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Home >> PAN AP Congress 2013 >> Message from the Executive Director – Sarojeni V. Rengam (PAN AP)

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Message from the Executive Director – Sarojeni V. Rengam (PAN AP)

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In her speech, Sarojeni Rengam highlighted the fact that monopoly capital was the root cause for the unprecedented push for profits and control of resources and people. This resulted in communities being impoverished and losing their livelihoods and their lands and access to the forest and aquatic resources. Corporations with the collusion of governments and elites which grabbed at these resources cause increasing human rights violations across the affected communities.

However the Congress honoured and celebrated the resistance that has grown from the empowerment and the leadership of women and men in the forefront of the struggle

…read the Executive Director's speech

Empowering Communities, Protecting the Environment and Building Sustainable Livelihoods

 

PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (PAN AP) CONGRESS

2-4 September, 2013, Penang, Malaysia

Good Morning!  It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to greet you and welcome you all to the third PAN AP Congress entitled, Empowering Communities, Protecting the Environment and Building Sustainable Livelihoods.  I am happy to note that we have participants from  ---- countries from Asia and the Pacific as well as a few from the other regions of the world including the Regional Coordinators from PAN International.  Welcome!

We meet today in the midst of an ongoing economic and climate crisis and face high food prices and their volatility, loss of food self-sufficiency, loss of food culture and food contaminated with pesticides, GMOs and other pollutants.  One major cause is the collapse of food self-sufficiency due to imposition on the South of neoliberal policies and export oriented agricultural production by the International Financial Institutions and the WTO.  These policies have led to local food shortages and hence, the food crisis that is more acute in developing countries. The situation is not a temporary one; we are faced with food price volatility on an on-going basis.  The financial and food crisis indicates the failure of existing systems of finance and food production and the failure of IFIs, and national governments that are perpetuating the paradigm of unsustainable growth for profit.  We know the root causes – monopoly capital – the unprecedented push for profits and control of resources and people.

As a result, our communities are being impoverished and losing their livelihoods and their lands and access to the forest and aquatic resources.   These are being grabbed by corporations with the collusion of our governments and elites.  There are increasing human rights violations in our communities and our lives.  As peasants, plantation and agricultural workers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and women resist this onslaught, they are criminalized, beaten, raped and killed. And they continue their resistance and they win against all odds

That is what we honour and celebrate - the resistance that has grown from empowerment and the leadership of women and men in the forefront of the struggle!!

I am honoured to highlight here four of the successes and struggles of the people’s movements that PAN AP has been involved.

Campaign for the elimination of hazardous technologies:

The first one is the struggle of KMP peasants in the Philippines to protect their health and the lands from contamination with Golden Rice was demonstrated when 400 farmers uprooted the controversial Golden Rice planted in an 800-square meter experimental farm of the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) last 8 August.  Controversial since many questions remain about its health and environmental safety, for example, there is no way to ensure that a GMO field trial does not contaminate neighbouring fields.  Recent cases of unapproved GM rice or Liberty Link rice in the US contaminate the US rice exports and the detection of unapproved GM traits in rice from China show how field trials lead to contamination and serious consequences for farmers, consumer and markets.

Syngenta, one of the world's largest pesticide and seed corporations, owns the patent on Golden Rice and is leading the 'public-private partnership' with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In this case, IRRI, Syngenta and the other Golden Rice promoters are putting the region's most important cultural, food and agricultural crop at risk with 800 square meter open field tests of a variety not approved for human consumption and in an area home to many traditional varieties cultivated by local farmers.

It’s also controversial since we do NOT need it!  There are many other rich sources of Vitamin A including carrots, sweet potatoes, green vegetables and herbs.  More important and what is needed is a nutritious diet.

So it is right that Filipino peasant leader Wilfredo Marbella who was among the farmers who uprooted the Golden Rice said, “Golden Rice is nothing but a poison that will kill the people and agriculture. It wouldn’t work as promised.”

It was bold move and brave display of commitment to fight harmful and profit-oriented technology that promotes corporate monopoly control over seed resources while compromising the environment and impoverishing the small food producers.   As the small food producers have rejected GE crops, so have the consumers particularly from Korea and Japan have rejected GE food through the huge mobilizing and awareness building by groups who here - Consumers Korea and Consumers Union Japan.

The second major success took place in the Indian state of Kerala where until recently; endosulfan was routinely sprayed from airplanes onto cashew plantations.  Together with the community in Kasargod, Thanal and other groups campaigned tirelessly to ban endosulfan and in 2002, they secured an order by state officials banning all uses of endosulfan in the state of Kerala and in the last few years won compensation for the people of Kasargod.  At that time people in Kasargod suffered from an unusually high incidence of cerebral palsy and other central nervous system disorders, congenital neurological disorders, body deformations, cancers, reproductive disorders, miscarriages and endocrine disruption. Endosulfan residues measured in cow milk and flesh showed endosulfan contamination more than 100 times the permissible levels.  The actions of the community, Thanal and many other groups spearheaded the inclusion of endosulfan in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Pesticides in general, continue to negatively impact the health and lives of millions of agricultural workers, their communities and consumers worldwide as well as causing great damage to biodiversity and the environment. Pesticide impacts compromise people’s ability to work, earn a living and conduct community and livelihood functions.  Long-term chronic effects – including systemic damage and diseases, cancer, reproductive health problems and hormonal disruption – seriously threaten the long-term survival of rural communities.  With farmers, the problems of pest resistance and resurgence intensify a heavy reliance on pesticides: resorting to more poisonous pesticides, increasing the amounts sprayed or using dangerous cocktails, all of which intensify health impacts. Many fall into severe debt and poverty to keep up with this increasing chemical use and crop loss.  

The Big 6 corporations, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, [i] Dow, Monsanto and DuPont, control the current priorities and future direction of agriculture research worldwide.  They control 59.8% of commercial seeds and 76.1% of agrochemicals and account for at least 76% of all private sectors R&D in these two sectors. These corporations are pushing the use of highly hazardous pesticides that cause human health and environmental devastation. 

As a result, on December 3 2011, PAN International brought charges against 6 Agrochemical Transnational Corporations to the Permanent People’s Tribunal for violations of human rights including the right to health, economic, social and cultural rights, rights of indigenous peoples, rights of women and children.  Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the Defendant agrochemical TNCs "responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children's rights."  The Tribunal also found agrochemical TNCs responsible for violation of indigenous peoples' human rights, and further found that "their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life." 

A moral victory for PAN that has inspired it to continue its work on monitoring and publicizing corporate unethical behavior.

The third is on Land struggles:

“Our struggle for land is a struggle for our lives” has been the clarion call of landless women and men throughout Asia.  And in India, the Dalit women in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have organized their resistance through the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum and APVVU and these have met results where land has been given to Dalit women.   The Dalits are often agricultural workers earning wages below the legislated minimum wage and women labourers receive lower pay than men.  In one area in Andhra Pradesh, Dalit women agricultural workers investigated public lands illegally turned into grazing lands by local landlords and through a combination of legal efforts, rallies and demonstrations and in spite of the attempts of the landlords to frustrate them, the women won the right to the 32 acres of land illegally appropriated by local landlords. While the land is in the individual names of the women who fought for it, the women have agreed that all 40 landless families in the village should have access to the land. The land is planted to 12 varieties of food crops and traditional ways of pest management and organic fertilizer are used. Land acquisition, food security and sustainable agriculture are victories made possible by the determination of the Dalit women and the support of their community.

In Indigenous peoples communities the demand is for recognition and respect of their ancestral domain or as the Orang Asal of Malaysia call it their Native Customary Rights.  In Malaysia, these rights are recognized by law but not by the State.  Is it Contradictory?  Yes, because the protest and the resistance of the Orang Asal in Malaysia has been one of courage to assert their rights against the State machinery that denies them their rights and criminalises them.  There are more than 400 legal cases in the courts by the Orang Asal in Sarawak and even when the courts recognize their Native Customary Rights, the state does not.  The access to the forest and land of indigenous peoples’ are being grabbed unabated by the Sarawak state government and given to corporations on lease contracts.   In Mindanao, Philippines, an indigenous community leader of Opol, Gilbert Paborada was killed when he led his community in reclaiming their lands from a company, A Brown which was given their land on concession by the local Mayor.

Land grabbing is not a new phenomenon but it has intensified in the last few years.  This is the natural consequence of depleting natural resources brought by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.  This particular phenomenon is the result of the food crisis, rich countries resorted to land grabbing for food production and investing in overseas farming to boost their own food security.  In Asia there is a pattern of corporations grabbing lands of indigenous peoples and peasants with the collusion of governments, elites and landlords to expand plantations, intensive aquaculture and livestock systems, floriculture, contract farming and agrofuel production.  In 2012 alone GRAIN, an international CSO documented 416 recent large-scale land grabs by foreign investors for the production of food crops covering 35 million hectares of land in 66 countries. Their documentation identifies Africa as the main target for land grabbing but Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe are similarly being targeted. GRAIN’s data shows that most of the 298 land grabbers documented are from the agribusiness sector, financial companies and sovereign wealth funds that are responsible for about a third of the deals. And on many occasions there is overlap. For instance, the data shows how Cargill, one of the world's largest agribusiness companies, has been acquiring hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland through its hedge fund Black River Asset Management.  Cargill as well as many agribusiness reaped huge profits during the 2008 food crisis while people were starving unable to have access to food. 

But we have another way:

We have our resistance of oppressive systems and institutions and we have our solutions for advancing food sovereignty and ecological agriculture.

In the area of food sovereignty in our 2009 Declaration we have claimed our right and the right of all excluded and marginalized people to restore and recover the regenerative ability of nature by reorienting our methods of production, consumption and marketing.  We have demanded the need to deviate from the present destructive processes of the greedy exploitation of humans and nature to ensure the long-term survival of all life forms.  We also called for the people’s right to food, right to land and productive resources.  We will also uphold the People’s Convention on Food Sovereignty* as the sustainable framework for food production and distribution, and for national and international trade and investment policies.

The expanding Biodivesity Ecological Agriculture Movement (including all forms of agriculture that nurture the ecosystem i.e. organic agriculture, natural farming, agro-ecology or biological farming) looks at agriculture as a holistic system, where other key concerns besides yield increases, are considered in making decisions about development. These ecological agriculture systems have tended to learn from, and build on traditional farming with the tools and technology that local farmers have utilized. This learning, innovating and building is an integral aspect in creating appropriate and sustainable forms of agriculture.  These approaches place food security as its principal concern, within a holistic framework encompassing production, environment, women's participation and democratic functioning.  Today more than 1 million farmers in Andhra Pradesh are practicing “No Pesticide Use Management” and around 20,000 farmers in Tamil Nadu are practicing low external input agriculture without the use of pesticides. In Indonesia GITA PERTIWI in the last five years has trained 5,000 (90% women) farmers in Java on farmer-fields schools implementing integrated pest management who have been reducing pesticides use drastically.  Another local group, CEDAC works with 149,000 farmer families and 56,000 practice System of Rice Intensification or SRI. In the Philippines, there are now 35,000 farmer members in 47 provinces in the Philippines with 64 farmer rice breeders and 200 volunteer farmer trainers.  They have recovered more than 1000 traditional varieties, around 1000 MASIPAG bred rice varieties, and 273 farmer-bred lines developed.   These programmes are showing that agriculture and food production is possible without the massive inputs of chemicals and systems that deplete the soil, nature and people.  It’s impossible to mention the hundreds of examples, models and experiments that are ongoing but they exist and the light the way.

Advancing Food Sovereignty, Gender Justice and Environmental Sustainability

We have achieved much.  Yet, we are faced with new and old challenges that continue to threaten the lives and livelihood of landless peasants, small food producers, women, indigenous peoples, fisherfolks, agricultural workers, consumers and other sectors.

Old challenges take new forms and new ones further intensify the old ones:

  • the concentration of wealth and power of corporations – the capture of governments, resources and policies by these corporations.
  • the global financial mechanisms and institutions whose policies impoverish the world’s population and destroy our resources
  • the loss of democracy and the rights of people trampled for profits and worse the criminalization of peasants, workers and marginalised groups who assert their rights
  • the challenges of the climate crisis

For more than 30 years now, PAN AP has worked together to support and strengthen the grassroots movements and groups of marginalized peoples to address these issues.  We have intensified our efforts over the last few years and more needs to be done to tackle the equity, ecology, climate, food and economic crises that are being forced on our children.   We have been involved with many women’s groups to strengthen the rural women’s movement with the launch and expansion of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition.  We have been in partnership with the peasants movement through Asian Peasants Coalition and with agricultural workers movement through Coalition of Agricultural Workers International and finally with the People’s Coalition of Food Sovereignty.  We have strong partnerships with more than 100 people’s organisations and CSOs and plan to strengthen that relationship through better consultations, programmes, activities and work on the ground that is effective and meets the needs of the partners.  

In conclusion, we believe that it is only with a strong people’s movement can real change that Empowers Communities, Protects the Environment and Builds Sustainable Livelihoods is pro-people and the environment can take place.  We are part of the change!!!

 

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