La Vía Campesina (from Spanish la vía campesina, the campesino way, or the peasants' way) was founded in 1993 by farmers organizations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America and Africa. It 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 coined the term "food sovereignty". La Vía Campesina has carried out 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.
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.
The peasants' rights movement emerged from the new rights advocacy which had arisen in the 1990s; during that time, human rights and development agendas became integrated which expanded from political and civil rights to include social and economic rights. The agrarian peasants' movement moved to challenge the hegemonic ideology of neoliberalism in global economics and to find alternatives that would protect the rights of workers around the world.
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. It has also focused on gaining recognition for the discourse around food sovereignty, reclaiming the term "peasant" and recreating a shared peasant identity across national borders and cultures. 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 it has been dedicated to fair representation and engagement of all participants, making structural changes when necessary. The perspectives of people around the world are needed to assess and improve global food production and sovereignty. Part of this effort for equality among movement members is creating a shared peasant identity. The reclaiming of this identity has been called "re-peasantization". According to Desmarais (2008), the term "peasant" in English has a connotation related to feudalism, but in other languages and contexts, the meaning is broader; campesino comes from the word campo, meaning "countryside", which ties the people to the land. This feudalist connotation is one reason why the organization chose not to translate its name into English.
In 2015, the organization 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 countries, 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 City in 1996, Bangalore in 2000, São Paulo in 2004, Maputo in 2008, Jakarta in 2013, and Derio in 2017. 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. The current General Coordinator is Elizabeth Mpofu, who focuses on violence against women, youth voices, and global seed freedom.
Gender was ignored as a consideration at the start of the movement. At the signing of the Managua Declaration - the precursor to La Vía Campesina - all 8 people present were men. Peasant women started to become 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 because 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 efficient||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||Under local community control|
|Access to land||Via the market||Via 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, 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. Food security 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 focused on the provision of food for all by whatever means necessary, whether by local production or global imports. As a result, economic policies concerned with food security typically emphasize industrial farming that can produce more food cheaper.
Friedmann defines a food regime as a “rule governed structure of production and consumption of food on a world scale”. A food regime is marked by a period of transition in food production that results in significant social, political, and economic change. 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. For example, US corporations have control over food production by subcontracting smaller farmers, which allows them to participate and profit without taking on the risks of farming, such as weather and disease. Food regimes are the result of “political struggles among contending social groups” for control over how food production is framed and conceptualized, according to McMichael. The corporate food regime came about with the neoliberal economic theory which is motivated by efficiency and trade liberalization, and states that nations should focus their efforts and resources on producing goods and services where they have an advantage relative to other nations (that is, goods that they are best at producing), as cited by Philip McMichael. The corporate food regime has existed for only the last 100 years, as compared to the millennia prior to industrialization and the Green Revolution.
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- 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