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“Something is changing, awareness is growing”

8 February 2016

Hanny van Geel (ECVC) spoke at the Social Studies (ISS) colloquium on Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges. (4-5 February 2016, The Hague, Netherlands). Reminding us of the struggle carried by previous generations against the WTO's and the current challenges in Europe, she highlights people's growing awareness on the implications agriculture has for society and the power grassroots are constructing at the local level.

5 February 2016, The Hague, Netherlands

I’m rooted in farming. Until 5 years ago I had spend all my life on a farm. My parents had a mixed farm, with my husband we had an organic farm with vegetables.

My first political act was in 1974 writing protest slogans on old bedsheets and paper that we attached to my father’s tractor. He and his colleagues were going to block some roads the next day. It was on the national news and in the newspapers. 30.000 farmers were in the streets for protest.

My father and the other farmers were protesting the lowering of the price of wheat. In that period the new CAP was going to be adapted, so fixed prices and import protection were going to be lowered. At that time the price of wheat was € 0,25 kg

At that time the shift started to take hold: Farmers were pushed into specialisation, bigger farms, more loans, more input, higher output yields, with continued low income, just enough to survive and for some, enough for a few investments. Others stopped: 5 to 7 farms disappeared per day, an ever continuous process.

Our income and livelihood was now in the hands of a European process that was related to a global process. So we started to organise.

In 1986 the European Coordination of Peasants was founded, to strive for better agricultural policies. We found out that we shared problems with peasants in other continents and in 1993 La Via Campesina was founded with the contribution and help of CPE.

1995 was the end of GATT and the beginning of the WTO. Agriculture was thus taken in by the WTO. And in Europe we were dealt new agricultural policies that complied with the rules of the WTO. In order to be able to continue exporting to the world market, prices were lowered and farmers got price-compensation, now called subsidies. This compensation was window-dressing for what actually happened. Exports below cost of production on the world market could continue and the processing industry was guaranteed a provision of cheap raw material.

In 1996 Food sovereignty was launched as an alternative for trade under the WTO and policies that were bad for peasants.

On the issues of trade and policies at the level of global and regional institutions we have not won any battle ever since.

In those spaces where we can talk, like the FAO, the issue of trade is not on the table.

Where we are able to discuss policies, they become entangled to the framework constructed by the WTO and we get stuck in debates about payment schemes, not about real policies.

When we protest in the streets we are criminalised and are injured or killed, like the sad example of our Korean peasant comrade, whose daughter yesterday told us about her father’s situation due to the aggression opposed on him while protesting for a fair rice price, the basis of their existence.

Nevertheless, we will continue raising our voice in these spaces because we have no other choice. Trade rules have impacted our daily life to such an extent that we can’t go to sleep and accept what is happening. But it is a struggle with an unfair balance of power and it requires a lot of energy.

All bad news? No.

The power is at the local level. Citizens and consumers are changing. All over the world, without being pushed by lobbies, laws or subsidies, consciousness is waking and people are getting involved. Short food chains are created, local markets restored. This happens in developing countries and in rich countries. Something is changing awareness is growing.

Is this enough? No

The powers are not equal. There is a strong need to support the new alternatives; to get local authorities involved, they have the power and the possibility to stand up against GMO’s, against FTA, declare themselves GMO or TTIP free municipalities, create food councils, support grass-root movements, strengthen networks, facilitate agroecology schools.

We need help with that. Big research projects with EU funding (taxpayers money) should be directed in the direction of fair short food chains, developing new markets all over the world.

We need data, to show what we do. We need to exchange peasant knowledge. We need articles/research briefs (by economists and also linked to TNCs/dismantling corporate power); case studies (mainly positive examples of existing informal markets and more formal markets in Europe); work with European local authorities on public policies, new types of markets.

For the end of October food sovereignty movements from across Europe will gather in Romania for the Nyeleni event: Peasants, fisher folk, herders, environmentalist, consumers, development organisations, ngo’s and social movements. We will all gather there to discuss and build our networks of food system change. It is not just an event it is part of an ongoing process.

In November there will be a series of conferences in the Bask country on markets and local authorities, showcasing good examples, also on building networks and getting local authorities on board.

Join our processes and support us in achieving food sovereignty.

Besides this, everyone here can make a different choice in their daily life, through what we buy and how we eat every day.

We have to act with our head, heart and hands.

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