La Via Campesina and the Path to Food Sovereignty


In response to the increasing globalization of agriculture, La Via Campesina was founded in 1993 in order to give small- and medium-scale farmers a voice. La Via Campesina is “the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.” The movement is made up of 164 local and national organizations in more than 70 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, representing an estimated 200 million farmers.

La Via Campesina’s mission is inspired by the concept of "food sovereignty," a term first coined at the World Food Summit in 1996. According to La Via Campesina, food sovereignty “prioritizes local food production and consumption…gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production…[and] ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector.” Realizing food sovereignty has become the central goal of the movement, with a focus on the needs of the people rather than large global corporations. La Via Campesina also emphasizes women’s important role in agriculture, advocating for women’s rights and gender equality.

The organization is split into nine regions: Africa 1, Africa 2, North America, South America, Central America, Southeast and East Asia, South Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. This decentralized organizational structure democratizes the movement, as the international secretariat rotates among the nine regions based on a collective decision made by La Via Campesina’s International Coordinating Counci, which is composed of one man and one woman from each region. The organization was first established in Mons, Belgium (1993-1996); it then moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras (1997-2004) and then to Jakarta, Indonesia (2004-2013). As of 2014, La Via Campesina is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Several members of La Via Campesina spoke at the recent Global Dialogue on Family Farming (GDFF) hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome: Ms. Chukki Najundaswamy on “Raising the Voice of Family Farmers”; Ms. Joan Brady (Canada) on “Women and Youth in Family Farming”; Mr. Renaldo Chingore (Mozambique) on “Setting the Enabling Environment for Family Farming”; Ms. Dayana Cristina Mezzonato Machado on “Research and Advisory Services for Family Farming”; and Mr. Javier Sanchez on “Ensuring the Legacy of the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).” During her panel presentation, Najundaswamy stated: “Family farmers were not born yesterday. It is them who have been feeding the world since agriculture came into existence…What I would like to tell you here is that family farming is not just a theme to celebrate for one year. Family farming is the [only] way of doing agriculture.”

La Via Campesina has played an active role in supporting the IYFF, with several campaigns promoting policies that protect and strengthen family farming for peasants and small-scale farmers. “Amidst the Food and Agriculture Organization’s proclaimed ‘International Year of Family Farming’, La Via Campesina stresses that small-scale family farming is a fundamental element of food sovereignty, an alternative model of food production which is free of both human and natural resource exploitation…Even in the face of adverse policy frameworks, the ingenuity and resilience of family farmers coupled with public demand has lead to the strengthening of local food systems based on family farming and agroecological practices.”