Fighting for food

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Fighting for Food

By Ben O’Hanlon


People from the Landless Workers' Movement (MST) at the MST's 5th Congress in Brazil, in 2007. Wilson Dias/ABr - Agencia Brasil under a Creative Commons Licence

The farmers are putting their lives in danger to grow our food.

17 April 2016 is the 20th annual International Day of Peasants’ and Farmers’ Struggle. It reminds us of how dangerous it is for millions of farmers to simply grow and sell food. Twenty years ago, on 17 April 1996, 19 farmers from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement were killed Pará. They were trying to occupy a ranch (which was not producing any food) near Eldorado dos Carajás. Military police shot protestors. It was one of the worst massacres of modern Brazilian history. Two more farmers died later from injuries and hundreds had serious injuries.

Twenty years later, it is no safer. In April 2016, Brazilian state military police killed two rural workers from the Landless Workers’ Movement. In March, a member of the Colombian Peasant Association of Arauca was killed and three other peasant farmers were taken prisoner. And Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner was murdered in her home. Berta was a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH). She led the successful fight to stop the building of the Agua Zarca dam that threatened the Lenca community of Rio Blanco.

In December, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition found a lot of abuse and human rights violations against tea plantation workers in Assam and West Bengal, India. In October 2015, three activists were arrested in Ethiopia on terrorism charges. La Via Campesina says their crime was only trying to go to a workshop on food security.

This is only part of a lot more violence against farmers and indigenous communities. There is a war between small-scale farmers and big businesses to control global food production. About 2.5 billion people in the world live from farming and fishing. But millions have been forced to leave their land and jobs since the 1970s for large-scale farm businesses and industrial fishing.

The central problem is land. For example, in northern Mozambique, UNAC (the National Union of Farmers in Mozambique) is campaigning against plans to develop an ‘agricultural corridor’. If this happens, hundreds of thousands of people could lose their homes and land. NGO GRAIN says that the ProSavana project (the Government of Mozambique working with foreign governments and donors) would change a very big area of possibly 14 million hectares of land into a very large agricultural area – all for export. Another project in the same area wants to occupy an area of more than 240 thousand hectares. This would affect as many as 500,000 local people and force many to leave their land.

In Ethiopia, the UK Department for International Development (until early 2015) was the main funder in a $4.5 billion programme. Farmers say this programme violently forced thousands of rural families to leave their land. People say the UK money helped the Ethiopian government to move 1.5 million people.

Many people are suffering for this change in our food system. The old idea that food is a basic human right is dying. Now, food is a commodity for making money.

But as human beings we know that everyone has the right, and the need, to get food. This is a right from the United Nations. When we make food a commodity, the market controls it and it is only for making money. The people must control the global food system because it food is a basic human right.

So War on Want supports the international call for food sovereignty, Food sovereignty means that food production must be democratic, and farmers should have own and control the land they work.

As we eat our own food on 17th April, let’s remember the sacrifice that so many farmers have made – and make – to grow it.

Ben O’Hanlon is Senior International Programmes Officer (Food Justice) at War on Want.

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