By Saulo Araújo, WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program Director

seed sovereignty

Members of ATC set up a table for the seeds and products fair in Estelí, Nicaragua. Photo credit: ATC

Today is the International Day of Farmers’ Struggles, La Via Campesina’s call to action for farmers’ seed sovereignty. The day coincides with the 36th anniversary celebration of the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), the leading La Via Campesina member organization in Nicaragua.

Last month, led by the ATC, four national Nicaraguan organizations joined forces in the support of food sovereignty and farmers’ rights to multiply and share their seeds. Together, these organizations represent an estimated number of 80,000 rural families in Nicaragua that served as hosts for La Via Campesina’s International Seminar on Peasants’ Seeds in the city of Estelí, 92 miles from the capital Managua.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the American continent, has been on the economic rebound for years. Nevertheless, the government still scrambles to pay for health care and education costs and many families still live with few resources to feed themselves. The Zero Hunger Program that provided financial support to peasant women barely scratched the surface of food insecurity in the country. Small-scale farmers’ cooperatives, with little cash to run even the most basic operation, have not been able to make a dent on the food supply chain.

Despite their country’s challenges, Nicaraguans have designed some of the most progressive laws in the western hemisphere, including and not limited to: the Food Sovereignty and Food Security and Nutrition Law of 2008 and End Violence Against Women Act of 2012. Nicaragua is also a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of our Americas (ALBA) – a regional alliance between Latin American and Caribbean nations that favors social investments. Even with these progressive policies making headway, Nicaragua still struggles with contradictions from their ties to the DR-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) – an agreement that gives political leverage to transnational corporations over local communities’ rights.

Local organizations do not seem intimidated by these contradictions in national and international policies. On the contrary, they have dealt with contradictions and challenges by strengthening alliances between national and international allies. The International Encounter on March 23 and 24, which WhyHunger supported through a small travel grant, brought together approximately 400 farmers from Nicaragua and international guests from Zimbabwe, Sweden, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, and the United States. The two-day meeting included site visits and a seed fair led by local farmers from different states of Nicaragua.

These timely events have been leading up to La Via Campesina’s call to action on April 17, International Day of Farmers’ Struggles, which is focusing on the power of seeds.

Why seeds, why now?

La Via Campesina’s efforts to defend small-scale farmers’ rights to seeds are based on the premise that seeds are the foundation of our food system. In other words, whoever controls the seeds controls the food system. According to ETC Group, “The top 10 companies account for 73 percent of the global market (up from 67 percent in 2007) and just three companies [Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta] control more than half (53 percent) of the global commercial market for seed.”

Without democratic control over seeds, we will not be able to achieve food sovereignty – the right of local communities to decide their own food policies – and end hunger.

UC Berkeley professor Miguel Altieri, one of the speakers in the event in Estelí, mentioned that there are “350 million farms in the world and 1.5 billion peasants who are responsible for 70 percent of the food produced in the planet. Peasants have preserved 1.2 billion different crop varieties which forms the foundation of world’s food.”

Farmers as well as consumers worldwide are entrenched in this long political war against the privatization of seeds and growing monopolization of seed supplies by few corporations. In the last twenty years, our agrobiodiversity – or the diversity of varieties of the same crop – have reduced drastically. We are now cultivating fewer varieties and the price of the seeds has skyrocketed. It should not be a surprise that marches against Monsanto have sprouted around the U.S., and petitions have flooded the offices in Congress.

The growing interest in the U.S. on eating healthy and supporting local farmers should be fertile ground for a profound social change in our food system. And today, April 17, WhyHunger is joining thousands of farmers and consumers around the globe in the defense of our seeds. We must continue building and supporting alliances domestically and internationally against hunger until everyone is able to enjoy fully their lives, with all the contradictions that might surface, but always with dignity and hope.

Join us in our event today at City University of New York – Grad Center (Room 9204) at 6pm for our panel “Food Justice, Food Sovereignty: Building Global Solidarity towards a Just Food System.” If you are not able to join us in person, please watch it online at


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By Katrina Moore and Saulo Araujo

Every year on April 17, the global peasant movement La Via Campesina calls upon their allies and member organizations to take action for the International Day of Peasants’ Struggles. This year, the organization renamed the event “International Day of Farmers’ Struggles” to draw attention to the challenges of peasant farmers worldwide. The events this Thursday, April 17 will focus on seed sovereignty, or the right of a community or individual to have access to and control over their agricultural seeds. The events are organized in memory of the 19 peasant farmers who were killed while defending their land rights on April 17, 1996 in Eldorado dos Carajás, Brazil.

intl day of peasants' struggleOn the evening of April 17, WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program is organizing a public panel in New York City called Food Justice, Food Sovereignty: Building Global Solidarity towards a Just Food System. The free panel features three allies and leaders of the food justice movement, including Chavannes Jean Baptiste, the general coordinator of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) in Haiti and member of La Via Campesina, who will speak about the importance of food and seed sovereignty to peasant families in Haiti and why the International Day of Farmers’ Struggles matters in their fight for seed, land and water rights. Nancy Romer, an ally of grassroots organizations and social movements, will share her perspective about food sovereignty and food justice in the context of building global solidarity, and Robert Robison, a leading voice on the right to housing in U.S. and global activist and policy networks, will offer final comments.

The panel is from 6:00-8:00pm EDT and will take place at the CUNY Graduate Center in Room 9204. For more information on the event, see the event’s Facebook page. Not in New York? You can watch the discussion can watch via live stream.

Here are more events happening across the nation and worldwide that you can join:

Live Stream: You can watch the discussion Food Justice, Food Sovereignty: Building Global Solidarity towards a Just Food System live from NYC via live stream through this link:

Chicago: On Friday, April 18, the Family Farm Defenders (FFD) and their allies will rally to protest price fixing in the dairy industry. The FFD’s annual protest at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange demands transparency and equity from the corporation, and occurs in solidarity with the International Day of Farmers’ Struggles. More information on the protest can be found on the FFD press release and on the event’s Facebook page.

Seattle: The Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) is hosting a seed exchange on Thursday, April 17 in honor of the day. Contributors to the CAGJ book, Our Food, Our Right: Recipes for Food Justice will read excerpts, and recipes from the book will be prepared in cooking demonstrations onsite. More info on the CAGJ event page and Facebook page.

San Francisco Bay Area: Local chapter of the US Friends of MST is organizing a report back form Brazil and a benefit concert to celebrate the International Day of Peasant Resistance. US Friends of MST organized a delegation with 12 people to visit MST families in the state of Goias and participate in the MST’s VI National Congress that was held in Brasilia last February. The report back will be held at La Pena Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) starting at 7pm followed by concert by local artists (Cradle Duende, Diana Gameros, & The Black Riders Liberation Party).

Madison: On the campus of the University of Wisconsin, the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) is organizing a rally to share seeds and is leading a pledge “to keep that seed freely available to anyone who wants to use it.” OSSI members hope to initiate a movement for free sharing of seed across the country and around the world. As a follow up to the April 17 rally, OSSI plans to hold an Open Source Seed Teach-In at 7:00pm on Tuesday, May 6, on the UW campus. For more details on the Open Source Seed Initiative visit, or contact Irwin Goldman ( or Jack Kloppenburg (

Global: La Via Campesina posted a map of global events related to the International Day of Farmers’ Struggles. Campaigns and rallies are happening on four continents, from Canada to Korea. Check out the La Via Campesina April 17 event map.

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If you’ve picked up a newspaper, checked your twitter feed or watched late night TV in the last few weeks, you’ve heard about the newest report on climate change and how it affects our food system. Here are a few articles that caught our eye recently…

4.10 climate change what we're reading

1. California Farmers: Drill, Baby, Drill (for Water, That Is)

How does California continue to produce so much food despite its most severe drought in decades? Food politics writer Tom Philpott reports that industrial agriculture is mining precious underground aquifers to support monocrops. These fossil groundwater supplies are emptying faster than they can regenerate, causing experts to warn of “potentially dire consequences for the economic and food security of the United States.” In the Imperial Valley, a natural desert that provides 80 percent of U.S.-consumed winter vegetables, water is irrigated from the Colorado River, which is expected to drop by as much as 45 percent by 2050 according to climate change models. What will this mean to the to 30 million people along its path who rely on the river for drinking water and  farmers in Arizona and Mexico who need that water to irrigate cropland? Read the full article on Mother Jones: California Farmers: Drill, Baby, Drill (for Water, That Is).

2. What Cuba Can Teach Us About Food and Climate Change

When the Cold War ended, the Cuban government was unable to afford the advanced technologies of modern agriculture. Cuban peasants mobilized to restructure the land for small-scale agriculture and develop agroecological practices to farm it, and are now facing challenges to maintain the hard-won model. Raj Patel writes about how we can use the knowledge gained in Cuba to address the global problem of climate change and diminishing resources. Read more on Slate: What Cuba Can Teach Us About Food and Climate Change.

3. Don’t Panic, Go Organic: The IPCC Report Should Be a Wakeup Call for Climate-Smart Food

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report about the worsening risks of climate change. Though many members of the media have taken a doom-and-gloom attitude to the report, Anna Lappé uses it as a “wake-up call” to take action for a more resilient food system. Lappé’s most recent book, Diet for a Hot Planet, discusses the food industry’s contribution to climate change and how sustainable agriculture can help reduce the effects of global warming. Read her article on Civil Eats: Don’t Panic, Go Organic: The IPCC Report Should Be a Wakeup Call for Climate-Smart Food.

4. WhyHunger Food Security Learning Center

The global food system accounts for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more on our Food Security Learning Center topic on Climate Change and the Food System, which digs into the specifics of what causes these emissions and how agroecology can ease the effects of global warming while feeding the planet.

Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments.

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farmworker awareness wekkJoin us in celebrating this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week, a national event that brings light to issues facing farmworkers and their families across the country. The annual event is organized by the Student Action for Farmworkers, a support organization that engages youth, students, and communities in increasing awareness of injustice in the agricultural system. The week of action began last Monday, March 24, and continues to next Monday, March 31, with events extending into early April. To find an event near you, check out the listingsfollow the Farmworker Awareness Week Facebook page, or peruse #NFAW2014.

How can you get involved?

Support our partners at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking model for social responsibility based on a unique partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and participating buyers. Started in 2010, the program is a comprehensive, verifiable and sustainable approach to ensuring human rights, better wages and working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields. Visit the CIW website to learn how to take action and call on major tomato purchasers like Publix, Wendy’s, Kroger and Ahold USA to join the Fair Food Program!

Urge the EPA to strengthen their proposed new farmworker safety rules. The safety standards, which were last updated in 1992, are meant to protect workers who use pesticides, but the rules do not go far enough. The proposed standards still allow children under 18 to use chemical pesticides and do not include the requirement to post medical emergency information or where and when pesticides should be applied. WhyHunger shared an article on these new rules in a recent blog post, and now there is an easy way to tell the EPA to make these rules more effective. Send a form letter to the EPA here.

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