By Isabella Wang
Rabat – La Vie Campesina, the international movement behind the UN peasants’ rights declaration, has urged Morocco to approve the measure at the UNGA.
Next month, the United Nations General Assembly will take a final vote on the “Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas.” Negotiations on the declaration have lasted ten years.
After a decade of debate and negotiating, under the guidance of the Human Rights Council, farmers’ unions and peasant associations are now waiting for the decision in New York.
La Vie Campesina has urged Morocco to vote.
Yabiladi Mohamed Hakach, coordinator of the MENA chapter of La Vie Campesina and member of the National Federation of the Agricultural Sector (FNSA) explained, “This is a very crucial moment for us.” The declaration’s text is created “in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
La Vie Campesina is an international organization which coordinates farmers’ organizations from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. It is a coalition of 182 organizations in 81 countries.
Why is the declaration important?
The declaration sets out to affirm the rights of peasants. It entails the fundamental human rights of peasants and farmers, already recognized by the UN, while also incorporating new rights to protect peasants.
The declaration asserts for peasants new rights, including the right to land in article 4, the right to seeds and traditional agricultural knowledge and practice in article 5, the right to the means of agricultural production in article 6, the right to information and agricultural technology in article 7, the freedom to determine price and market for agricultural production in article 8, the right to the protection of local agricultural values in article 9, the right to biological diversity in article 10, and the right to preserve the environment in article 11.
The first article of the declaration sets out to create an international definition for “peasant,” differentiating the word from big farmers who focus on investment rather than actually working on the land.
In Morocco, peasants, also known as small farmers, constitute a population of approximately 1.5 million people. The number does not include the small professionals who work in sectors involving the rural industry or in other trades in the countryside.
Creating a clear definition for “peasant” helps ensure that a clear set of human rights are applied to peasants, particularly when it comes to lawmaking. The declaration can regulate the parameters and laws applied to peasants and food production.
Hakach stated that the declaration will aim to “strengthen the value of food sovereignty and put an end to the various violations that peasants suffer throughout the world.”
Many countries now do not have specific laws in areas of food production and food sovereignty. Under the current laws, small farmers under the control of large corporation, unions, or government, can be prevented from choosing the type of agricultural production which best suits their environment.
By enabling small farmers to have autonomy, the declaration not only aims to assure the rights and freedoms of the farmers but also aims to enable more effective production.
The rights and sovereignty of small farmers has been critical to the drafting process of the declaration.
When addressing the challenges which had delayed the treaty, Hakach stated, “The first is related to the parties that have no interest in this declaration being adopted, namely the multinationals and the big decision makers of this world. This vote will be a political decision and we are creating awareness amongst the Moroccan government on this.”
He continued, “In addition, another limit is that of the peasant organization. In our country, it was not until last July that the National Union of Peasants was created. In the field, small rural workers have a lot of trouble defending their interests, because we are lacking the organisation [to defend them].
Ramifications for Morocco
If the declaration is successful, it is highly likely that Moroccan agricultural policy will undergo greater reform to assure the rights and benefits of peasants.
Faical Ouchen, secretary general of the National Union of Peasants (SNP), one of 17 agricultural unions affiliated to the FNSA, stated that current agricultural policy in Morocco “is mainly based on the Green Morocco Plan (PMV) directed mainly to large farmers.”
Consequently, the adoption of the treaty, with or without Morocco’s vote, would lead to reviews in Morocco’s agricultural policy and a greater focus on small farmers. The declaration has garnered support from many other African countries while facing opposition from some European countries.
Ouchen highlighted the benefits for small farmers in Morocco.
He explained that the declaration “protects them [small farmers] from random expropriations, which especially in Morocco, are operated by mafia real estate agencies and in addition large seed industries who produce non-reproducible seeds. Both of these force small farmers to depend on these large structures.”