September 10th is a day of struggle for La Via Campesina against free trade. Food imports and the introduction of agriculture in free trade agreements directly impact the lives of peasants, destroying the conditions that support peasant production and livelihoods, while benefiting big transnational corporations in the industry.
To mark this day, we talked with Morgan Ody, member of the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), who in 2021 become General Coordinator of La Via Campesina (LVC), when the International Operative Secretariat became headquartered in France. During the interview, Morgan talked about the achievements of LVC during its 30 years of existence, its struggle against the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its damages to the sovereignty of the countries, and the strategies to build food sovereignty worldwide.
Morgan, can you tell us more about how you’ve got to LVC and the work you’ve been doing so far?
I’m a peasant farmer growing vegetables. I have been active with the Peasant Confederation [Confédération Paysanne] here in France for more than ten years, struggling mainly on the issue of access to land. My father was also a small-scale farmer and a member of CP, so I’ve been around it since I was a child. For more than two years now I’ve been part of the Committee of the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), and it has been a year since I joined the General Coordination of LVC. It’s a huge responsibility, but is not a responsibility that I have alone. Someone has to fill this seat, but the political responsibility for LVC is in the International Coordination Committee. We are 22 people from all over the world, and that’s where we make the decisions. The General Coordination is also collective in the sense that now the European region has this responsibility, so we exchange a lot. Both with leaders from other regions, and with other people from the organizations.
It’s about doing the best of what we can, and I’m really convinced that the only way to the future is building a society with food sovereignty, with fair sharing of land. Deeply changing how we produce and how we share what we produce in a way that the people can have a decent life. In front of huge challenges like the biodiversity, food, and climate crisis, wars and conflicts, I really believe that what we struggle for, represents a little light.
This year was the celebration of 30 years of existence of LVC, an organization focused on defending the rights and ways of life of peasants from all around the world. What this achievement means, and what contributions to social transformation LVC has brought since its inception?
The creation of LVC was the first time when peasant movements were able to come together at the international level. So, just the existence of it is a huge achievement. Peasants have been working for 12 thousand years, but building a movement like this requires a lot of work, because most of the time we are the most humble people. In many countries, people are not even recognized as a peasant.
Historically speaking, modern social movements were built with workers from the industry. In the 19th century, the internationalism was built on the proletariat, but not on the peasants. From the bourgeois class to the left, the hope of a good future was in the working class, but it was quite exclusive of the peasantry. We are right now and for at least 40 years in a crisis of this idea of modernity, mainly because of the environmental crisis. The idea that the industrialization could always produce and consume more, and free ourselves from the work, now it’s not working. We have broken our relation with the nature, and that’s where LVC comes. It brings together people from indigenous communities and small scale farmers organizations. It brings together a quite traditional left with indigenous, women, and rural movements, and it tries to build something new with social justice. It is revolutionary in itself, but also with a new comprehension of what should be our relationship with the nature. That’s different from the modernity ideology that was built in the early 20th century.
Of course, it’s not like someone thought about the ideology of LVC one time, and it was set up. The way that we do, a peasant feminist way, we define what we are by doing. We can adapt, and we’re changing little by little. We try to be very receptive of what’s going on around us, and it’s not rigid. It’s very open, and not only intellectually, but also emotionally, with our feelings.
And within your region, how LVC is organizing the struggles for the peasantry? How the organization deals with North-South differences, and with exploration within Europe?
There are 31 members organizations in ECVC. It’s an extremely diverse region in terms of languages – I think that within these organizations people use more than 15 languages —, so we need to put a huge effort into translation and interpretation. But there’s also a diversity of situations. Maybe from outside, Europe is Western Europe, but it’s more than that. There are also quite poor countries in Europe, mainly in the East and South.
The other specificity is the European Union. Only half of our organizations are from countries which are members of the EU. We have member organizations in Turkey, in Georgia, in Switzerland, in the United Kingdom, and these countries are not members of the EU. Still, the EU plays a huge role in shaping agricultural policies in Europe, which means that these policies are not decided at the national level in these countries, but at the European level. So, we need a very strong articulation at the European level to monitor and try to make the voice of peasants and small scale farmers heard where the decisions are made.
As for the relation with the South, it’s a complex issue in the sense that LVC was built on something that’s not based on North-South relations. It was built on the fact that wherever you are, peasants face the same problems: the power of corporations, land grabbing, the fact that agricultural prices paid to peasants does not cover costs of production, the lack of decent revenue for small-scale farmers and agricultural workers, all this very much linked with globalization… So, very clearly from the first meeting of LVC, in 1992, in Managua, the interests of the peasants in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and in the North, were the same. The agro-industry wants to divide us. It wants to export and grab the resources in the South. But that’s not what we are, and we don’t feel any solidarity with them.
It’s important to say that the European peasants organizations are not in LVC in solidarity with the South. They are in this movement because they share the same interests and to defend together the interests of peasants, small scale farmers and agricultural workers. It’s about standing together with the people that face the same problems. This being said, we need to recognize that the economy and global politics are organized based in domination, imperialism, neocolonialism. Because of this, workers and small scale farmers in the North are most of the time in better conditions than the ones in the South, because of issues related to the currency, for example. One hour of work in the Northern countries can pay for ten hours of work in the Southern countries. We take this reality into account.
September 10th marks LVC’S day of struggles against free trade agreements. LVC have been denouncing WTO’s work, and its current strategy of making new agreements to benefit corporate interests when the entire world is going through an economic crisis with a rise of hunger in countries of the global south. What is the responsibility of corporate power in increasing hunger? And what is Via Campesina’s strategy to face free trade in the territories?
The corporations use WTO and their allies, which are often in European countries, the US, Canada, Australia, but also big exporting countries like Brazil, to try to increase their power in the food system. For example, in general 85% of grains are consumed in the same country where they are produced. Only 15% of it is traded internationally. These global trades are controlled almost 100% by big corporations, but they don’t have control of what remain in the national level. The communities, the people, have a much better control of what is produced and sold locally. Their strategy is to try to increase the share of the food which is traded internationally. For this, they oblige countries to have what they call “market access” for their products. This means that the participant countries have to import a part of the main commodities.
For example, the Japanese are very specifics about their rice. They want their rice, which is different from the ones produced in other countries. They don’t eat rice coming from outside, still Japan has to import 10% of its rice. This make no sense, but is compulsory. This hurts the small scale farmers economy, because they have to enter in competition with big companies that import much cheaper food than what they can produce.
We think that food is political, so we want to be able to discuss these issues and to decide on it. It doesn’t mean that we are against any international trade. We are happy to be able to eat things that come from outside, but it needs to be organized in a way that doesn’t hurt the countries and the small scale produces. So, what we want is for WTO to step out from food and agriculture, and we want another framework based on food sovereignty.
LVC claims the dismantling of the WTO. What does the organization want to put in place? How to reorganize the economy, putting life and food sovereignty at the center?
First, we want to dismantle WTO to be able to have strong national policies to protect and support of small scale farmers and peasant production. In many countries, the government have completely dismantled their agricultural policies. We need strong national policies to control the market and make sure that the agricultural prices paid to the peasants cover the cost of production to ensure a decent revenue to the farmers. In India, for example, there is a very inspiring model of market regulation, with public stocks in every municipality, as well as a system of minimum support prices and food distribution for marginalized people. This is the kind of policies that we need in all countries.
That’s not the case now. We have been paid far less, and the price of food for the consumer completely depends on the speculation. It’s not related to the cost of production at all anymore. In the liberal system, if you have on one side tension on what goes to the market, and on the other side, no regulation, that’s a rich soil for speculation. We want the price to be linked to the cost of production. We want policies to support the poor people in the society so they can have access to good and healthy food that we produce. Most of these policies are forbidden by the WTO. When there is agricultural subsidies, this only go to big scale producers.
On the other hand, we do need rules to organize the international trade and exchanges of food and agriculture. For this, we need a global institution, but it cannot be WTO because it is set up for the rich countries and big corporations. We need to think where this new framework could be. It could be the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), or it could be United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). And we need to work on rules that could work for everybody. Most of the countries want and need some international trade. For example, Cuba is suffering because of the blockade that excludes it from international trade. Being excluded makes it very complicated to buy machinery or medical supplies, to begging with. And countries need this. We have a lot to work on what can be done for a really fair trade system based on food sovereignty.
With the situation of huge crisis that we have right now, the international trade is really disrupted and many countries and governments see and need to ensure stable conditions for food production just to stabilize the situation. We need to work with the governments of Cuba, I hope with the new government in Brazil, with Indonesia, some EU countries that are not agro exporters. We need to find out with which countries we can create an alliance to create this new framework and work together with social movements.