Food sovereignty conference "Toward the workers-peasants movement" in the village Ljubiš on mountain Zlatibor - Serbia, 9-10 June 2012

Platform for agricultural reform adopted by workers and peasants organisations that participated in the Freedom Fight movement (Pokret za slobodu) conference in the village Ljubiš on Zlatibor 9th-10th of June 2012

The problems we are facing in agriculture are very similar to those that destroyed domestic industry, therefore we believe it's necessary:

    - To achieve much greater interconnectedness between workers and peasants organizations in their collective espousal of economic and agricultural reform which would create conditions for good and dignified life of present and future generations in this region; To establish the Coordination Committee of Workers and Peasants Organizations as a coalition of local organizations that would, in equal and democratic way, through their representatives in the Coordination Committee, advocate achievement of the goals that are in common interest of workers and peasants; To continue connecting with international organizations, such as the international peasants movement La Via Campesina, in order to spread our common regional and global struggle and to strenghten local organizations and entire regional workers-peasants movement; To organize more frequent assemblies and counsels of the representatives of workers and peasants organizations gathered in the Coordination Committee of Workers and Peasants Organizations; To democratize local organizations as much as possible in order for entire movement to have more legitimacy in representing the real interests of workers and peasants; To establish communication with all local organizations and associations and invite them to join the movement; To actively help the creation of new workers and peasants organizations; To form a team to continually promote all items of this platform; To make database about associations, organizations and cooperatives interested in engaging in the struggle for agricultural reform.

    - To espouse systemic agricultural reform that would, for the long term, solve the problems to which peasants call attention every season by their protests. Till now, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has reacted on problems in agriculture by short-term regulations which were passed in the middle of production season, bringing uncertainty among producers regarding subventions, products placement (marketing) and purchase price. Agriculture should be treated methodically and strategically; it's necessary for Serbian Parliament to adopt long-term strategy which would respect the voice and the needs of the peasants.

    - To demand limitation of import of agricultural products that are being produced in sufficient amount on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Import of cheap food from rich countries lowers the food price on local market, so local small producers are forced to sell food under the cost price, if they manage to sell it at all. That situation disables them to maintain production and live out of their work, which destroys local food production. It is necessary to encourage models of direct connection between consumers and food producers on local level, in order to help local food production and enable buyers to have insight in the method of food production. In that way is also avoided a market monopoly which is held by big sale and distribution centers. Beside that, occurrences of contagious diseases show that too large a number of middlemen between producers and consumers leads to the placement of unhealthy and contaminated food, where is very difficult to trace the source of contagion.

    - To demand limiting the right to property of agricultural land at 100 hectares in the case of natural persons and contribution (share, participation) of natural persons in legal person; At giving state land on lease (concession), local farmers and local agricultural cooperatives must have precedence (In leasing state land); To preclude sale of agricultural land to natural persons that don't have residence in the municipality where the land is located, as well as to legal persons founded by those natural persons; Accordingly, to revoke articles of Stabilisation and Association Agreement that enable sale of agricultural land to foreign natural persons at the end of fourth year after Agreement becomes effective, meaning from 2016; To prevent land grabbing by privatization and by cheap selling to big agribusiness companies, interested only in profit and market speculation.

    - To demand improvement of the conditions for founding cooperatives, because the precondition for survival of the village and development of agriculture is farmers joining in associations and cooperatives, on new principles and with clearly defined rights and obligations (duties) of members and cooperators; To adopt the law on cooperatives in accordance with the EU but with appreciation of specificities of local economy.

    - To restore agricultural combines (enterprises, facilities, complexes) and cooperatives that were distroyed by privatization. Agricultural combines (e, f, c) are well-rounded economic wholes which incorporate both production and processing as well as market placement, thus the enterprises that can sustain, in its entirety, the restoration of agriculture as strategic economic branch.

    - To create public companies that would be in charge of reefer trucks, warehouses and processing of agricultural products, in order to prevent exploitation and blackmailing of agricultural producers by intermediaries and resellers.

    - To demand limitation of margins for semi-products and all inputs in agricultural production, similar to recent limitation of margins for basic viands.

    - To maintain the struggle against production of genetically modified food and to oppose continual lobbying for changing the law against production of GMO; To demand better control of imported products regarding the presence of GMO.

    - To request creation of outposts (satellite classrooms) of the Faculty of Agriculture in smaller local communities; To encourage development of ecological, organic agriculture and staying, that is returning of the youth to the village; To introduce education on ecological agriculture in elementary school curriculum.

    - To demand adoption of Bolivian Law on Mother Earth which gives nature equal rights to humans, for the sake of saving Earth from destruction and pollution. By that law nature is given right to life and existence, right to vital cycle without human influence, right to cleanness of air and water, right for elements and nature structure not to be changed genetically, right for nature not to be affected by great mega development projects which destroy the balance of ecosystem and all life within it.

    Coordination Committee of Workers and Peasants Organizations

Food Sovereignty (Article published in Serbian daily newspaper Danas)

What is actually Food Sovereignty? Is there something in common between land grabbing in South America and in our region? What would the ecological-organic agricultural alternative in Europe look like, and is it developed in our country?

These are just some of the issues, local as well as global, which were discussed at the international political-activist-expert conference "Toward the workers-peasants movement", held last weekend in the village Ljubiš on Zlatibor, in the organization of "independent, non-partisan, and self-organised workers-peasants organization" Pokret za slobodu (Freedom Fight Movement), and with financial help of Rosa Luxemburg foundation.

If the clause from the Association Agreement by which foreigners are enabled to buy Serbian land starting 2014 isn't cancelled, farmers will face the threat of becoming cheap labor force on their own land.

About thirty representatives of workers and peasants organizations, mostly from Serbia, but also from the region, Europe and North America, as well as a group of experts and professionals skilled in questions of village, agriculture, cooperatives, organic and ecological agriculture gathered in Ljubiš... And after two days of intensive schedule, it could be said that the conference succeeded in its goal to map authentic workers-peasants scene in Serbia, as well as to position it in the wider context - regional, European, and world-wide.

Although the organizer, Pokret za slobodu, is a left-wing organization par exellence, the nature of the gathering could be considered informative-educative, rather than ideological. The most of the present workers and peasants are aming "left" more intuitively, not so much as "class-aware" individuals and organizations, but rather out of necessity of their own position of structural discrimination and marginalization.

Although the main conclusions of the conference are mostly of principial nature, it seems that from them also proceeds that "class awakening" goes necessarily along with defining "conditions of survival" of village and peasants. Gathered in one place, they sound almost like a manifesto: "The state shouldn't be waited for, it's time for the action 'from below'. It's the high time for Serbia to define the strategy for agriculture. Strategy must be written in the 'base'; when the Government and the Parliament adopt it, it becomes binding for all future ministers, in following few decades. Its long-lasting validity excludes issuing regulations on a daily basis which has been the only long-lasting practice for a long time. Village must be given prospect, staying, return and arrival of young people must be made possible. Usury (through usurious trading margins) must be systematically disabled. The laws on cooperatives must be (at least) after EU example (EU laws are far from ideal, but they are a seven miles step forward in respect to the current chaos). Postpone the term for allowance to buy land for foreigners till after the admission in EU. Return the unlawfully dispossessed cooperative property to its original owners. Continue the fight for ban on genetically modified food. Encourage the young to engage in organic, ecological, alternative agriculture. Make connections, exchange information, fight for our own rights and common interest..."

But, beside all the conclusions, realized contacts, and projected plans for the future, one of the greatest achivements of the Zlatibor meeting is the "translation" of some global (peasants'-agricultural) terms, concepts and phenomena - which are like 'lingua franca' of todays global peasants struggle - into the Serbian cultural code and social-political context.

Presenting the structure, values, organization and activities of the international peasants movement Via Campesina (which, in free translation, means 'the way of the peasants'), Genevieve Savigny, from French union of small agricultural producers "Confédération paysanne" (which is the part of European branch of the Via Campesina movement), has frequently returned to the term "Food Sovereignty" - which has been the key term of peasants struggle for almost 15 years.

By food sovereignty is meant production of food primarily for local and national market, and less for export, because a decrease of poverty and hunger, preserving of village life, economy and environment, as well as using resources in "sustainable" way are seen as the main goals of production. Via Campesina proclaims that every country has a right to protect its market, to possess a budget for subsidizing agriculture (which doesn't damage other countries), to determine alone its agricultural politics. At the same time, conviction that neoliberal model, based on intensive use of chemicals and on production of monocultures on vast areas of land, as well as on genetically modified food, is irresponsible to the future generations, is nearly the axiom of such discourse.

One detail which Genevieve Savigny has presented and elaborated has especially "shocked" local farmers, evoking disbelief - in France/EU only 21 sorts of seeds are allowed! Those who use "unallowed" seeds are facing very severe sanctions, so the epilogue is French farmers losing ability to grow and select their own seeds. Along with comments from the audience that in Serbia at least seeds are not scarce, interesting discussion has developed about what, in practice, means "democracy in agriculture" when powerful companies, like Monsanto, impose "absolute dictatorship" of their own seeds on the whole world.

Branislav Gulan, associate of the Serbian Chamber of Economy and member of the Board for Agriculture of SANU (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts), has sketched with few strokes the bleak reality of Serbian village today: 1,200 villages are in the process of disappearing, 50,000 village houses are completely empty, for 100,000 euros almost the whole village in Vojvodina can be bought, cattle fund is destroyed, number of the cattle is 41% smaller than in 1990, this year the least wheat in the last 50 years has been sown, every fourth privatization in agriculture is cancelled, and every one is poorly done, this and the previous structure of the Parliament are the first ones in Serbian history in which there is not one peasant, farmer... Gulan's point is that in Serbia, in current circumstances, only two courses of development are possible: either villages will "evolve" to farms in tycoons' possession, or the size of land estates will be limited and cooperativeness stimulated.

Nenad Ilić from Ratkovo, community Odžaci, founder of the association "Obruč", has demonstrated, on the basis of experience and rich documentation on nine years struggle against "predatory privatization of agricultural cooperative in his community", how the mechanism, or better yet, the chain of that operation looks like. Ilić's Don Quichotian fight had had effects, so he spoke quite optimistically, convinced that, in spite of everything, it's not impossible to overturn a predatory privatization: "We, people from Ratkovo, have found the winning combination. So, a positive outcome is possible. One should only act quickly..."

Ilić's story has served as a local illustration of one global process which, also, has been a topic of special conference panel - land grabbing. Development model based on expansion and expropriation of land has caused, on one hand, that large investors achieve enormous concentration of ownership over land and natural resources, while, on the other hand, local population is being moved and displaced with basic human rights being violated, and poverty, social stratification and pollution of environment are rising...

"It has to do with a modern form of colonization", says Genevieve Savigny, while Branislav Gulan, commenting on the same subject, warns that, if the clause from the Association Agreement by which foreigners are enabled to buy Serbian land starting 2014 isn't cancelled, farmers will face the threat of becoming cheap labor force on their own land. "Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria... they all postponed selling land to foreigners, there's no reason why we shouldn’t do the same", believes Gulan.

The observations of Ivan Zlatić from Pokret za slobodu could be taken as one of the leitmotifs of the conference: "Tycoons use very well the process of association of Serbia to the EU - through their influence on the authorities, they turn regulations to their benefit. It's time for us, from the other side, to start using Europe for defense of our rights. There are various alternative Europes - the workers'-peasants' one also".

Pressures from USA for genetically modified food

"Organic agriculture is great possible advantage for Serbia", believes Jelena Sajić, founder of media project "My Farm" and Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. "Unfortunately, pressures, primarily from USA, for introducing genetically modified food are considerable".

by Predrag Dragosavac

Published in Serbian daily newspaper Danas

Translated by Vladimir Bogićević

June 2012

Production of hunger (Article published in Serbian weekly newspaper Pečat)

According to the annual UN report, over 852 million people are suffering from hunger, and every year about 5 million children die from the effects of malnutrition. These numbers "trouble" mostly eugenicists, who solve the problem by declaring the hungry redundant, investing in their elimination.


In spite of economic embargo, the main weapon against the disobidient (the redundant), international community is struck by the report on situation in Cuba, the only country in Latin America that eliminated the problem of children malnutrition.

Owing to the organization of society on the principles of socialism, Cubans have mastered the mechanics of control of production flows and food distribution, having provided "a guaranteed food basket" with basic viands. In spite of economic difficulties, Cuba has never declared an excess of "hungry mouths", which should be eliminated by depopulation policy, but for decades has secured conditions for realization of basic human right to reproduction. To that end, every child up to 7 years of age is provided with a litre of milk a day, and children up to 13 years of age get additional subsidized yogurt, as well as additional proteins through their school and nursery meals. Social consumption also includes school meals (up to 15 years of age), as well as students and workers meals. On the list of priorities for food providing are pregnant women, wet nurses, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

In difference to Cuba, feudal system in Paraguay enables synchronized actions of local oligarchy, multinational agribusiness, and USA - which forced president Fernando Lugo to leave the moment he refused to serve their interests. In one of the poorest country of South America, where 60% of the population lives in misery caused by the fact that 85% of arable land is in the hands of 2% of the feudals, peasants have been systematically ruined and banished from their estates, in order for private fiefdoms to be enlarged. Repressive measures against peasants movement in Curuguaty were just an excuse for deposing Lugo, and problems began with strenghtening of agribusiness and arrival of Monsanto - which owns tantiemes in GM soy and cotton sown all across Paraguay, while 40% of soy producers and processors is in the hands of private American corporations, among which are Cargill, Syngenta and Agrosan. Considering that these giants enjoy congress protection (they're freed of paying taxes), and protect their interests via national alliances, Lugo's option was doomed to failure in advance. According to the claims of journalist Idilio Mendez Grimaldi, one of the reasons of president Lugo's departure is his refusal to allow admission of Monsanto's genetically modified cotton. When we add to that his refusal to extend residence permit for American troops on Paraguay soil, his "departure" can be viewed as natural and expected.

About involvement of politics in production of hunger speaks journalist Anthony Gucciardi, citing the example of brutal theft of alimentary articles in the amount of 14,5 billion dollars, committed by the corrupt Indian politicians. They stole over 57.000 tons of food from the state reserves, stored in government warehouse the size of four soccer fields, and no one has been called to responsibility yet. Although the law provides for food distribution to poor families, still nothing has been done for food to be finally distributed to the people, which proves it's not a shortage of food in India, but organized crime that brought 900 million Indians to starvation, and made half of their children underfed.

Andalusian alternative to capitalism

It's not just undeveloped regions - far from the eyes and from the heart of "progressive" world - that are exposed to the consequences of block-suppress-starve policy... Theft is taking place in the heart of Europe too, amidst the olive groves and vineyards of Andalusia, where landless peasants, season workers-olive pickers are starving, forced to take the road and seek their fortune after the harvest. Thanks to the appearance of Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, the charismatic mayer of Andalusian town Marinaleda, better known by his nickname Robin Hood mayer, and to his statement that "the solution to the crisis is outside of capitalism", the waves rose up in Brussels, and the media turned their attention to the disobedient citizens - rebels against the system - accusing the politicians for "production of hunger" and abject misery.

One of the simbolic acts of civil disobedience occurred in a local supermarket. The mayer with a group of citizens got in amid food shelves, in order to deliver taken lentil, bean and oil to the unprofitable organization that takes care of the Spanish poor. "Our goal was to call media attention to the insatiable market chain owners, who destroy small producers by selling goods at a price 700% higher than original. Moreover, the unsold food is destroyed on the spot, in the sight of hungry population".

Gordillo has taken steps toward establishing "the altenative to capitalism" in Marinaleda, with mass response of the residents to his offer for them to join newformed agricultural cooperative. Meantime, he managed to supply arable land, cheap apartments (15 euros a month) and permanent jobs, and that all employees in public sector, including the mayer, have a same salary. Citizens of Marinaleda make all decisions of common interest in the town square, by voting, which is an international example of civil solidarity at work.

"We are disturbance in this crisis because we show a possible alternative for getting out of misery, by openly reexamining the very model of private property. Workers from other sectors joined us, which makes politicians and businessmen nervous. They make threats and want to eliminate us, but we're lucky to live in Europe, so they can't physically remove us as they do in undeveloped parts of the world. The Union worked out more sophisticated methods, like discrediting, blackmail, arrest... There's already a list with names of 11 people seen for arrest, just because we publicly said that this isn't an economic crisis but a scam".

Besides giving land to those who cultivate it, Gordillo also suggests occupying empty buildings owned by the banks. "We must establish a different economic model, call it as you like: socialism or classless society, what's important is that the means of production and land are in the service of the people, not in the hands of selfish, privileged, egotistic wretches produced by capitalism".

Via Campesina - Serbia

In Serbia, the core of sound, nationwide Freedom Fight movement (Pokret za slobodu) is forming quietly, with no support of the media, tycoons and political parties. In the movement first among equals is Milenko Srećković, whose persistence and missionary commitment to the task can match with enthusiasam of Juan Manuel Sanchez. "Freedom Fight movement was founded with a goal of allying workers and peasants of Serbia, but we're aware that without international networking problems cannot be solved. In November 2011 we joined the International Alliance against Land Grabbing, founded by peasants movement Via Campesina and peasants movement from Mali, and in June 2012 an international conference was held in Serbia to which attended Genevieve Savigny, the representative of the European Coordination Via Campesina" - says Srećković, showing an article from union activist from Vienna Peter Haumer, published in German magazine AK (February 2012), where he gives a severe analysis of condition of Serbian agriculture and warns about symptoms of Latin American scenario.

Another member of the movement is experienced activist Miroslav Grubanov, one of the leaders of protest of Vojvodina peasants and representative of the association Paori from Crepaje, who asserts that going to the streets is the only way to force the authorities into an equal dialogue: "Helping agriculture doesn't need to be just with the money, agriculture can also be helped with good laws and their enforcement" - says Grubanov - "Poland prohibited land sale to the foreigners for 12 years after the admission to the Union, and we adopted the law on sale before we even became 'a candidate'... Not even Heineken can have more than 300 hectares, and Serbia didn't set any limits to the large landowners... Now, when even America tries to get out of neoliberal capitalism, allowing state to interfere in the work of big systems, we are the last liberals".

In the Platform for Agricultural Reform, adopted by workers and peasants organizations, in the conference in the village Ljubiš on Zlatibor (9-10 June 2012), the basic guidelines were given, concerning limiting import of agricultural products and changing existing law, which enables arable land grabbing by uncontrollable privatization and by low-priced selling to big agribusiness companies, interested only in profit and market speculation. Via Campesina - Serbia has the same demands that were made by the comrades from Andalusia, but also by all other movements united in the organization the Way of the Peasants, with emphasis on banning import and growing of genetically modified food. "In the last years, agriculture has become an important market for non-agrarian products such as mineral fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, growth hormone... The concerns are persistently pushing into our market, and corrupt Serbian state is helping them with all its might".

The Freedom Fight movement scheduled a meeting in front of the Agency for Privatization (14 September in 4 PM), in order to continue the fight of Verica Barać and to start the process of reexamining privatization.

by Mara Knežević Kern

Published in Serbian daily newspaper Pečat

Translated by Vladimir Bogićević

Septembar 2012


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