“Nature is our home and is the system of which we form a part, and therefore it has infinite value, but it does not have a price and is not for sale” said a November 3-5 meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) nations of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
The meeting rejected the privatisation of nature, in which “nature is seen as ‘capital’ for producing tradable environmental goods and services … and assigned a price so that they can be commercialised with the purpose of obtaining profits”.
It affirmed the ALBA nations’ “commitment to preventing capitalism from continuing to expand in the spheres that are essential to life and nature … Only with the conscious intervention of state and society through policies, public regulations, and the strengthening of public services can the equilibrium of nature be restored.”
The ALBA declaration reflects and assists the development of a powerful campesino (peasant) movement for agro-ecology and food sovereignty in Venezuela and other Latin American nations. It is a movement that Australian social activists Dianne James and Dr Scott John are keen to support and pass on to others.
John and James are partners in the Reciprocity group, which is “involved in promoting the voices of the global peasant movement and its campaign to develop food sovereignty as an alternative to the predatory capitalism of corporate-driven agri-business.
Food sovereignty is about putting control of what is produced and how it is produced back into the hands of poor farmers so they can develop food self-sufficiency.”
James and John told Green Left Weekly they became interested in Venezuela’s campesino movement for food sovereignty after researching fair trade as a means of reducing poverty.
In their efforts to find out what poor, small farmers thought about fair trade — “it was difficult to find their authentic voice above the noise of the corporations espousing the virtues of fair trade”, James said — they found the voices of the Global Peasant Movement, La Via Campesina (LVC).
LVC is an international alliance of peasant and family farmer organisations that aims to halt neoliberalism and construct alternative food systems based on food sovereignty.
“We were excited to finally find an authentic voice of the farmers, and we discovered that they were offering a well thought out economically and socially just alternative to the current agricultural trade paradigm”, James and John said.
James and John joined a food sovereignty tour to Venezuela in July, organised by Canberra-based researcher Ferne Edwards and Venezuelan William Camacaro.
“We didn’t know very much about Venezuelan politics or agricultural policy at that point, so did a quick read, to discover that this country is one of few nations in the world to have written food sovereignty into its constitution and laws.
“We recognised the importance of countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, which are leading the way with an alternative food system that directs participation in the international economy towards building local economic capacity rather than destroying it.”
While in Venezuela, John and James spoke to campesinos about their experiences and struggles as part of the implementation of agricultural policy and land reforms aimed at developing food self-sufficiency and safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production.
This grassroots movement has been developing in the context of a government that, since the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1999, has taken over about 2.5 million hectares of land for public use.
In October, Chavez called for the acceleration of the nationalisation of agricultural assets, to put more land and property owned by huge food corporations under public control.
The land reforms undertaken as part of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution have reduced hunger and poverty by allowing field hands to own the land they work.
One result is that the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the numbers of undernourished people has already been met in Venezuela — five years ahead of schedule and before any other country in the world.
Another aspect of the Venezuelan government’s food sovereignty strategy is to make food available at fair prices. On November 19, the government approved a plan for more than 6 billion bolivars (about A$2 billion) to be used to buy food to sell in public and private outlets with the aim of supplying all families’ basic food needs at fair prices.
Half of Venezuela’s population of 28 million now has access to fair-priced food.
James and John told GLW: “Venezuela, its people and particularly its campesinos, have so much to share with campesinos and food sovereignty advocates throughout the world. Venezuela’s food sovereignty story as told by those who live the experience daily offers real hope to others in the struggle for equality and justice for all.”
This realisation led them to increase work building solidarity among campesino/small farmer organisations, with the aim of “sharing knowledge and understanding about sustainable agriculture among Venezuelan campesinos and other campesino/small farmer groups, individuals and communities.
“We are also focused on sharing the knowledge between Venezuelan campesinos and other campesino/small farmer groups about how to organise to achieve social and political outcomes, and how to create and maintain effective partnerships.”
They launched the Venezuela Food Sovereignty website Venezuela.foodsovereignty.com.au to “provide a vehicle for Venezuelan campesinos to share their experiences of food sovereignty and engage in dialogue with other Venezuelan campesinos, marginalised (Global South) campesinos and campesino groups, small farmers/campesinos from less marginalised countries like Australia and food sovereignty activists.
“Campesinos in Latin America have a great deal to offer farmers all over the world. They have been through the struggle, and are still in the struggle, of returning their agriculture to being led by the farmers, not the corporations.
“There is much to be learned from the way in which they organise themselves together to achieve their goals.”
In this context, James and John aim to “help Australian farmers recognise the value and benefits of solidarity among farmers to encourage them to create solidarity among themselves here in Australia. Our next step is to start looking at the possibilities for organising campesino/small farmer cultural exchanges.”
John and James enthusiastically encourage small farmers, agro-ecologists, food sovereignty activists and others in Australia to take part in this project and in particular to follow and publicise the Venezuela Food Sovereignty website as widely as possible.
“Our aim is to have this site in the three official languages of La Via Campesina — English, Spanish and French — and we would welcome support to have the site translated”, James said.