by Edgar Franks, Community to Community Development, Bellingham, WA
Food Sovereignty is the right for everyone to have access to healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. It is a human right that should not be commodified. The people’s right to survive and live in a dignified way is being stripped away by transnational corporations in the name of the “free market” and for profit driven motives, not to feed and sustain the people nor the land or waters that people care for. In the World Trade Organization (WTO) model, expanding markets and profits drive the agriculture industry throughout the world. With corporate agriculture, resources are becoming scarcer and the exploitation of peasant farmers and landless people worsens. What happens is that people who were once farming for their village, community, and family are forced to give up that way of life because the global “free market” has made them expendable. The connection to the land that sustains them gets broken. The corporate model of producing food is unsustainable and is destroying the fabric of community including our relationship with our planet.
With the new WTO Bali package, it is clear that the right to food will be even more deeply threatened in many emerging countries and the WTO will continue the trend of displacing small farmers and hurting the environment. In the United States, farming is heavily subsidized by tax dollars and more and more it is moving towards industrialization. Subsidized agriculture is a luxury that farmers throughout the Global South do not have. For farmers in Southeast Asia, having access to local buyers and consumers is what keeps local agriculture and families alive. The WTO and free trade agreements restrict nations from helping their own farmers, and producers from aiding their local food systems. WTO policies prefer countries to import food that could otherwise be produced by its own people, within its own borders.
With over 200 million inhabitants in Indonesia it is no wonder why the WTO chose to have its ministerial meeting in Bali. Rich in natural resources and culture, Indonesia is an emerging country. It is also attractive to many foreign investors who see it as the next frontier for neo-liberal plunder, a process that already has begun when their local market that once produced enough rice and soy beans to feed their population was opened up by free trade policies. “Since 1995, Indonesia is now one of the biggest food importers in the world. We import rice, soy beans. 70% is imported from North America.” said Kartini Samon of Indonesia and GRAIN organization which works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. She added “The new Bali package that was passed by the WTO will further commodify food and water especially in Indonesia and throughout Asia… Indonesia farmlands converted into mega plantations. Young people and women don’t have access to land so they are forced to migrate to cities or abroad.”
The clear and urgent need to create a sustainable and dignified food system is clearly expressed by Pathak Lal Golder from Bangladesh Krishok Federation, a group devoted to landless peasants since 1976, “Everyday peasants are losing their land.” 70% of people in Bangladesh are landless, people are dying because of climate change, crop failure, transnational seeds and because hybrid farming is very expensive. Our rivers are dying because glaciers in the Himalayas are melting because of climate change so we have no water.”
Our health and futures are wrapped up with the healing of our living planet. Food sovereignty is our sacred and fundamental right. There is no place for the WTO in our hopeful future. People in grassroots movements across the world are leading the way envisioning and practicing our many alternatives to global capitalism. We are making our futures together, one day at a time.