Transnational corporations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and all the many tools in global capitalism’s arsenal have radically transformed the world. La Via Campesina is a transnational movement that represents the grievances and demands of farmers from around the world whose lives have been disrupted by globalization. This movement and the 200 million small-scale farmers around the world it has mobilized are a powerful demonstration of the fact that not everyone feels that they have been served well by economic globalization.
From small organizations of discontented farmers dispersed throughout Latin America, La Via Campesina coalesced into a transnational peasants’ movement with its mouth to the ears of several international institutions. Farmers the world over feel that despite any cultural differences they may have, they are united by a common interest in protecting their livelihoods. This feeling is what has fueled the growth of what may be one of the largest social movements in the world.
As Awa Djigal, a small-scale farmer and La Campesina member, said, “It is a struggle for peasants and the poor. But a movement like this allows us to globalize this struggle. Individually, we would never get anywhere. For a long time peasants didn’t know what was at stake in these negotiations. But through this movement we’ve become more educated. Now we can speak for ourselves.”
On the ground, the first stirrings of La Via Campesina happened in Latin America throughout the 1980’s when the continent underwent an era of peasant civil society networking while under the shadow of economic reforms. One marker of this networking process was the Continental Conference of Agrarian Reform and Peasant Movements, held in Managua in 1981, where peasant organizations found their first opportunity to begin sharing their experiences and forming a common sense of struggle.
Similar opportunities emerged as the 80’s progressed, and these were not limited to meetings with farmers from the American continents. Also during this decade, peasant organizations experimented with different ways to structure an umbrella organization that could effectively represent the voices of its many constituent organizations. Ultimately, in 1993, representatives of peasant organizations from four different continents founded La Via Campesina in Mons, Belgium.
Since that time, thousands La Via Campesina members have demonstrated whenever large-scale multilateral organizations meet to discuss food and agriculture. Through their work, the concept of food sovereignty – which was developed and launched at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome – has been amplified by global organizations, institutions, and governments. Food sovereignty is a concept that innovates and expands on the more common “food security” in that it centers power and political control with those most impacted.
La Via Campesina has expanded to encompass 164 local and national organizations in 73 countries and prides itself on its decentralized and democratized organizational structure. It is a farmer-led movement of organized opposition to land grabs, corporate influence on food systems and policies, and free-trade agreements, and a movement that forwards its own policies. This structure may be the key to the enduring loyalty of its many members.
Through tactics like mass protests and strategic lobbying, La Via Campesina has asserted its presence and pushed its arguments into the international discourse on globalization. In the context of rising corporatism around the world, La Via Campesina’s strategies and networks are emblematic of the sort of global collective action that can be achieved when people mobilize around a cause that is truly resonant.
Learn more: www.viacampesina.org/en