La Vía Campesina (from Spanish la vía campesina, the campesino way, or the peasants' way) describes itself as "an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe". It is a coalition of over 148 organizations, advocating family-farm-based sustainable agriculture and was the group that first coined the term "food sovereignty". La Vía Campesina has carried out several campaigns including a campaign to defend farmer's seeds, a campaign to stop violence against women, a campaign for the recognition of the rights of peasants, a global campaign for agrarian reform, and others.
According to Shawki (2014), the peasants' rights movement emerged from the new rights advocacy that arose in the 1990s. This period was marked by the integration of human rights and development agendas, which historically focused only on political and civil rights but then expanded to include social and economic rights. As a response to these changes, the agrarian peasants' movement moved to challenge the hegemonic ideology of neoliberalism in global economics and find valid alternatives that would protect the rights of workers around the world.
Starting in the 1980s governments were intervening less in the rural countryside, which weakened corporate control over peasants' organizations while making a living in agriculture was getting more difficult. As a result, national peasant groups began to form ties with transnational organizations, starting in Latin America and then on a global scale.
Relation to international entities
The organization was founded in 1993 by farmers organizations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America and Africa. The foundation followed the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), where the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights were signed and approved. These agreements caused backlash from many people around the world for focusing on technical problems rather than the human right to access to food, especially for those living in the Global South. Globalization was under way at this time, affecting many industries including agriculture. La Vía Campesina gave small farmers a platform to have their voices heard about how these changes were impacting their lives. The movement has grown and is now recognized as a part of the global dialogue on food and agriculture, having presented to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council in the past.
According to La Vía Campesina's webpage, the movements main issues are agrarian reform and water, biodiversity and genetic resources, food sovereignty and trade, women, human rights, migrations and rural workers, sustainable peasant's agriculture, and youth. In recent years the movement has placed greater emphasis on gender issues and women's rights and strengthened its opposition to transnational corporations. They have also focused on gaining recognition for the discourse around food sovereignty and reclaiming the term "peasant" and recreating a shared peasant identity across national borders and cultures but with a common struggle. La Vía Campesina also partners with other social movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to strengthen its international presence.
Democratic decision-making is central to the mission of La Vía Campesina and they have been dedicated to fair representation and engagement of all participants, making structural changes when necessary. The voices and perspectives of people from around the world are necessary to assess and improve the global situation of food production and food sovereignty. The shared identity of "peasant" is part of this effort to have equality among members of the movement. The term "re-peasantization" has been used to describe the reclaiming of this term. According to Desmarais (2008), in English the term "peasant" has a distinct connotation tied to feudalism, but in other languages and contexts the meaning is expanded; campesino comes from the word campo, meaning countryside, which inherently ties the people to the land. The feudalist connotation was also why the organization chose not to translate the name of the organization in to English.
In 2015 La Vía Campesina received an award from the Latin American Scientific Society for Agroecology (SOCLA) "in recognition of its example of tireless struggle in favor of agroecology and the rights of peasants, in carrying out its mission to take care of the earth, feed the world, conserve biodiversity and cool the planet, through its constant search for food sovereignty in Latin America."
La Vía Campesina is a grassroots movement, with activism at the local and national level. Members come from 73 different countries, which are organized into 9 regions. The International Coordinating Committee is represented by one man and one woman, each elected by their respective region's membership organizations. With about 164 local and national organizations as part of the movement, La Vía Campesina represents an estimated 200 million farmers around the world.
According to Menser (2008), La Vía Campesina is an example of the success and expansion of transnational movements in regards to participatory democracy due to its organization model and adaptation to ensure fair representation.
Representatives from each region meet at International Conferences roughly every four years. Past meetings were held in Mons in 1993, Tlaxcala in 1996, Bangalore in 2000, São Paulo in 2004, Maputo in 2008, and Jakarta in 2013. The international secretariat changes its central location every 4 years based on the decision made at the International Conference. Past locations were Belgium (1993-1996), Honduras (1997-2004), and Indonesia (2005-2013).
Since September 2013 the secretariat has been in Harare, Zimbabwe. Elizabeth Mpofu is the current General Coordinator. Mpofu emphasizes the importance of addressing violence against women, youth voices, and global seed freedom.
Gender was not really included as a consideration at the start of the movement. In fact at the signing of the Managua Declaration - the precursor to La Vía Campesina - all 8 people present were men. Peasant women started becoming more involved and pushing for women's rights at the International Conference in Tlaxcala in 1996. At this meeting they decided to form a committee dedicated to women's rights and gender issues, which eventually became the Vía Campesina's Women's Commission. The women on the committee were also heavily involved in editing the draft of the cornerstone position on food sovereignty that was presented at the World Food Summit in 1996. They included health as a consideration for food production without agro-chemicals as well as the importance of women's involvement in policy changes since women typically were barred from political involvement. The women of La Vía Campesina are still working for greater representation and engagement of peasant women, especially in leadership positions.
La Vía Campesina introduced the idea of food sovereignty at the World Food Summit in 1996 as "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." The phrase "culturally appropriate" signifies that the food that is available and accessible for the population should fit with the cultural background of the people consuming it. For example, subsidized and imported wheat products would not fall under this category in a country where corn-based foods were the basis of traditional meals.
|Issue||Dominant Model||Food Sovereignty|
|Trade||Free trade in everything||Food and agriculture exempt from trade agreements|
|Production Priority||Agroexports||Food for local markets|
|Crop Prices||‘What the market dictates’
(leave the mechanisms that create both low crop prices and speculative food price hikes intact)
|Fair prices that cover costs of
production and allow farmers and farm workers a life with dignity
|Market Access||Access to foreign markets||Access to local markets; an end
to the displacement of farmers from their own markets by agribusiness
|Subsidies||While prohibited in the
Third World, many subsidies are allowed in the US and Europe, but are paid only to the largest farmers
|Subsidies are ok that do not
damage other countries via dumping (i.e. grant subsidies only to family farmers for direct marketing, price/ income support, soil conservation, conversion to sustainable farming, research, etc.)
|Food||Chiefly a commodity;
in practice, this means processed, contaminated food that is full of fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and toxic residues
|A human right: specifically,
should be healthy, nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and locally produced
|Being Able to Produce||An option for the economically
|A right of rural peoples|
|Hunger||Due to low productivity||Problem of access and
distribution due to poverty and inequality
|Food Security||Achieved by importing food||Greatest when food production is in the hands of the hungry, or produced locally|
|Control Over Productive Resources (land, water, forests)||Privatized||Local, under community control|
|Access to Land||Via the market||Via genuine agrarian reform|
|Seeds||Patentable commodity||Common heritage of
humanity, held in trust by rural communities and cultures; ‘no patents on life’
|Rural Credit and Investment||From private banks and corporations||From the public sector,
designed to support family agriculture
|Dumping||Not an issue||Must be prohibited|
|Monopoly||Not an issue||The root of most problems|
|Overproduction||No such thing, by definition||Drives prices down and
farmers into poverty; we need supply management policies in US and EU
|Farming Technology||Industrial, monoculture, Green Revolution, chemical-intensive; uses GMOs||Agroecology, sustainable farming methods, no GMOs|
|Farmers||Anachronism, the inefficient will disappear||Guardians of culture and crop germplasm; stewards of productive resources; repositories of knowledge; internal marker and building block of broad-based, inclusive economic development|
|Urban Consumers||Workers to be paid as little and possible||Need living wages|
|Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)||The wave of the future||Bad for health and the environment; an unnecessary technology|
Source: Rosset (2003).
Food sovereignty vs. food security
Food sovereignty differs from food security, which was defined as "physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food... at all times to meet [the population's] dietary and food preferences for an active and healthy life" by D. Moyo at the American Society of International Law annual meeting in 2007. Food security is more centrally focused on the provision of food for all by whatever means necessary, whether it is produced by people living within the same country or via global imports. As a result, most economic policies concerned with food security typically emphasize production through industrial farming and corporate food companies that can produce a greater amount of food at a lower price.
Under neoliberal economic theory, nations should focus their efforts and resources on the production of goods and services that they can produce the best. Efficiency and trade liberalization are at the heart of this theory, which gave rise to the "corporate food regime" cited by Philip McMichael  According to Friedmann, a food regime is a “rule governed structure of production and consumption of food on a world scale.” Food regimes are eras marked by different periods of transition in food production that result in significant social, political, and economic change. Thus, the "corporate food regime" refers to the relatively recent changes in corporatization of the agro-food industry in the past 100 years as compared to the millennia prior to industrialization and the Green Revolution. For example, in the U.S. corporations have control over food production by means of subcontracting smaller farmers, which allows them to participate and profit without taking on the risks of farming themselves, like weather or disease.
Food regimes are the result of “political struggles among contending social groups,” in order to control how food production is framed and conceptualized, according to McMichael. Thus, the current situation of global food production can be called the "corporate food regime" due to the concentration of supplying and processing food in the private sector.
- The National Farmers Union in Canada
- Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa
- The Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee in India
- The Sindicato Labrego Galego-Comisións Labregas in Galiza.
- The EZLN in Mexico
- Fanmi Lavalas in Haiti
- Good Food March
- The Homeless Workers' Movement in Brazil
- The Landless Peoples Movement in South Africa
- The Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil
- Movement for Justice en el Barrio in the United States of America
- Narmada Bachao Andolan in India
- Take Back the Land in the United States of America
- The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in South Africa
- The Indonesian Peasants Union in Indonesia
- "Global Small-Scale Farmers' Movement Developing New Trade Regimes", Food First News & Views, Volume 28, Number 97 Spring/Summer 2005, p.2.
- Borras Jr., Saturnino M. “La Vía Campesina and its Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform..” Journal of Agrarian Change 8, no. 2/3 (April 2008): 258-289.
- Shawki, Noha. (2014). "New Rights Advocacy and the Human Rights of Peasants: La Via Campesina and the Evolution of New Human Rights Norms. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 6(2), p. 311. doi: 10.1093/jhuman/huu009
- Martínez-Torres, María Elena; Rosset, Peter (2010). "La Vía Campesina: the birth and evolution of a transnational social movement". The Journal of Peasant Studies. doi:10.1080/03066150903498804.
- La Via Campesina: International Peasant's Movement. Organisation. Published 9 Feb. 2011. Retrieved from <http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/organisation-mainmenu-44>
- Desmarais, Annette Aurélie (2003). "The Via Campesina: Peasant Women on the Frontiers of Food Sovereignty". Canadian Woman Studies 23 (1): 140–145. ISSN 0713-3235.
- Hawkes, Shona; Plahe, Jagjit Kaur (2013). "Worlds apart: The WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture and the right to food in developing countries". International Political Science Review 34 (1): 21–38. doi:10.1177/0192512112445238.
- La Via Campesina: International Peasant's Movement. Main Issues. Published 16 Oct. 2015. Retrieved from <http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/main-issues-mainmenu-27>
- Desmarais, Annette Aurélie (2008). "The power of peasants: Reflections on the meanings of La Vía Campesina". Journal of Rural Studies 24 (2): 138–149. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2007.12.002.
- Welch, C., 2001. Peasants and globalization in Latin America: a survey of recent literature. Paper presented at the XXIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, 6–8 September, Washington, DC.
- Global Exchange Human Rights Awards. Past Honorees. Retrieved from <http://humanrightsaward.org/past-honorees/>
- "La Via Campesina receives award for "tireless struggle in favor of Agroecology"". La Via Campesina: International Peasant's Movement. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
- Menser, Michael (2008). "Transnational Participatory Democracy in Action: The Case of La Via Campesina". Journal of Social Philosophy 39 (1): 20–41. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9833.2007.00409.x.
- La Via Campesina: International Peasant's Movement. Our Conferences. Published 11 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from <http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/our-conferences-mainmenu-28>
- La Via Campesina: International Peasant's Movement. La Via Campesina International passes on the torch to Africa. Published 13 Jun. 2013. Retrieved from <http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/our-conferences-mainmenu-28/6-jakarta-2013/1427-la-via-campesina-international-passes-on-the-torch-to-africa>
- Rosset, Peter (2003). "Food sovereignty: Global rally cry of farmer movements". Food First Backgrounder 9 (4): 1–4.
- The Future of Food: Elements of Integrated Food Security Strategy for South Africa and Food Security Status in Africa, D. Moyo. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law). Vol. 101 (MARCH 28-31, 2007), pp. 103-108. Retrieved from <http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.rice.edu/stable/25660167>.
- Glenna, Leland; Ader, David; Bauchspies, Wenda; Traoré, Abou; Agboh-Noameshi, Rita Afiavi (2012). "The Efficacy of a Program Promoting Rice Self-Sufficiency in Ghana during a Period of Neoliberalism". Rural Sociology. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- McMichael, Philip. (2009). A food regime genealogy. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 36:1, 139-169, DOI: 10.1080/03066150902820354
- Patel, Rajeev (2006). "International Agrarian Restructuring and the Practical Ethics of Peasant Movement Solidarity". Journal of Asian and African Studies. doi:10.1177/0021909606061748.
- Heis, Alexandria (2015). "The Alternative Agriculture Network Isan and Its Struggle for Food Sovereignty - a Food Regime Perspective of Agricultural Relations of Production in Northeast Thailand". Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies / Österreichische Zeitschrift für Südostasienwissenschaften 8 (1): 67–85.
Desmarais, Annette Aurélie (2007): La Vía Campesina: Globalization and the Power of Peasants, Fernwood Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7453-2704-4
Desmarais, Annette Aurélie (2002): Vía Campesina: Consolidating an International Peasant Movement" Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2
Martínez-Torres, María Elena, and Peter M. Rosset, "La Vía Campesina: the birth and evolution of a transnational social movement", Journal of Peasant Studies, 2010
- Via Campesina English-language home page
- We are La Via Campesina video
- La Via Campesina: List of Members
- War on Want's Via Campesina project page
- Via Campesina: an evolving transnational social movement
- Thousands March in Cancún at La Via Campesina’s "Global Day of Action for Climate Justice" - video report by Democracy Now!
- Via Campesina is one of the organisations involved in the publication of the International Nyeleni Newsletter, voice of the Food Sovereignty movement.
- Declaration of Rights of Peasants - Women and Men
- La Vía Campesina Policy Documents