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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.
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.
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 Such thinking is out of date.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.
By Jovanna Garcia Soto
December 31st, 2013
On New Year’s Day, 20 years ago, a group of indigenous peoples, known as the Zapatistas, occupied several municipalities of the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Not coincidentally, that same day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. The Zapatistas considered the free trade agreement and the neoliberal political system that spawned it to be a death sentence for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The magnitude of the Zapatista uprising was due to the participation of different indigenous groups which joined forces to change a system that was marginalizing and exploiting them.
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
Being a farmer is hard. This is true no matter what policies exist. The work itself is difficult, and making money from farming requires many, many factors to line up just right. Get too much rain, too dry a season, too many bugs and the crop can be destroyed. Prices might be higher, but there’s just not that much to sell. Even a big harvest when everything goes well doesn’t guarantee success. A bumper crop means that there are a whole lot of tomatoes, corn, peaches, or eggplants at the market, so prices go down.
In January 1994, the Zapatistas - autonomous indigenous communities who organized themselves in a system of liberated zones within Chiapas, Mexico – emerged out of the jungles with a clear and unified voice in opposition to the system of neoliberalism being imposed upon their lives through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A trade deal between Canada, the US, and Mexico, NAFTA instituted a set of regulations that made it easier for transnational corporations to make profits across borders, no matter what the costs or consequences to people and the environment. As a result, thousands of workers in the US lost their jobs as companies moved their operations to Mexico where the costs of production were cheaper.
Carlos Henríquez can talk about fertilizer for hours. He knows what mix of ingredients will help certain crops grow better, the right “recipe” for creating well-balanced compost and fertilizers, the best ways to keep moisture in the soil even in dry spells.
In an unprecedented move last week, a Federal Mexican Tribunal suspended authorization for the planting of all genetically modified corn by transnational corporations such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta. The Tribunal recognized the legal interests of 53 individuals and 20 civil associations that filed a class action lawsuit against the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, the federal government and the transnational corporations that applied for permits to plant transgenic corn. While this decision is not a permanent one, it is a groundbreaking victory in preventing commercial GMO plantations until the collective action lawsuit is resolved.
Twenty years after La Vía Campesina International was founded, the global network of rural organizations has agreed to a new worldwide action plan based on small-scale farming and agro-ecology, food sovereignty, and self-determination of communities. At the same time, the group is reaffirming its stance against transnational corporations, industrial agriculture and agri-business.