Helen Yuill from the UK Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC) visited Nicaragua on a delegation organised by Friends of the ATC, a US network building solidarity with and support for the ATC. Over the coming year NSC will be developing a programme of raising awareness and solidarity links with the ATC including the organisation of a speaker tour of the UK by an ATC representative in 2020. We are grateful to Helen for permission to reproduce the article arising from her visit on this website.
By ENCA member and NSC representative Helen Yuill
Key words: La Vía Campesina; agroecology; food sovereignty; organic food production; climate crisis; crop diversification; Latin America Agroecology Institute.
According to an International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 7 August 2019, our food system – including farming and grazing, transportation, packaging, and feed production – produces a catastrophic 37% of greenhouse gas emissions.
With the sharp rise in international awareness of the gravity of the climate crisis, the 200 million strong international movement of small farmers and indigenous peoples, La Vía Campesina, is playing a key role in not only denouncing our current system as unsustainable but also proposing and putting into practice alternative models that protect the environment as well as people.
On 17 December, 2018 the UN approved a declaration of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, the outcome of a 17 year struggle by La Vía Campesina and other organisations. The declaration “endorses the protection of livelihoods of peasants and all small-scale food producers feeding the world.”
The Rural Workers Association (ATC) in Nicaragua was a founder member of La Vía Campesina in 1993 and plays a prominent role nationally and internationally in advocating for agroecology, food sovereignty and climate justice.
The ATC has two areas of work: defending the employment rights of rural workers in the coffee, banana and tobacco sectors; and supporting co-operatives and communitiesgrowing coffee, maize, beans, fruit, and vegetables using agroecological methods.
In line with La Vía Campesina principles and practice the ATC views agroecology as much more than organic farming. It’s about transforming the way we live and our relationship to the land. This transformation can only be achieved through a holistic integrated approach that includes poverty reduction, gender equality, overcoming dependence through food sovereignty, the cultural recovery of traditional medicines, political activism, building the social economy, and community, intergenerational and international solidarity.
Empowering women farmers: the Gloria Quintanilla Co-operative
One of eight communities that the ATC is supporting is a co-operative of 22 women in the village of Santa Julia south west of Managua where 79 families live.
The land was a heavily polluted coffee plantation owned by the Somoza family. Since being granted the land under the Sandinista agrarian reform programme in the 1980s, the women have successfully transformed the area through using agroecology. This has strengthened their self-sufficiency in food and also enabled them to secure extra income through selling food to neighbours and in the local markets.
As well as organic coffee, the women grow bananas, plantains, cassava, yam, vegetables, maize, bamboo and a wide variety of fruit. These are grown under taller trees that provide shade from the intense tropical sun. Seeds are produced locally, saved and exchanged with other farmers.
This diversification increases resilience to crises whether they are related to climate chaos or political upheavals. To overcome water shortages the co-operative together with the local community harvest water in the rainy season in underground tanks and pits and use it to water plants in the dry season.
The strength of the co-op lies in the way in which older women and younger women work together, and its commitment to community solidarity and promoting gender equality. One member commented: “Now we are rich in terms of our organisation as a co-operative.”
Agroecology: the next generation
“Agroecology is a revolution! [W]e are killing the Earth … the most urgent task we face is the search for ways to protect it.” Marlen Sánchez, director, Latin America Agroecology Institute, Nicaragua (IALA)
A fundamental area of the ATC’s work is providing training for the next generation of small farmers. This is carried out through an ATC youth network and the setting up of an IALA.
The first group of students aged from 17 – 30 from Central American and Caribbean La Vía Campesina organisations are due to graduate in November this year. The objective of IALA is to provide a very broad, holistic training — technical, political, and ideological — as the basis for not only working towards food sovereignty but also fundamentally transforming society and people’s relationship with the land.
The campus itself is an agroecological farm created and maintained by the students, course facilitators, and workers.
The course creates a shared learning community with training that covers the principles and practice of agroecology. Time spent in the IALA is alternated with time spent on practical application in their home communities.
Equally important as the training in environmentally sustainable agriculture is political preparation so that the students are able to have a multiplier effect in strengthening their own communities and organisations on their return home.
Further information: www.nicaraguasc.org.uk