities. We seek an end to the invasion of GMO seeds into our territories and we demand the right of farmers to continue to produce, save and share their own seeds.”

It is, in the truest sense, a grass-roots campaign. As Dena Hoff, LVC’s North American co-ordinator says:   “The fight for food sovereignty will be won with a million grassroots efforts.”

Fanny Charles