UNCTAD 14: Peasants’ declaration on trade, markets and development

“Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” Nyeleni Declaration on Food Sovereignty (Mali, 2007)

In the context of the Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) scheduled for 17–22 July 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, we of La Vía Campesina reiterate our commitment to Food Sovereignty and the Right to Food as well as our resolve to put an end to neoliberalism’s so-called “free trade paradigm” and “market-driven development” schemes that serve only to consolidate corporate control over our food systems. As a UN body, we expect UNCTAD and its member states to prioritize democratic and participatory processes aimed at policies that successfully promote food sovereignty. UNCTAD should not be used to promote the very same Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), including the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in Africa, that one after another have resulted in more hunger, poverty, and exclusion for people around the world.

La Vía Campesina is an international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. We defend peasant-based agroecological food systems as a way to promote social justice and dignity and we strongly oppose corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying our food systems, our communities, and the environment. We are made up of 164 local and national organizations in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Altogether, we represent about 200 million farmers. We are an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent from any political, economic or other type of affiliation.


We of La Via Campesina very much welcomed the 2015 publication of the UNCTAD Report titled “Smallholder Farmers and Sustainable Commodity Development” and its recognition of our vital role in food production and markets, as well as the need for governments and multilateral institutions to work directly with us in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, we strongly oppose the report’s numerous recommendations, most of which support the commodification of our agricultural production. We firmly reject the report’s underlying premise that only as successful profit seekers, or “business enterprises”, are we a viable long-term source of food and nutrition for our people. We also denounce ongoing attempts to commodify food and nutrition, and remind all those gathered at UNCTAD 14 that food is a Human Right.

The UNCTAD we are seeing in motion presents a free market driven neoliberal trade paradigm which stands in stark contrast to the food sovereignty paradigm where smallholder farmers are social, cultural, and historical actors that make decisions based on a diversity of personal, ethical, and cultural factors and not just based on profit, business and markets. Instead of corporate-backed trade promotion schemes, we want an UNCTAD that protects us from the destructive and secretive FTAs promoted by the undemocratic World Trade Organization (WTO) such as the TTIP, TPP, CETA, TiSA, EPAs, and their so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). We, the peasants of the world, currently feed the global majority, and we do so in spite of the numerous Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) aimed at displacing peasant production and trade worldwide.

Peasant-based production and local markets

Globally, more than 80% of smallholders operate in local and domestic food markets, with the majority trading through informal means. These highly diverse markets are the ones through which most of the food consumed in the world transits. They operate within territorial spaces that can range from local to transboundary to regional and may be located in rural, peri-urban or urban contexts.

These markets are directly linked to local, national and/or regional food systems: the food concerned is produced, processed, traded and consumed within a given space and the value added is retained and shared there, helping to create employment. They can take place in structured arrangements or in more ad hoc or informal ways which provide greater flexibility for smallholders and fewer barriers to entry and more control over prices and market conditions. They perform multiple functions beyond commodity exchange, acting as space for social interaction and exchange of knowledge. These are the most important markets, especially for rural women, when it comes to inclusion and access, contributing significantly to our fulfilment of our right to food and nutrition.

Despite their importance, informal markets are often overlooked in data collection systems which impacts negatively on the evidence base for informing public policies. As women smallholders mostly operate in informal markets, their essential contribution to food systems, including food distribution, and economic growth remains largely invisible in trade and development policy-making processes and, they face particular socio-economic barriers in accessing resources and marketing opportunities resulting in further marginalization and violation of their rights. Given their importance for food security and smallholder livelihoods, public policies and investments should be oriented towards strengthening, expanding and protecting local and domestic peasant-fed markets.

Continue reading on Pambazuka.net

by La Via Campesina

Photo Credits: UNCTAD

Leave a Reply