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.