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In Mobilizing

Is there a commitment by the United Nations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and various governments to safeguard the interests of small-scale farmers, food producers, and consumers?

The Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC), hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization, is currently underway in Colombo from February 19 to 22. Participants include policymakers, government officials, and representatives from civil society organizations.

Across the globe, from France and Belgium to India, hundreds of thousands of farmers are currently advocating for their rights on the streets. The challenging economic landscape, marked by soaring input costs and the inability to secure fair prices for their products, has led to a distressing rise in farmer suicides. Small-scale farmers face the threat of displacement from their lands as large agri-companies, supported by governments, assert dominance over vital resources like water, pastureland, beaches, lagoons, and forests. The adverse effects of climate change, including escalating floods, typhoons, and desertification, have compelled millions to abandon their homes. Additionally, the repercussions of bilateral and multilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), stemming from World Trade Organization (WTO) recommendations, are pushing small-scale farmers and food producers out of the market. The inherent uncertainties associated with agriculture are prompting the younger generation to veer away from this profession.

The Sri Lankan government is currently hosting the 37th Session of the Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC), yet it appears to be unaware of the challenges faced by local farmers. As the Maha harvesting season unfolds, Sri Lankan farmers are urging the government to establish a guaranteed price for their produce and strengthen the role of the state-owned Paddy Marketing Board. Their demands also include a plea for the cessation of subsidies to large-scale rice millers, viewed as a monopoly exploiting the farmers. Furthermore, these farmers are calling on the government to address longstanding issues, such as the renovation of state-owned paddy storage facilities. Despite being persistent demands over decades, successive governments have yet to address these concerns raised by Sri Lankan farmers.

The government is distributing freehold land titles to farmers and making amendments to land laws, aiming to establish a new land market within the country. However, alongside these initiatives which allow farmers to use their lands as collateral, there are many other actions being taken that threaten the well-being and livelihoods of small-scale farmers and food producers. Despite facing an economic crisis, the government has allocated substantial funds for importing food items with low nutritional value, all the while neglecting the legitimate concerns raised by farmers within the country.

Moreover, the government cannot regulate prices, with successive administrations endorsing the dismantling of established mechanisms designed for price control. As a consequence, the average Sri Lankan consumer is now confronted with the challenge of accessing both nutritious and affordable food. Alarming statistics from the World Food Program (WFP) indicate that 6.3 million Sri Lankans are currently grappling with food insecurity, urgently requiring humanitarian assistance. The WFP also notes that 5.3 million Sri Lankans are forced to skip meals, a trend that poses a significant setback to the strides previously made in human development.

In 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a publication titled ‘Leaving no one behind: How Blue Growth can benefit women, youth, indigenous groups, and migrants.’ This document emphasizes the goal of promoting the sustainable development of aquatic resources to benefit communities dependent on these resources for their livelihoods and food security. However, it appears that the FAO is advocating for certain policies, such as agricultural modernization, commercialization, Private Public Partnerships for food production, digitization, and the promotion of one country, one crop. These initiatives tend to overlook the concerns and needs of rural farmers, small-scale fishermen, milch farmers, and other small-scale food producers.

As farmers, we seek clarity on how the aforementioned policies are positively impacting our well-being. The implementation of these policies often requires a level of harshness that raises questions about the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) commitment to upholding human rights, as outlined in the UN declaration.

The United Nations should ideally function as a platform for mitigating and preventing climate change. However, certain UN institutions are now endorsing the financialization of climate change. Additionally, we strongly oppose the push for agriculture modernization and private sector investments in agriculture, as these initiatives appear to primarily benefit the corrupt elite rather than provide tangible advantages for farmers and consumers.

Fundamentally, we reject false solutions that fail to tackle the underlying issues confronting food producers. Our demand is for a transformation of agriculture towards agroecology, an approach that addresses global warming, upholds the dignity of all communities, and fosters food sovereignty. We call upon the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to play a proactive role in encouraging nations worldwide to endorse and ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, a declaration approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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