Day of the Landless 2020: Assert and defend the rights of rural and all toiling peoples amid the COVID-19 pandemic!

[UPDATED] Joint statement of 122 global,regional, national and local organizations from 30 countries

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:

Global/regional organizations:

  1. Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
  2. PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)
  3. People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
  4. Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN)
  5. Arab Network for Food Sovereignty
  6. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
  7. Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
  8. Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC)
  9. Coalition of Agricultural Wokers International (CAWI)
  10. Food Sovereignty Network
  11. IBON International
  12. International Indigenous Peopples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)
  13. MIJARC Asia
  15. PAN Africa
  16. PAN Europe
  17. PAN North America
  18. South Asia Peasant Coalition (SAPC)
  19. Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE)
  20. Third World Network (TWN)
  21. Youth for Food Sovereignty (YFS)

National/local organizations:

  1. Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA), Indonesia
  2. All Nepal Peasants’ Federation (ANPFa), Nepal
  3. Andhra Pradesh Matya Karula Union, India
  4. Andhra Pradesh Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU), India
  5. Artists’ Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform (SAKA), Philippines
  6. Association of Women’s Communities of Ysykkul, Kyrgyzstan
  7. Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (BAFLF), Bangladesh
  8. Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK), Bangladesh
  9. Bansiwag Cultural Network, Philippines
  10. Bantay Bigas, Philippines
  11. BERAS India Network, India
  12. Bina Desa, Indonesia
  13. Cambodia Youth Network (CYN), Cambodia
  14. Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), Cambodia
  15. Caritas Dalat, Vietnam
  16. Caritas India
  17. Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera, Philippines
  18. Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), Philippines
  19. Center for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), Vietnam
  20. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  21. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), Cambodia
  22. Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC), Nepal
  23. Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Philippines
  24. Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), Philippines
  25. East Coast Fish Workers Union, India
  26. Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), Tanzania
  27. EMPOWER, Malaysia
  28. Ene Nazary, Kyrgyzstan
  29. Ethnic Concern, Myanmar
  30. Farmer Affairs Network, Myanmar
  31. Farmers Development Center-Bohol Island, Philippines
  32. Food Sovereignty Alliance, India
  33. Front Mahasiswa Nasional (FMN), Indonesia
  34. Future Esart Asia Network, India
  35. Gabungan Serikat Buruh Indonesia (GSBI), Indonesia
  36. Gita Pertiwi, Indonesia
  37. Gram Bharati Samiti (GBS), India
  38. Guatemala sin Hambre, Guatemala
  39. Human Developemnt Organization (HDO), Sri Lanka
  40. Indian Federation for Toiling Peasants (IFTOP), India
  41. Institute for Motivating for Self-Employment (IMSE), India
  42. Institute for National and Democracy Studies (INDIES), Indonesia
  43. Instituto Politecnico Tomas Katari (IPTK), Bolivia
  44. Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas (KATRIBU), Philippines
  45. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Philippines
  46. KINABUHI, Central Visayas People’s Network for Life and Environment, Philippines
  47. Kudumbam, India
  48. L’Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Developpement (AAWORD/AFARD), Senegal
  49. Labour Resource Center (LRC), Bangladesh
  50. Land Core Group, Myanmar
  51. LEISA Network, India
  52. MASIPAG, Philippines
  53. Metta Development Foundation, Inc., Myanmar
  54. Movimiento Tzuk Kim-pop, Guatemala
  55. National Agriculture Workers Forum (NAWF), India
  56. National Campaign for Sustainable Development, Nepal
  57. National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movements  (NFDLRM), India
  58. National Federation of Peasant Women (AMIHAN), Philippines
  59. National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO), Sri Lanka
  60. National Women Farmers & Workers Association (NFWA), Bangladesh
  61. Nijera Kori, Bangladesh
  62. NISARGA, India
  63. NNARA Youth, Philippines
  64. North South Initiative (NSI), Malaysia
  65. Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek, Pakistan
  66. PAMALAKAYA, Philippines
  67. PAN Aetearoa New Zealand
  68. PAN India
  69. Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes Inc. (PNFSP), Philippines
  70. Ponlok Khmer, Cambodia
  71. Praja Abilasha Land Rights Network, Sri Lanka
  72. Public Eye, Switzerland
  73. RAP-AL, Chile
  74. RAPAL, Uruguay
  75. RAPAM (PAN Mexico)
  76. Research Center for Rural Development (RCRD), Vietnam
  77. Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED), Vietnam
  78. RITES Forum, India
  79. Roots for Equity, Pakistan
  80. Roshni Taraqiyati Tanzeem, Pakistan
  81. SAHANIVASA, India
  82. Seikat Perempuan Indonesia (SERUNI), Indonesia
  83. SHISUK, Bangladesh
  84. Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT)
  85. SINAGBAYAN, Philippines
  86. Society for Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak (SCRIPS), Malaysia
  87. Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED), India
  88. Sojhla for Social Change, Pakistan
  89. Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT), Thailand
  90. Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), Cameroon
  91. Tanggol Magsasaka, Philippines
  92. Teatro Bungkal, Philippines
  93. Teatro Obrero,  Philippines
  94. Thanal, India
  95. TVVU, India
  96. Union of Agricultural Workers (UMA), Philippines
  97. Vikalpani National Federation, Sri Lanka
  98. Women’s Development Center, Inc., Philippines
  99. Workers Solidarity Union, Sri Lanka
  100. Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Nigeria
  101. Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF), Zambia

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