Comparte: On the politics of food sovereignty
The Comparte (“Share”) program of the Jesuit Conference of Latin American Provinces (CPAL) is a community comprised of 16 social organizations which seek to promote sustainable economic practices. CJI asked some of our Comparte partners in Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala to reflect on the impact of public policies on food sovereignty, that is, local control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed, in their countries.
What impact do public policies have on food sovereignty in the communities where you work and what is required for change?
By implementing a neoliberal agenda, Mexico has been polarized; wealth is concentrated in a few hands and the majority of people are marginalized. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) does not include provisions to reinvest in rural communities. With its removal of tariffs on basic grains like maize, foreign grain flooded the Mexican market. As a result, 5 million farmers were unable to compete and forced to abandon their livelihoods. In addition, a government program called Procede, allegedly intended to regularize collective ownership of land, has instead enabled foreign companies to acquire land and exploit natural resources. Another program called Sin Hambre, which is meant to fight hunger, has been reduced merely to giving hand-outs, ignoring the roots of hunger and failing to support small-scale farming.
Rampant impunity in Mexico has generated a social mood of disillusionment, anger and great impotence. Our vision and way of life, as well as the daily work and projects we undertake, must challenge the current political-economic model even at the cost of losing the privileges this same model may give us. We know we must maintain permanent resistance. Our fundamental commitment is for social justice. We must not lose hope.
In Colombia, food has been commodified since adopting policies promoted by the World Trade Organization. Arable land is exploited for industrial purposes, generating only a few jobs. This leaves insufficient space for agriculture and forces small-scale farmers to migrate to urban areas. Access to potable water is also problematic, exacerbated by privatization. In short, neoliberalism concentrates capital, depletes the environment and degrades our human condition.
The greatest evil we face is corruption in both the public and private sectors; the basic ethic of service is lacking in the leadership of the country. We cannot wait to act, however; we must move forward with projects that generate the needed alternatives.
In Guatemala, the Ministry of Agriculture focuses its programs on subsidizing silos and fertilizers. Programs aimed at combatting malnutrition are used for political, partisan purposes; the levels of corruption are alarming. The Convention on Biological Diversity aims to patent seeds, natural assets and ancestral knowledge. National Law 4897 excludes local communities from development in areas where mining operations are located—operations that pollute, use massive quantities of water and disrupt the food and health of the people. Neoliberalism imposes drastic reductions in public spending and encourages state intervention on behalf of those who are economically powerful.
We are unable to guarantee that our families will have enough to eat when laws are enacted for the benefit of seed corporations like Bayer and Monsanto and for expensive, imported inputs. We need the political will to integrate different cultures and diverse ways of farming and eating.
What are your particular organizations doing?
The CIIESS (Centro Internacional de Investigación de Economía Social y Solidaria) of the IBERO University in Mexico forms action alliances with organizations and social enterprises. In Chiapas, the Bachajón Mission promotes social and economic solidarity as well as alternatives to the Procede program for better land allocation.
In Colombia, IMCA (Instituto Mayor Campesino) works with farming communities to generate knowledge, manage social-economic projects and advocate with the government. It also promotes small-scale agriculture and participates in the Agroecological Movement for Latin America and the World Committee on Food Security.
In Guatemala, SERJUS (Servicios Jurídicos y Sociales) collaborates with community organizations to present initiatives for legal reforms. For example, it seeks recognition of the people’s right to water and for a council of indigenous peoples to make decisions on the use and sustainable management of resources like water and land.
This article first appeared in the 2017 Fall issue of CJI’s Mission News.