Global landgrabbing pushes peasantry’s defense of land

COMMISSION 6: Agrarian Reform & Rights of Peasants, Farmworkers & Fisherfolks

As poverty and hunger rise across the world, so does the tide of resistance.

The displacement of peasants is pushing more rural population to resist and struggle for their rights to land. But the battles are not only fought locally as organized peasantry link arms across the world.

International advocacy groups are protesting the acquisition of large chunks of land in developing countries by foreign governments and agribusiness companies for the production of staple grains. A World Bank report reveals that, in 2009, up to 111 million acres of agricultural lands were acquired by global investors, 75 percent of which are in Africa. Governments are buying farmlands in Africa and even in the Philippines to ensure their local food supply.

Many land acquisitions were, however, not for food production, but for planting feedstock or for bio-fuel. This has resulted in the displacement and worsened exploitation of farmers globally.

The plight of peasants

In San Mariano, Isabela province, an international team led by the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) exposed the worsening condition of farmers in the biggest bio-fuel project in the country.

The farmers used to grow rice, corn and vegetables, but now they cannot eat the produce of the land. Their farms form part of the 11,000 hectares of agricultural lands and forest cover that were included in the bio-ethanol project of the Philippine government.

The farmers were attracted to rent their land to the Japanese-owned Green Futures Innovations Inc. (GFI) which promised Php 20,000 a year, but paid only Php 5,000. The farmers became wage labourers of the corporation, which exposed them to exploitation through low wages and health hazards. Labourers are paid only Php 15 to Php 30 a day to weed and spray and Php 100 to harvest the sugarcane. This is a far cry from the Php 230 minimum daily wage for plantation workers in the region.

The company does not provide any protective gear subjecting farm workers to toxic chemicals. Their farms and water system also suffer environmental damage.

The project also pushed the foreclosure and eviction of farmers from their land, many of whom are beneficiaries of the government’s agrarian reform program and were awarded certificates of land ownership award. Syndicates scam many farmers by pretending to facilitate the release of their land titles for free, but actually transferred the documents in their name.

As a growing number of the laborers join the opposition to the project, soldiers came and encamped in the communities.

The international team appealed to the Philippine government agencies as well as the senate, to look into the plight of the farmers, and withdraw the national government’s support to the GFI.

Food or bio-fuel?

The pressure to increase food production grows as 219,000 people are born all over the world every day. The United Nations World Food Programme reported in 2009 that there are 1 billion hungry people, or one-sixth of the world population. The trend among transnational companies, however, is to expand plantations, not to grow food, but for fuel.

In the U.S., almost half of its grain production in 2009, or 119 million tons out of 416 million tons, went to ethanol distilleries. Such amount of grain could have fed 350 million people for a year.

In Europe, where there is a huge demand for bio-diesel, croplands are being converted into plantations of rapeseed and palm oil for auto fuel. Companies have turned to other countries, such as in Indonesia, producer of half of the world’s palm oil supply and where even the forest cover and indigenous peoples’ lands were destroyed for its production. The Indonesian government declared a two-year moratorium on granting new concessions to companies to protect its remaining rainforests.

The moratorium pushed companies to look towards Africa. Sime Darby, the world’s biggest company in palm oil production, has leased 220,000 has. of land in Liberia, and is targeting 300,00 has. for palm oil plantations in Cameroon. The Food First institute for Food and Development Policy reported that in Ghana, one million hectares of farms planted to sorghum and maize were converted to the production of jatropha and palm oil.

Environmentalists and peasant federations have warned that the widespread production for bio-fuel has detrimental impact on food security, soil productivity and water systems. Brazilian development specialist and lawyer Camila Moreno said that monocropping and the chemical dependence of bio-fuel production caused devastating effects in her country. It also triggered massive land grabbing and violation of the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples.

There are 7.2 million hectares of lands in Brazil devoted to jatropha in the past 25 years. Moreno said that Brazil now imports much of its food crops, including patented seeds. The people’s food habits also changed, turning more to fast food, junk food and other cheap but unhealthy food items.

International peasant solidarity

In the face of global land grabbing and other violation of their rights, organized peasants comprise a bulk of the poor masses protesting rising food prices, joblessness and repressive regimes.

In Indonesia, the Alliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria or AGRA is leading the call in the provinces to stop land grabbing and violence against peasants in the palm oil plantations. In Africa, peasant federations assert the right of small producers who are being divested of their farms, as governments welcome the influx of foreign investors.

In the Philippines, farm workers have initiated to cultivate rice and vegetables in the idle sugarcane lands within Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province, even as they await the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to distribute the hacienda farms or not.

This July, an international gathering in Manila will even bolster the global solidarity among peasant groups. The current phenomenon of global land grabbing and its impact on the rights of peasants and small producers will be among the issues to be discussed at the fourth assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle or ILPS. The conference, which has the theme “Build a Bright Future” will be attended by hundreds of international delegates.

The conference will serve to strengthen the solidarity among peasant groups in the global fight to defend farm lands and peasant rights. Also to be tackled are the attacks on the peasantry, genuine land reform and food rights.

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