Opening Plenary remarks by General Secretary of La Via Campesina Morgan Ody Critical Agrarian Studies in the 21st Century: Beijing, China October 10th 2023

Opening Plenary remarks by General Secretary of La Via Campesina Morgan Ody Critical Agrarian Studies in the 21st Century: Beijing, China October 10th 2023 Promo Image

Conference of the Journal of Peasant Studies – Beijing

« Looking back at 50 years of agrarian studies and peasant struggles »

It’s a great honor for us peasants of La Via Campesina to be with you all in this conference. I don’t want to start before expressing our great attitude towards the Chinese Agricultural University, the College of Humanities and Development studies, and Professor Ye in particular, for their amazing hospitality and generosity.

We would like to congratulate the Journal of Peasant Studies and its global community of scholar-activists and socialist intellectuals for its 50 years anniversary. The Journal has played a key role in publishing studies about the peasantry and making peasants visible as key actors in our societies. We also give our salutation to Jun Borras, a dear friend of the peasant movement all over the world.

It is also important to say that this year is the 30th anniversary of LVC. So we congratulate all peasants, including those not affiliated to LVC, especially the great peasants of China.

Looking back at 50 years of agrarian studies and peasant struggles : what have we achieved ? Where are we today ?

In 30 years, we have built a global peasant movement, with member organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, Europe and the Arab countries. La Via Campesina has shown that not only are peasants still indispensable for producing food and caring for Mother Earth, but that we are also capable of creating one of the largest and most powerful social movements at the global level. We are changing the world, from our mobilisations against the World Trade Organisation and the emerging claim of food sovereignty to the creation of dozens of agroecology schools, from the campaign for agrarian reform to the recognition of farmers’ right on seeds, from the building of a peasant popular feminism to the recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas.

A few months ago, in May of this year, we had a Via Campesina meeting in Bogota, Colombia. We learnt about the historical demand from Colombian peasant organizations for all peasants and the Colombian peasantry in general to be recognized as « political subjects of rights ». This is probably what LVC has achieved over the last 30 years. Who could deny now that peasants are major political actors? Who could deny that we, collectively, have social, political, and economic rights?

We exist, we produce food for 70 % of the world population, and we play a key political role in our societies. In La Via Campesina, a lot of our work is about the recognition of peasants, about our cultural and political identity, our right to land, the peasant economy and our leading role in the protection and care of nature. We understand that also here in China peasants have played a key role and still are central for China's future.

So what are the challenges for the coming years?

First, we need to recognize that the future promised by the current capitalist system led by transnational companies is very dark.  Global heating may lead to +4°C, a devastated biodiversity, jobs replaced by robots, the explosion of inequalities between a handful of ultra-rich people and the vast majority of impoverished populations, wars and rising insecurity for rural people, hunger everywhere. All in all, a world ravaged by environmental crisis, misery, and wars.

In front of these challenges, we believe that the role of peasants and of peasant movements will be even more important in the future than the one we have played in the past.

In two months from now, we will have the 8th international conference of LVC. Our motto for this conference is: «  Faced with global crisis, we build food sovereignty to ensure a future for humanity ». Our ambition is not only to defend our own interests as peasants. Our ambition is to shape, with other social movements, a way for hope.

Faced with this gloomy outlook, more than ever, La Via Campesina is committed is to building the peasant way, a way of hope.

This includes:

Food sovereignty: the right for all people and all countries to self-determine their food and agricultural policies, based on the centrality of local food systems and small-scale food producers

- Agrarian reform and the sharing of the commons, land, water, seeds, territories

- Peasant rights, with the implementation of the UNDROP, for the recognition of peasants’ dignity and collective rights

- Agroecology, with a shift of paradigm away from human domination over nature. We are not the owners and masters of nature, we are part of it and we want to live in harmony in our territories

- Peasant and popular feminism, with this very basic and simple idea that every person is a person, and that the dignity of each human being should be protected and enhanced.

So what is needed to move in this direction?

In this run-up to our international conference, we are in a process of deep reflection about what needs to be done to reverse the relation of power, which for the moment is favorable to the deepening of the capitalist and extractivist disaster. Through collective discussions we have identified several priorities:

- We need to get rid of the WTO and of the trade order dominated by transnational corporations and imperialist powers. For this, we need to build a new trade framework based on food sovereignty.

- We need to put the issue of the commons, of agrarian reform and the fair sharing of land and water rights back at the center of discussions at the UN. For this, we need a new International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development

- We need to limit the damaging power of multinational companies via the Binding Treaty and to fight against the stranglehold of business on public policy and in particular on the UN system.

- We need to build agroecology schools everywhere, in order to strengthen people’s formation both at technical and political levels. This is key to mitigate climate change, as was discussed in the FAO symposium on agroecology in 2016 in China already.

- We need to strengthen our member organizations and to exchange experiences on restoration after natural disasters, so that peasants’ organizations are ready to face the consequences of the climate crisis and to build back better after disasters.

- We need to strengthen our alliances with other social movements in order to build common strategies and common struggles in order change the current relation of power and allow other initiatives and policies to be implemented.

And last but not least, we need to promote a different narrative.

Our collective vision of the future is profoundly shaped by our ideas of the past. History has been written by "the winners", often rich white men, from their point of view, in order to defend the interests of the elite.

They imposed the vision that modernity meant progress, that Western civilization brought democracy to the world, that technical innovation and business competition brought a better life. They imposed the vision that peasants were backward, by definition something of the past that needed to be erased for a modern society to flourish.

This narrative is destructive. It is one of the causes of the current crisis. This narrative is cementing the interests of the wealthiest, while inequalities are increasing, life expectancy is falling, wars and armed conflicts are multiplying, and ecosystems are being destroyed.

So we need to educate ourselves collectively about the reasons for this disaster, and so write history from the peasant's point of view, creating a different narrative, a story that makes peasants’ roles visible, a story that emphasizes the strength of social struggles to make a difference, a story that brings a mobilizing vision, that will inspire and encourage people to continue to fight for a better world and these so much needed changes.

We need to reclaim our peasant past in order to reclaim and build a future of hope.

This is a huge task, where peasants and scholars we all need to work together. I believe this is what the Journal of Peasant Studies has been supporting for years. Therefore we need to strengthen and deepen this collaboration between scholar-activists and the peasant movement to continue to change the world together.

Viva the Journal of Peasant Struggles

Viva peasants!