When you hear the word ‘peasant’ your mind automatically turns to medieval paupers, but today the term actually refers to agricultural labourers predominantly in poorer countries.
Championing their rights and inspiring their cause is La Via Campesina (LVC), founded in 1993 when approximately 60 peasant organisations came together to fight for the preservation of their way of life and methods of working, which were being threatened by agricultural conglomerates in a classic case of the big guys trying to push the little guys around.
Over the course of what is nearly a quarter of a century later, the spirited initiative has grown to represent 164 groups which equates to approximately 200 million peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, Indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers, in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Their numbers may have grown but LVC’s chief purpose remains the same: defend peasant agriculture against corporate-driven agriculture and trade liberalisation, uphold food sovereignty as a response to the intertwined food and climate crises, and work towards a Peasant Rights Declaration currently in negotiation at the UN Human Rights Council.
“The LVC defends peasants and small farmers, it defends their rights and their livelihoods, and their way of peasant-based, agroecological production,” the group says. “Via Campesina also defends food sovereignty, which is the human right to have healthy and culturally-appropriate produced food. We defend agroecology and the right of people to create their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not the corporate sector. The defence of peasant rights are central in this struggle.”
The autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, which is entirely independent from any political or economical affiliation, was awarded the Lush Spring Prize Influence Award, which carries with it a £25,000 cash prize.
Aimed at supporting campaigning and lobbying groups who are changing the context in which we are all working, the group says the award couldn’t have come at a better time: “This prize is great recognition of our work so far. It is especially important as more of our legitimate struggles are being criminalised and we are becoming increasingly repressed by leaders in many countries. We will use the funding to strengthen our movement in a bid towards realising the UN declaration on peasant rights.”
To stay up to date with LVC’s progress visit www.viacampesina.org