Vol. XLIII No. 12 March 24, 2019

International Conference on Food Sovereignty and Peasants Rights

Hannan Mollah

A THREE day international conference on ‘Food Sovereignty and Peasants Rights’ was organized at Kathmandu, Nepal by ‘National Farmers Commission’ Government of Nepal, on March 10-12,  2019. 350 delegates attended the conference representing kisan and agricultural workers organizations, experts, government officials, ministers and peoples representatives of Nepal. The delegates were invited from ‘South Asian Peasants Council’, a platform working since last few years and 15 representatives from nine countries-Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Philippines,  North Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia participated in the conference. From India, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of AIKS, Purushottam Sharma of AIKM and Ujjain Halim (a peasant group working in West Bengal) took part in it.
Objectives of the conference were to focus on, (a) Promote the exchange of knowledge, expertise and national experience on issues at the South Asian level between farmers’ rights and food sovereignty in different countries at different levels seeking possibilities and potentialities for future cooperation. (b) Enhance information and knowledge on suitable policy approaches and policy tools to foster farmers’ rights and food sovereignty. (c) Serve as a forum for informed decision and regional dialogue on key substantive and policy issues at the interface between farmers’ rights and food sovereignty. (d) Provide a platform for networking peasants’ organizations, policy makers, academicians, researchers, practitioners, agri-business companies, NGOs and other relevant stake holders, so as to facilitate them for building alliance, future cooperation and global solidarity. (e) Enhance marketing linkage within and among the participating countries.
The representatives were to present the country papers and thematic papers. The country paper was on the title: ‘present state of agriculture, peasantry, food sovereignty and peasant’s rights in the respective country’. The thematic included:
    1. Experience, opportunities and challenges gained by farmers’ commissions of different countries.
    2. Climate change, peasants experience and mitigation measures adopted in different countries.
    3. Zero budget, natural farming opportunities and challenges in the context of food sovereignty and peasants rights.
    4. Food sovereignty, peasant struggle and achievements in South Asian and global context.
    5. Land reform: experience, challenges and opportunities in context of food sovereignty and peasants rights.
The inaugural session was held in the first half of the first day at the conference hall of Yellow Pagoda Hotel, Kantipath, Kathmandu. The Chairman of the National Farmers’ Commission, Chitha Bhadur Shrestha presided over the session. The Prime Minister of Nepal, Khadga Prasad Oli inaugurated the conference. He gave an outline of Nepal’s political development, new Constitution and its basic principles to serve the toiling masses of their country on the basis of equality and social justice, to fulfill the aspirations of people which made supreme sacrifice for the emancipation of the country. 
K P Oli said, “the conference is organized in the context of good governance for protecting the interest of two-thirds of population who depend on agriculture. We have to plan and develop and increase productivity by modernisation. Our food should be adequate, safe and healthy. The experts will explain different aspects of food sovereignty and peasant’s rights and you will give your experience. This will be good for all. We have many common issues in different countries. So we can work together. Land is the main issue, we must use it in a better way to develop agriculture and then proceed towards cooperative movement. Small pieces of land would not help. We have to go for cooperatives and we require technology. We have to encourage organic farming also as indiscriminate use of chemicals spoils the soil texture.” He expressed hope that the discussion in the conference would reach some common conclusion which would help us to formulate better policies in the field of agriculture.
 The opposition leader of Nepalese Congress also addressed and expressed his best wishes and expected the conference would adopt the declaration which would guide us for better. Some other MPs and ex-ministers also addressed the conference. The secretary of Rashtriya Kisan Ayog presented the government’s perspective of food sovereignty and peasant’s rights. The chairman of NFC concluded the inaugural session.
In the following four sessions, the delegates from foreign countries placed their country papers. They gave extensive description of the danger of incursion made by corporates on their food security, food sovereignty and on peasants’ rights.
Hannan Mollah placed the ‘India paper’ articulating the problems of Indian agriculture and food sovereignty in the neo-liberal era. Agriculture is the largest employer in India and 47 per cent people are engaged in this sector. But still farmers suicide continues unabated. The paper highlighted that, ‘since implementation of neo-liberal policies, intensification of agrarian crisis in India, growing landlessness and pauperization of peasantry and indebtedness and lack of remunerative prices for their crop made agriculture a loss making venture’. After detail description of agrarian crisis, the AIKS adopted the alternative agriculture policy in 1993. The paper presented also shared the resistance movement of the kisan and the success of united struggles in brining agriculture on the national agenda.
The AIKM secretary Purushottam Sharma also explained the problems of our food sovereignty and the resistance developing in the country to protect our rights on food and growing unity of the peasantry.
All the other country papers gave vivid description of growing attacks of MNCs and corporates on the peasants’ rights on seeds and other inputs; they are more and more dependent on MNCs for all the inputs. They also outlined the necessity to build up united resistance to these corporates globally to defeat the neo-liberal onslaught.
After intensive discussion, a declaration was adopted unanimously by the conference, called as ‘Kathmandu declaration’. The spirit of the entire discussion was summarised in the declaration and a 16 point charter of demands was placed before the peasantry of the world to come forward to build strong movements in defense of their rights:
    • We learned that National Farmers’ Commission (NCF) in Nepal is playing vital role to liaison the government and farmers of Nepal. NFC particularly stands for protecting the rights of peasants, farmers and agricultural workers towards ensuring food sovereignty. We call upon all the governments of the world to form such constitutional commissions in various countries.
    • Genuine agrarian reforms including scientific land reform should be implemented in all countries for ensuring rights of the tillers, peasants and food producers in all natural and productive resources. This means ensuring full access over land, protecting indigenous people’s legal rights to their territories, guaranteeing fishing communities access and control of fishing areas and eco-systems. We know that only such reforms ensure a future for rural youth and reduce the rapid migration of youth from rural areas.
    • Draft and implement the ‘peasants rights acts’, to ensure small and marginal farmers rights. Land should be recognized as the productive resource and tillers of land should be protected to the farmers who will genuinely carry out farming. Absentee landlordism should be discouraged.
    • Promote cooperative and collective model in agriculture production so that all agricultural lands could be brought under cultivators, in order to increase the food production and productivity and improve the livelihood of the peasants. Enabling policy environment and necessary support are needed to promote such model.
    • Encourage locally produced organic food to ensure agriculture as our way of life, good health, our culture, our food and our way of relating with nature. Ensure chemical fertilizers and pesticides are discouraged.
    •  Ensure justice and equality for women, which require the transformation of social and economic arrangements, including equal access to land, credit, social benefits and power.
    • Stop multinational corporates and foreign direct investment to dominate market and production. State should regulate production, price and market.
    • Subsidised inputs to individual farmers and guarantee crop and livestock insurance should be assured. Establish peasant welfare and relief funds and include the rights to compensation for all those who participate in food production and care of national resource-fisher folk, indigenous people, landless workers and forest dwellers.
    • Ensure minimum support price for small farmers and fisher folks, increase the state budget allocation in agriculture. State must purchase the products of peasants at appropriate price.
    • Apply ‘ILO Convention on Agricultural Workers’ across the region and recognize them as workers and frame ‘National Labour Laws’. Implement equal wage for equal work for men and women and the prohibition of child labour in hazardous occupation. 
    • Agro-ecology and agro forestry should be implemented in the agriculture development policy, peasant production agriculture should be protected from all threats, including calamities, wild animals, and international markets and dumping.
    • Agriculture should be kept out of WTO. Farmers should be protected economically from foreign and outside markets.
    • Each country should draft and implement peasant right law based on UN charter.
    • Stop criminalisation of peasants including fisher folks and peasants movements. Stop upper handling of fishers in South Asia.
    • There are various provisions in different countries. These are good practices and successful examples. It is important to learn from each other and recommend such model for policy reform. Nepal has already enshrined food sovereignty in the Constitution and the pro-people government has taken pro-active steps to formulate policies for full realisation of food sovereignty. Thus, we have a good opportunity to learn from Nepal and further strengthen our struggle for food sovereignty in our respective countries. We call upon our government to comply with national and international standards safeguarding rights of small holders and we assure our sincere cooperation with all such initiatives of the state.