Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Resistance in Cambodia

Ms Oum Sophy, one of the leaders of the Lor Peang land struggle, Cambodia.

Since 2006, residents of Lor Peang village in Kampong Tralach District, Kampong Chhnang province in Cambodia have been embroiled in a land dispute with KDC International, a powerful private company owned by Ms Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Mr Suy Sem. Since mid July 2014, the village has been occupied by military police and KDC International is building a wall around the lands seized from the villagers.

My name is Oum Sophy. My husband and two other villagers were arrested after we left our village to march to Phnom Penh this morning (12th August 2014). We decided to go to Phnom Penh to ask the government to help us and find a fair solution to the land dispute in our village. On the way, our food, water, bags and documents were thrown and messed up along the road by military police, who tried to stop us from going on. Most of the villagers marching together were beaten by the police and injured, and our children were crying. I could not help my husband when I saw the police carry him into the police truck.

Most of us who marched today are elderly and many are children. I did not want to take my four children with me but I have no choice. My youngest child is only four months old.

We want justice for our people. Five of our representatives have been arrested and we want them to be released. We want the government to stop the company [KDC International] from building walls around our lands, urgently withdraw the military police from our village and stop threatening our freedom, and let us have a safe environment so that our children can go to school. I will not return to my village till there is a proper solution to our problem.

Voices from the field 2

No to the Pacto-Junín megamingin project!

Julián Morente, The Organisations of Neighbours in Resistance of Ingapi, Ecuador.

Pacto is a rural parish in Ingapi, Ecuador. The villagers have managed to live for centuries growing sugar cane interspersed with banana, cassava and other subsistence crops. Our crops do not contain chemicals. We have always worked the land by traditional means, feeding the soil so that the soil can feed us. We produce raw sugar from own sugarcane mills, with homemade equipment and wooden stoves for decanting the sugar.

In the lowlands, have organic grazing livestock and produce milk and meat, without the need of large processors, as we distribute locally and regionally. Here in the foothills of the Andes, the mining companiesa want to come. They have already started in some mountain areas.

President Correa calls int the Pacto-Junin Megamining Project: more than four thousand hectares only in Pacto; in Junin destruction is well underway. Where are we going to go? We want food, not stones or gold. Here you will leave a desert for future generations. Technicians say that it is a mile deep, that’s an monstrosity because almost six months of rain, then lifting, opening the mountain form here to the river they will lose the reserve which serves the municipality of Quito. I say that water is more important than gold.

The so-called environmental impact studies have been a disaster – they have all been in favour of mining. Mining here will use harsh chemicals like cyanide -apart from completely collapsing hills, affecting forests, pastures, water flow and composition will be brutally contaminated.

They say there is uranium further down. The government wants to give us compensation – three hundred dollars per acre. We do not agree.

Voices from the field 3

We will stop the Enbridge Pipelines

Winona La Duke, Honor the Earth, Minnesota.

Native environmental organization Honor the Earth is organising a tour in northern Minnesota aimed at engaging communities along one of many tar sands and fracked oil pipelines proposed to cross the North Country: the Enbridge proposed Sandpiper pipeline. The tour is not only about preventing the threat of pipelines, but it is also an act of solidarity to stop the extraction of tar sands and Bakken oil at their sources.

It’s the morning mist. I’m looking at the horses in the mist. Then we ride to the lake. It’s Rice lake, in the midst of the Rice Lake refuge. The place is Minisinoo, a traditional village of Anishinaabeg*, who have lived here for thousands of years.

“I can’t fathom how they would put the pipeline here …. It’s a glacial lake bed bottom, with vast amounts of manoomin **…making the quantities and qualities of life rich. We feel threatened.” The land is full of lakes, medicine plants and marshes. (…) There is no need for an oil pipeline here. The biodiversity and stunning beauty of the ecosystem is maamaakaajizhichige. It is amazing.

The traditional and ceremonial leadership of the village of East Lake welcomes us, prays for us and feeds us, feeding our spirits, pasturing our horses, and feeding our bodies. We explain the logistics of the pipeline, talking about the 20,000 gallons a minute which would come from a breach in the pipeline, and we all know it would go directly into the water. (…) The water table is only a foot below the surface. The pipeline is a threat. And it is joined by another extreme extraction project lurking in the area- a Rio Tinto Zinc/Kennecott Copper set of mining explorations: Traces of copper, zinc, magnesium diamonds and gold, deep beneath the glacier bed that made this land. The company, we are told, had leased a building in the town north, and keeps looking and digging around.

There is no safe place to hide, to rice, to be Anishinaabeg. So we protect our territory, as we have for centuries. It is still beautiful and full of clean water, and medicines. It is worth everything. Our water is more important than their oil. Our mino bimaatisiiwin*** will see us through. Love water not oil.

*It is the autonym often used by the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Algonquin peoples.
**Ojibwe wild rice, the historic Staple in their diet.
***Ojibway philosophy, capturing the concept of balancing the four elements of health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Voices from the field 4

Shell to Sea: Rossport in struggle

Gerry Bourke, farmer in County Mayo, Ireland.

I’m a farmer in the northwest of Ireland, near Erris in County Mayo. For thirteen years we have been struggling against Shell to protect our land, our environment and our community here. Shell wanted to bring their pipeline of unprocessed, highly volatile and pollutant gas through the fields of our communities – fields our families have cared for and nurtured for generations. It’s all bog around here – we make the fields fertile by bringing in seaweed from the sea. For us, the land is everything.

We have resisted Shell and been violently oppressed. People have been beaten, abused, subjected to martial law. Almost a hundred complaints went in about the police behaviour here. Not one was answered. People give off about Shell, but Shell was only allowed to do what they have done. They have their own private police, security services. They were facilitated by the Irish state. The government drew a line around our villages and said “The rule of law, of the Irish state, no longer applies here”. Like it was a testing ground for oppressing their own people. The state thought they could smash us, but instead they educated us.

We met people with ideas, knowledge who came to help us in our struggle. We have learned a huge amount about how the world works, about how the Irish government can treat its people, about alternatives. We hope now that our knowledge can help other communities – enough people together can change anything. We have to remember that everything on this island – from the last blade of grass to the moonlight – belongs to the Irish people, to all of us. We have to decide together. We have a duty to ourselves and each other to have our opinions heard, to be responsible for what happens. The government will never do it for us.

Voices from the field 5

We will not let ProSavana to invade our land and colonize us!

Ana Paula Taucale, peasant in Nampula Province and member of UNAC (União Nacional de Camponeses), Mozambique.

The government of my country has granted large portions of land for large-scale agriculture for exports, in the Nacala Corridor, involving Brazil and Japan. We, peasants of the area oppose this project and see it as an invasion that will drive to large land grabs.

There is already evidence of the effects of land grabbing in that area (Northern Mozambique) on the peasants communities, and particularly on women. In Nampula province, were I live and have my plot, women are being prevented from passing in the areas where the foreign companies operate. We cannot access firewood, gather wild foods or harvest roots to use as medicines for our families. In itself this is a clear violation of the Mozambique Law of the Land. The Law requires that community be consulted to grant lands to companies, thus giving communities the right to refuse, as in cases where such land granting implies the abuse of their rights.

We reject this land-grabbing and we reject the model of agriculture the ProSavana program represents. We will do everything we can to stop it.

We as UNAC, together with other organizations in the country, have launched in June the National Campaign STOP ProSavana. We want to bring this campaign at international level – civil society organisations in Brazil and Japan have already joined us – and we want to activate legal mechanisms at national and United Nations level, to give greater responsibility to those operating the ProSavana program, for the damage they might cause to the peasants communities in Mozambique.

More info on the campaign here.

Voices from the field 6

We are ready to fight

Parvati*,Muttagi, India.

I don’t have land, but I do have a house. I’m an agricultural labor on others’ land. I make bread at home and sell it for income. Actually my land was acquired for a dam long back, and I would never wish that to anyone. That’s why I’ve joined this movement against the NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation Limited) power plant being built in my village. If the local farmers’ fields are lost, what will we eat? During the protest, the men told us to go in front so the police would not use violence. But when we reached the front of the NTPC thermal plant the police beat us with lathis (long sticks) — even I got beaten. We were so scared. It was my first time in an agitation. The police chased us into hotels, the police station, even the train station! But the farmers’ movement told us not to be scared. One of my relatives is in jail. He’s a college student, and they just carried him off! I am committed to fight against NTPC. When we women work together, you will see what we do!

We don’t want the NTPC power plant. Whether they give us money, we don’t want the power plant. We don’t want diseases like TB, asthma etc. We don’t want the baby in the womb to be affected. Now we have learned the water surrounding the thermal plant is poisonous. We aren’t saying anything wrong. Let them shoot us if they want. Ultimately we don’t want to lose our land. We don’t want any loss of lives on their side or our side. They should have had a meeting with us farmers about the impacts of the power plant before starting work.

Why did the government acquire this land? Sure, they will get rich, but what will the poor do? What will the future hold for us? We are ready to fight.

*Name changed to protect identity

Voices from the field 7

The Yaqui defend its water from government and industry

Mario Luna, spokesman for the Vícam tribe, Sonora, Mexico.

In 2010 the state government announced the construction of an aqueduct which will remove millions of m3 of water from the Yaqui River. Water is part of the Yaqui ancestral territory, partly ratified in 1940 by presidential decree.

Although we have won in court, the government does not stop the project and promotes hatred against us.
When the mobilization began they began prosecutions against many involved, and many families had their supports from government programs suspended. They have also suffered harassment, audits, direct death threats, and kidnapping.

In its 74 years, the territory granted by the decree has never been met. Hydroelectric dams built in the 50s targeted only water for energy, and through the National Water Commission we were assigned only 250 million m3 per year from 800 million m3 capacity of the dam.

We were the last to know – through press releases – of the aqueduct project. The authorities did not consult us even if they are obliged to by various international regulations.

Only 8% of the Sonora River, is for citizen consumption; the rest supplies agriculture and livestock. Industry is growing in the region. Ford expanded to almost double its capacity; Holcim cement installed the second largest cement plant in Latin America; Heineken arrived and built the largest brewery in the world; Coca-Cola and Pepsico will expand their facilities for processed foods. The state government repeatedly violates the suspensions handed down by the federal judiciary. On July 15, the Federal Court of Hermasillo overturned the decision of a judge who authorized the suspension – for this reason we returned to blockade the federal highway as far as Vícam until further notice. We resist peacefully, but we are in the eye of the hurricane.


Box 1

The Permanent People’s Tribunal in Mexico

“Free trade, violence, impunity and the rights of peoples”

The Permanent People’s Tribunal (TPP from its Spanish name) was born as the Russel Tribunal, established to judge the crimes of the United States in Vietnam. In subsequently judged the dictatorships of the CONO SUR and was converted into the “permanent tribunal” where peoples could express in their own terms the aggressions they had suffered, be recognised as active subjects in the trial and denounce those responsible for their chaos and suffering.
The TPP was established in Mexico in 2011 at the request of hundreds of peasant, workers, and civil society organisations which accused the Mexican state of the crime of diverting power: systematically favouring businesses while impeding people from achieving justice with all its juridical and economic powers.

This diversion of power was articulated through seven processes derived from the regime established under free trade: violence against workers, violence against migrants, censorship and violence against the media, environmental destruction, violence against the maize and autonomy of the people, gender violence, and dirty wars and impunity.
On the autonomy of peoples, the claim is the removal of potential for livelihood, at the heart of which is maize, as a vital food and integral part of territory. It may have been the first time that an international jury has addressed the interrelated nature and complex relationships between dispossession, food sovereignty, migration rates and grabbing territories and commons. The TPP recommended that the government of Mexico withdraw form the Free Trade Agreement with North America; failure to do so makes national sovereignty and autonomy impossible; and to ban GM maize as it constituted an attack on future civilizations. It found that Mexico violated the Rome Statute on genocide, and made government abuses against the people visible internationally.

The TPP opened spaces for dialogue and making links, where those who have been aggrieved systemize their experiences and regain centrality as subjects. It encourages and promotes struggles, and gives a sense of achievement – making room for the expression of grievances in an environment of trust, in people’s own words, with their own references and on their own terms.

Box 2

Atlas of Environmental Justice

The Atlas of Environmental Justice comprises an atlas of thematic and regional maps covering socio-environmental conflicts around the world. Most of the cases covered in the atlas focus on situations where communities are mobilized and struggle for environmental justice.

Key highlights from the Mapping process reveal that:
1. Ecological conflicts are increasing around the world, driven by material demands fed primarily by the richest subsection of the global population. The most impacted are poor and marginalized communities (…).
2. Both old and new forms (fracking, eco-system services) of extraction are expanding. Much of this resource drive is focused on the last pristine ecosystems on the planet, which are often occupied by indigenous and subsistence communities.
3. The current wave of enclosures is leading to reckless and irreparable environmental destruction including water contamination and depletion, land degradation, and the release of dangerous toxic materials, as well as the loss of community control over resources necessary for their livelihoods. (…)
4. These environmental injustices involve a variegated web of actors, including corporate actors already operating in large-scale capital resource investment, as well as new financial actors. (…)Peoples’ resistance is emerging. Communities are fighting to regain control of their resources and assert their right to a healthy environment. Forms of action include formal means, such as court cases, lobbying government and referenda as well as informal mobilization including street protest, blockades and land occupation.
5. Companies continue to enjoy widespread corporate impunity for environmental and human rights abuses. Companies continue activities amidst strong citizens’ protests, sometimes relying on private security forces and sympathetic governments to suppress resistance. This increased persecution and violent targeting of environmental activists is undermining human rights (Nyéléni newsletter no 14: Rights and repression).
6. Increased corporate accountability, as opposed to voluntary corporate responsibility, and reduction of consumption are the only way to stop the spread of ecological conflicts worldwide. Continued monitoring and mobilisation by citizens’ groups is essential.
7. Amidst the stories of environmental devastation and pollution, there are many cases of environmental justice victories(…). The grassroots resistance of impacted communities is key to moving to a more equal and sustainable economy.

In the spotlight

We, the common people

It has never been as clear that peoples and communities, the common people, continue to exist — at the same time as the “dominant” systems of the world become more and more desperate to control them.

We are speaking of the people who protect, save and guard their native seeds and who in the widest sense grow food for their own communities across the world. The people who live in resistance and demand with increasing strength their own autonomous governments in order to defend their ancestral lands. They are communities which have always placed their lives at the service of the world — exercising a care and balance between plants, animals, water sources and between “natural and spiritual beings” – and cultivating a memory and presence in the environment around us of both our living and our dead.

How many we are and what we do

A new report from GRAIN offers a deep analysis of the data available on agricultural systems and food production internationally, and makes six central conclusions.

The first conclusion is that the peasantry continue to be those who , on small areas of land, producer the majority of the world’s food needs – above all in terms of feeding families, communities and local markets.

The second conclusion is that the majority of farms internationally are small farms, which continue to be reduzed in number due to a myriad of eradicating forces. If this tendency is not reversed through resistance which includes a process of genuine agrarian reform, the existing process of expulsion of people, including children, will be even more brutal.
Thirdly, the the entirety of these small scale farms are squeezed into less than a quarter of the world’s agricultural land — and this proportion is decreasing.

A fourth certitude is that while farms, lands and peasants are being lost there is a corresponding increase in the number of large industrial agriculture projects. In the last 50 years around 140 million hectares of land — significantly more than the entire agricultural land area of China — has been appropriated to plant monocultures of soya beans, palm oil, canola, sugar cane and corn — all by industrial means.

The fifth conclusion is that technically — using data extrapolated from national census records from almost every country in the world — small farms are more productive that enormous industrial agriculture operations — in spite of the enormous power and resources held by internaitonal agricultural companies.

The sixth and last conclusion is that the majority of peasants are women. In spite of their contributions that continue to be marginalised, are not recognised in official statistics and as so continue to be discriminated against in terms of the control of land.

Who is attacking us

Today we must recognize that the life of peoples — and the very future of peasant communities – is in radical confrontation with systems which aim only to control the greatest amount of riches, relations, people, common goods and any profitable activities through the development of laws, dispositions, policies, programs, projects and cash payments. Agroindustry is a representation of this — the production of crops (not just foodstuffs) through increasingly sophisticated (not necessarily more efficient) methods on large land areas aimed at harvesting large volumes and maximum profit at any cost.

This industrial logic perpetrates extreme violence against natural scale processes and vital cycles and promotes so called “vertical integration” – the crazed race to add economic value to foodstuffs through the addition of more and more processing and privatisations systems (landgrabbing, certified seeds, the sterilization and fertilisation of soils by agrochemicals, agricultural mechanisation, transport, cleaning, processing, packaging, storage, and again transport) before food is finally made available to the public through supermarkets and restaurant chains.

As we already know, this sum of processes contributes to the extreme warming which is part of the climate crisis (around 50% greenhouse gases come from the combined process of “vertical integration”). This system also contributes to the subjugation of people trapped – through one form or another — in this transnational and globalized food system. A system which does not feed communities or neighbourhoods but instead looks for their labour to do the most damaging aspects of the chain — while the futures of farmers are robbed by industrial agricultural systems which reduces their creative, dignified and enormously careful stewardship of the land to semi-slavery. For these reasons, to produce our own food independently of the so-called global food system is something profoundly political and subversive.

Landgrabbing, memory and resistance

It is undeniable that there is direct relationship between the loss of lands on one hand and the advance of megamining projects, oil and natural gas extraction, and monoculture agriculture on the other. As outlined in the editorial, an enormous amount of research remains to be done in order to uncover the true extent of the extractivist projects and the fragmentation, dismantling and loss of indigenous and peasant held territories and lands. As a minimum we can say that in Mexico alone 26% of the national territory is in the hands of mining concessions, and in Colombia the figure is 40%. Mining in Colombia goes hand in hand with rights abuses; “80% of the violations of human rights which have occurred over the last 10 years occured in mining-energy regions, and 87% of all displaced peoples from this period originated in these areas”. If we run through country by country — a study which should be undertaken in a systematic way — we would encounter similar situations, including the extreme case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where percentages of lands handed over no longer serve as a measure, but the number of dead in conflicts over minerals, diamonds, coltan and gold: more than 7 million have died violently in the last 15 years.

Conflicts over water are also recurrent. “In Africa for example, one in three people suffer from scarcity of water and climate change is worsening the situation”. The development in Africa of highly sophisticated indigenous water management systems could help to alleviate this crisis, but these same systems are those being destroyed by land grabbing — in the midst of claims that water in Africa is abundant, underused and is ready to be utilised for agro-export agriculture” as we affirm in one of GRAIN‘s reports. Of course, this is not only a phenomenton in Africa.

Beyond the causes, which go from the monoculture fields of the industrial agricultural system to the most severe and polluting forms of extractivism, passing oil wells, electricity generation centres, biosphere reserves, REDD projects, megatourism, real estate developments, motorway routes, mega-dams, multi-modal corridors, narcotraffiking and cultivations, the reality is that there is a real attack underway — against our territorial memory, our memory of place — the lands which are our vital surroundings, our common environment we need to recreate and transform our existence: the spaces we give meaning to with our shared wisdom and knowledge, with our common history.

To provoke scarcity and economic dependence, the international and multilateral transnational systems have promoted the disabling of the capacity of communities to feed themselves, or provide healthcare education and other needs. The effect of this imposed precarity is the expulsion of populations and the jeopardising of their futures.
For these reasons Food Sovereignty remains deeply pertinent and a source of profound hope as a tool to rebuild autonomy and the defence of our territories, as it represents a living manifestation of our memories. The production of food from the smallest community level upwards is a vital proposal — and examples exist that show it is possible to reverse the damage that has been done.

Newsletter no 19 – Editorial

Territorial defence, community struggles for the defence of their territories

Landgrabbing continues unabated worldwide.
When GRAIN started investigating the issue we highlighted the fact that at the same as certain governments were invoking their commitments to resolve food security they were also attempting to take control of increasing amounts of land across the world. Very quickly various financial groups (including various pension funds) jumped to the centre of the negotiations, exposing the speculative nature of many of these land agreements and the renewed urgency of transnational corporations to grab land.

We have always been conscious of the fact that landgrabbing is much more vast and ominous than we have shown until now. It is not only about the use of industrial agricultural means to engage in the monoculture of primary resources for exportation, or the delocalised production of foodstuffs for other countries. It implies extractivism: control of water, mining, oil industries, deforestation, drug trafficking, environmental services and REDD projects (land areas held in disregards or so called marginal lands), and the subsequent speculation on these, followed by real estate, tourism, urban development, military geopolitics and much more.

In this edition of the Nyéléni Newsletter we want to make an overview of this process and of the possibilities of resisting it from our communities.