African peasants highlight struggles at global meeting

August 26, 2017

Peasants across Africa are intensifying their struggles against land grabs and other harmful policies that promote industrial agriculture. At a recent international conference organised by the world’s largest peasant movement, Via Campesina, African peasants had opportunities to share their experiences of struggle and to learn.

“It is amazing to see how linked our struggles are,” said Nicolette Cupido from the Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC) in South Africa, with a countenance showing enthusiasm and eagerness.

There are two main reasons for her excitement. It was the first time she had attended a global conference of peasants’ movements, held in July in Derio, in the outskirts of Bilbao, Basque Country. Her movement was among the new organisations accepted into membership of Via Campesina, the international movement that unites groups across the world to fight for farmers’ rights, sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.

A community organiser and FSC member, Cupido is involved in food production in South Africa. She grows a variety of vegetables to help contribute to building food sovereignty (the capacity for peoples to control their own food supply).

Along with Cupido, about 20 other African peasants representing movements from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Niger, Mali, Senegal and Ghana attended the conference.

The conference took place at a time when Africa is undergoing a harsh moment, as indicated by Ibrahima Coulibaly from the National Coordination of Peasant Organisations (CNOP) in Mali. Almost everywhere in Africa, the elite and corporations are working to capture and control people’s basic means of production, such as land, mineral resources, seeds and water.

These resources are increasingly being privatised due to the myriad of investment agreements and policies driven by new institutional approaches imposed on the continent by Western powers and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Democracy is under attack”, said Coulibaly. “Repression of protests and murder of political leaders is escalating, but we have to continue to build alternatives.”

Elizabeth Mpofu, from the Zimbabwe Smallholder Farmers Forum, is a small-scale farmer who had access to land after she took part in the radical land occupations that resulted in the fasttrack land reform in the early 2000s. According to her, building alternatives is to take direct action.

“I was a landless woman,” she said. “Through our courage and determination we stood up and took action. Now I have land and I do agroecology farming.”

Relations between the state, corporate power and the peasantry have always been exploitative. This characterises the agrarian question in Africa. As some academics have argued, these relations have been coercive.

The perception that Africa is a vast “underutilised” area and, therefore, available for large-scale agricultural investment, continues even today, particularly among some Western governments and foreign investors.

The African peasantry has, however, always resisted capital penetration in the countryside. “Africa has taught us many centuries of struggle and resistance,” remarked Eberto Diaz, a peasant leader from Colombia during the opening session of the Seventh Conference of La Via Campesina.

Domingos Buramo, from the Mozambique Peasants Union (UNAC), brought to the conference the experience of the Mozambican peasants and other civil society organisations against land grabbing and large-scale investment projects. He mentioned the resistance to ProSavana, a large-scale agricultural project proposed for Mozambique, as an example of how transformative articulated struggles could be.

“Now the government is changing its vision as a result of our work. We can change our societies,” he said.

In South Africa, landless black people are engaging in various forms of protest to access land, water and development resources. “We do various social actions such as protest marches, pickets, sit-ins and even land occupations”, said Tieho Mofokeng, from the Landless Peoples Movement in Free State.

Africa was the last continent to join Via Campesina, which was formed in 1993. Since 2004, the number of African peasant movements joining Via Campesina has been rising.

African movements consider their membership to the global peasant movement, of which the Via Campesina International Conference is the highest and most significant decision-making space of the movement, as a strategic process of amplifying their struggles and reinforcing internationalism.

[Abridged from Pambazuka News.]

Issue