Via Campesina

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"the Conféderation Paysanne is only one node, albeit one of the most significant amongst those in developed regions, of the vast Via Campesina network that links very diverse farming communities in the North and the South of the world. These communities are connected by a commonality of goals and approaches. First amongst these is the construction of food sovereignty in its various expressions." (

2. Elizabeth Mpofu and Ndabezinhle Nyoni:

"Before the birth of La Via Campesina, various new and diverse forms of rural activism and social organisation had emerged, to forge common ground and solidarity to fight against neoliberalism. These carved out an autonomous space, independent of those who had paternalistically claimed to represent them, such as the church, conservative political parties and existing civil society organisations (CSOs). La Via Campesina emerged during this period and morphed from a local peasant movement to a regional one, and then grew to be what it is today, an international peasant movement bringing together more than 164 organisations in over 73 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Its constituency numbers over 200 million peasants, small and medium-sized producers, landless people, rural workers and indigenous people from around the world.

La Via Campesina, unlike many CSOs, established important criteria for building its membership and setting the principles for funding (Martinez-Torres and Rosset 2010). It does not accept into membership organisations that are not true, grassroots-based peasant organisations.

It made a decision not to accept funding resources with compromising conditions attached, nor to permit any form of external interference in its internal decisions, thus guaranteeing its independence and autonomy (Rosset and Martinez 2005, cited by Martinez-Torres and Rosset 2010). This has allowed La Via Campesina be a strong, bottom-up and independent movement, led by poor people. Its agenda is defined internally during international conferences, which are organised every four years, with decisions taken by consensus or voting. In contrast, La Via Campesina’s participation in policy spaces is more confrontational, engaging in protest and aggressive debate.

La Via Campesina is anchored in promoting food sovereignty and advocating for sustainable, small-scale, peasant agriculture as a means of promoting social justice and dignity. The concept of food sovereignty has proved to be one within which humanity can find an enabling and unrestricted space to promote social justice and dignity, in a world that is highly centralised, and where power is concentrated in a few transnational corporations (TNCs). Food sovereignty is a tool being used by consumers and food producers to move towards a “food democracy” of “co-designed food systems…” where people “…participate in shaping them, to recapture them,” (De Schutter 2015 p1). It has created a space to rebuild the human relations lost over decades as a result of globalised food systems, and also to redress the ecological crisis of the 21st century.

The food sovereignty concept seeks the construction of new rights and the transformation of society as a whole." (


1. By Eric Holt-Giménez:

"In 1993 farm leaders from around the world gathered in Mons, Belgium for a conference on policy research put on by a Dutch NGO allied with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), an international farm federation dominated by large-scale, northern farmers. What emerged instead was an international peasant movement: La Vía Campesina. The emergence of an international peasant-led farmer federation signified both a break with conventional federations run by large producers and with the humanitarian NGOs typically concerned with peasant agricultural production. The Mons declaration asserted the right of small farmers to make a living in the countryside, the right of all people to healthy food, and the right of nations to define their own agricultural polices.21

Since its inception, Vía Campesina’s main objective has been to halt neoliberalism and construct alternative food systems based on food sovereignty. It was formed with organizations mostly from the Americas and Europe, but has since expanded to include more than 150 rural social movements from over 79 countries, including 12 countries in Africa, and scores of organizations in South and East Asia. Unlike its large farmer counterpart IFAP, Vía Campesina is made up almost entirely of marginalized groups: landless workers, small farmers, sharecroppers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, and the peri-urban poor.

Vía Campesina has been remarkably successful in creating the political space in which to advance its platform of food sovereignty, getting the WTO out of agriculture, women’s rights, sustainable agriculture, a ban on GMO’s, and redistributive agrarian reform. The movement was instrumental in organizing protests at WTO ministerial meetings from Seattle to Hong Kong. Vía Campesina played the lead role in the FAO International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in 2006, and mounted successful resistance campaigns to the World Bank’s market-led land reform programs.

Vía Campesina has also been among the most vocal critics of institutional responses to the global food crisis. At the High Level Task force meeting on the food crisis in Madrid, Spain, Vía Campesina released a declaration demanding that solutions to the food crisis be completely independent of the institutions responsible for creating the crisis in the first place (i.e., the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and CGIAR). The declaration reaffirmed the call for food sovereignty, demanded an end to land grabs for industrial agrofuel and foreign food production, and called on the international community to reject the Green Revolution and instead support the findings of the UN’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This seminal assessment, sponsored by five UN agencies and the World Bank, and authored by over four hundred scientists and development experts from more than eighty countries, concluded that there is an urgent need to increase and strengthen further research and adoption of locally appropriate and democratically controlled agroecological methods of production, relying on local expertise, local germplasm, and farmer-managed, local seed systems." (

2. Elizabeth Mpofu and Ndabezinhle Nyoni:

"The effectiveness and sustainability of La Via Campesina can largely be attributed to its organisational structure, internal democratic participation processes and the concept of food sovereignty, as key resources for fighting for rights and justice, and offering an alternative to global food markets. Its strategy and tactics of mass mobilisation, including by weaving and forging strategic alliances with likeminded social movements and CSOs willing to play supportive, but not directive, roles, are also crucial. This has enabled La Via Campesina to remain entrenched locally, while at the same time flexing its muscles globally, both at protest events in and policy dialogue spaces. The principle of not accepting funding from institutions supporting neoliberalism is also key in keeping La Via Campesina self-determined and autonomous, and being able to define its struggles without external influence.

Food sovereignty sustains the strategic role of peasant production in fighting hunger, and deepens dialogue, building solidarity against adversity and cooperation against competition, and building alliances across national borders. Food sovereignty has created an urgency to develop alternative food systems that allow people to democratise and re-localise, rather than be ruled by market imperatives." (

More Information

the birth and evolution of a transnational social movement’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, p.149-175