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Newsletter no 45 - Food sovereignty – resisting corporate capture of our food systems

Voices from the field

Friday 24 September 2021, by Manu

Voice from the field 1 - Sri Lankan farmers against pesticides

Chintaka Rajapakse, MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform), Sri Lanka

The use of agrochemicals has had disastrous consequences in the past decades. The widespread use of these chemicals has contaminated the soil and the water, which has directly led to the increase in cancers and kidney diseases. Not only has this negatively affected public health, but the overuse of agrochemicals has also undermined food sovereignty, unravelled the ecological balance, and led to the extinction of many animal and plant species. Since almost all agricultural inputs used by Sri Lankan farmers are imported, it has allowed certain companies to build oligopolies.

It is in this context that, as the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), we have supported the government decision to ban the import of all agrochemicals with immediate effect. The Agriculture Ministry said it would convert the State-owned Ceylon Fertiliser Company Ltd. into an institution that would produce, supply, and distribute organic fertilizer in association with local government institutions. It is a welcomed step forwards. We must now make sure that this is also implemented in practise.

The previous government also took a decision to promote organic agriculture in 2016. Unfortunately, that initiative failed completely by 2018, and Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA), which was entrusted with implementing the program, was also closed. We must draw lessons from international experience and make sure that the new initiative is implemented successfully. Several farmers are also worried about the short-term implications of this decision. The government must recognise their anxieties and make sure that their concerns and worries are immediately addressed, and lay out a clear roadmap for implementation of this policy.

Voices from the field 2 - Mobilizing for access to healthy food

Miriam Nobre, member of SOF (Sempreviva Organização Feminista), and an activist of the World March of Women, Brazil

In Brazil, the Covid-19 pandemic has made, not only social inequalities, but also economic activities that are essential for sustaining life, such as food more evident. Small-scale farming has been hit hard by the suspension of markets and public procurement, which had already been affected by Bolsonaro’s misgovernment. Direct commercialisation networks, especially with responsible consumption groups, have established themselves as an alternative. Due to this alliance, women and quilombola farmers from Vale do Ribeira, in the state of São Paulo, have expanded their membership and their cultivation areas, asserting the defence of their territories and ways of life against threats from mining companies, dams and monocultures with intensive use of pesticides. At the same time, allied groups and collectives in the Greater São Paulo region have also grown and increased their presence in the peripheries, guaranteeing access to good food for indigenous Guarani people, students deprived of school meals, workers and single mothers.

These initiatives are in opposition to the financialization of school feeding programmes. São Paulo City Government, for example, in the face of no face-to-face classes, stopped school feeding programmes and purchases from farmers, instead making a food card with monthly values of 10 to 20 Euros per child available to them. Alongside the increase in food and cooking gas prices, this solution is good for Alelo card administrators and supermarkets.

Groups that organise themselves around multiple and decentralised forms of donation, sale and production in agroecological food gardens in the periphery (re)create a food culture embedded in respectful relationships between people and between people and nature. We are growing in numbers and diversity. The Black rights movement has long protested against the humiliation and murder of Black people in the peripheries at the hands of supermarket chains such as Carrefour. Now they are coming together in this movement so that we have access to good food by ourselves. We recover our health and lost flavours, and free territories from transnational food corporations in the city too.

Voice from the field 3 - Africans speak out against corporate hegemony over seed and food systems: farmers’ rights now!


Sabrina Masinjila, African Centre of Biodiversity (ACB)

As part of the global counter-mobilisation against the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the online event Seed is power: Reclaiming African Seed Sovereignty brought civil society and farmer-led movements together to express their rejection of the current seed and intellectual property protection laws. These serve as instruments that continue to entrench industrial agriculture, furthering corporate interests at the expense of smallholder farmers’ rights, whose farmer managed seed systems are increasingly marginalised, and even criminalised. This is linked to systems that reinforce indebtedness, inequality, social exclusion and ecological crises.

Instead of adopting seed and plant variety protection laws based on the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991, governments should put in place legally binding and discrete measures to recognise and support farmers’ rights to save, exchange and sell seed, unrestricted by the commercial imperatives of transnational corporations. Central to this is autonomy – a prerequisite and core component of the exercise of rights by family and community farmers and peasants.

Thus, legally binding and enforceable protections are urgently needed against patents, plant variety protection laws, commercial seed laws and digital sequence information, which all erode the exercise of farmers’ rights. Most importantly, the conception of these rights needs to be grounded in a wider vision of food sovereignty that encompasses the rights of both urban and rural dwellers to nutritious and culturally appropriate food – especially for the poor, and for women in particular, who are the main custodians of seed and life, yet they often exist in precarious circumstances, under the weight of patriarchy and economic subordination. Such contexts make it clear how seed is about more than just the act of farming, but also social relationships of care and solidarity, which are also crucial for wider progressive action. Draconian seed regimes are therefore also a direct attack on community, and on our ability to work together in solidarity for a better future.

To rise to the challenge of our ecological and social crises, farmers’ rights should not simply be defended, but actively deepened and widened as a core organising principle of our food systems.

More info at https://www.acbio.org.za/seed-power-reclaiming-african-seed-sovereignty-africans-speak-out-against-corporate-hegemony-over

Voice from the field 4 - Indian farmers protest against agriculture laws


Chukki Nanjudaswamy, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), India

We are witnessing a shift towards public-private partnerships in policymaking spaces across the world. A recent example is the UN Food Systems Summit emerging from a strategic partnership between the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. The Summit represents a hostile capture of global governance by Corporate interests. But such trends are also happening at the national level.

In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, the Indian government hastily passed three laws related to agriculture, using their brute majority in the parliament, with little consultation with farmers to appease corporations. Under the guise of reform, these laws will usher in a free-market-based, export-oriented agricultural system in India, similar to those of Europe and the US.

These agriculture laws will marginalize small-scale farmers and destroy their autonomy in deciding what to produce, when to produce and how to produce food. India’s public procurement systems need reform, but not the kind where they are entirely side-lined and a free-market system completely takes over. Food is crucial for everyone.

Corporatization of agriculture has devastated the autonomy of food producers and consumers everywhere. It makes food an object of speculation and leads to the loss of biodiversity and nutrition. It has a severe impact on nature due to altered land use, industrial storage and processing systems and industrial transport that ships food to all corners of the world.

Farmers in India are now more aware of these dangers than ever, as they have seen how small-scale producers of the US, Europe and Canada have vanished and been replaced by large industrial farms. In India, millions are dependent on agriculture, forests and fisheries. That is why, for more than a year, protests have been raging across the country. Our demands are clear - repeal the agriculture laws, have public consultations, and bring in reforms that small-scale farmers urgently need.