April 17th is the International Peasant Day of Struggle. In commemoration of a massacre of 19 peasants in Brazil in 1996, the day invokes solidarity actions around the world in defense of peasant and small-scale farmers working for social justice and the right to grow food for their families and communities.
This year international peasant organisation, La Via Campesina, who represent nearly two million small-scale growers, are organising around land grabbing, which they describe as a global phenomenon led by local, national and transnational elites and investors, with the participation of governments and local authorities, in order to control the world's most precious resources.
"This has led to the eviction and displacement of the local populations – usually farmers – the violation of human and women rights, increased poverty, social fracture and environmental pollution," says Chantal Jacovettie, a European representative.
The focus on land grabbing resonates beyond solidarity with the Global South however. "Land grabbing is often seen as an issue only in the Global South but here in the UK we are faced with a continuing legacy of land grabs," says Adam Payne from grassroots constellation Reclaim the Fields.
"Would-be farmers are faced with land prices reaching £10,000 an acre, an issue largely caused by the fact that 75% of the agricultural land in this country is held by less than 1% of the population. Land grabbing has resulted in the concentration of the ownership of land and natural resources in the hands of large-scale investors here as in other parts of the world."
Actions are taking place all over the UK to raise awareness about injustice in the food system. In London, the Community Food Growers Network is holding teach-ins across the city to raise awareness about genetic modification and the planned GM wheat trials, set to take place this year.
The day of presentations, films, discussions and practical gardening is designed to provide a space for people with little or no knowledge of the issues surrounding the industrial genetic modifications of food crops to talk to experienced campaigners, concerned food growers and people passionate about supporting local food.
On the continent groups are intending to blockade soya imports and march against Factory Farms in the Netherlands. Thousands are also marching from Germany to Brussels to highlight the need for food system reform.
One group in Devon is planning to set up a farmers market in a Tesco supermarket carpark. "April 17th is a collective day of action for small and family farmers to highlight the issues that are destroying local food production and to highlight corporate control of our food system", says farmer Jyoti Fernandes from Fivepenny Farm in Dorset.
April 17th raises interesting questions in the UK about our relationships to peasantry in general. Chris Smaje from permaculture market garden, Vallis Veg in Frome, Somerset, describes his relationship to peasantry as, "More of a provocation towards rethinking many aspects of our contemporary agriculture."
"I think that only by reinvigorating small-scale farming both in the 'developed' and 'developing' world are we likely to create sustainable prosperity and a healthy ecology", says Chris who writes as vegboxpeasant, describing his adventures in small scale agriculture.
"An interesting approach is to take peasant identity out of its largely discriminatory and often colonial cage to see it as a form of land based work shared by people all over the world", says Adam. "From there solidarity and mutual respect become possible".
If April 17th is anything, it is a call for solidarity, for small-scale growers and would-be growers everywhere who are acting for a socially and ecologically just food system.
By Nicole Vosper www.wildheartpermaculture.co.uk
All photographs and poster © Community Food Growers Network