Food sovereignty to answer world food and energy crisis

*Speech by Henry Saragih at a Swissaid meeting in Berne, 29 May 2008*

Throughout the history of farming, peasants and villagers haveobtained energy from their farmland to fulfil their daily needs.Peasant families are used to using the oil extracted from thecoconut (copra) to light lamps in their houses. Even now peasantfamilies still use biomass to make firewood for cooking meals.They collect the branches that fall from trees and dry bushesduring their day working on their farmland. The technology ofusing biogas that is processed from animal waste is also verycommon in peasant communities. Other sources of kinetic energyfrom rivers such as small micro hydro electric generators are alsovery common in rural areas. These are some examples on howpeasants explore natural alternatives, extracting and generatingenergy from their farmland.

For some centuries we did not have any problems because of theexistence of these models of getting energy from farmland. This isrenewable energy because peasants could always get it almost likethey could harvest fruits from the trees. Peasants needed thiskind energy and they were able to produce it in integration withother farming activities in the farmland.

Agrofuels have become an increasingly important issue in theserecent years. The issue become very significant because big oilcompanies need another resources of fuel to complement crude oilbased fuels. This idea did not originate with peasants. Before wefurther discuss agrofuels it is important to expand a little bitabout food sovereignty so we can start the analysis from what hasbeen happening with peasant based agriculture.

Via Campesina does not follow the concept and policy of foodsecurity that is promoted by FAO because it does not fit in withthe realities of peasant farming. Even more La Via Campesina seeit as potentially creating big problems for the people of theworld, and first and foremost for peasants and small farmers.

Via Campesina reject the policy and the concept of food securitythat only guarantee that every mouth is fed. It does not addresssome basic principles of the food system like: who should producefood, how food is being produced and distributed, who shouldbenefit from the food system and how to secure sustainablerelationship between the peasant and the consumer. In short, foodsecurity just wants to accommodate the interests of agribusinesscorporations and trans-national agribusiness corporations (TNCs).Peasants do not want the meaning of food and agriculture to bereduced to only a matter of commodities in markets, and to be subject to the free market. By reducing the meaning of food to acommodity, only those who have money will be able to have accessto food.

We do not want markets to determine food production andconsumption, we want peasants and consumers to be those who decideon and control food because most of the producers and consumers offood in the world are actually peasant families. We do not want acompetitive world food system which will destroy the sovereigntyof countries mandated to feed their people. Therefore La ViaCampesina struggles to take the WTO out of agriculture.

We fight against the neo-liberal food system because instead ofmaking the food system stronger by protecting the peasants whoproduce food and giving more protection under the right of food,it create the food crisis; soaring food prices and creating hungereverywhere as is happening now.

In Indonesia’s case, there has been a lot of investment on palmoil plantations. In the beginning the objective was to export thepalm oil as crude palm oil (CPO) and process it into cooking oilfor the national market. Many international agribusinesscorporations have started palm oil plantations which have led tomany land conflict cases with the peasant movement in Indonesia.This is because these plantations have been started on communaland peasant-owned lands. The plantations are operated on amonoculture model, by doing so contributing to many naturaldisasters; the extinction of biodiversity, water scarcity duringthe drought season and severe floods and land slides during therainy season. Many peasants have had to live as landless peasantsand have been forced to work as daily or weekly cheap labour.

While the issue of agrofuel production is escalating around theworld, the government of Indonesia is promoting palm oilplantation by inviting further investment. They do not care aboutthe fact that most of the peasants hold an average of jus 0.3hectares of land. Worse, as the international price of palm oil isincreasing, companies are exporting their production and makingthe price of edible oil in the national market increasedramatically. The government can’t do more than just make newregulations which ask companies to decrease their export volume.This doesn’t help much, because corporations are more interestedin their profits. As an impact, food riots have occurred in manyplaces because people were forced to wait for the subsidizedprogram of edible oil. Women and children have had to stand inqueues under the sun for extended periods holding their couponsand people have become incensed and begun to riot. It is a morethan ironic situation where Indonesia is the second greatestproducer of palm oil but people do not benefit from it at all.
The existing agrofuel program makes the food system worse. Afterthe liberalization of food markets forced a win and lose gamebetween competing countries, now peasants compete with cars.

Via Campesina believe in the principle of Genuine Agrarian Reformwhich would make sure that peasants have enough land through landdistribution. Because by only having control over land canpeasants guarantee food for their families and local communities.And by implementation of Food Sovereignty, peasants are convincedthat they can feed the world.

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