LAHORE: Small farmers from Europe and Asia have agreed on building solidarity among small-scale food producers, resisting trans-national food companies and industrial agriculture to elevate human rights for rural people and strengthen agro-ecology.

This agreement was reached in a webinar organised by the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), a network of progressive organisations across the regions. It was titled ‘Food Producers Shall Not Go Hungry’ and joined in by viewers from 33 countries, including Pakistan.

Paula Gioia from La Via Campesina said the coronavirus pandemic proved that peasant agriculture could feed local populations with fresh, healthy food that did not depend on long supply chains.

Much of the society was realising the importance of localised, decentralised food systems as well as acknowledging the essential work of food producers.

She said that strengthening solidarity among European and Asian farmers’ movements was key to

Farmers’ representatives said that they had the capacity to feed people at much lesser financial and environmental costs provided they were guaranteed control over required resources and technology

survival of peasants hit hard by Covid-19. “No one should go hungry, including food producers,” she maintained.

The webinar participants were told that more than 90 per cent of farms in Europe were small; peasantry has been feeding people before and through Covid-19, with short supply chains; local communities contributed labour and farmers made direct sales through small shops.

Ms Gioia said the pandemic had shown the ugly face of European food industry, deepening the historical exploitation of migrant seasonal workers. It proved supermarkets as hotspots for transmitting coronavirus and that farmers’ markets were much safer for people to get nutritious food, while epidemics like Covid-19 were directly related to industrial agri-food systems.

Other speakers said that as governments failed to coordinate with one another, there was a deepening fear among the people that they would have to fend for themselves.

They lamented that farmers produced food under very difficult conditions and so far peasants and farm workers had received no support from governments, and that they were surviving because consumers recognised their contributions despite competition with powerful trans-national companies.

Farmers’ representatives said that they had the capacity to feed people at much lesser financial and environmental costs provided they were guaranteed control over required resources and technology.

They said people saw the capitalist model crumbling during the lockdowns and what worked during the pandemic was a people-to-people initiative.

The crisis also taught a lesson that it was better to grow diversified fruit for the local market as those growing monocultures to sell to faraway markets were hit the hardest. Those who did agro-ecological farming were able to build their own markets and sell directly.

The event was moderated by Farooq Tariq of the Pakistan Kissan RabitaCommittee and Yinfang Tang from Fian International.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2020