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By Timothy A. Wise
May 12th, 2014
On April 21, a Mexican judge dealt a blow to the efforts of agricultural behemoth Monsanto and other biotech companies to open the country to the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) maize. The ruling upheld the injunction issued last October that put a halt to further testing or commercial planting of the crop, citing “the risk of imminent harm to the environment.”
In a fitting tribute to Mexican surrealism, Monsanto had accused the judge who upheld the injunction of failing to be “impartial.” I don’t know if the presiding judge smiled when he denied Monsanto’s complaint, but I did.
I had just arrived in Mexico to look at the GM controversy, and I could tell it was going to be quite a visit.
For too many people and communities around the world, the dominant agricultural model is causing economic hardship, the destruction of biological diversity, and the exploitation of earth’s ecological commons. It is a model based on the commodification of life. We can no longer continue the status quo that enables multi-national corporations to corner our food system and our seed commons. Every element that is foundational to life (food, water, land, air) is under threat of privatization and marketization by an economic order that seeks to profit and own our common wealth.
The Tapajos River basin is one of the best preserved regions in Brazil, a mosaic of protected forest reserves and indigenous lands. This river is located in the heart of the Amazon and is the home of the Munduruku’s indigenous people and other riverine communities. It is the only river in the Amazon River basin currently free of dams. And a river revolution is happening there, led by Brazil’s Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), a Grassroots International partner working in solidarity with indigenous people to stop the government’s outrageous plan to build six dams along the Tapajos River.
Women in rural India play a major role in food production. Over 80 percent of women in rural India work in agriculture, from sowing to harvesting crops to collecting and caring for seeds to caring for livestock collecting water. The role of men in agriculture tends to be limited to plowing, applying pesticides, and the business side of farming (like marketing). Although women are the backbone of agricultural production, they are not formally recognized as full-fledged farmers but rather as “farm laborers,” with the tasks they perform put in the category of “unskilled labor.” Without formal recognition as farmers, women don’t have access to credits, compensation and relief benefits offered by the government. And that’s something that the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective wants to change.
The food crisis of 2008 led to a broad agreement in the agricultural development community that the lack of appropriate investment in agriculture had been a key contributing factor to unstable prices and food insecurity. The crisis coincided with an increase in land grabbing in many parts of the world, but especially in Africa. It is in response to these events that the idea of developing some criteria on agricultural investments came up in international policy and governance arenas.
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of Haiti’s Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) muses, “In the old days, Haitian peasants never sold seeds; seeds were for sharing and exchanging.”
Today the old ways have been pushed aside. Seeds have become big business.
This assault on the basic human right to food commercializes and commodifies one of life’s most essential assets. It jeopardizes human health, threatens the global food supply and steals away the livelihoods of small farmers around the world.
Food sovereignty within several African countries is on the verge of a complete neo-colonial take-over, critics of a recent agricultural initiative being developed by a new G8 alliance warn.
According to a Guardian report published Tuesday, the G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative, supported by the Obama administration, has connected African leaders with major agribusiness corporations in an effort to map out a plan for agricultural development on the African continent in the coming years, which will loosen export and tax laws, award "huge chunks of land" for private investment and change seed laws to benefit international corporations and their GMO products.
The term peasant often conjures up images of medieval serfs out of touch with the ways of the world around them. Such thinking is out of date. Today, peasants proudly and powerfully put forward effective strategies to feed the planet and limit the damages wrought by industrial agriculture. What’s more, they understand the connections between complex trade and economic systems, champion the rights of women, and even stand up for the rights of gay men and lesbians.
These are not your great ancestors’ peasants.
This last year has seen many advances around the globe for communities and activists pushing to regain their fundamental human rights to land, water, and food. As we now approach the end of 2013, we take this opportunity a look back at some of the accomplishments that have marked the year. In spite of the great challenges—and seemingly insurmountable odds—there is much to celebrate. Below are some of many highlights from the last year.
Winning land for formerly landless farmers in Brazil
By Nikhil Aziz
November 22nd, 2013
Agroecology is not just a way of doing agriculture but, equally importantly, a way of thinking about agriculture holistically, systemically, and ecologically. Along with respect for nature -- the soil, water, seeds, etc. -- there is equally respect for the people (especially women) engaged in agriculture, including their knowledge, experience, leadership and rights. It is a way of thinking about and doing agriculture that is fundamental to addressing pressing global problems like hunger and climate change.