Op Ed: International Day of Peasant Struggles: Raising the voices of the silenced

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April 17 is the International Day of Peasant Struggles.

(La via campesina/Website)

The non-profit organization La Vïa Campesina and its allies have headed the campaign to educate the Global North (formerly known as ‘first world countries”) on peasant struggles and commemorate those who lost their lives in the battle for land ownership.

Background of the day

On April 17, 1996, in the southern state of Para in Brazil, 19 peasants from the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Worker Movement) were gunned down by Brazilian police during a protest where they demanded access to land.

The day known as the Eldorado dos Carajás Massacre also injured 69 peasants.

The incident shocked the world and predominantly rural communities in the Global South (formerly known as “third world countries”).

Following their deaths, La Via Campesina was formed to unite in solidarity with Global South partners to demand action and justice and mobilize silenced peasant resistances.

Peasant struggles

(La via campesina/Website)

The Global North’s development has come at the expense of peasants in the Global South. The Global North consumes 80 per cent of the world’s resources but only holds 20 per cent of the world’s population.

In contrast, the Global South consumes 20 per cent of the world’s resources yet consists of 80 per cent of the world’s population.

This imbalance has led to the exploitation of Global South peasants and land. Moreover, Global South governments have favoured foreign exploitation of its land and people.

Neoliberal policies favouring extractive and land-grabbing practices have brought human rights violations, power in the hands of the corrupted, and death in the Global South.

Climate change impacts

Climate change has heavily impacted peasant lives with the Global North’s exploitation of Global South land.

Unfortunately, the root of climate change impacts was not done by their hands but by those who have exploited them.

The Global North is the leading producer of CO2 emissions that destroy people’s lands in the Global South. In combination with land exploitation for extractive practices and rising sea levels, scorching temperatures, and an abundance of natural disasters, peasants’ lives have and continue to be destroyed. 

Food sovereignty

La Via Campesina continues to advocate for food sovereignty as a human right.

Food sovereignty is about the right to having healthy and culturally appropriate food produced sustainably and economically.

Food has become uniform, toxic and nutritionally poor in rural areas of the Global South. Furthermore, rural areas have seen water contamination and poisoning of food with agro toxics. 

There are seven pillars of food sovereignty that peasants believe in:

  • focuses on food for people
  • builds knowledge and skills
  • works with nature
  • values food systems
  • puts control locally
  • views food as sacred
  • localizes food systems

The push for food sovereignty is rooted in Indigenous practices in the Global South and has been fought by people across Asia, Africa, and South America.

It is a system of hope for the heart of food systems; peasants seeking to create better policies for future generations in the Global South.

When adequate food sovereignty policies are implemented, climate change disasters can be reduced, and soil and biodiversity flourish.

Patriarchal resistance from women peasants

(La via campesina/Website)

Peasant struggles with neoliberal policies directly affect women in the Global South because they are the ones whose rights are directly affected. Freed trade agreements worsen women’s economic situations and are far too often gender blind.

Women are unpaid care labourers and are the first families and communities to sacrifice their food and care to help their loved ones. If women are paid for labour, it is usually in the informal market, making them vulnerable to climate change consequences.

Earlier this year, La Via Campesina celebrated women peasants by saluting “…the historical struggles of organized women in the fields and cities, for rights and dignified life; who nurture peoples, collective memory and resistances worldwide.”

What to do today

Use this day as a reflection and commemoration of peasants who have, continue to, and lost their lives in the fight for land reform, food sovereignty and human rights. The platform you hold in the Global North might seem tiny, but peasants of the Global South have been silenced for decades, so you have the power to promote the interests of those exploited.

Visit La Via Campesina to learn more about how you can help promote the interest of peasants.

Check out the resources available on La Via Campesina TV and consider donating here.

Most importantly, spread the news of the International Day of Peasant Struggles to educate others. 

Emily is in her third-year of Political Science. She loves studying and academics which follows into her research work. She's an avid plant mom and a stern black coffee drinker. When she's not working or doing school work, you can find her listening to 70s music on vinyl and watching Parks and Recreation.