Indigenous communities, small farming cooperatives and campesino organizations around Argentina have teamed up to pressure the government to address land reform and food sovereignty, issues that have gone largely ignored by the state.
On April 17, participants created the National Campesino Front, or FNC for its initials in Spanish. Some members lack legal documentation of their ownership of their lands. Others live and work on lands in areas where multinational farming corporations — mainly soy — are trying to expand, devastating native forests and pressuring small-land owners to sell their lands.
The farming model of soy monoculture will only end through deep land reform, FNC members said in their founding statement, urging the government to develop “inclusive public policies” and market regulation that curbs “voracious capital.”
Edgardo Crossa, a farmer and a FNC member said that food sovereignty is key to their demands “because we were, we are and we will be food producers, because we are conscious that food sovereignty is a right of the people and because, as citizens, we know that food sovereignty questions the land and income concentration model that has led us to poverty, inequality and exclusion.”
Besides its central demand for a secure land tenure, the FNC has also a package of proposals that include the creation of a seed bank, the defense of natural resources, such as water, soil and forestlands, crop diversification, the development of alternative commercialization channels that would cut down on intermediary chains, which are in part responsible for the surge in food prices.
But even though the government has historically failed to draw up policies that benefit small indigenous and campesino communities, their survival became even more critical in the late 1990s when the authorities allowed the cultivation of genetically-modified soy, destined not for human consumption but for animal feed in Europe, China and India, the worlds largest consumers of Argentine soy.
Multinational farming companies and soy growers broke with Argentinas traditional role as a food producer and pushed forward this new agriculture model without farmers, — a field of 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) can be run by just four people. The shift led the country to become the worlds second-largest producer of transgenic soy, after the United States. Six million hectares of transgenic soy were cultivated in Argentina in 1997, which rose to 16.6 million hectares in 2007.
The FNC says that over the past four years, 1.1 million hectares of native forests have been destroyed for soy farming, at a rate of 760 hectares every day.
According to the 2001 census, the countrys most recent, slightly less than 280,000 families belonging to 22 indigenous groups and 220,000 campesino families live in Argentina. In total, some 2.5 million people are living off the land, and it is estimated that since 2001, some 250,000 of these families were kicked off their lands and forced to emigrate to marginalized neighborhoods of Argentinas largest cities.
FNCs burst onto the political scene coincides with a conflict between land-owners and the government, causing food shortages in urban centers. The large-land-owners are protesting a tax on soy exportation that the government says will be used to build hospitals and roads, but producers argue is a form of confiscation.
“At this time, in which the land-owners have presented themselves as dangerous destabilizers, the government and the media have not addressed the fact that we campesinos are not only a reality in some place in Latin America, but that we are also on this soil, that was once inhabited by indigenous peoples and today by their descendents and campesinos, who take care of the land and seeds to protect ourselves,” said Crossa.
According to the FNC, the first issue that needs to be addressed is land-holding norms, because this would serve as a sort of litmus test for the country.
The organization argues that there is a process of increasing foreign companies and land-buyers coming into Argentine, not only tied to soy production, but as some environmentalists have warned, in order to take over a natural resource that is abundant in Argentina but scarce in the rest of the world: water.
“We would have plenty of reason to complain and nothing else, like so many times our ancestors have done so, but today we have opted to discuss politics and denounce the victimizers — the multinationals Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dupont and others — producers of agrochemicals like Glyphosate and Paraquat, which cause fetal malformations, miscarriages and cancer,” said Luis Santucho, one of the FNCs founders.
“Even though were taking the example of the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil and the Mexican Zapatistas, we know that there are no conditions to push for actions in Argentina as has been done in those other two countries,” Santucho said. “But just because of that, were not going to stop at exposing the key issues. This time, the campesinos are willing to be active in the new era in which Argentina is living.