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Hunger for Justice and the Struggle of Peasants for Land and Freedom

Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos
Peasant Movement of the Philippines and
Asian Peasant Coalition
27 September 2010

On behalf of Peasant Movement of the Philippines and  Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) warm greetings of solidarity!

I am pleased and honored to be with you today to share experiences, perspectives and aspirations of peasants and farmers from around Asia.  At a time when the peoples of the world, especially the rural poor, are facing the gravest hunger crisis in history, the daunting challenge of climate change coupled with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, this is certainly the time to learn from each other and strengthen solidarity and cooperation to address common problems and pursue common goals.

Allow me then to share with you the challenges and struggles that Asian peasants, particularly those from Southeast Asia, currently confront; our analysis of the roots of these problems; and our demands and recommendations for achieving food security, sustainability and people's food sovereignty. 

East and Southeast Asia is often associated with high-performing economies, the so-called tiger economies that mainstream economists and corporate media hold up as models for third world development.  But this hides the reality of still widespread poverty, deep inequalities, displacement and dispossession of poor people, especially the rural poor in the region.  In fact, the Southeast Asian region may be considered a hunger hotspot.  According to UNESCAP, the Global Hunger Index is over 10% in Cambodia, Laos, Timor Leste, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.  More than 25% of children in a majority of Southeast Asian countries are underweight. 

Poverty is the single most significant determinant of food insecurity in the region as in the rest of the world.  Large sections of the population live below the $1 a day poverty line in Cambodia (34%), Laos (26%), the Philippines (14.6%) and Vietnam (17.7%).  Significant numbers also live below $2 a day in Indonesia (52%) and Thailand (32.5%).  

And of course poverty is primarily the result of poor people's lack of of access or control over productive resources such as land, natural resources, education, technology, credit, social capital, infrastructure, etc.  

Poverty is also compounded by other social and cultural dynamics that make particular sectors even among the poor, more vulnerable to food insecurity.  Women and children for instance face greater food insecurity due to gendered maldistribution of resources and power within households, communities and society.  Many indigenous peoples or tribal groups have lost access to their traditional lands, forests and common property resources on which they depend for food and livelihood.  Many are displaced by mining and logging operations, privatization and what we call “development aggression” in the Philippines.  They are also discriminated against beyond their communities, in terms of access to employment, education, social services, and so on.  People living with HIV/AIDS  –  who are significant in number in the Mekong region -- are also particularly vulnerable to food insecurity because their higher nutritional requirements and susceptibility to illness; but they are also stigmatized and marginalized.

Access to land is most crucial especially for low-income agrarian economies which many of these hunger hotspots are.  In many of these economies, land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few landlord families, or corporations.  Moreover, those who control large tracts of land also typically control credit, farm equipment, mills, storage facilities, transportation, etc.  They are therefore able to exploit landless or near landless peasants not just in terms of land rent or crop shares but also in terms of interest on credit, rent for machinery, milling costs, transport costs, low farmgate prices, and so on. 

Monopoly capitalist control of the food chain -- from seeds to supermarkets -- is also central to explaining the impoverishment of peasants and increasing food insecurity in the world.  Only ten companies control two-thirds of the global seed market and seed sales.  Only ten pesticide companies control 90% of agrochemical sales.  And the top six agrochemical manufacturers are also the seed industry giants.

Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Groupe Limagrain dominate 44% of the commercial seed market in the world.  Nestle has a virtual monopoly over the global dairy market since 2004.  Dole Foods and Chiquita, two US companies control almost 50% of the banana market. 

Food retail trade is also controlled and dominated by a few giant grocery or supermarket giants.  The top 100 global food retailers account for 35% of all grocery retail sales worldwide and Wal-Mart alone accounts for 25% of the revenues earned by those on the top 10.  TNCs are also deepening their control over food production and intensifying their exploitation of food producers through contract-growing schemes in crops and livestock. 

So while the world is going hungry, these giant agribusiness and biotech companies are reaping millions of dollars in superprofits due to their monopoly control over grains and seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other farm inputs, as well as in trading and retail. Monopoly capitalist control of agriculture has created a profoundly flawed global food system that produces too much (unhealthy) food for those who can afford it, while depriving those who are hungry and poor including those who produce and process the food.

Governments and international institutions have played a crucial role in creating this deeply flawed food system.  Through the so-called green revolution, they have encouraged the spread of chemical-intensive monocrop farming  that deepen farmers dependence on these agri-companies while degrading the environment, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing biodiversity and destroying the resilience of indigenous agricultural systems and livelihoods. 

At the same time, governments that have embraced neoliberal globalization have dismantled or neglected public and state support for marginalized rural communities such as research and extension, grain reserves, storage facilities, irrigation, infrastructure, as well as basic health, education and other social services.   On the other hand, they have strengthened monopoly control of TNCs over farm technologies and genes -- even those stolen from agricultural communities -- in the name of intellectual property rights. 

They have created an unjust trading system that forces small peasants to compete with subsidized produce from rich countries.  Trade liberalization is also creating more incentives to convert agricultural land to industrial uses; convert forests to plantations; and shift from food crops to cash crops for export -- all of which are major factors behind declining food-self sufficiency in the region.  It is also increasing commercial fishing intensity, further marginalizing artisanal fishers and lowering fish catch intended for domestic consumption and increasing food insecurity for coastal communities.  Countries with declining food self-sufficiency have become more dependent on food imports and therefore more vulnerable to volatility in commodity markets and food price inflation. 

Increased competition for ownership and control of land, forests, marine and other resources is leading to the displacement of communities, especially indigenous groups with no formal property rights over their ancestral domains.  And when communities put up resistance, they are often branded as insurgents, treated as terrorists, harassed and intimidated.  Local leaders and organizers are even abducted, tortured and executed as our experience in the Philippines demonstrates.

This is the tragic situation faced by peasants and small farmers throughout Asia and the world. 

But peasants and the rural poor are not mere passive victims in this unjust system.  In many countries, farmers, agricultural workers and peasant women are unwavering in their struggle to defend their land, livelihood and communities, stop landgrabbing, and demand genuine agrarian reform.  Members of APC together with other networks of peasants, farmers and advocates are continuing their campaigns against IRRI, GMOs, chemical pesticides and agrochemical TNCs.  Peasants and small farmers are also practicing and experimenting with agroecological farming methods adapted to local conditions and geared primarily to meet local food and non-food needs.  This is also enhancing the climate resilience of local food systems and as well as the livelihoods of communities. 

The challenge for us is how to strengthen peasants' and rural people's movements to oppose imperialist globalization, claim our right to life and livelihoods, fight for genuine agrarian reform and struggle for people's food sovereignty because these will not be realized by simply making appeals to those in power.  We must strengthen solidarity with workers, the urban poor, other marginalized sectors and all those who are committed to economic and social justice. 

We call on governments, donors, and international institutions to adopt policies aimed at democratizing the distribution and control over productive resources in society, promoting greater employment and rising living standards especially among the rural poor.  Reversing neoliberal policies such as agricultural trade and investment liberalization that prioritize corporate profits over people and the planet is necessary and urgent.  We call on the FAO to ensure that the small farmers and the rural poor are heard and allowed to participate meaningfully even at the international level, and support programs that enable grassroots education, organizing and mobilization within and across borders. 

Finally, let us pay tribute to the countless number of peasants who have laid down their lives for the cause of freedom and justice.  Let us honor them by continuing their historic struggle!

Stop landgrabbing!
Struggle for Genuine Land Reform and National Industrialization!
Dismantle corporate monopoly over the global food system!
WTO out of agriculture!
Stop killing peasants who feed the world!  Justice for the victims of forced displacement, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances!
Long live international solidarity!

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