La Vía Campesina describes itself as an ‘international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers'[i]. Deriving its name from the Spanish phrase ‘la vía campesina’ meaning ‘the way of the peasant’, La Vía Campesina was formed in May 1993 at Mons in Belgium where it was constituted as a world organisation and defined its structure. It is an autonomous movement, with no political affiliation and with members from 56 countries from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
La Via Campesina has three main objectives:
(1) To defend peasant, family farm-based production: production should be sustainable and carried out with local resources and in harmony with local culture and traditions. It believes communities can produce the optimal quantity and quality of food with few external inputs. Production is geared towards family consumption and domestic markets.
(2) To defend people’s food sovereignty: the right of peoples, countries and state unions to define their agricultural and food policy without the ‘dumping’ of agricultural commodities into foreign countries. Food sovereignty and sustainability are a higher priority than trade policies.
(3) Decentralised food production and supply chains: the current industrialised agribusiness model has been deliberately planned to dominate all agriculture activities. This model exploits workers and concentrates economic and political power. La Vía Campesina advocates a decentralised model where production, processing, distribution and consumption are controlled by the people and communities themselves, not by TNCs.
La Vía Campesina promotes seven principles of food sovereignty[ii]:
- Food. A basic human right: access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food should be a constitutional right.
- Agrarian reform. Agrarian reform is required to give landless and farming communities ownership and control of the land they work. Indigenous territories must be returned to indigenous peoples.
- Protecting natural resources. Food sovereignty demands the sustainable use of natural resources: land, water, seeds and livestock breeds.
- Reorganising food trade. Food must be recognised first as a source of nutrition, and only secondly as an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritise production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
- Ending the globalisation of hunger. Food sovereignty is directly undermined by the growing control of multinational corporations and multilateral organisations over agricultural policies. Regulation of TNCs is urgently needed.
- Social peace. Food must not be used as a weapon. Displacement, forced urbanisation and repression of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
- Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have must have direct input into agricultural policies at all levels. Rural women in particular must be granted direct decision-making rights on food and rural issues.
[i] Food Sovereignty: A Right for All Political Statement of the NGO/CSO Forum for Food Sovereignty, 13 June 2002, Rome.
[ii] Summarised from Ed Hamer ( April 2009) ‘Ploughs into Swords’, Ecologist,