“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” ― Victor Hugo
After 17 years of steady, strategic organizing by the international peasant confederation La Vía Campesina, the United Nations General Assembly voted last week in New York to adopt a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and People Working in Rural Areas. The official Declaration should be formally ratified next month.
Why does this matter? For decades, small-scale food providers around the world have been sidelined, displaced, and even criminalized for feeding their communities and defending their right to land, seeds, and water. They’ve been trampled by transnational corporations producing industrial commodities based on the myth that agribusiness feeds the world.
Peasants are people who have skills, knowledge, and pride in working the land, fishing the waters, herding animals, and collecting wild foods to nourish their communities. They feed up to 80 percent of the world and they do it on a fraction of the land taken up by industrial monocultures. Not to mention, they conserve resources, build soil, and manage biodiversity in ways that are critical to addressing global climate change.
The Declaration was approved with a recorded vote of 119 countries in favor to 7 against, with 49 abstentions. Unsurprisingly, the United States was a “no” vote on peasants’ rights.
Meanwhile, the workers harvesting our nation’s food have been forced to work under extremely dangerous conditions as wildfires engulfed California, making the air alarmingly toxic. The Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project notes that government agencies rarely inquire about farmworker safety during wildfires, workers have little access to proper protection or medical care, and many speak only indigenous languages and cannot communicate their rights.
The UN Declaration is a victory, to be sure, but it’s part of an ongoing fight to protect the peasants and rural workers who feed us—an idea whose time has surely come.
Tanya, Anna, Tiffani, and Christina
Header photo: Women of Todjedi, Benin, taken by Fabrice Montiero, We Feed the World