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Don't Let Corporations Control Food Supply, Beg Farmers

by Mario Osava

April 17 will be a worldwide day of protest against cheap food imports
(IPS) PORTO ALEGRE, Brazi -- Peasant farmers from around the world are taking aim at globalization and its effects on family farms and farm products, arguing that food should not be subject to free market principles.

Going against the tide of global trade liberalization, the international group Vía Campesina announced that April 17 will be a worldwide day of protest against cheap food imports, especially those coming from the wealthy nations of the North.

That date is the International Day of Peasant Struggle, in remembrance of the massacre of 19 peasants five years ago in Eldorado de Carajas, in northern Brazil.

In addition to demanding justice for the victims of the massacre, activists plan to denounce corporate patents (property rights) for seeds and condemn global trade that destroys family farming, announced Egidio Brunetto, a leader of Brazil's Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST, landless movement).

Vía Campesina is a global movement of landless workers, small farmers and Native communities that played an active and highly visible role at the six-day World Social Forum here, including presentations by France's Jose Bove, a sheep farmer known for taking radical action, such as destroying a half-built McDonald's fast-food restaurant.

The Peasant Confederation, a European group, said it will fight the export of subsidized foods from their home countries because "Europe does not have the vocation of an exporter of raw materials," maintained Bove in statements on Jan. 29 about his ideals and actions.

Brazil's federal police ordered Bove to leave the country after arresting him on Jan. 29, charging him for participating on Jan. 26, alongside MST activists, in tearing up an experimental plot of transgenic crops. The farm, located in Nao me Toque, 300 km from Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul state, belongs to the U.S.-based transnational Monsanto.

The French farmer was ordered to leave Brazil within 24 hours -- in other words by last night -- coinciding with the end of the World Social Forum, which brought thousands of delegates and activists from more than 120 countries to discuss alternatives to the neo-liberal model of globalization.

Joao Pedro Stedile, a leader of the MST, disagreed with fighting the European Union's farm subsidies, which are widely blamed for distorting international trade to the detriment of developing countries.

The problem is not the subsidies in Europe, Stedile pointed out, but the lack of subsidies in Brazil and elsewhere. He condemned what he sees as the transformation of food products into a simple tool for business and profits.

"Each country should produce its own food" to the extent possible, preventing imports that take away peasants's "right to produce," argued Rafael Alegria, a Honduran leader of Vía Campesina, which focuses on matters of food sovereignty and security, and defends measures that protect national markets.

The objective, said Alegria, is to oppose multinational corporate domination of the world food markets, because it is eliminating small farm production, expanding rural poverty, and causing an exodus from the countryside to the cities, adding to the problem of overcrowded marginalized neighborhoods.

Henry Saragih, an Indonesian delegate to the World Social Forum, cited the example of low rice prices, which are devastating the rice farmers in his country, the result of imports of the grain from the United States.

The same dynamic affects European farmers, who face bankruptcy from a system that favors only the big farms, said the MST's Brunetto, underscoring their common struggle worldwide.

Vía Campesina also proposed at the Forum that seeds should belong to all humanity, without the monopolization represented by patenting. The group stressed that the issue is deeply linked to the fight against transgenics, or genetically modified organisms.

The movement's leaders defended the idea that agrarian reform must be accelerated, validating the actions of groups like the MST in Brazil, which is famed for taking over farms that have been left fallow and settling hundreds or thousands of landless peasants on the land.

In the larger picture, Vía Campesina rejects the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and announced that peasant activists would be taking part in the protests against the trade negotiations in April at the continental summit in Quebec, Canada.

Alegría called for an end to the violence against peasant farmers, such as "the extermination of leaders in the struggle for agrarian reform in Colombia" committed by right-wing paramilitaries, the massacres in Brazil and the suicides provoked among small farmers in India, who are overwhelmed by unpayable debt.

The MST's Stedile stated that transgenic products must be abolished, because in addition to the risks they pose for human health and the environment, they consolidate the monopolization of seeds in the hands of just six transnational corporations, which itself constitutes a serious threat to humanity.

The protest against Monsanto, which led to Bove's expulsion from the country, was an attempt to highlight the problem and was a symbolic act, justified the MST leader.

The field they invaded should be expropriated by the government and used instead for improving seeds using traditional peasant methods, not genetic engineering, he said.

The action against the multinational demonstrates that the farmers, or at least the MST and Bove, have learned to use attention-getting actions to obtain media coverage and raise public awareness about their struggle.

The landless peasant movement in Brazil owes a great deal of its success to "the mysticism, the symbolism" of using popular culture and music, Stedile acknowledged in his presentation before the World Social Forum.

The Porto Alegre event was organized as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, held in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos, where political leaders, financiers and multinational executives discussed policies that seek to deepen the globalization process.


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Albion Monitor January 30, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)

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