African peasants receive Zapatista maize at Nairobi WSF

Nancy Flores writes for Mexico’s El Universal, Feb. 24 (links added):

NAIROBI – Native Maya seeds from Zapatista cornfields reached the hands of small farmers in Africa last month as a symbol of solidarity and hope.

Mexican labor advocates delivered the seeds – donated by Zapatista farmers – at the 7th World Social Forum, where groups met to discuss a growing movement around the globe – food sovereignty.

The recent spike in corn tortilla prices in Mexico sparked alarm among food sovereignty supporters at the forum, who called for trade policies that protect small farmers in the face of free trade agreements. The Mexican chapter of La Vía Campesina, a worldwide alliance of small farmers and landless peoples organizations, worked to strengthen ties at the forum between small farmers in Mexico and Africa by addressing strategies to help agricultural communities become self-sufficient.

Some argue that Mexico’s dependence on imported corn helped spark the tortilla crisis that saw prices rise by about 14 percent.

“Mexico is the birthplace of corn and we shouldn´t have to defend the production of corn seeds, but help strengthen it because it provides healthy food for an entire society, not just indigenous people,” said Rafael Alegría, coordinator of the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform.

In response to international food emergencies like the corn crisis, La Vía Campesina launched the African component of the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform.

The campaign, which began in Latin America more than a decade ago, calls for a new type of agrarian reform that goes beyond land distribution and seeks policies that result in what supporters consider fair prices for growers. The new reform also tries to preserve local cultural and spiritual traditions.

Last year’s World Social Forum in Venezuela helped unite Latin American food sovereignty advocates, and now the campaign aims at bringing together organizations throughout Africa.

Organizers said the campaign has helped shape international policy at U.N.-sponsored conferences in countries like Colombia and Brazil.

Like in Latin America, the African campaign would lobby financial and human rights institutions to put agrarian reform on their agendas. It would also institute a plan for quickly mobilizing international pressure when an emergency situation arises where the right to land is threatened.

“Many of the farmers around the world face similar struggles,” said Peter Rosset, a member of Mexico´s La Vía Campesina and Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico. “Food sovereignty resonates more when we join hands in international struggle. Africa is just the newest area of growth where we hope to have more organizing.”

See our last post on Mexico and the Zapatista struggle and the tortilla crisis.

See also our reports on the battle of ideas at last year’s Caracas WSF.

  1. “Food sovereignty” conference in Mali
    From Food & Water Watch:

    World Forum on Food Sovereignty: Nyeleni 2007

    Five hundred delegates, from five continents, representing every sector of society that has an interest in agriculture and food, will gather in Mali from 23-27 February 2007 to develop a plan of action to promote food sovereignty.

    Food is essential to all people, in terms of production and the availability of safe, healthy food. It serves as the foundation of healthy lives, communities and environments. Unfortunately, many government policies and international agreements lead to hunger, poverty and environmental damage.

    During the forum, the right to food sovereignty will be reaffirmed; the economic, social and environmental implications will be deliberated; and, the global movement for its recognition will be initiated. Overall, Nyeleni 2007 aims to define a global and collective strategy to guarantee the right of all peoples to food sovereignty, realized by all countries and guaranteed by the United Nations.

    Why Mali?

    Mali is a democratic country where civil society organizations and unions enjoy the freedom of action and expression. Agriculture plays a dominant role in its economy, yet many urban and rural families suffer from hunger in spite of the abundance of natural resources. In response to this predicament, Mali is one of the first countries in the world to make food sovereignty a primary goal, with its new Law of Agricultural Orientation, which identifies the development of family farms as a principal objective. For these reasons, Mali was the chosen as the host country for Nyeleni 2007.

    See our last post on the Sahel.