On March 29, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) will mark the annual Day of the Landless. For this year, our commemoration will focus on the impacts of the raging COVID-19 crisis on the landless rural people.
Below is the joint statement that we will publicly release on March 29. We hope to get as many organizations as we can to endorse the statement.
Kindly send all the endorsements to firstname.lastname@example.org on or before March 28 at 11 PM Manila time. Please indicate in your response the name of the organization/s (including the country where they are based) that want to endorse the statement.
Day of the Landless 2020
Assert and defend the rights of rural and all toiling peoples amid the COVID-19 pandemic!
March 29, 2020
We mark the Day of the Landless today with utmost concern as the landless rural people have been among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. With them are the small farmers with precarious land ownership or control, and those from landless peasant families forced to work as casual laborers in agricultural plantations and engage in hard labor and odd jobs or as so-called informal workers in the urban areas. Together with indigenous communities and the rest of ordinary toiling people, they bear the brunt of this raging public health crisis that paralyzed most economic activities and pushed them to further starvation and poverty.
Governments around the world scramble to address the outbreak, but often with a repressive and militarist approach. Thus, we strongly assert and demand that the rights of the rural and all toiling peoples be protected and respected at all times.
With many countries implementing sweeping lockdowns and quarantines, often with vague operational guidelines, to contain the spread of COVID-19, the agriculture and food supply chain has been greatly disrupted, with the small producers and poor consumers suffering the heaviest blows. There are several reports of rural people arbitrarily being disallowed to farm or fish because of the lockdown orders of national and local authorities, depriving them of their means of livelihood and also of food for their own consumption. When they are authorized to do agricultural production, state forces in charge of implementing the lockdowns make it unduly more burdensome for the rural poor such as, among others, requiring legal documents for identification.
Worse, for communities embroiled in disputes over access to and control over land and agricultural resources with powerful interests such as local landlords, big corporations and even government firms and agencies, the lockdowns provide a perfect cover for the outright dislocation of the rural people. The militarist measures to address the COVID-19 crisis is creating conditions favorable to more repression against rural communities resisting land and resource grabs and to greater impunity for the perpetrators of these atrocities.
Meanwhile, the extreme quarantine measures also shut down in some cases even local marketplaces where small farmers often bring and sell their produce. As a consequence, even when they are allowed to till and harvest, hapless farmers as well as fishers are left with truckloads of unsold grains, vegetables, fruits and fish. The situation has made them even more exposed to opportunistic and exploitative monopoly traders who buy their produce at depressed prices. Yet, these giveaway farmgate prices do not necessarily translate to cheap prices for ordinary consumers, which is the case in the era of neoliberal privatization and deregulation of state food security agencies and policies, but more so in times of grave crises like the COVID-19 pandemic where food production and supply uncertainties are very much heightened.
Furthermore, public health systems, eroded by decades of neoliberal assault such as privatization, commercialization and budget cuts, are already weak in general and are susceptible to collapse when global pandemics strike. But this situation is magnified a hundredfold in the poor countries and in the rural areas, putting the most impoverished – the landless rural people – in overwhelming danger in the face of disease outbreaks.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the rural communities already severely lack access to basic social services and protection, including for their primary healthcare and emergency medical needs. They often have to travel long distances, without reliable public transport, to access the nearest medical services. Available public health centers and hospitals in the rural areas, which are already negligible and deprived of adequate state support, lack the facilities and resources (including workforce) to meet the people’s needs.
Note that agricultural work is already considered one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. Landless farm workers, including migrant workers, are regularly exposed to agrochemical poisoning and unsanitary work conditions; many are transported to plantations through crowded trucks and are housed in cramped spaces. All these make them more susceptible to infections.
The neglect of public health, combined with the rural people’s overall destitution due to fundamentally wrong economic and agrarian programs, neoliberal attacks against agriculture, and massive land and resource grabbing, expose the landless and rural poor to extreme peril when pandemics flare up.
We hold big corporations accountable, including those involved in large-scale, export-oriented agribusiness and other extractive activities that wantonly plunder our agricultural and natural resources for massive profits. Their operations do not only destroy the environment and physically, economically and culturally displace whole communities. They also unleash various forms of infectious diseases from pathogens used to be kept at bay by once diverse farm and forest ecosystems, exposing societies and their productive forces to ruthless destruction.
We salute the collective and organized actions by various peasant groups, with the support of other social sectors, in challenging the overly restrictive lockdowns by asserting their right to produce food and through creative means of bringing their harvests to the people. They are at the forefront of demands for accountability from governments and of calls for a dependable public health system that provides due attention to the poor and marginalized, as well as for immediate economic relief and for respect for human rights amid the lockdowns.
They remain determined in waging struggles against neoliberal policies in food and agriculture and in the public health system, and for genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty, in order to provide the people the necessary policy tools to confront crises like the COVID-19 outbreak.
We support and reiterate the immediate demands of the landless and all toiling peoples amid the pandemic:
1. Ensure that the lockdowns and quarantines are not carried out at the expense of the food security of the people, and that the right to produce and earn a living for small farmers, fishers and other direct food producers is duly respected;
2. Provide immediate and substantial economic relief (including food grains, cash, and other forms of aid that are essential and appropriate) and social protection that are readily accessible to the marginalized sectors, including the landless rural people, as well as other forms of government assistance such as production and marketing support for the small food producers;
3. Ensure that no further displacements of the rural people from their lands and livelihood are carried out in the pretext of COVID-19 lockdowns;
4. Allot sufficient public resources to the health sector and make reliable public healthcare services, including free testing for COVID-19 infection and treatment, available without delay or difficulty for everyone, including the rural communities; and
5. Call for accountability of public officials at all levels in addressing the urgent needs of the people and in respecting human rights at all times.
Amidst the spreading darkness and misery due to a pandemic caused by more than anything else an ecologically and socially destructive mode of production, the movement of landless rural people and their supporters, together with all oppressed and exploited toiling peoples, shall remain among the bearers of light and hope.
The statement is endorsed by the following organizations:
Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)
People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)