At the end of 2018, small-scale farmers became protagonists at the United Nations. On 17 December last year, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This represents the culmination of a historic process lasting almost two decades, which according to Franklin Almendares, coordinator of the Board of Directors of the National Union of Rural Workers (Central Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo - CNTC) “contributes to raising awareness in different sectors of society and launching campaigns such as Cultivating without Risk”1, which was recently launched by several organisations, including the CNTC.
The United Nations Declaration groups together rights that the international small-scale farming movement Vía Campesina has been demanding for more than 17 years, with the support of numerous social movement members and allied organisations. The Declaration also recognises the role of small-scale farmers in guaranteeing food and legitimises the work of the small-scale farming movement to defend collective property, in the face of attacks and criminalisation.
“This declaration is an important tool which must guarantee and support the rights of small-scale farmers. We urge all States to implement the declaration scrupulously and transparently, guaranteeing small-scale farmers and rural communities access and control over land, traditional seeds, water and other natural resources. As small-scale farmers we need our values and role in society to be respected, to achieve food sovereignty”, explains the Vía Campesina General Coordination Office.
Vía Campesina also point out that the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants is a political tool to empower the global struggle for dignified conditions in rural work. They are also demanding that it should be a springboard for an urgent agrarian reform at the global level as a necessary policy to be applied by States in rural areas. This is especially important in a country like Honduras, where almost 45% of the population live in rural areas (according to data from the Honduran National Statistics Office) and where, according to data from Vía Campesina, more than 300,000 families do not have access to land. However, Almendares also recognises the limits of the declaration: “it is not a binding instrument. In this State, as it functions currently, it does not work as a tool”. It is nevertheless believed that the Declaration could have a significant impact at the global level.
The Honduras situation
In the case of Honduras, he explains that since the law on agricultural modernisation in the 1990s, which led to land privatisation, there are no institutional plans or support for small-scale farmers: “this means that we only have our own tools to helps us stay in our lands sowing seeds and growing crops”.
That is why, according to Almendares, one of the challenges that lies ahead for the Honduran Government is the creation of a land fund and the approval of the Law on comprehensive agrarian reform with gender equality and rural development, a bill which aims to solve the agrarian problems in the country but which has been frozen for a long time. “The government also needs to create a land register, by physically going to the regions to carry out a true mapping process, because they are currently carrying out aerial mapping which prevents them from gathering an exact image of the situation on the ground. They should also create an agricultural prosecutor responsible for investigating the whole situation”.
The bill also seeks to improve the security situation for land rights defenders like Franklin Almendares. When we ask where he gets his energy in the face of all the daily obstacles, attacks and defamation he has been suffering for years, at the hands of landowners and companies, as a consequence of his human rights defence work, he tells us that it is the land itself that gives him hope and strength to continue the struggle to protect the very same land: “We see ourselves as cultivators of hope”.
Almendares believes that this work is not only the Government’s responsibility, because it affects everyone. “Society should get informed and learn about how to support small-scale farmers, by consuming our products”. On this point, the CNTC spokesperson gives the example of beans from Yoro: “It is very rare that the consumer goes directly to the producer, which is what needs to happen to support them. A new relationship must be established between consumers and producers”.
1This campaign seeks to promote compliance with the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants by the State to protect small-scale farmers in the country. This initiative also aims to inform and raise awareness among the general public about the vulnerable situation for people who defend the rights to land, territory and natural resources in Honduras.