Posts Tagged 'food sovereignty'

October 16: World Food Sovereignty Day.


Today on October 16, 2013 La Via Campesina celebrates the world food sovereignty day. People around the world will carry out actions to celebrate the need of a people’s food system. The global peasants’ movement will make its voice heard loud and clear reaffirming that peasants- led agro-ecology is the real solution to global hunger. Not only do peasant farmers feed communities, they also cool the planet and protect mother nature. Unlike agribusiness, peasants do not treat food as a commodity for speculation profiting out of hunger. They do not patent nature for profit, keeping it out of the hands of the common man and woman. They share their knowledge and seeds, so everyone can have food to eat. On this day, La Via Campesina reminds society and governments that if we really want to put an end to hunger, then we must accept the central role of the peasants, and support them to feed humanity.

The 16 of October became the world food day to commemorate the founding of the FAO, the UN body whose mandate is to end global hunger and malnutrition. The theme chosen this year to celebrate this event is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”. This is indeed a recognition that unsustainable food systems will not lead to a future free from hunger. Yet governments, under the pressure from business interests, continue to promote unsustainable farming and false solutions to hunger. La Via Campesina argues that GMOs, agrofuels and land grabbing by private corporations, which are being promoted by governments around the world in fact increase hunger.

From Food Security to Food Sovereignty.


It’s an exciting time for the good food movement. Sometimes it can feel as though the efforts to make agriculture more sustainable are the most visible and active component of the broader environmental movement. This shouldn’t be surprising. Our relationship to food is visceral, emotional, and continues daily.

If you’ve seen Food, Inc. or read any Eric SchlosserMichael Pollan, or Rachel Carson, you know that the sustainable food movement is trying to address the social and environmental problems created by an industrial farming system in which convenience  and profit trump everything else.

The responses to industrial farming have included critiques like Silent Spring, the back-to-the-land and organic farming sparks of the late 1960s, the family farm movement that resisted bankruptcy and corporate consolidation in the 1980s, and now the urban farming movement that has burgeoned in the past 10 years.

Many elements of the sustainable food movement have been organized by (or for) the two most obvious sectors of the food system: Eaters and producers. In parts of the world where populations are still largely agrarian, eaters and producers are often the same people, but here in the United States (where the farming population hovers around one percent) consumers have been the dominant focus of food policy, at least for the past 40 years.

In the global North, much of the past 20 years of activism has framed the concept of “food security” as the right of all people to have enough food to avoid hunger and malnutrition. A new effort underway to deepen food activism focuses on a more radical idea: The concept of food sovereignty. The global food sovereignty movement is making the case that reform of the food system will be insufficient if it does not democratize and make more transparent the means of food production. We’ll never be able to resolve the environmental and social abuses of industrial agriculture without changing who controls the food system.

As Katherine Zavala, program manager of grassroots alliances at International Development Exchange (IDEX), a San Francisco-based organization that supports food justice in the Global South, explains it: “Food security might focus on hunger as a human rights issue, but it fails to consider many other facets of food like the ways it is produced, the social relationships it relies on, or the cultural importance it holds to communities.”

Having enough to eat is important, certainly, but what about the quality of that food? What about the way that people are treated in the process of producing that food? What about the cultural traditions of food that are left aside in a purely calorie-counting concept of “food security”? Zavala says that perhaps the biggest inadequacy of the food security concept is that it fails to address “who decides what the food system is. It doesn’t address who is driving or controlling the global food system or the lack of decision-making power among people to decide what food system they want.”

These deeper questions illustrate why the term “food sovereignty”–pioneered by the international peasant alliance La Via Campesina–is increasingly being adopted food movement activists across the globe. Ashoka Finley, who works for the Richmond, California urban farming organization Urban Tilth and has been closely involved in the Occupy the Farm effort at the University of California’s Gill Tract, considers himself a food sovereignty activist.

He says: “Food sovereignty, like food security, is about rights. But because food sovereignty as a concept argues that food systems are determined by political and economic conditions, it’s about the rights we as eaters, citizens, and communities should have to take part in effecting those conditions. It is also about how we can use food-based activism to transform the political and economic system we live in.”

That “taking part” is what distinguishes food security from food sovereignty, and what makes food sovereignty such a compelling and important idea. Yes, of course, providing food for people in need is essential, but a soup kitchen a food bank or a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) card is not enough to create food sovereignty. Even planting gardens in urban areas (full disclosure: my area of employment!) doesn’t amount to food sovereignty.

Direct action approaches like Occupy the Farm may not be enough, because, Zavala reminds us, “Those that are in positions of government and economic power are restricting these alternative food system models. They’re not thinking about feeding people; they’re mostly thinking about the bottom line. And if we all created our own food systems, how would they profit?”

The entrenched corporate opposition to food systems change has pushed food sovereignty activists beyond the direct action approach to address the institutions of power. After a long period of focusing effort outside the political system, activists are now looking to the government for change. In the mid-2000s, for example, the federal Farm Bill finally became a top priority for many sustainable agriculture advocates. Long after the law was the main target of efforts to ensure food security (through SNAP). But, it has remained close to impossible to use the Farm Bill as a tool to promote food sovereignty.

“The current political climate is an extreme difficult one, the legislative process is complex, and that process can often be quite corrupt, as we have seen numerous times,” Finley says. “However, if we want food sovereignty, we can’t shy away from tough political battles, because there are certain political issues that underpin or undermine food sovereignty, like land ownership or agribusiness subsidies.”

Recent lobbying over the Farm Bill provides a clear example of the complexity and difficulty transitioning from a food security movement to a food sovereignty movement. Food security activists (often representing low income urban constituents) have been pitted against farm sustainability activists (more often rural-minded) over the funding that the bill controls. In an era of austerity, this can lead to Sophie’s-choice like dilemmas: Either cut food stamp funding or cut programs that provide support to farmers transitioning to organic methods of production.

Luckily, there’s an alternative to this false choice. That choice is to develop democratic spaces at the local and state level to craft collaborative solutions that benefit both consumers and producers. Across the country, Food Policy Councils(FPCs) are bringing together diverse constituencies to determine how local policy can be leveraged to achieve positive food system change. These local groups identify problems as a community and then seek to solve them through a process of consensus-building and pressuring local governments. Food Policy Councils have worked on things like institutional food procurement, the use of urban open space for agriculture, nutrition education and funding for food banks. More recently, FPCs are scaling up, coming together to affect policy on the state and federal levels.

The food movement’s shift from security to sovereignty can be instructive for the broader movements for environmental sanity and democratic governance. By asking the simple question, “Who’s in charge here?” food sovereignty elevates the importance that power has in our food systems. The concept expands our critical capacity beyond consumer choice to consider that we are all “co-producers” of the food system. “Sovereignty” is a frame that can be used to think about process in relation to natural resources, not just outcomes, and it can help encourage solidarity and cohesion amongst myriad movements and sectors within the food movement and outside of it.

Social movements focused on sovereignty can help build a more democratic and accountable political system. This, in turn, would allow for a more sustainable approach to natural resources, and a more egalitarian economic system. By talking “sovereignty” from the start, change-makers can pursue a mutual end goal from any number of individual struggles. When Paul Hawken described “the largest movement on Earth” in his book Blessed Unrest, he was clear that the millions of individual and NGO efforts to help were a movement, but just didn’t act like one.

Sovereignty, whether of food or fiber or healthcare, may the concept needed for these many struggles to become the movement that it could be.

San Francisco native Antonio Roman-Alcalá has been irrationally dedicated to urban sustainability since he decided that there wasn’t enough “land” for all dropouts to go “back to”. Since graduating from UC Berkeley, Antonio has been pursuing a life of meaningful enjoyment: teaching farming and permaculture at Alemany Farm and Texas Street Farm; playing drums and guitar in the band Future Twin; writing about the sustainable food movement as a perpetually critical insider; sharing his film In Search of Good Food; organizing the urban farm movement via the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance, and writing an ambitious treatise on human nature, environmental sustainability, and social transformation.

The Great Mexican Maize Massacre

Gene Giants Prepare the Genetic Wipe-out of One of the World’s Most Important Food Crops

Agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are plotting the boldest coup of a global food crop in history. If their requests to allow a massive commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) maize are approved in the next two weeks by the government of outgoing president Felipe Calderón, this parting gift to the gene giants will amount to a knife in the heart of the center of origin and diversity for maize. The consequences will be grave – and global. With the approvals and December planting deadlines looming, social movements and civil society organizations have called for an end to all GM maize in Mexico. Mexico’s Union of Concerned Scientists (UCCS) has called on the Mexican government to stop the processing of any application for open-field release of GM maize in Mexico.[1]ETC Group joins these calls, and appeals to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – intergovernmental bodies mandated to support food security and biodiversity – to take immediate action.

Outrage and alarm rang out through Mexico when the world’s two largest commercial seed companies, Monsanto and DuPont (whose seed business is known as DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.), and Dow AgroSciences (the world’s 8th largest seed company) applied to the government for the planting of 2,500,000 hectares (more than 6 million acres) of transgenic maize in Mexico.[2] The land area is massive – about the size of El Salvador. Scientists have identified thousands of peasant varieties of maize, making Mexico the global repository of maize genetic diversity. If the agribusiness applications are approved, it will mark the world’s first commercial-scale planting of genetically modified varieties of a major food crop in its center of origin.

“If Mexico’s government allows this crime of historic significance to happen, GMOs will soon be in the food of the entire Mexican population, and genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties will be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize – one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops,” said Verónica Villa from ETC’s Mexico office. “As if this weren’t bad enough, the companies want to plant Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant maize [Mon603] on more than 1,400,000 hectares. This is the same type of GM maize that has been linked to cancer in rats according to a recently published peer-reviewed study.”[3]

The poor in Latin America, but also in Asia and Africa, will particularly feel the effects, where breeding from maize diversity supports their subsistence and helps them cope with impacts of climate chaos. Along with Mexico, southern African countries Lesotho, Zambia, and Malawi have the highest per capita maize consumption in the world.[4]

The Mexican government insists that the target areas in the north are not part of the center of origin for maize, as traditional varieties weren’t found there. But this is not true: peasant varieties have been collected in these states, although to a lesser degree than in areas to the south. Many scientists as well as the National Biodiversity Commission (Conabio) consider the whole Mexican territory to be the center of origin for maize.[5] According to a review made by Ceccam (Center for Study of Change in Rural Mexico), the government’s newly drawn ‘center of origin’ map is historically and scientifically wrong, designed in order to justify the planting of GM maize by transnational companies.[6]

Commercial-scale planting (and subsequent re-planting) of GM maize will contaminate peasant varieties beyond the target regions, via the dispersal of GM pollen by insects and wind, as well as via grain elevators and accidental escape from trucks that transport maize all over Mexico. Scientists expect that contamination’s negative effects on peasant varieties might be irreversible and progressive, thanks to the accumulation of transgenes in its genome, leading to an erosion of biodiversity.[7]

Hundreds of Mexican agronomists and other scientists as well as Mexico’s peasant, farmers’ and consumers’ organizations have voiced their opposition to the proposed planting, but the outgoing administration of President Calderón – with nothing to lose before his term ends on December 1 – is expected to side with agribusiness. Mounting pressure, both inside and outside the country, may complicate matters.

If the planting is allowed, however, farmers growing maize may become unwitting patent infringers, guilty of using “patented genes” and may be forced to pay royalties to the patent owners, as has already happened in hundreds of cases in North America.

“It would be a monumental injustice for the creators of maize – who have so benefited humankind – to be obliged to pay royalties to a transnational corporation that exploited their knowledge in the first place,” said Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director.

In 1999, the Mexican National Agricultural Biosafety Commission established a moratorium on GM maize trials and commercial planting because of Mexico’s unique position as the center of origin and genetic diversity for maize. Calderón’s government arbitrarily broke the moratorium in 2009, although the conditions that motivated the moratorium were unchanged. Since then, the new biosafety commission (CIBIOGEM) has given its approval of 177 small GM maize field trials to 4 transnational companies (Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta). The GM field trials themselves have been criticized for lacking biosafety rigour – failing to comply even with Mexico’s weak biosafety law.

Silvia Ribeiro argues: “The so-called public consultations have been a charade, since the trials were approved without taking into account critical comments – even when they represented the majority of comments, many of them from well-known agronomists and other scientists. On top of that, the results of the trials were kept confidential, but are now providing the justification to allow commercial planting.”

After his official visit to Mexico in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, recommended that the Mexican government reinstate the moratorium on GM maize, both because of its impact on biodiversity and on Farmers’ Rights.[8] The Mexican government ignored the recommendation.

Ana de Ita of Ceccam points out that the area applied for in the Sinaloa and Tamaulipas (Mexican states in the North of Mexico) exceeds the area currently planted to irrigated maize there. “So it appears the companies are planning to replace the whole area of maize as well as other crops,” she says. “This is outrageous, as there is no reason for Mexico to risk its own history and biodiversity with GM maize. Mexico already produces enough maize to exceed the human consumption needs in the country, and it could produce much more by supporting peasants and small-scale farmers without handing over its food sovereignty to transnational companies.”

Maize is central to the cultures, economies and livelihoods of the Mexican population, where most people eat maize in different forms every day. The amount of maize that Mexicans consume far exceeds the average per capita consumption of most other countries (115 kg/year). 85% of the Mexican maize producers are peasants and small farmers, with fields smaller than 5 hectares. These producers have an essential role in providing more than half the food for the population, particularly the poor. At the same time, they are caring for and increasing the crop’s genetic diversity because of the decentralized way they grow maize – planting many different varieties, adapted at local levels, along with a number of other crops and wild species.

In 2009, the Network in Defense of Maize,[9] together with La Via Campesina North America, sent an open letter signed by thousands of other organizations and individuals to FAO and the CBD, asking them to take action to prevent GM maize contamination in Mexico.[10] The former directors of both international organizations dodged the request, even though both institutions have committed to protect agricultural centers of origin.[11] We now ask the new directors of FAO and the CBD to take immediate action to protect the center of origin and diversity of maize.

For further information:

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group Latin America Director,
Verónica Villa, ETC Group, Mexico,
Tel: (+52) 55 63 2664

Ana de Ita, CECCAM,
Tel: (+52) 56 61 53 98

Pat Mooney, ETC Group Executive Director,
Tel: 1-613-241-2267

Red en Defensa del Maíz:
Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, ceccam:

[1] UCCS (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad), “Statement: Call to action vs the planting of GMO corn in open field situations in Mexico,” November 2012, available online:
[2] The list of commercial applications for environmental release of GMOs is available here: (In Mexico, DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., is known by the name PHI México.)
[3] Gilles-Eric Séralini et al., “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” Food and Chemical ToxicologyVolume 50, Issue 11, November 2012, pp. 4221–4231. See also, John Vidal, “Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators,” The Guardian, 28 September 2012, available online:
[4] Alfred W. Crosby, review of James C. McCann, Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000 in Technology and Culture, Vol. 47, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 190-191.
[5] A. Serratos, El origen y la diversidad del maíz en el continente Americano, 2nd edition, September 2012, Mexico City Autonomous University and Greenpeace, available online:; National Commission for Biodiversity, Project Centers of Origin and diversification.
[6] Ceccam, La determinación de los centros de origen y diversidad genética del maíz, Mexico, 2012, available online:
[7] UCCS, “Transgenic Maize Estrangement,” México, 2009, available online:
[8] Olivier de Schutter report on Mexico, paragraphs 53-55. See Mission to Mexico, 2011, available online:
[9] The Network in Defense of Maize includes more than 1000 indigenous communities and civil society organizations. It was created in 2001, when it was first discovered that native Mexican maize had been contaminated by GM maize. Since then, the Network has resisted the advance of GM maize contamination at the local level, particularly in rural areas. Both ETC Group and Ceccam are members of the Network (
[10] The letter is available online:
[11] The CBD’s former Secretary General, Ahmed Djoghlaf, did not reply to the open letter. The former FAO Director General Jacques Diouf did not reply either, but delegated Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, to respond. Pandey, a well-known advocate of genetically modified crops, wrote that FAO could offer advice, but that biosafety was a Mexican issue.

Maíz: Diez mil años de certeza.

En varias comunidades de la región de la Sierra Juárez se ha detectado la presencia de maíz transgénico, introgresión dicen los especialistas. Nosotros creemos que se trata de una agresión a las comunidades indígenas, porque nadie se enteró con anticipación que esto podría haber ocurrido. Cuando nuestros compañeros campesinos compraban el maíz en Diconsa, nadie, ni los dependientes de las tiendas, Conasupo que les dicen, ni los costales de maíz venían con alguna indicación que dijera que traían semillas transgénicas. Ahora dicen que no son semillas, que son granos para consumo humano. Sin embargo, algunos campesinos indígenas de la región vieron en esos granos, las semillas que podrían sembrar. Por experimentación o necesidad quizá, esa semilla transgénica se sembró. En la cosmovisión indígena no hay diferencia entre una semilla y lo que es grano para comer. El maíz, nuestro hermano, lo cultivamos, lo comemos, y no podemos establecer una frontera entre lo que es para comer y lo que es para sembrar.

Hoy varias de nuestras comunidades tienen el problema de que su maíz está contaminado con maíces transgénicos. El primero en anunciar que había contaminación de semillas transgénicas en la Sierra Juárez fue el delegado de la Semarnat estatal, Salvador Fonseca. Sin embargo no se atrevió a afirmarlo sino que recurrió al Instituto Nacional de Ecología dependiente de Semarnat, para que se hiciera una evaluación.

Lo único que se nos informó es que había rasgos de que las semillas podían estar contaminadas por transgénicos, pero sin precisar a qué tipo de granos o semillas transgénicas se referían. Es una de las exigencias que habíamos hecho en carta pública al presidente de la República, al Secretario de la Sagarpa, al Secretario de la Semarnat y a la Cibiogem. Nos respondió Vicente Fox diciendo que había turnado a la Sagarpa para que ellos respondieran esta carta. Sagarpa hasta el momento no ha respondido oficialmente la carta; la Semarnat lo hizo a través del INE.

Nos parece muy preocupante, sobre todo porque después hacen una recomendación –que desde nuestro punto de vista es un atentado contra las comunidades indígenas–, porque se dice que para que no se pierdan las semillas criollas que actualmente existen en Sierra Juárez es necesario que se sigan sembrando las semillas que fueron cosechadas en esta reciente cosecha, sin importar que haya maíz transgénico en ellas, porque si no se perderían las semillas, nos dicen. Se nos propone que el próximo año se sigan monitoreando los terrenos y las semillas. Nosotros decimos que eso que ellos llaman monitoreo es un experimento para ver si crece o no crece la contaminación de los maíces transgénicos. En nuestra carta solicitamos que se ubicara cuáles eran los predios contaminados y cuáles eran los predios sin contaminar para que de ellos se saquen las semillas para la próxima siembra.

Sin embargo, los estudios que se realizaron se hicieron prácticamente de forma clandestina. En un foro que realizamos en Guelatao el pasado 19 de enero, las autoridades municipales y los comisariados de bienes comunales asistentes, nos dijeron que ellos desconocían que hubieran ido a sacar muestras de los terrenos de la gente de las comunidades. Nadie nos pudo decir, ninguna institución gubernamental nos puede decir que oficialmente llegó a las comunidades y explicó a las autoridades municipales o a las autoridades de bienes comunales: “vamos a sacar algunas muestras de semillas de maíz de su comunidad donde tenemos cierta preocupación”. Sí se hizo pero prácticamente de forma clandestina. Hoy vuelven a hacer algunos muestreos, seguramente por parte de la Sagarpa. Hasta donde nosotros sabemos el ingeniero de la Inifap –aun teniendo un protocolo de investigación– solamente llega, platica con las autoridades municipales y les pide que le digan quién tiene maíz, y al azar van y sacan unas 40 mazorcas o 30 mazorcas o 10 mazorcas de las gentes que han sembrado maíz en la reciente cosecha.

Nosotros creemos que se tiene que hacer una investigación seria para determinar con precisión cuáles son los predios contaminados, que es lo que a nosotros nos interesa porque lo que queremos es poner un límite entre las semillas transgénicas y las que no lo son. Si el próximo año siguen monitoreando y el siguiente también, puede que el maíz transgénico siga incrementando su porcentaje en las comunidades de la región y no se esté tomando una medida efectiva para evitarlo.

En la Sierra Juárez nos estamos informando, pero hace falta más información de nuestras mismas comunidades. Nos preocupa que esto pueda estar ocurriendo en otros lugares del país. Las semillas o los “granos” de Diconsa no llegan sólo a Oaxaca, llegan a todos los lugares del país en donde se consume ese maíz, y esto pone en riesgo la integridad de las semillas nativas, mal llamadas “criollas” de muchas comunidades indígenas de México.

Para nosotros las semillas nativas son un elemento muy importante de nuestra cultura. Podrán haber desaparecido las pirámides, las podrán haber destruido, pero un puño de semilla de maíz es la herencia que nosotros podemos dejarle a nuestros hijos y a nuestros nietos, y hoy nos están negando esa posibilidad. El proceso de globalización que se está viviendo en nuestro país y el solapamiento que se está haciendo por parte de las autoridades gubernamentales está negando a las comunidades indígenas el que puedan seguir transmitiendo esta herencia milenaria. Estamos hablando de más de 10 mil años de cultura: nuestras semillas han probado durante 10 mil años que no le hacen daño a nadie. Hoy nos están diciendo por la radio en Guelatao que las semillas transgénicas no hacen daño. Qué pruebas tienen al respecto. Nosotros sí tenemos pruebas: 10 mil años de práctica lo demuestran. Cinco años o seis años de práctica de la siembra de maíz transgénico en el mundo no nos están dando ningún indicador de que estas semillas, o de que estos granos, no vayan a causar daño a la humanidad. Después de 10 mil años nuestras semillas siguen vivas. Bien podemos poner en duda las semillas de ellos, que no tienen demostración al respecto.

En la Sierra Juárez creemos que es muy importante que podamos realizar un trabajo para diferenciar las semillas transgénicas y las que no lo son. No tenemos los recursos suficientes, es más, no tenemos recursos. No hay recursos para la difusión que en muchas comunidades es necesaria. Mucha gente no sabe todavía qué es el maíz transgénico. En la ciudad de México se ve la televisión, se escucha la radio, se pueden leer los periódicos; en la Sierra Juárez eso no existe. Tenemos que ir de comunidad en comunidad a informar lo que sucede, y nuestros paisanos cada vez están más molestos por esta situación.

Uno de los pronunciamientos más importantes que podemos hacer es exigirle al gobierno mexicano que no se siga importando maíz transgénico a nuestro país. Esta demanda no es solamente nuestra, es de muchos investigadores y centros preocupados por la seguridad alimentaria de los mexicanos. Nosotros nos sumamos a la demanda que fue presentada ya por algunos organismos de la sociedad civil en contra de la Sagarpa, la Semarnat y otras instituciones gubernamentales, porque han violado una serie de pactos, una serie de convenios internacionales, una serie de leyes nacionales que ellos hicieron, que ellos firmaron y que hoy no se respetan. No podemos seguir permitiendo que en México se siga impunemente contra los pueblos indígenas.

Vamos a hacer lo que sea necesario para que nuestras semillas, nuestros maíces, puedan sobrevivir. Los pueblos indígenas no vamos a dejar que pasen sobre nosotros sin que digamos nada. Hoy estamos en pie de lucha, vamos a seguir haciendo nuestro mejor esfuerzo para que la herencia que nos dejaron nuestros antepasados podamos entregarla también a nuestros hijos y a nuestros nietos.

Aldo González.


Aldo González es presidente municipal de Guelatao, Oaxaca, miembro de la Unión de Organizaciones de la Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca (Unosjo) e integrante del Congreso Nacional Indígena

Debate: ¿Es riesgoso el maíz transgénico?

Genetic Roulette Movie

Globalised food system has failed the poor.

The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering is usually little more than a toast to the benefits of increasing global gross domestic product (GDP), trade and investment. But this year’s meeting comes at a time when economic expansion can no longer be taken for granted and when the uneven benefits of past growth are sparking mass social unrest.

So it is little wonder that doomsday scenarios about the “seeds of dystopia” and the risks of “rolling back the globalisation process” are being dangled in Davos. The world’s economic and political leaders stand warned: do globalisation better, or it will be derailed by the growing legions of the discontented.

Leaders would be unwise to ignore this warning. Discussions in Davos must go beyond how to rectify the imbalances in developed countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios. They must finally pay attention to the wider imbalances that are generated by unfettered globalisation.

Popular anger is directed not only at the bank bail-outs, soaring public debt and bleak employment prospects of recent years. All around the world, people have fallen afoul of a two-track economic process whereby whole industries have been sacrificed to cheaper imports, whole regions have been consigned to abandonment or degradation and whole populations have been frozen out of economic progress.

Nowhere are these imbalances more evident than in the global food system. Globalisation has been wholeheartedly embraced in the service of feeding the world: bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have been put in place to allow food to flow from food-surplus to food-deficit regions.

Yet this model has failed spectacularly. The food bills of the least-developed countries increased five-or sixfold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for about 25% of their current food consumption. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade. Countries that fall into this vicious cycle leave their citizens vulnerable to historically volatile prices on international markets, which means increased hunger and insecurity.

Despite the persistent challenges of hunger and food inequality, people are told to embrace more open markets, more trade and more globalised economic processes. Yet open markets do not function as perfectly as many at Davos would like to think. Food moves where purchasing power is highest, not where the need for it is most urgent.

This blind embrace of globalisation from above means missing out on key opportunities that do not fit the dogma. If we were to support developing-world small landholders, who are often the poorest groups, we could enable them to move out of poverty and enable local food production to meet local needs. Trade would complement local production rather than justifying its abandonment.

Trade and investment agreements are the gateways through which globalisation passes on its way to redefining a country’s economic landscape and they are increasing at an impressive pace. There are 6092 bilateral investment agreements in force, with 56 concluded in 2010 alone.

That growth reflects the flawed economic model of the pre-crisis years, which relied on indifference to where growth came from, how sustainable it was and who was benefiting from it. If we are to learn anything from the crisis, it must be to start asking the right questions.

Every new bilateral agreement, every chapter of globalisation, should be measured against new criteria. How sustainable and how evenly spread will the macroeconomic benefits be? Will they facilitate genuine development and provide dignified opportunities to those who become economically displaced?

Globalisation involves winners and losers — that has been established.

But losing out, for a subsistence farmer, means sinking into dire poverty and hunger.

Is the denial of a vulnerable population’s right to food an acceptable byproduct of a trade deal? Should the goal be to multiply the interests of powerful multinationals? Are these the economic processes that we want, or need?

These are the questions leaders must ask at Davos. Globalisation can survive the crisis. But not as we know it. Globalisation must be taken back for the interests of the many. © Project Syndicate, 2012.

 • De Schutter is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food.

Stop Land-Grabbing Now!

Nyeleni, November 19, 2011

We, women and men peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and their allies, who gathered together in Nyeleni from 17-19 November 2011, are determined to defend food sovereignty, the commons and the rights of small scale food providers to natural resources. We supported the Kolongo Appeal from peasant organizations in Mali, who have taken the lead in organising local resistance to the take-over of peasants’ lands in Africa. We came to Nyeleni in response to the Dakar Appeal, which calls for a global alliance against land-grabbing.

In the past three days, peasants, pastoralists and indigenous peoples have come together from across the world for the first time to share with each other their experiences and struggles against land-grabbing. In Mali, the Government has committed to give away 800 thousand hectares of land to business investors. These are lands of communities that have belonged to them for generations, even centuries, while the Malian State has only existed since the 1960-s. This situation is mirrored in many other countries where customary rights are not recognised. Taking away the lands of communities is a violation of both their customary and historical rights.

Secure access to and control over land and natural resources are inextricably linked to the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several regional and international human rights conventions, such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health, culture, property and participation. We note with grave concern that states are not meeting their obligations in this regard and putting the interests of business interests above the rights of peoples.

Land-grabbing is a global phenomenon led by local, national and transnational elites and investors, and governments with the aim of controlling the world’s most precious resources. The global financial, food and climate crises have triggered a rush among investors and wealthy governments to acquire and capture land and natural resources, since these are the only “safe havens” left that guarantee secure financial returns. Pension and other investment funds have become powerful actors in land-grabbing, while wars continue to be waged to seize control over natural wealth. The World Bank and regional development banks are facilitating land grabs by promoting corporate-friendly policies and laws, facilitating capital and guarantees for corporate investors, and fostering an extractive, destructive economic development model. The World Bank, IFAD, FAO and UNCTAD have proposed seven principles that legitimise farmland grabbing by corporate and state investors. Led by some of the world’s largest transnational corporations, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) aims to transform smallhold agriculture into industrial agriculture and integrate smallhold farmers to global value chains, greatly increasing their vulnerability to land-loss.

Land-grabbing goes beyond traditional North-South imperialist structures; transnational corporations can be based in the United States, Europe, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, among others. It is also a crisis in both rural and urban areas. Land is being grabbed in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe for industrial agriculture, mining, infrastructure projects, dams, tourism, conservation parks, industry, urban expansion and military purposes. Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are being expelled from their territories by armed forces, increasing their vulnerability and in some cases even leading to slavery. Market based, false solutions to climate change are creating more ways to alienate local communities from their lands and natural resources.

Despite the fact that women produce most of the world’s food, and are responsible for family and community well being, existing patriarchal structures continue to dispossess women from the lands that they cultivate and their rights to resources. Since most peasant women do not have secure, legally recognised land rights, they are particularly vulnerable to evictions.

The fight against land-grabbing is a fight against capitalism, neoliberalism and a destructive economic model. Through testimonies from our sisters and brothers in Burkina Faso, Columbia, Guatemala, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda, we learned how land-grabbing threatens small scale, family based farming, nature, the environment and food sovereignty. Land grabbing displaces and dislocates communities, destroys local economies and the social-cultural fabric, and jeopardizes the identities of communities, be they farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, workers, dalits or indigenous peoples. Those who stand up for their rights are beaten, jailed and killed. There is no way to mitigate the impacts of this economic model and the power structures that promote it. Our lands are not for sale or lease.

But we are not defeated. Through organisation, mobilisation and community cohesiveness, we have been able to stop land-grabbing in many places. Furthermore, our societies are recognising that small-scale, family based agriculture and food production is the most socially, economically and environmentally sustainable model of using resources.

Recalling the Dakar Appeal, we reiterate our commitment to resist land-grabbing by all means possible, to support all those who fight land-grabs, and to put pressure on national governments and international institutions to fulfill their obligations to defend and uphold the rights of peoples. Specifically, we commit to:

Organise rural and urban communities against land-grabs in every form.

Strengthen the capacities of our communities and movements to reclaim and defend our rights, lands and resources.

Win and secure the rights of women in our communities to land and natural resources.

Create public awareness about how land grabbing is creating crises for all society.

Build alliances across different sectors, constituencies, regions, and mobilise our societies to stop land-grabbing

Strengthen our movements to achieve and promote food sovereignty and genuine agrarian reform

In order to meet the above commitments, we will develop the following actions:

  • Report back to our communities the deliberations and commitments of this Conference.
  • Institutionalise April 17 as the day of global mobilisation against land-grabbing; also identify additional appropriate dates that can be used for such mobilisations to defend land and the commons.
  • Develop our political arguments to expose and discredit the economic model that spurs land-grabbing, and the various actors and initiatives that promote and legitimise it.
  • Build our own databases about land-grabbing by documenting cases, and gathering the needed information and evidence about processes, actors, impacts, etc.
  • Ensure that communities have the information they need about laws, rights, companies, contracts, etc., so that they can resist more effectively the business investors and governments who try to take their lands and natural resources.
  • Set up early warning systems to alert communities to risks and threats.
  • Establish a Peoples’ Observatory on land-grabbing to facilitate and centralise data gathering, communications, planning actions, advocacy, research and analysis, etc.
  • Strengthen our communities through political and technical training, and restore our pride in being food producers and providers.
  • Secure land and resource rights for women by conscientising our communities and movements, targeted re-distribution of land for women, and other actions make laws and policies responsive to the particular needs of women.
  • Build strong organisational networks and alliances at various levels–local, regional and international–building on the Dakar Appeal and with small-scale food producers/providers at the centre of these alliances.
  • Build alliances with members of pension schemes in order to prevent pension fund managers from investing in projects that result in land grabbing.

Make our leaders abide by the rules set by our communities and compel them to be accountable to us, and our communities and organisations.

  • Develop our own systems of legal aid and liaise with legal and human rights experts.
  • Condemn all forms of violence and criminalisation of our struggles and our mobilizations in defense of our rights.
  • Work for the immediate release of all those jailed as a result of their struggles for their lands and territories, and urgently develop campaigns of solidarity with all those facing conflicts.
  • Build strategic alliances with press and media, so that they report accurately our messages and realities; counter the prejudices spread by the mainstream media about the land struggles in Zimbabwe.
  • Develop and use local media to organise members of our and other communities, and share with them information about land-grabbing.
  • Take our messages and demands to parliaments, governments and international institutions.
  • Identify and target local, national and international spaces for actions, mobilizations and building broad-based societal resistance to land-grabbing.
  • Plan actions that target corporations, (including financial corporations), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks that benefit from, drive and promote land and natural resource grabs.
  • Expand and strengthen our actions to achieve and promote food sovereignty and agrarian reform.
  • Support peoples’ enclosures of their resources through land occupations, occupations of the offices of corporate investors, protests and other actions to reclaim their commons.
  • Demands that our governments fulfill their human rights obligations, immediately stop land and natural resource transfers to business investors, cancel contracts already made, and protect rural and urban communities from ongoing and future land-grabs.

We call all organizations committed to these principles and actions to join our Global Alliance against Land-Grabbing, which we solemnly launch today here in Nyeleni.

Globalise the struggle! Globalise hope!

Maya Food Threatened: Statement vs. GMO Corn In Belize.

It comes as no surprise to us that today the Maya of southern Belize are faced with yet another threat to their existence and way of life. The government of Belize is poised to approve testing of GMO corn seeds developed by Monsanto in our country. For the Maya, GMO corn reminds us of what happened after the arrival of Europeans, who promised us progress and salvation, but whose mere presence introduced diseases that decimated our people and enabled them to overcome us by force, settle on our lands and harvest our untold wealth.

The Maya people refer to ourselves as the people of the corn. Corn has been our staple food and a unique resource that grounds our existence, since the Maya people and our ancestors created it through millennia of selective breeding of the tiny teosinte grain. We have planted the corn, season after season, within the rainforest of southern Belize. In the past, we have been criticized for our slash and burn system of agriculture, when in fact, our rotational system of farming corn and intercropping is one of the only sustainable forms of agriculture in the climate and terrain conditions of southern Belize, and is based on a system of respect and value for Mother Nature; so we forgive the critics.

Now, companies like Monstanto have taken corn, the intellectual property of millennia of Central America’s indigenous people freely shared with the world, and inserted into it genes from other organisms, and tell us that their new, genetically modified corn is superior and good for us. Despite being blamed by newcomers for deforestation and the imminent demise of the rainforest for over a century, the Maya of Toledo continue to live in the most forested region of Belize. The number of schemes that have been foisted upon us by agricultural “experts” over the decades is legion; they have failed and caused our people hardship while our traditional methods continue to sustain us. We have reason to be skeptical of claims by people from other parts of the world that they know better than us about farming in our forests, that they have a better way, that following their science will make life better for us. GMO corn is another such scheme. We are told that to resist GMO crops is to be backward, against progress, against science. They do not tell us that many countries have banned or severely restricted GMO foods. They do not allow them to be grown; they do not allow them to be imported into their countries. These countries include some Caribbean countries, the European Union, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Japan, Egypt, the Phillipines, and China – some of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2007, France withdrew authorization to plant Monsanto GMO corn there after initially allowing it. Resistance to GMO crops is not backward, it is forward thinking.

We are told that GMO seeds are resistant to pests, and so they will provide us with better harvests. In the United States, the same GMO corn strain that Monsanto wants to introduce in Belize was widely adopted by farmers in Iowa and Illinois. It is supposed to resist corn beetles (rootworm). Just this summer, many of those farmers suffered massive losses as fields of corn toppled over from rootworm invasions. The GMO seeds are not only losing effectiveness, but have contributed to the evolution of a pesticide-resistant “superbug”. In Maya traditional farming, pests are kept low naturally, without pesticides, by burning the field when clearing, by planting combinations of crops, and by moving our milpas periodically.

We are told that GMO seeds are more reliable and will provide better harvests. They do not tell us that in South Africa – one of the first countries to adopt GMO corn –the Monsanto GMO corn failed massively in South Africa in 2009 – in 82,000 hectares, the plants grew beautifully, but the cobs were seedless because of “underfertilization processes” in Monsantos’ laboratory”. Those farmers got some compensation, but for Maya farmers, compensation for crop failure later isn’t enough; our families face starvation if the corn harvest doesn’t come in. They do not tell us that in India, farmers who adopted Monsanto GMO cotton on promises of better yields and lower pesticide costs got 35% less crop, and it cost them more to produce. An estimated 125,000 farmers committed suicide due to the crop failure.

We are told that GMO corn is more efficient, and cheaper. They do not tell us that in order to survive, GMO crops need chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As pests gain resistance, more and more chemicals will be required to sustain Monsanto corn. They do not tell us that we will have to buy more and more chemicals, and pay for seeds every year. As Maya, we plant seeds that we save from our previous harvest; they are a gift from the Earth that cost us only our labour. Introducing GMO corn steals that birthright from us.

We are told that if Maya farmers do not want GMO corn, we do not have to use it, but that we should not deny commercial farmers in other parts of the country that right. But once they are being grown in the country, there will be nothing to prevent them from contaminating our local corn, whether we want their Frankenstein genes or not. And once our crops are contaminated, whether we like it or not, Monsanto could be able to make us pay. In Canada, a farmer whose crops were contaminated by GMO plants and who then used seeds from those plants the next year was held to have violated Monsanto’s patent on the plant. He had to destroy the seeds, which also meant destroying the unique variety of the crop he had developed over decades of farming. We are told that BELIPO has the power to deny patent protection to Monsanto, which would protect farmers from this kind of control and dependency to some extent – although Monsanto could still enforce dependency by selling only sterile seeds. But the government hasn’t committed to this action – and another thing that they don’t tell us is that Monsanto has been accused and even convicted of bribing government officials in other countries, including Indonesia and Canada, to allow policies that benefit them. Monsanto cannot be trusted, and a government that allows its devastating products into our country cannot be trusted.

Through our long struggle to defend our lives and our lands, corn has fed us, sustained us, and given us strength. We have always been cash poor but we have food, and can build our homes for shelter without having to buy from hardware stores. So we are not surprised now that our corn itself is under attack. This threatens our independent, self sustained lifestyle and livelihood. We make no apology to state for the record that the introduction of GMO corn is an assault on the food security and independence of the Maya people, to weaken our strength and resistance.

Governments and commercial interests have invaded our forests, appropriated our lands and continue to illegally extract the rich resources that we have long protected us as a people. They stole our culture to sell it for tourism for their own benefit. They challenge our identity and our nationality by spreading the myth that we are recent migrants from Guatemala and not indigenous to Belize. None of this has discouraged the Maya from standing strong and defending the land and her children. On the contrary, we have gained more strength and enjoyed consistent success in the hearts of the Belizean people, the courts, and the international community. Now the government has a new tactic: they seek to starve us, by introducing laboratory-made corn to destroy our Native corn, throw us into dependence on agribusiness corporations and eventually, as farmers sink under the expense of GMO crops, dispossess us of our lands.

Remember, People in Toledo do not grow their corn to sell they grow it to feed their family and animals. If there is some left, then they bring it to the local market in town to sell. People do not make enough money to keep on buying these seeds and all that comes with it. The result is that people not be able to maintain their farms, and be forced to the towns and cities and cayes in search of jobs.

The push for GMO corn in Belize is about corporate greed, not the needs of Belizeans. Let us defend our corn and the integrity of our natural ecosystems . For over 500 years we have managed to survive; we are a resilient people. We do not need, and we will not accept your corn!

Oaxaca: ley y despojo del maíz autóctono.

Hace diez años se descubrió en la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca maíz contaminado con trangenes. Desde esa fecha, las comunidades indígenas del estado han luchado contra los cultivos transgénicos. El último episodio de esta batalla es el pronunciamiento de 35 organizaciones contra dos propuestas de ley que supuestamente pretenden proteger el maíz nativo, pero no prohíben la siembra o el almacenamiento de semillas genéticamente modificadas y, en cambio, instrumentan y legalizan su entrada al campo oaxaqueño.

Aunque produce sólo poco menos de 4 por ciento del maíz que se cosecha en el país, Oaxaca es uno de los siete estados con el mayor número de unidades de producción del cereal. Se siembra en 567 de los 570 municipios de la entidad. La mayor parte de quienes lo cultivan pertenece a alguno de los 15 pueblos indígenas que viven en la entidad. El grano es el centro de su alimentación y está estrechamente ligado a su cultura. Sus productores pertenecen a los estratos más pobres de la población y lo siembran, generalmente, en superficies menores a cinco hectáreas, en tierras de mala calidad y condiciones fisiográficas desfavorables.

En noviembre de 2001, los científicos de la Universidad de Berkeley Ignacio Chapela y David Quist encontraron maíz nativo contaminado con transgenes en comunidades de la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. A pesar de la campaña de descrédito montada por las empresas que fabrican semillas, que logró que la revista Nature se retractara de la publicación del artículo de Chapela y Quist, el Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE) y la Comisión Nacional de Biodiversidad (Conabio) confirmaron la contaminación. El informe documentó que en el almacén Diconsa de Ixtlán, Oaxaca, se había encontrado contaminación transgénica del maíz destinado a la venta para consumo humano (véase Ana de Ita, Reporte de los ciudadanos del mundo. México: maíz transgénico en el centro de origen).

El descubrimiento detonó la organización de la respuesta social y la integración de distintas luchas de regiones, comunidades y organizaciones. Las comunidades y los campesinos oaxaqueños han estado desde entonces a la vanguardia de la resistencia contra la contaminación.

Como parte de esta lucha, el pasado 25 de agosto, 35 organizaciones firmaron un pronunciamiento rechazando dos propuestas de ley que pretenden proteger al alimento básico de la población oaxaqueña, que –aseguran– facilitan el saqueo del maíz nativo por empresas trasnacionales.

Las propuestas de ley fueron presentadas al Congreso del estado por los partidos Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) y Acción Nacional (PAN). La priísta fue elaborada por la diputada Carolina Aparicio Sánchez y fue bautizada como Ley de Sustentabilidad de los Maíces Nativos del Estado de Oaxaca. La panista, llamada Ley de Fomento y Protección del Maíz Criollo como Patrimonio Alimentario del Estado de Oaxaca, fue presentada por la legisladora Marlene Aldeco Reyes Retana (PAN), a propuesta de Maricela Silva, de la Fundación para el Desarrollo Social Coatlicue.

Las comunidades indígenas consideran que las dos iniciativas de ley agreden la inteligencia de la población oaxaqueña. Sostienen que vulneran de manera desvergonzada los derechos de nuestros pueblos y comunidades indígenas y campesinas a su libre determinación y soberanía alimentaria.

La iniciativa del PAN es una copia de las leyes de Tlaxcala y Michoacán, muy criticadas a escala nacional e internacional. La propuesta del PRI desconoce la realidad en el campo oaxaqueño. Ambas otorgan certeza jurídica sólo a productores registrados, término que excluye a los campesinos indígenas que producen para autoconsumo. Están orientadas a localidades con producción intensiva, dedicadas al uso de fertilizantes, herbicidas y pesticidas, que favorecen a la agroindustria y a productores de alto rendimiento.

Según las organizaciones, ambas propuestas prevén la creación de un organismo central que tendrá el control sobre todas las actividades que tienen relación con el maíz y establecen que será el enlace único entre el estado y los productores, excluyendo a los campesinos y quitándoles la capacidad de decidir sobre cualquier asunto que tenga que ver con sus semillas. Fomentan también la creación de un padrón de productores que serán los únicos beneficiarios de los apoyos y programas productivos.

Asimismo, obligan a los campesinos a facilitar sus semillas y sus conocimientos a mejoradores a través de bancos de germoplasma. Así, advierten las comunidades, se permitirá el acceso de sus semillas a empresas trasnacionales.

Como sucede con las leyes de maíz recientemente aprobadas en Tlaxcala y Michoacán, las propuestas para Oaxaca no prohíben la siembra o el almacenamiento de transgénicos. Por el contrario, instrumentan y legalizan la entrada de transgénicos con el respaldo de la Ley federal de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genéticamente Modificados (ley Monsanto).

De acuerdo con los pueblos oaxaqueños en resistencia a los trasgénicos, las iniciativas de ley fomentan el conflicto entre las cabeceras municipales y sus agencias, al aludir únicamente a las autoridades municipales en la toma de decisiones. Se ignora la institucionalidad comunitaria indígena y campesina, como la asamblea y la figura del comisariado de bienes comunales y/o ejidales.

Como acontece con otras legislaciones que dicen defender los maíces autóctonos, las propuestas de ley oaxaqueñas simulan ayudar a la conservación del cereal, pero en los hechos abren la puerta a que los pequeños productores pierdan el control sobre sus semillas, dan a los gobiernos licencia para expropiar los saberes tradicionales campesinos y crean las condiciones para que las empresas privadas se apropien y patenten esa simiente. No puede extrañar, entonces, que quienes por 10 años han luchado contra el maíz transgénico en el agro oaxaqueño se opongan a esas iniciativas.

Luis Hernández Navarro


September 2020

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