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La Via Campesina Declaration on
Trade, Markets and Development

"Globally, more than 80% of smallholders operate
in local and domestic food markets

by La Via Campesina
Nairobi, Kenya

"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)

(Nairobi, July 19, 2016) 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.

We call on the UNCTAD and its member states to support the collection of comprehensive data on local, domestic and informal -- both rural and urban -- markets linked to territories to improve the evidence base for policies, including sex-disaggregated data, and incorporating this as a regular aspect of national and international data collection systems.

We recommend transparent and fair pricing of all agricultural products that provides full remuneration for smallholders’ work and their own investments, including rural women. Pricing policies should give smallholders access to timely and affordable market information to enable them to make informed decisions on what, when and where to sell, guarding against the abuse of buyer power, particularly in concentrated markets.

We demand public and institutional procurement programs that allow smallholders to rely on regular and stable demand for agricultural products at fair prices and for consumers to access healthy, nutritious, diverse, fresh and locally produced food, including during crises and conflicts. We want these procurement programs to service public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, homes for the elderly and public servants’ canteens, by providing food produced by smallholders through participatory mechanisms involving them in the process. We reiterate our calls for a permanent solution to the public stockholding issue -- considering the imbalances in the domestic support allowances accorded to developed countries -- and our commitment to building these robust public and institutional procurement programs.

For these to succeed, we remind national governments that they must guarantee fair and equitable access to land, water, territory, and biodiversity, referring them to the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. 

Food is a human right and must not be treated like a simple commodity. We call on the 2016 UNCTAD Conference to rethink how it addresses the issue of food and its relationship to trade and development. Peasants are at the heart of food production and what we urgently need is Food Sovereignty -- requiring the protection and renationalization of national food markets, the promotion of local circuits of production and consumption, the struggle for land, the defense of the territories of indigenous peoples, and comprehensive agrarian reform -- not the false promises of Green Revolution driven input- and capital-intensive and dependent production systems that operate under the false premise of competitiveness that only works when it undermines the livelihoods of farmers elsewhere. 

We remind governments that they have obligations to meet when it comes to providing quality public services required for a dignified life in the countryside (health, education, etc.), and that these obligations cannot be met without fair prices that protect local farmers from profit-hungry transnational corporations (TNCs) and an international trade system that currently only serves the interests of agribusiness and other corporate elites. As a UN body, UNCTAD should strive to be coherent with its other ongoing efforts, including but not limited to the effective realization of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Together with allies in Nairobi, and throughout the world, we invite all to join us in the struggle for Food Sovereignty and an end to corporate-led “free trade” promoted through undemocratic institutions such as the WTO.

Published in In Motion Magazine July 30, 2016