On the 1st Year Anniversary of the UNDROP: A Critique

On 18 December 2018, the 73rd United Nations (UN) General Assembly Session in New York adopted the United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (UNDROP). The said Declaration, lobbied by numerous CSOs and people’s organizations, claims to be a tool that guarantees and realizes the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. Official UN records say that the process started in 2008, following the food crises, in the UN Human Rights Committee Special Session on Food Security.

As a whole, the content of the Declaration hinges on the hard-fought demands and formulations of the peasant struggles around the world. The Declaration is a historical feat in the context of the centuries-long voicelessness of the peasants in formal intergovernmental platforms such as the United Nations.

All things considered, UNDROP can be a positive tool in the hands of rural people’s movements in engagement and codification of rights in the national arena. As a rights-based document, UNDROP is a historic landmark in the recognition of the rights of peasants and other people working in the rural areas.

While the UNDROP, as mentioned above, is a landmark declaration despite its limitations, there are key issues it failed to address:

1.        Food sovereignty as a fundamental peoples’ right. The relegation of food sovereignty in the actual declaration of food sovereignty as the right of the State to chart their own agricultural systems glosses over the fact that many of the farmers live under landlord-led, if not outright repressive states.

2.        Genuine agrarian reform, which is key to social justice and economic upliftment of rural peoples in the Global South. The UNDROP self-imposed limits on preferential access to public lands, excluding private and especially foreign-owned lands. The absence of landgrabs as a concept in the declaration is deafening, so much more is the lack of any mechanism prescribed to protect the right of farmers and other people working in the rural areas against already acquired lands.

3.        Monopolies in agriculture and fisheries. It failed to mention nor offer a rights-based solution to the current reality of corporate capture in agriculture. While the protection of the peasants’ right to save, develop, and utilize their own seeds and seed knowledge is important, it glosses over the fact that only a few transnational companies control current seed markets. Breaking this monopoly is crucial for farmers to fully enjoy the rights recognized above.

4.        Abrogation of anti-rural people’s policies of the WTO and the current development paradigm. Specifically, WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture and WTO’s agreement on Sanitary and PhytoSanitary products remain the biggest institutional roadblocks to peasants’ rights to seed and seed knowledge.

5.        It is also a codification of the current globalized corporate agriculture model. While the UNDROP states that prices of agricultural products must be able to support a decent life for farmers, the framework specifies “improving global price mechanisms” rather than advocating national programs that promote price control laws and mechanism.

6.        The non-deletion but taming of the right to food sovereignty is very telling that the UNDROP is not poised to disrupt the current neoliberal globalization paradigm in land and agriculture. Policies regarding liberalization, privatization, and deregulation seem to be outside the range (and not the object of) the UNDROP.

The codification of rights has never been an assurance of implementation of programs and protection to the marginalized sectors. The current challenges in the implementation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) to fascist and reactionary states, repressive and undemocratic states are not only possible but are going to be a hindrance for UNDROP. This, in consideration that most of the rural peoples live in countries where democratic participation and spaces for engagement are increasingly shrinking.

Such is the downside of the overtly legal language of the UNDROP, especially in these times where peasant repression, land and resource grabbing, and violation of rights are increasingly legal in many countries in the Global South.

UNDROP’s implementation at the national levels will surely depend on the strength of the local rural people’s movement and international pressure. It is thus imperative for the rural people’s movement in the world to increase its mass base strength – especially peasants and other small food producers including Indigenous Peoples groups – to advocate food sovereignty and heighten the political struggle against the domination of neoliberal globalization in our food systems and agriculture. ###

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) has prepared a digest to aid our members and networks in studying, analyzing, and ultimately, utilizing the United Nations Declaration on theRights of Peasants and Other People Working in the Rural Areas (UN DROP).  Available in English, French, and Spanish.

(Cover photo by Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images)

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