Farmers’ movements in South Asia recognize International Peasants’ Day

April 17th marks the Global Day of Peasant Struggle, celebrated internationally by La Via Campesina and our friends all over the world. Farmers’ movements in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan honored the death of 19 farmers in Brazil and all other martyrs who have sacrificed their life defending peasants’ rights. The theme this year was “Resistance grows in defense of seeds.”

History of the Global Day of Peasant StruggleFrom Selena Trame

It was April 17, 1996, a calm day in the northern Brazilian municipality of Eldorado dos Carajás, where the country’s most renowned social movement, the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) had organized a demonstration against the federal appropriation of a vacant ranch where nearly 3,000 rural working families were living and cultivating the land. The protest turned violent when the secretary of public security ordered police to clear the roadway – “at any cost”. The operation was costly indeed: nineteen people lost their lives in that event that would come to be known as the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre.

Word of the massacre ricocheted throughout the world, particularly north to Mexico where the international peasant movement known as Via Campesina was gathered for its second conference in Tlaxcala. Via Campesina was only three years in the making at the time, but had already achieved much. The movement boasts a unique global base of farmers, fishers, and pastoralists, connecting labor movements, women’s organizations, and a host of underrepresented and mostly rural members. The conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico would prove to be historic – it was there that Via Campesina solidified its groundbreaking framework of “food sovereignty” – redefining the fundamental right to food to the advantage of food-producing peasants themselves.

But when Via Campesina’s leaders and organizers learned of what had occurred in Brazil that fateful day, their world stood still. Anything that happened within MST struck a chord within Via Campesina – the two groups were intrinsically tied from the moment MST helped pen the international movement’s founding documents. Via Campesina simultaneously grieved the loss of its colleagues in Brazil and reflected on similar incidents of violence against peasant activists in Latin America and around the world. The movement quickly recognized a public awareness gap that it was convinced could be filled by education and advocacy by and for peasants. Via Campesina spared little time and declared April 17 an annual celebration of peasants everywhere in honor of those killed in Brazil.

Commemoration in South Asia by LVC  members

April 17th brought a strong resistance across Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. The member organization of La Via Campesina, Bangladesh Krishok Federation (BKF), Bangladesh Kishani Sabha(BKS) and Bangladesh Adivasi Samity organized a discussion meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh focusing this year’s theme slogan “Resistance grows in defense of seeds”.

The meeting called upon the small scale peasants worldwide to build strong resistance struggle in order to protect, conserve and restore the indigenous seeds and genetic resources. The meeting slated the TNCs’ efforts to take over the peasants seeds which has been evolved since thousands of years. The meeting also put emphasis the strengthening of the Global Campaign on Food Sovereignty.

BKF President Badrul Alam condemed the government’s introduction and approval of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh as against the interest of the peasants as well as consumers in the country. Conscientious citizens should organically build strong resistance against this decision since genetically engineered brinjal seed will contaminate the local seeds and be more detrimental to the environment, soil and human health. Calling out the adverse impacts of the green revolution, Badrul Alam urged the government to come up with a genuine national agrarian policy which will prioritize the sustainable peasants based agriculture including view of agro-ecology as farming method. Peasants demand a genuine agrarian reform for food sovereignty which would eradicate the rural poverty eventually.

Meanwhile, in Nepal, LVC member All Nepal Peasants’ Federation (ANPFa) organized an interaction program in Kathmandu to mark the day. The program was chaired by acting president of ANPFa, former Minister Keshab Lal Shrestha. Honorable Deputy Prime Minister Com. Bamdev Gautam, Honorable Minister for Agriculture Development Hari Prasad Parajuli, Honorable Minister for Land Reform Dal Bahadur Rana were few special guests to name.

The program started with one minute silent paying tribute and homage to the Martyrs was conducted by deputy general secretary of ANPFa, Balram Banskota. Honorable CA member and ICC member of LVC com. Shanta Manavi, General Secretary of ANPFa Prem Dangal, Constituent Assembly members, Peasant leaders, members of right to food and food sovereignty groups, and media person including youth and women peasants were present in this special gathering.

Besides highlighting the history and importance of observing international day of peasant struggle by Via Campesina members, the program also discussed the ways and mechanism of professionalization of agriculture in Nepal. Agri-experts and bureaucrats also presented their papers on transformation of Nepali Agriculture where as ANPFa leaders including Com. Prem Dangal shared the achievement of national and international peasant movement.

In the program, Com. Bamdev Gautam highlighted the role of agriculture in the national development where as agricultural minister Hari Parajuli shared his plan of changing the face of Nepali agriculture from subsistence oriented to commercial.

Commemoration by LVC friends

In memory of the massacre of 19 Brazilian landless peasants Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (BAFLF) and Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Women Labour Association (BAFWLA) jointly have observed International Day of Farmers’ Struggles declared by Via Campesina April 17th. This year they arranged several actions including a human chain, procession and rally demanding farmers’ right on seeds, to stop farming GMO seeds especially BT Brinjal, strengthen Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation, Govt. seed agency and ensuring food sovereignty rights of people through actual land and agri-reform.

After human chain, procession and rally BAFLF and BAFWLA also organised discussions in BRRI Auditorium, Gazipur. Mr. Mahamudul Hasan Manik, vice president of BAFLF presided over the meeting while Golam Sorowor conducted the same. Ms. Hazera Sultana, Member of Parliament and also honorable adviser of Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Women Labour Association, was present as the chief guest at the discussion meeting. The discussants urged the authorities to fulfill farmers demands. They also added we should continue our struggle against Multi national seed companies and their local agents. Among others Nasrin Sultana, the Chairperson of BAFWLA, Mamun Hossain, Assistant General Secretary of BAFLF and others Farmers activists took part in the deliberation.

Images from solidarity in Pakistan (HRCP)