In February 1994, in Lima (Perú), under the slogan “United in Defense of Life, Land, Work and Production” the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC) was officially established. Eighty-four (84) organizations from 18 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean came together for this historic moment. This became possible as a result of a process of several years of work of weaving together various social movements within the context of the Continental Campaign celebrating 500 years of Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance.
This process has as its initial epicenter a rapprochement of indigenous campesino organizations from the Andean Region, through a learning exchange workshop focused on education and communications (October 1987) in which the participants considered that the need to overcome the sporadic character of their relations was urgent, stating that: “the fact that we understand the importance of walking together does not mean that the road is easy. After having ignored each other forever, we have a world of ignorance that separates us. “
Because by then, the ravages of the impacts of the prevailing neoliberal policies had already torn away at the organizational social fabric, this perspective of the need for unity found fertile ground and is thus projected to the other regions with the impetus of the Continental Campaign 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance , Black and Popular, which takes place between October 1989 and October 1992, on the occasion of the V Centennial of the Spanish arrival on American soil.
The special thing about that campaign was that it did not fizzle out or end by itself, but rather it was transformed into a pioneering alternative, led by the people’s movements, to the phenomenon of neoliberal globalization. This was, among other things, because as advocates for traditionally marginalized and excluded social sectors, under the banner of unity in diversity, they were able to weave together local and global struggles; thus combatting the localism that neoliberalism intended to impose on social justice struggle; they built a melting pot where networks of various sectors of social movements melded together with new organizing criteria and strategies; and they were able to generate a significant international solidarity movement, among others.
At the same time, the sense of a matrix that this campaign signified for the CLOC was not only due to the fact that it provided a gathering space where exchanges between like-minded organizations from differing social sectors, but also because its undertaking required a series of conceptual and organizational reformulations that were aimed at countering fragmentation and dispersion among the varied social movements.
And it is thus that, since its birth, the unity proposed by the CLOC has sought to go beyond mere formalities in agreements and political commitments to instead , materialize in concrete struggles which has meant that national organizations with the capacity to truly represent their base and thus are of the front lines; definitions that have been maintained as reference points for the development of the coordination. What’s more, it is under these parameters that 2 years later , in Tlaxcala, Mexico ( April of 1996) the CLOC formalized participation in La Via Campesina.
The founders confirmed that: “Neoliberal policies in Latin American agriculture were expressed in clearly regressive agrarian reforms, with anti-peasant legislation that aimed to launch millions of hectares of land into the market and facilitate processes of re-concentration of those lands. These policies also caused an alarming growth of poverty, migration to the cities and destruction of peasant economies “, in the founding period they establish the premise that marked the CLOC’s subsequent development.
“In the agrarian arena we conclude that peasants’ right to land, and indigenous rights to their territories are unequivocal and irrevocable and are part of human rights. That a true agrarian reform implies profound changes in social and productive structures and relations, a reordering of the anti-peasant legislation that guarantees forms of social property and direct management of the land. No more land in a few hands, nor many hands without land, “says the Declaration.
It is fundamental, it notes, “to promote the access of small and medium producers to credit, technical assistance and research, safe markets and fair prices for their products, agricultural insurance and basic services; to promote alternative forms of self-development and economic integration based out of our organizations, both locally, nationally, and at the Latin American level and work for a self-sustaining agriculture that guarantees the improvement of the quality of life of the population, the rational use of natural resources and the preservation of our genetic resources. “
It also indicates the commitment to the “struggle for respect for cultural identity, self-determination and for the territories of the indigenous peoples”; and with the promotion of “a Latin American vision to overcome all types of discrimination and violence against women, facilitating and supporting their active participation and guaranteeing equal rights as men in the different decision-making bodies”; and in addition with a commitment “that childhood and youth be given special attention … So that there will be no more exploited children or youth without employment”.
It also demands ” an educational program that responds to the problems and needs of transformation and integral development of the countryside, which affirms the cultural values of peasant communities and indigenous peoples”. The declaration also recognized that it is necessary to “readjust our forms of organization and struggle, taking into account the political and economic changes imposed by neoliberalism,” as well the need to strengthen the autonomy of rural organizations. While at the same time, it denounces “the repression and persecution of militants and peasant leaders”.
To Dispute the Dominant Agricultural Model
Given the time that has passed, for some time now the CLOC-VC’s agenda has taken up the challenge of moving forward to build a popular political project and the generate proposals for public policies, from the defense of a new matrix of production of agricultural goods based on agroecology: a model opposed to the agribusiness (agribusiness) model that only manages to produce food with agrotoxics and thus has serious consequences for the health of the population and environmental destruction.
Agribusiness is the expression of the structural rearrangement in agricultural production of the new phase of capitalism. According to João Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil, this model “is succinctly characterized by: organizing agricultural production in the form of monocultures (a single product) in increasingly large areas; intensive use of agricultural machines, expelling agricultural labor from the field; the practice of agriculture without farmers; the intensive use of agricultural poisons, the agrotoxins, which destroy the natural fertility of soils and their micro-organisms, contaminate the water in the water table and even the atmosphere by adopting the defoliants and drying agents that evaporate in the atmosphere and return with the rains. And above all, they contaminate the food produced, with very serious consequences for the health of the population. The more and more standard use of transgenic seeds and attack the environment with their production techniques that seek only larger outputs, in less time “1.
Agroecology, on the other hand, is more than a set of alternative techniques to produce, and rather constitutes a new technical and scientific basis for the production of food, fibers and biomass, in sufficient quantity and quality for national supply and exports, which preserves and conserves the base of existing natural resources in the biomes and ecosystems. As the seeds determine the adopted production model, the native seeds – since they are adapted to the soil and the climate of their region- are determinants of the quality, diversity and quantity of food produced, therefore they are linked with Food Sovereignty; a concept developed by CLOC-LVC based on the principle that food cannot be a commodity, because food is a right of survival of humanity. Therefore, in all parts of the world, each people has the right and duty to produce their own food. And the issue of food is a strategic issue for the autonomy of a people and for the Sovereignty of the Nation.
In this dispute, which ultimately has to do with the future of life – due to the seriousness of the destruction of nature caused by the agribusiness model when prioritizing profit; the formulation of proposals for public policies has become an indispensable component to propose, advance and consolidate conquests. Although, with the adverse correlation that prevails in the region such a challenge demands greater efforts, there is a key achievement: the “Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Persons Working in Rural Areas” adopted by the United Nations (UN) on September 28, 2018.
Like the other social organizations, the CLOC-VC now has to face the ramifications that are under way due to changes in technological platforms related to digitalization, robotization, big data and artificial intelligence. In fact, the “datafication” (or systematization of recordable data) of the agricultural sector is not new: it has been several decades since the varieties of seeds were registered, which are stored in repositories to be patented by companies.
With the recent processes of digitalization, changes are accelerating and are increasingly impacting many countries of the global South. One aspect is the monitoring of the fields with digital machinery, cameras and sensors, which record data on crops, climate, land, irrigation, pests and weeds, etc., with which companies that sell seeds and agrochemicals can remotely identify problems and dictate, for example, to the farmer which pesticides or fertilizers to use. This implies an erosion of community knowledge and the ancestral and agroecological ways of managing biodiversity and the quality of soils, generating new forms of dependency on agro-industrial corporations.
Another field to keep in mind is what happens with the incursion of the “electronic commerce” platforms in the agro-food chain that not only involves distribution, since the companies concerned are buying large tracts of land, particularly in countries of the South, to be able to control the whole chain of food production and distribution, with which they can also set prices. At first, this allows them to make unfair competition with local producers by selling at lower prices, which monopolizes the market. Later, when they already have a captive market, they can increase prices at will.
With this panorama ahead, it is important to expand the sphere when it comes to refining policies of alliances to, for example, to build bridges with those who work for rights and digital justice, and to confront the big corporations.