'Viva La Via Campesina! Viva!' is the rallying call of the vibrant international movement which represents over 200 million peasants, small-scale producers, indigenous people and farm workers across the world. I had the privilege of attending La Via Campesina's sixth international conference in Jakarta which also coincided with their 20th anniversary celebrations. A gathering of over 500 delegates representing 70 countries, with a diversity of cultures and languages yet firmly united in their struggle against the neo-liberal system that is increasing its domination over the food system.
During the conference, peasants from countries ranging from Mozambique to Costa Rica, from Taiwan to Palestine all articulated similar issues that are hurting their ability to produce food: Land-grabbing, multinationals taking control of seeds, violence against women peasants, impacts of unfair trade deals and criminalisation of protest.
The issues raised were not about a clash between rich countries versus poor countries nor a conflict between the global north versus global south. Instead, the commonality of struggle between all peasants whether from Europe or Asia or Africa demonstrated the direct conflict between two competing systems. One is the corporate driven model of agriculture where the goal of food production is profit and the food system is controlled by a small number of multinationals. The other system, food sovereignty, is about the right of people to healthy, culturally appropriate, nutritious food. Food is produced locally for local consumption using sustainable and ecological methods and resources are in the hands of local communities.
This struggle for control of the food system was represented in different and creative ways during the conference, through speeches, talks, discussions, music, song, chanting and ‘misticas’ – symbolic, cultural performances. All striking that perfect balance of reality and hope. Understanding the reality of resistance and the fight that needs to be fought as well as the hope that comes from unity and solidarity within the movement as well as outside of the movement.
The gathering was an important moment of solidarity between the peasants from both north and south but also between La Via Campesina and its allies – other NGOs and groups who are also on the same side, fighting for a fairer food system.