Vol. XLI No. 08 February 19, 2017

Peasant Conference in Kathmandu

Suneet Chopra

The South Asian Peasants Convergence (SAPC) on Food Sovereignty and Peasants Rights held at Kathmandu, Nepal on February 2-3, 2017, was attended by over 100 delegates from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It was hosted by the All Nepal Peasants Federation (ANPFa), an umbrella association of Nepali peasants fighting against feudalism, imperialism and neoliberalism that was founded in 1951. With the ushering in of the Democratic Republic of Nepal the organisation has expanded in keeping with the evolution of peasant consciousness and struggles. This expansion has led to the formation of an alliance of 23 specific producers organisations based on different commodities and communities with its existence in seven provinces and all 75 districts of Nepal. It is the biggest peasant organisation in the country, linked to the Communist Party of Nepal (UML).

Its activities include a range of democratic movements, upsurges, uprisings, issues of peasants rights and land reform in the past. Active in the movements for overthrowing the monarchy and in the Peace Agreement of 2006 it has also taken on issues related to food security and climate change. Given the work we have already undertaken with the Paris-based UISTAACT with responsibility of organising an Asian Peasant Conference, we decided to participate in the Peasant Convergence as a start up point. As a result, NK Shukla and Suneet Chopra, both joint secretaries of AIKS and AIAWU respectively, went and attended the conference. Suneet Chopra addressed the inaugural session on behalf of our organisations which was inaugurated by KP Sharma Oli, the prime minister of Nepal till recently.

The policies of the central government have resulted in every neighbouring country being arm-twisted by various measures like the cancellation of the SAARC Conference in Pakistan. In fact, the Kathmandu declaration issued by the Convergence clearly stated in demand 3: “Recognition, promotion and implementation of people centred cooperation at all levels to resolve issues and problems of South Asia. We demand that SAARC meetings should be held according to plan”, while they called to “Take WTO and FTA’s out of Agriculture” in demand no.4, as well as important rights of land backed countries (demand no.13). It further called for this opportunity to be used “for resisting all attempts to turn this region into a battlefield or a looting ground by vested interest groups. We condemn all attempts by governments to interfere in the affairs of other countries. We would continue to struggle to make this region peaceful, prosperous and an example of cross-border solidarity.”

The second session on February 2 was chaired by the chairperson of the ANPFa, Bamdev Gautam. The keynote address was on the agrarian crisis in South Asia by Prof Kailash N Pyakarial, founding vice chancellor (2011-2015) of Agriculture and Forestry University of Nepal who highlighted that the possibilities of harmony and prosperity of the people existed but governments under neoliberal agenda of the capitalist class have started a kind of growth and development which has led to the ongoing poverty and misery especially among farmers and agricultural workers. An organised resistance by the masses was a necessity in order to control the use of natural resources coupled with scientific land reforms involving consolidation of holdings, rural electricity, irrigation, rural roads, market networks and agricultural research. At the same time   small scale farmers could be given incentives like subsidies guaranteed basic protection, agrarian reform and equal wages for equal work, insurance, house sites etc. But while land to the tiller was seen as a crucial element of land reform, in Nepalese conditions the State has chosen to take over land and lease it to farmers with occupancy rights.

He too highlighted the conflicts between neighbouring states, notably with India in the case of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal and the need for people to come together, both for a better understanding and in solidarity with peasants in struggle. This session was addressed among others by NK  Shukla (AIKS), Subhash Naskar  (All India Samyukta Kisan Sabha), Biplab Halim (general secretary, SAPC), Jaylatha Bandara Senavirthna, general secretary of the Peasants Federation of Sri Lanka and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, as well as the representatives of the Pakistan Kisan Rabita Committee, the Sindh Rural Workers Cooperative Organisation Hasan Tarique Choudhary and the president of the Bangladesh Agricultural Workers Association. Apart from them Marco Fernandez of the Brazilian land occupation movement gave on account of their struggles and experience.

The conference closed with a discussion that resulted in both the AIKS and AIAWU being included in the SAPC (with a decision to be taken later as to who could fill the post) before its third conference and a common declaration: The Kathmandu Declaration was issued.

The organisations present were:
1) All India Agricultural Workers Union
2) All India Kisan Sabha
3) All India Kisan Mahasabha
4) All India Samyukta Kisan Sabha
5) All India Agragami Kisan Sabha
6) All Nepal Peasants (ANPFa)
7) Bangladesh Agricultural Workers Association
8) Focus on the Global South
9) Indian Federation of Toiling Peasants
10) LDC Watch
11) Pakistan Kisan Rebita Committee
12) Sindh Rural Workers Co-operative Organisation
13) National Federation of Peasant Unions Sri Lanka
14) South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication