“We eat what we plant. What we eat comes from our own labor. It’s healthy,” explained Don Carlos, a Zapotec campesino living in the village of Santa Gertrudis deep in the Sierra Juarez mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. “Before we ate processed food and we didn’t know what was in it. We are also really blessed to have clean, fresh water.”
Sitting just 40 feet from the fresh flowing mountain water eliciting Don Carlos’ gratitude and eating a nutritious bowl of organic farm-raised Tilapia soup and fresh tortillas, the full impact of the transition back to indigenous food ways he was describing was palpable.
Neon Cruz, another campesino who was born in Santa Gertrudis and began farming at age 12, explained how it used to take him 8 hours a day to cultivate food on two plots of land deep within the lush mountains. First, he would trek 2-3 hours up the mountainside to the nearest market to buy expensive chemical inputs. Then he’d struggle to carry 50 kilos of these agrochemicals on his back as he hiked for two hours on most days from plot to plot to grow his crops, now doused in agrochemicals.
But all of that was before he, Don Carlos and the 30 families living in Santa Gertrudis learned about The Union of the Organizations of Sierra Juarez, or UNOSJO.
On a bright winter morning, the two men joined most of the rest of the villagers in taking a rare break from their daily schedules of planting seeds, cultivating the land, tending to their cows, pigs and fish, cooking, cleaning, and caring for their families to welcome the WhyHunger staff, a group of supporters who are employees of Hard Rock International, and our hosts from UNSOJO to their remote village.
One by one the villagers shared their stories and experiences of working with UNOSJO, an Indigenous-led organization that addresses the critical needs of the local Zapotec families through programs ranging from sustainable food production and women’s rights, to protecting their indigenous territory and providing legal assistance.
Well-known in Mexico and internationally for their pioneering work to expose the contamination of local corn varieties by GMO crops, UNSOJO has been organizing and leading the resistance for years. They’ve taken legal action to block the GMO crop invasion, started local seed banks and encourage farmers to grow traditional varieties of maize. Now they are organizing community-led actions and pushing for legal protections against mega projects, like the hydropower dams, mineral extraction and mining operations being carried out illegally on their territory, which threaten their access to clean water, good soil and their very way of life.
“We are not activists; we are defenders of human rights,” explained Aldo Gonzalez, an Agronomist and leader in UNSOJO’s Indigenous Rights Sector.
To protect indigenous rights, UNOSJO documents abuses to children, women, entire communities and the natural resources they depend on, and offers workshops on the legal, economic, social and cultural rights, like the rights to food and health. They facilitate learning exchanges, farmer-led trainings and provide technical support to build capacity. They work to spread information about actions, threats and opportunities via social media, posters, word of mouth, community radio and a bi-annual magazine they publish. They’ve teamed up with several other local organizations to establish the Collective of Oaxaca and Defense of the Territory as a way to strengthen their collective resistance to the growing threats to their sovereignty.
UNOSJO’s approach is driven by the indigenous collective view of life, where each individual member of the community has “Tequio” or the capacity and responsibility to contribute to the community. Through collective leadership and community organizing they maintain access to the water, land and the resources they need to ensure that everyone can live a dignified life with enough nutritious food to eat. Oswaldo, the coordinator of UNOSJO’s Campesino-a-Campesino program, explained their shared goal of “el buen vivir” or “living well” that defines the indigenous cosmovision of “living well, not better.”
“It’s not a vision of charity; it’s about indigenous autonomy, the indigenous cosmovision,”explained Luz Leila Peres a la Vez, incoming UNSOJO Treasurer. “UNOSJO teaches people new practices to be self-sustaining and less dependent on agrichemicals and commercial seeds, and helps them produce healthy food.”
To illustrate this point, campesino Neon Cruz led our group up into the mountains to view his plots of land and see the benefits of UNSOJO’s partnership up close. Now, with the agroecological practices he has learned, Neon no longer has to buy and lug the heavy agrochemicals around his fields. He only carries a 3-liter spray bottle to disseminate organic inputs – like the supermagro that UNSOJO farmers taught him how to make—which he creates himself, without additional costs, to grow his food.
“There are fewer insects and fungus that attack my crops, now,” explained Neon. “The flavor of the food is better. The grains cook better; they’re less coarse…. I see the results!”
UNOSJO also supported Neon to build a water tank, get a cow and even participate in a shared learning exchange with Brazilian farmers from Popular Peasant Movement (MCP). Now, Neon is teaching others how to use agroecology practices through campesino-a-campesino trainings. This farmer-to-farmer methodology, which relies on shared learning and shared experience, helps to efficiently scale out agroecology across the territory.
As Oswaldo, the coordinator of UNOSJO’s Campesino-a-Campesino program explained, “An agronomist can’t go to a farmer and say ‘you should do this.’ He has no real reference. The farmers have such little resources, they can’t take risks or try new things. But when a farmer has succeeded [for himself], he can teach another farmer.”
Campesina Victoria Cruz, whose corn, beans and squash are layered up the hillside directly above Neon’s plot, explained that, as a single mother, she often relies on offering and receiving help from other farmers in the village. Her Milpa, a plot of land dedicated to the indigenous practice of inter-planting of beans, corn and squash, provides food for her children and space for her to experiment with the agroecological practices she is learning from UNOSJO. She just started growing potatoes, indigenous corn and coffee and, for the first time, is now exceeding production and able to sell in the nearby market in Talea de Castro.
As we finished touring these robust plots dotted across the mountainside and meeting with farmers and their families, the impact of UNSOJO’s support in strengthening the community at Santa Gertrudis was clear.
“We’ve accomplished a lot together as a group,” Don Carlos said with a sense of pride and hope. He told us that the villagers are getting better and better at organizing themselves. They started with organic compost for corn, beans and other plants. Next they began intensive fish farming with tilapia. Then they got the cows. “All of this happened because of UNOSJO’s support.”
Even with the strong social fabric of their community and the partnership of UNSOJO, the villagers are up against real threats. They are working to build international solidarity to amplify the threats from climate change affecting their growing season, multinational companies invading their territory, and spill off from mega projects contaminating their land, water and soil.
“You can help us by sharing stories and letting people know how hard it is to defend the land and territory,” said Oswald.
WhyHunger will continue supporting indigenous communities as they strive to ensure their families can live well.” To learn more about UNSOJO and support their efforts visit http://unosjo.org/
After 42 years of working in the U.S. and around the world to end hunger and build social justice for all, we know firsthand that the just, plentiful world we are working to build has no room for oppressive or discriminatory rhetoric, threats or actions. With federal policies and practices that threaten those values unfolding at a rapid pace, WhyHunger will continue to stand up for and with our community-based partners and work together to build a just, hunger free world.
We will remain vigilant defenders of human rights, at home and abroad, and protectors of the earth that provides for us all. We will organize across sectors from the environment to food to immigration to gender and race – standing in solidarity with our partners, allies and supporters on the front lines of the struggle to ensure that all people have the right and opportunity to live a dignified life free from hunger and oppression.
We will reject pending federal policy and budget decisions that threaten to pull apart the fabric of our democracy, to destroy the vital safety net – from health care to SNAP - that is keeping millions from falling deeper into hunger and poverty, and to deport and criminalize immigrant communities on whose backs our exploitive food system is built.
Now is the time to take action!
•Call your elected officials – locally, statewide and federally – to share your vision for a just world, free from hunger. Ask them to invest in policies that protect the environment and support the rights of all people to have nutritious food and a dignified life that free from oppression, fear and discrimination.
•Recommit your time, energy and funds to supporting community-based organizations and social movements that are driving local innovation and fueling progress.
•Take the time to engage in political analysis and dialogue around the deeper issues of hunger at the intersection of economic inequality, racism, health and the environment.
Join WhyHunger in continually asking the WHY questions in the face of injustice, oppression and hunger and interrogating the effectiveness, equity and consequences behind each and every proposed solution. Together we can strengthen and grow the movement for social justice and realize the just, hunger free world we’ve imagined and set out to build.
No one deserves to be hungry or live in poverty and in order to bring this to a halt everyone needs to be involved. Giving back allows me to pay it forward in hopes that someone will receive it knowing that they are supported even in their darkest time.
It breaks my heart to see so many go without a meal. Its a true reminder to be grateful. There is an abundance of food on this planet, yet so many are starving. No one in this world deserves to go without something to eat. Its important to me that the less fortunate know we care about them! Everyone, everywhere matters and its time we come together and pay it forward.
In a new report, Janet Poppendieck, activist, author, professor emerita at Hunter College and WhyHunger Board Member, reflects on her decades of research and advocacy to promote the School Breakfast Program in light of its 50th anniversary. She lifts up this critical program, which provided 2.3 billion nutritious meals to America’s children last year, and its steady growth as possibly the best example of effective advocacy and productive cooperation between national anti-hunger organizations and state and local groups.
There are few things meant to be as fundamentally universal, as natural and unwavering as human rights. Here in the U.S. we hold these basic, inalienable rights at our core. We’ve used a framework of rights to found a nation, to build our political systems and to develop a shared narrative of what makes us uniquely American. Yet, when we begin to dissect what is meant by human rights in the policies and practices in place in the United States today, we find that access to certain basic needs – nutritious food and clean water – is treated as a privilege, unevenly available among certain demographics. What is possible if the U.S. acknowledged the basic, essential human right to food? Could we reframe the conversation or even end hunger in America?
At the World Social Forum, held last month in Montreal and attended by tens of thousands of activists, organizations and social movements, WhyHunger and La Via Campesina co-organized a round table discussion on the meaning and potential opportunities to use the right to food framework in the U.S. to name and then address hunger as an injustice.
To kick off the conversation, panelist Smita Narula, human rights practitioner, academic and expert advisor in the field of international human rights and public policy, laid out the concepts behind a right to food framework and how it could be used in the U.S. Narula stated, “The right to food is the right of all people to be free from hunger and to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, nutritious and culturally acceptable food that is produced sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.”
Listen to Smita Narula talk about the right to food.
Narula went on to explain that a rights-based approach to food emphasizes the government’s obligation, rooted in international human rights law, to ensure in a non-discriminatory way that food is accessible, both economically and physically, adequate in nutrition, affordable and sustainable in both production and consumption.
“Contrary to popular perception, the right to food is not a right to a minimum number of calories, or simply the right to government entitlements,” said Narula. “It is the right to a political and economic system, including a food system, wherein all people are empowered to provide for themselves in a dignified, healthy and sustainable way.”
When we look at food as one of those inalienable human rights, it becomes impossible to accept that 42 million people, including 13 million children, in the U.S. were food insecure in 2015. Facts that we in the “anti-hunger” community rattle off as talking points so often that they’ve been committed to memory, become unimaginable, even unconstitutional: 17 million children don’t have enough nutritious food to eat; the large majority of households facing hunger have at least one family member who works – often multiple jobs; hunger disproportionately affects people of color, women and children; food system workers face higher levels of hunger than the rest of the U.S. workforce – in fact, just 13.5% of all food workers earn a living wage.
And what these facts and stats can sometimes mask, is the underlying systems-level injustice that is at the root of hunger in America. “People are not poor, they have been impoverished,” said Narula. “People do not lack access; they have been denied access or have been dispossessed of resources.”
What are the possibilities for ending hunger if we stop asking the question “how do we feed the world” and if we stop looking at the hungry in the U.S. as folks who need to be “helped”? What are the possibilities if we reframe how we see those who are hungry as “rights holders who can organize to fight an injustice,” and we start asking why and how the human right to food is being denied? After 30+ years of building the most sophisticated emergency food system in the world, coupled with federally funded benefits such as SNAP (food stamps), we are still coming up short on solving the hunger problem in America.
“Hunger will not be solved by charity or by the commodification of land, but by ensuring rights, by ending social and economic injustice and by ensuring people’s agency over resources that are essential to their survival,” said Narula. “I am talking about nothing less than shifting people’s consciousness.”
It is clear that to put an end hunger in the U.S., we need to change the whole conversation. We need to ask different questions and seek out different solutions. We need a counter narrative. We need a transformation in our approach to ending hunger from a focus on charity to seeking social justice.
While many countries have successfully changed their constitutions with the support of social movements like La Via Campesina, the overwhelming feeling from the farmers, organizers, activists and anti-hunger organizations that attended the discussion in Montreal was that a policy change to codify the right to food in the U.S. was not the first goal, and certainly not attainable in the short-term. Rather, the opportunity in using the framework of the right to food in the U.S. lies in the critical step of building a groundswell of people – the food insecure, emergency food providers, farmers, consumers, activists and communities of color -- who are organizing to change the narrative about what it will take to end hunger. If we shift the conversation enough, can we make room to focus on envisioning and implementing creative strategies, practices and programs at the community level that address the underlying issues of hunger and begin to transform our food system? Can we put people and social justice at the center of our food system, not corporate interests and profits?
Using the right to food framework can help us tell a different story about hunger and what it will take to end it, and while we can hope and even plan for a day when America recognizes all human rights – including the right to food- we don’t need policy change to begin the critical work of changing the narrative, building consciousness and realizing our rights to safe and nutritious food.
SEATTLE, WA, August, 31 2016 – The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is pleased to announce the honorees of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize: the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). The honorees were selected for their success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet.
Lauded as an alternative to the World Food Prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger and is recognized by social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world. The 2016 honorees are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system, including false solutions of biotechnology that damage the planet while exacerbating poverty and hunger. Their programs and policies support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system.
“Hunger is not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” said John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member. “Small farmers have had the solution to hunger for millennia in agroecology and food sovereignty.”
“The Borlaug and Gates Foundations and multinational corporations like Monsanto promote biotechnology because they profit from it. Ask the millions of farmworkers, family farmers and family fishermen feeding their communities what they need and they will tell you: access to land, clean water and their own seeds,” noted Diana Robinson, Campaign and Education Coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.
About the Honorees
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) was founded in 2008 by a group of activist networks and launched in Durban, South Africa, during the 2011 alternative people's climate summit, organized to counter the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference Of the Parties 17 talks (COP17). AFSA brings together organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and hunter/gatherers; indigenous peoples; youth, women and consumer networks; people of faith; and environmental activists from across Africa. Together they advocate for community rights and family farming, promote traditional knowledge systems, and protect natural resources. In the face of increased corporate agribusiness interests threatening their food systems, including massive land and water grabs, the criminalization of seed-saving practices, and false solutions to climate change such as so-called "Climate-Smart Agriculture", AFSA unites the people most impacted by these injustices to advance food sovereignty through agroecological practices, policy work and movement-building efforts.
Bern Guri, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s chairperson, noted, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”
For AFSA it is clear that the way forward will allow food producers, supported by consumers, to take control of production systems and markets to provide healthy and nutritious food. Facing the many ecological, economic and social challenges in today’s world requires an urgent transition to agroecology to establish the ecologically sustainable, socially just and nutritious food systems of the future, and it can be done through the collective, inclusive and democratic co-generation of the knowledge held by farmers, consumers, researchers and African governments, who are meant to serve the interests of their (farming) populations.
The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), founded in 1986, has a long-standing mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues affecting their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment in which farmworkers are treated as equals, not exploited and deprived based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status. As members of the world’s largest social movement, La Via Campesina, FWAF is building collective power and a unified force for providing better living and working conditions, as well as equity and justice for farmworker families and communities. This includes building leadership and activist skills among communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, racism, exploitation and political under-representation while lifting up women’s wisdom and leadership.
"Farmworker families pay the greatest price in the corporate food system of today. They work in fields of poison and exploitation so that people can easily access cheap foods,” explained Elvira Carvajal, Farmworker Association of Florida's lead organizer in Homestead, Florida. “We have a vision to bring together the community around the art of healing with good food and herbs, which is part of our culture. We practice agroecology in the community by sharing the knowledge we bring from our grandparents, our mothers, our families, our ancestors. The meeting of cultures that happens in the gardens, where we grow our own food without chemicals, and sharing plants and traditions and knowledge across generations is a beautiful thing. I am proud of our own people practicing food and seed sovereignty."
US Food Sovereignty Alliance members Community to Community Development and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the 2016 Honorees and Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities and actions. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 6pm at Town Hall at Eight and Seneca in Seattle.
For event updates and more information on the prize and this year’s winners visitwww.foodsovereigntyprize.org, follow the Food Sovereignty Prize at facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
About US Food Sovereignty Alliance
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups that upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. The Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system, believing that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner. Learn more at usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org
The World Social Forum, held this month in Montreal, brought together thousands of activists, organizations and social movements working to build a sustainable and inclusive world, to learn, strategize and share knowledge with each other. With so many organizers, farmers, activists, students and change makers in one place, it was easy to see the collective strength of the movement and the potential for the type of transformative social change that our world needs. The power of this potential was crystal clear at a briefing held by Quebec’s Union paysanne and La Via Campesina on the struggle of small-scale farmers in Quebec.
Union paysanne, or Peasant Union, was formed by a group of concerned farmers, consumers and activists that have been organizing in Quebec since 2001 to advocate for agricultural reform across the province. The goals of the movement – clearly articulated in their policy platform – include defending the rights of small scale farmers and organic production, advocating for access to land, food sovereignty and fair trade principles, and combating the corporate control of seeds, land and access to resources, including the refusal of GMOs and dependency on industrial agriculture. As Benoit Girouard, president of Union paysanne and a beekeeper and farmer explained, the main issue in Quebec is “the fight for access and control of our local resources for the local people.”
For years, Union paysanne members have been organizing to break the monopoly of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) over the representation of farmers in Quebec. As Stephanie Wang and Laurence Barchichat, new farmers and coordinators of Union paysanne declared at the briefing, “Quebec cannot guarantee its food sovereignty without having a sovereign peasantry. The union monopoly of the UPA is a major obstacle to human-scale, respectful agriculture.”
The law in Quebec requires mandatory participation by small-scale farmers and producers in the UPA, which supports heavy regulations that make it hard for small farmers and producers to sell at markets and to have a viable, sustainable lifestyle in agriculture. According to Union paysanne, only 1% of the population in Quebec now works in agriculture; meanwhile 80% of agriculture land is not being cultivated because new, small-scale farmers and young farmers face restrictions to buy or access land. Most of the land is being shifted to large scale, corporate mono-culture facilities that are producing soy and canola. These and other barriers make it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.