We, the common people
It has never been as clear that peoples and communities, the common people, con-
tinue to exist – at the same time as the “dominant” systems of the world become
more and more desperate to control them. We are speaking of the people who protect,
save and guard their native seeds and who in the widest sense grow food for their own
communities across the world. The people who live in resistance and demand with in-
creasing strength their own autonomous governments in order to defend their ancestral
lands. They are communities which have always placed their lives at the service of the
world – exercising a care and balance between plants, animals, water sources and
between “natural and spiritual beings” - and cultivating a memory and presence in the
environment around us of both our living and our dead.
A new report from GRAIN offers a deep analysis of the data available on agricultural
systems and food production internationally, and makes six central conclusions.
The first conclusion is that the peasantry continue to be those who , on small areas of
land, producer the majority of the world’s food needs - above all in terms of feeding
families, communities and local markets.
The second conclusion is that the majority of farms internationally are small farms,
which continue to be reduzed in number due to a myriad of eradicating forces. If this
tendency is not reversed through resistance which includes a process of genuine agrar-
ian reform, the existing process of expulsion of people, including children, will be even
Thirdly, the the entirety of these small scale farms are squeezed into less
than a quarter of the world’s agricultural land – and this proportion is decreasing.
A fourth certitude is that while farms, lands and peasants are being lost there is a cor-
responding increase in the number of large industrial agriculture projects. In the last 50
years around 140 million hectares of land – significantly more than the entire agricul-
tural land area of China – has been appropriated to plant monocultures of soya beans,
palm oil, canola, sugar cane and corn – all by industrial means.
The fifth conclusion is that technically – using data extrapolated from national census
records from almost every country in the world – small farms are more productive that
enormous industrial agriculture operations – in spite of the enormous power and re-
sources held by internaitonal agricultural companies.
The sixth and last conclusion is that the majority of peasants are women. In spite of their
contributions that continue to be marginalised, are not recognised in official statistics
and as so continue to be discriminated against in terms of the control of land.
Today we must recognize that the life of peoples – and the very future of peasant com-
munities - is in radical confrontation with systems which aim only to control the great-
est amount of riches, relations, people, common goods and any profitable activities
through the development of laws, dispositions, policies, programs, projects and cash
payments. Agroindustry is a representation of this – the production of crops (not just
foodstuffs) through increasingly sophisticated (not necessarily more efficient) methods
on large land areas aimed at harvesting large volumes and maximum profit at any cost.
This industrial logic perpetrates extreme violence against natural scale processes and
vital cycles and promotes so called “vertical integration” - the crazed race to add eco-
nomic value to foodstuffs through the addition of more and more processing and priva-
tisations systems (landgrabbing, certified seeds, the sterilization and fertilisation of soils
by agrochemicals, agricultural mechanisation, transport, cleaning, processing, packag-
ing, storage, and again transport) before food is finally made available to the public
through supermarkets and restaurant chains.
As we already know, this sum of processes contributes to the extreme warming which
is part of the climate crisis (around 50% greenhouse gases come from the combined
process of “vertical integration”). This system also contributes to the subjugation of
people trapped - through one form or another – in this transnational and globalized
food system. A system which does not feed communities or neighbourhoods but in-
stead looks for their labour to do the most damaging aspects of the chain – while the
futures of farmers are robbed by industrial agricultural systems which reduces their
creative, dignified and enormously careful stewardship of the land to semi-slavery.
For these reasons, to produce our own food independently of the so-called global
food system is something profoundly political and subversive.
Landgrabbing, memory and resistance
It is undeniable that there is direct relationship between the loss of lands on one hand
and the advance of megamining projects, oil and natural gas extraction, and mono-
culture agriculture on the other. As outlined in the editorial, an enormous amount of
research remains to be done in order to uncover the true extent of the extractivist
projects and the fragmentation, dismantling and loss of indigenous and peasant held
territories and lands. As a minimum we can say that in Mexico alone 26% of the na-
tional territory is in the hands of mining concessions, and in Colombia the figure is
40%. Mining in Colombia goes hand in hand with rights abuses; “80% of the violations
of human rights which have occurred over the last 10 years occured in mining-energy
regions, and 87% of all displaced peoples from this period originated in these areas”.
If we run through country by country – a study which should be undertaken in a sys-
tematic way – we would encounter similar situations, including the extreme case of
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where percentages of lands handed over no
longer serve as a measure, but the number of dead in conflicts over minerals, dia-
monds, coltan and gold: more than 7 million have died violently in the last 15 years.
Conflicts over water are also recurrent. “In Africa for example, one in three people
suffer from scarcity of water and climate change is worsening the situation”. The de-
velopment in Africa of highly sophisticated indigenous water management systems
could help to alleviate this crisis, but these same systems are those being destroyed
by land grabbing – in the midst of claims that water in Africa is abundant, underused
and is ready to be utilised for agro-export agriculture” as we affirm in one of GRAIN’s
reports. Of course, this is not only a phenomenton in Africa.
Beyond the causes, which go from the monoculture fields of the industrial agricul-
tural system to the most severe and polluting forms of extractivism, passing oil wells,
electricity generation centres, biosphere reserves, REDD projects, megatourism,
real estate developments, motorway routes, mega-dams, multi-modal corridors, nar-
cotraffiking and cultivations, the reality is that there is a real attack underway
against our territorial memory, our memory of place – the lands which are our
vital surroundings, our common environment we need to recreate and transform our
existence: the spaces we give meaning to with our shared wisdom and knowledge,
with our common history.
To provoke scarcity and economic dependence, the international and multilateral
transnational systems have promoted the disabling of the capacity of communities to
feed themselves, or provide healthcare education and other needs. The effect of this
imposed precarity is the expulsion of populations and the jeopardising of their futures.
For these reasons Food Sovereignty remains deeply pertinent and a source of pro-
found hope as a tool to rebuild autonomy and the defence of our territories, as it
represents a living manifestation of our memories. The production of food from the
smallest community level upwards is a vital proposal – and examples exist that show
it is possible to reverse the damage that has been done.