The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) jointly organized an exchange program on land occupation campaigns in Surat Thani province, Thailand on 24 to 25 October 2018. The exchange program was held before the general assemblies of APC and PCFS.
There were 45 participants coming from 11 countries: Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Philippines, Guatemala, South Africa, and Luxemburg. The exchange program was hosted by the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SFPT), a member of APC. The group visited Klongsai Patthana and Permsap villages.
Building solidarity among the participants through their collective learning of each other’s land struggles and hearing the experience of SPFT’s land occupation campaigns and how they built new communities were identified as the objectives of the exchange program.
The SPFT is an organization of poor and landless rural peoples in Thailand. It led the land occupation campaigns of Klongsai Patthana and Permsap villages in2008. The communities occupied the land from an oil palm plantation after the expiration of the company’s concession. They have used the land productively since, planting organic food for their consumption and for the operations of their cooperative, which significantly improved their livelihood.
However, the villages faced harassment from the palm oil company to forcefully evict them from the land. Four of their community leaders were killed at the height of their struggle in 2012. To date, SPFT and its communities face lawsuits and armed intimidation from the company to pressure them and forcefully evict them from their reclaimed land.
Program. The two-day program included the sharing from SPFT, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Philippines) and Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA, Indonesia) on the lessons and challenges in carrying out their respective land struggles; the visit around the villages of Klongsai Patthana and Permsap; and a recap of the lessons learned from the past two days.
The first sharing was by Suraphon Songrak, secretary general of SPFT. He shared the ten pillars of SPFT in organizing communities: (1) mass awareness raising, (2) political education, (3) solid organizing, (4) alliance work, (5) advocacy work, (6) community building – the definite goal of every land occupation campaign, (7) use of technology e.g. social media, (8) promotion of women’s participation and rights, (9) youth recruitment, and (10) cooperative work. Songrak stressed the importance of political and social analysis to draw out viable plans and cooperation among community members for the success of the struggle.
Antonio Flores, secretary general of KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), shared that after the 8th National Congress of KMP in July 2016, a nationwide bungkalan (land occupation) campaign has been boldly implemented by its members across the country as a form of their resistance against land grabbing and an initial implementation genuine agrarian reform. While successful, the KMP chapters faced state repression. He noted that 170 farmers are victims of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte regime. He said that part of the policy advocacy work of KMP is the ongoing campaign for the passage of the proposed Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB)with its affiliate Anakpawis Partylist that have long been proposing in the Congress since 2007. Flores added that political unity is key in strengthening their organization’s movement.
Harry Sandy Ame of AGRA shared how they arouse,organize, and mobilize peasant communities for their land struggles. He discussed the semi-colonial, semi-feudal analysis of their society, including the breakdown of their social classes. Sandy emphasized the value of social investigation and class analysis (SICA) in understanding the general situation of society and in developing strategies to organize communities and their land struggles.
Delegates visited the villages of Klongsai Patthana on the first day and Permsap the next morning. Klongsai Patthana village hosted the delegation for a week. SPFT leaders of Klongsai Patthana shared their experience with the land occupation, how they organize their community and how they sustain their struggles. Leaders of Permsap village, meanwhile, shared about the history,system, and outcomes of their cooperative.
Reflections and lessons learned. Sovathana Seng, co-coordinator of Southeast Asia Development Program (SADP) in Cambodia, gave the recap of the lessons learned in the two-day exchange:
(1) Landlessness is a common issue in Asia because capitalists grab the lands and resources of rural peoples, making them landless;
(2) Political awareness raising is crucial in organizing communities and mobilizing them to fight for their rights;
(3) A cooperative empowers the community, as a means for members to sustain themselves economically and a concrete manifestation of their solidarity, and
(4) Recognizing that governments and corporations will always collaborate together to pressure the poor and landless people, it is imperative for movements to consciously fightcapitalism and carry out their struggles toward changing the system.
As for the participants, the common lessons they learned from the exchange were the involvement of the women and youth, the democratic management of the cooperative, and the self-discipline of the community. ###