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Alberto Gomez Flores

Alberto Gomez Flores believes that the latest agreements from the Cancún climate summit have failed humanity (© Vanya Walker-Leigh)
Alberto Gomez Flores believes that the latest agreements from the Cancún climate summit have failed humanity
© Vanya Walker-Leigh

After Cancún: defending farmers' rights

Alberto Gomez Flores, regional Via Campesina co-ordinator for North America (US, Canada, Mexico).

I believe that the COP 16 agreements failed; they failed the future of humanity and hopes for living in harmony with nature. The agreements that were made only confirmed our view that those mechanisms being set up, such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) and the carbon market, are merely designed to benefit business, to enable business to make profits out of dealing with climate change. As a result REDD will lead to the global privatisation of forest resources.

It is disgraceful that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been transformed into a platform to legitimise commercial strategies of multinational companies, that are benefitting from an ever-growing number of mechanisms, all offering new opportunities for increasing and consolidating their control over water, land and seeds. The real alternatives are not discussed within UNFCCC.

Instead we are entering another stage in the redesign of the world economy under the banner of a 'green economy' to pressure countries of the South into a system aimed to get the world out of the current financial crisis. If this trend continues, we will see the continued industrialisation of agriculture, widespread introduction of transgenics, and the growing displacement of smallholders and indigenous peoples from rural areas.

For example, while in many areas of Mexico, forests are managed by communities with long-standing traditional rights, this is not the case in most other countries, where forests are either owned by the state, or by major logging companies. So currently, these forests are not holisitically managed by forest-dwellers. Via Campesina intends to discuss these issues in detail and submit its views to the UN.

Farmers on the fringe

While Via Campesina had no part in the drafting of the statement delivered to the final high-level plenary on behalf of farmers (Via Campesina's request for accreditation to the COP was refused by the UNFCCC secretariat), the outcome of the Via Campesina Forum for Life, Environmental and Social Justice was very successful. The event, held in Cancún town during 4-9th December 2010, was attended by 4,800 registered participants from all continents, but preceded by caravans of farmers coming from various parts of Mexico crossing 17 states and involving some 13,000 people. The Forum, addressed by the Bolivian president Evo Morales, comprised seminars and lectures about the causes and solutions to climate change and I found an encouraging level of awareness amongst farmers there.

The caravan was a particularly valuable learning experience for participants who were able to interact with local people along the way and see the impacts of climate change already apparent in our country, relating what they saw to the current international negotiations. There was also a march in Cancún on 7 December 2010 that was attended by thousands of demonstrators, an on that day over 300 activities were organised by our members in 37 countries worldwide.

Making our views heard

Representatives of Via Campesina will now conduct a preliminary review of Cancún and make future plans at the World Social Forum to be held in Dakar, Senegal 6-11 February 2011. We have already started discussing with South African and other African farmers' groups about possible actions pertaining to COP 17, which will be held late in 2011 in Durban, South Africa.

We see the need to reach out to other like-minded stakeholders with a similar approach, and we plan to attend the next global meeting of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) in South Korea (September 26-October 5). In fact, we need to reach out to world public opinion at large and tell the public what is at stake - humanity's future survival, the role of farmers in producing food and ecosystems services, and the implications of the false solution of ever more industrial agriculture and worldwide use of transgenics.

Part of the solution

Our basic message will hinge on the urgent need for food sovereignty, for nations to be able to plan their own food policies without interference from global trade rules. We have long argued that agriculture must be taken out of the World Trade Organisation. In August 2011, Via Campesina will open discussions with senior officials from Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela on legal aspects of our views on food sovereignty, and how they can be translated into detailed policies in those countries - whose governments are sympathetic to our approach.

Today smallholders continue to produce 50 per cent of the world's food supply. We are part of the solution to coping with climate change, not part of the problem, but continued and improved access to land is critical to our effectiveness.

Via Campesina is an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. It is a coalition of around 150 organisations, with an estimated 300 million members.

Interviewed and written up by Vanya Walker-Leigh

Date published: January 2011


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