Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

“Water needs a collective voice” against pig factories in Yucatan

Ka ́anan Ts ́onot / Guardianes de los Cenotes, testimony presented during the UN Human Rights anniversary in 2022

In Yucatan, Mexico, there has been a massive and accelerated expansion of pig factories. Today, there are at least 274 pig farms in the Peninsula. They have expanded despite environmental, social, and cultural conditions that should have prevented them from entering the region. This affects the metabolic relation with “cenotes”: sinkholes that connect a huge aquifer under the Peninsula with its communities.

In the town of Homún, the Guardians of the Cenotes has been defending their territory from pig farms. Through organisation, protest and litigation, the mega factory farm’s operations were suspended in October 2018. However, the risk will continue until the pig factory is cancelled. Currently the case is waiting for a ruling from a federal court to decide on the right of the Mayan children to a healthy environment and the rights of the cenotes.

In Homún’s region, Mayan communities struggle against the expansion of pig factories while defending water and life. In the word of a local human rights defender: “These cenotes are sacred places for our people, they are treasures, places where you can see life and how nature works. Nature works without voice, hands, feet. We need to stop, to pause, to see nature’s generosity including clean water. This mega farm should NOT damage my town, will NOT kill the nature of our town…Water needs a collective voice… Just as we need air and water to live, they need us”.

Voice from the field 2

How pastoralists in western India manage livestock diseases

Documented by researchers at Anthra

Until recently, in western India, if a flock of sheep showed signs of sheep pox, male shepherds would sport a beard and spray vast amounts of turmeric all over the flock. While this may appear absurd to some, it is a logical practice. By sporting a beard and not shaving, the shepherd was sending out a signal understood by other shepherds of his community that his animals were sick, that they should keep their animals away and also check them for signs of illness. Also, turmeric powder is known to have medicinal properties and it is used widely in India, not just for cooking but also as an antiseptic. This shepherd would also isolate himself, his family and his flock until the symptoms subsided so as to limit the infection.

Shepherds and other pastoralists in India have dealt with diseases in their livestock for years using a combination of practices. They have selected species and breeds suitable to the region they live in, managed grazing and water for their animals through migration, used herbs and household spices to treat their animals when sick and used “management” practices like the aforementioned to contain and limit the spread of disease.

Voice from the field 3

My job became more dangerous

Bernarda Lopez (pseudonym), testimony to the US Congress

I am from Guatemala and have lived in the US for 24 years working in different Tyson meat plants. My job became more dangerous during the pandemic because I work shoulder to shoulder with my coworkers. We had to continue our work because we were named “essential workers”. It is common for workers to go to work while sick to avoid getting disciplinary points for missing work. I was worried because my husband was convalescent due to a surgery, and I didn’t want him to get Covid-19. The company did not put in place effective safety measures and did not tell us anything about the cases that began to appear.

We only saw that people began to miss work, but they never told us the reason. I began to have some symptoms of headache and I felt very tired. When I informed my supervisor, she would not let me go home. She told me that if I left, they would give me a point, to which I accepted because I felt bad. The next day I went back to work so I wouldn’t get another point and risk getting fired. After work, I went to a clinic and tested positive for Covid-19. Inevitably, my husband was infected and passed away almost immediately.

Voices from the field 4

Not enough veterinarians is no excuse

Attila Szőcs, Eco Ruralis, Romania[1]

There are hardly any vets for peasants and small farmers in the rural countryside in Romania, only about 1 for every 1000 small farms. Because of this, there is no capacity to deal with outbreaks of African swine fever, which have been affecting the country’s pig farmers since 2017. The government’s veterinary agencies simply order the mass kill-off of all pigs in any region where there is an outbreak.

In the case of small farms, the agency sends in teams to go through villages, from farm to farm, shooting all the pigs in the head, and then they leave the dead pigs for the farmers to take care of. The big farms have their own vets and management, and they sacrifice their own animals with the supervision of the agency. Big farms have received millions of euros in compensation from the government. In January this year, there was an outbreak at a Danish-owned breeding farm and 42 thousand pigs were culled.

Voices from the field 5

Unjust standards lead to the disappearance of peasants

Nicolas Girod, Confédération Paysanne, France[2]

[Regarding animal husbandry] We have unfair and inappropriate standards, based on a model that does not fit all peasants. This is leading to the disappearance of small farmers and to the conformity or exclusion of those who don’t fit the mould. What we are pursuing through peasant farming is a different approach: a norm’s objective can be met in different ways. But this is something that the authorities are unwilling to consider.

We recently had to deal with an outbreak of bluetongue disease.  We call it an “export disease”. It had been used by France as an excuse to block meat imports from infected countries, based on an exaggerated classification of risk. When bluetongue arrived on French soil, it backfired: other countries classified it in the same way and French farmers could no longer export till all territory was free from it. This meant vaccinating all animals, even those who were not much at risk, such as the dairy sector. We went to court and were found guilty—but not convicted—because we didn’t want to vaccinate our animals. It’s the kind of absurd thing that doesn’t fit in at all with our autonomous grass-fed farming systems.

Nicolas Girod was recently arrested for his participation in the protests against the water mega-basins for industrial agriculture.

Voices from the field 6

Revitalizing regionalised meat production

Julia Smith, Blue Sky Ranch, British Columbia, Canada

In 2008, changes to meat processing regulations resulted in the loss of 80% of British Columbia’s meat processing facilities. People who used to be able to buy a side of beef from the farmer down the road, now had to go to the grocery store and buy beef from the neighbouring province of Alberta. That animal may have been born down the road, but the loss of processing facilities meant that it now had to be sent to Alberta for finishing where it would be processed by one of the giant corporations who now process 95% of Canada’s beef.

In 2018, a group of farmers in British Columbia formed the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association to fight for changes to enable farms to supply locally raised meat. In 2021, we achieved new regulations that allow up to 25 animals to be slaughtered on-farm every year and we are now developing a “Butcher Hub Network” to support both on-farm slaughter and other regional meat processing operations. This includes projects like the design and build of a slaughter trailer that can be used by a professional butcher to provide services to multiple farmers licensed for on-farm slaughter.

Voice from the field 7

Local breeds of chicken

Abdramane Zakaria Traoré, Centre Sahélien pour la Biodiversité

Local breeds of chicken provide a vital source of animal protein, eggs and income for many rural communities in Africa. Raised in family farming systems, they are often accessible even to farmers with limited resources and have exceptional resilience to disease because of their genetic diversity. Indigenous breeds are adapted to their specific environments and are more resilient to adverse environmental conditions and disease than imported commercial chickens.

Poultry diseases can cause huge economic losses and compromise food safety. However, African breeds of chicken have developed natural defence mechanisms that help them resist and recover more quickly from infections. They require less medication to prevent and treat disease than commercial breeds, which minimises the risk of antibiotic resistance developing and threatening human health. By supporting the breeding of African chickens and preserving their genetic diversity, we can strengthen food security, reduce dependence on antibiotics and improve the resilience of poultry farming systems, paving the way for a genuine transition to agroecology in Africa.

[1] More on this here.

[2] Full article in French here.