Press release of 28 September 2018

A historic day for the protection of the rights of peasants

By a large majority the United Nations Human Rights Council today adopted a declaration protecting the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including fishing communities and nomadic peoples.

The UN Declaration is of considerable symbolic importance for those concerned. «Its adoption means respect for our work», says Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, the international peasants’ movement representing 250 million rural farmers worldwide. Mpofu travelled from Zimbabwe so as to ensure that the voice of those concerned is heard at the United Nations. She is a member of an international delegation that has been working toward this day for years now. «We feed the world and are being discriminated against at the same time», adds the committed Zimbabwean farmer. The declaration provides States with policy guidelines for effectively combating hunger and poverty. Rural farming must be given better support to that end. Recognizing and strengthening peasants’ rights is paramount in this connection. Peasant farmers are being threatened or even murdered every day in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Existenzsicherheit und Würde für Kleinbauernfamilien
HEKS/Jöri von Ballmoos

The Swiss Government today voted in favour of the declaration, whereas in 2012 it still saw no need for any such declaration. A large-scale campaign mounted by Swiss civil society and parliamentarians succeeded in changing Switzerland's view. Since then the country has been participating constructively in the intergovernmental working group that spent six years preparing the text of the declaration. Jointly with their partners in the South, Bread for All, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, Uniterre, HEKS/EPER, SWISSAID, CETIM, and FIAN Switzerland have actively championed this declaration. In Switzerland too, rural families often work under difficult conditions. Two or three farms close down every day in this country. At the same time it is virtually impossible for young people not from a farming family to gain access to agricultural land.

The UN declaration recognizes the right to land and seeds. These rights are of crucial importance to peasant families worldwide. Increasingly, peasant families' own seeds are having to give way to patented and partly genetically modified seeds. Not only is this costly, but it is also harmful to the biodiversity and the soil, as the use of pesticides becomes obligatory. The powerful seed-producing lobby is putting pressure on governments. «The article in the declaration that recognizes the right of small farmers to utilize their own seeds has generated the most discussion in Swiss Government circles», says Michelle Zufferey, Uniterre Trade Union Secretary. «We are therefore delighted today that Switzerland has sent a positive signal to rural farmers». The declaration is now expected to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York by year’s end.



Ester Wolf, Bread for All,, 0041 76 481 06 01
Michelle Zufferey, Uniterre,, 0041 78 640 82 50
Olivier Schmid
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