The necessity and urgency of land reform in time of pandemic and economic crisis

Members of the Asian Peasant Coalition conducted an online webinar entitled “Peasants Rise Up” last May 22, 2020, the first in a series of webinars that the coalition will be hosting. This first episode featured Covid-19 country situations from Pakistan, Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Cambodia. It also highlighted the crucial need for land reform to help attain food security, and food sovereignty. 

The webinar aimed to express the concerns, issues, and demands of the peasantry during the Covid-19 pandemic, and other related issues, as well as to seek solidarity of various peoples’ organizations across the globe to support the struggle of the peasants for genuine land reform. 

According to APC chairperson Chennaiah Poguri, land struggle continues as long as there is no genuine land reform. He said it is important that peasants take control of the natural resources like land, water, and forests so that they will be able to feed themselves, and the world especially during crisis. The peasants’ urge protecting the environment, and biodiversity so that the population can withstand many crises like the Covid pandemic. Unfortunately, neoliberal policies in agriculture created industrial plantations in what used to be forested areas and home to a diversity of plants and animals. The global capitalist production in agriculture also destroyed ecosystems for monoculture production of raw materials needed by industrialized countries.

Former Philippine agrarian reform minister and current KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano discussed the necessity and urgency of implementing genuine land reform with free land distribution as the basic principle and central goal. According to Ka Paeng, who was also the previous APC chairperson, landlessness remains as the fundamental problem of peasants and it worsens  through various forms or schemes of landgrabs like land concessions, expansion of plantations, forced evictions thru anti peasant infrastructure and pseudo eco-tourism projects. He added that genuine land reform is the main requisite to implement comprehensive and long-term rural development and national industrialization. With land reform, productive areas would be able to apply and develop peasant-led agroecology-based and sustainable farming systems and practices, which would answer our need for food self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, APC Secretary General Raja Mujeeb of Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) said that the pandemic arrived in Pakistan just before the wheat harvesting season. Wheat is the most important part of the country’s diet. There was a strict lockdown in the country but the farmers continued to work in the fields. But the agricultural workers got severely affected with no available public transport. Agricultural workers, particularly women workers, could not reach the places of harvesting , and thus, were not able to secure food for their family which they are supposed to get on a yearly basis. In addition, local traders started purchasing wheat crops at a cheaper rate due to the closure of public transport and markets. This led to farmers incurring huge income losses.

In Indonesia, peasant families are forced to “work from home” while agricultural workers in plantation companies are forced to continue working without health protection, and low wages, according to APC Vice Chairperson Rahmat Ajiguna of Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA). He narrated that there is no adequate income when peasants are forced to stay at home. Food prices also continue to rise amid the pandemic while crops are bought at very low prices from farmers and peasants. They continue to be immersed in the land rent system and usury amid the pandemic, and some are forced to sell their land and labor to landlords or take on new debts.

In Cambodia, 80% of the population stay in rural areas to farm and many of them live in small houses. Poor farmers have expressed fear that with their current living conditions, they can be easily be infected with the virus. According to the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) President, Theng Savoeun, farmers and urban poor organizations submitted a petition to the Ministry of Health in Cambodia last April 28, 2020 to demand emergency food for the communities and health services during the lockdown. 

Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) presented the Philippine lockdown situation as the longest lockdown in the world with the Duterte administration’s militarized “community quarantine”. He said that amid the pandemic, cases of human rights violations in the countryside have been recorded with three farmers killed and 18 illegal arrests. Included in the illegal arrests were KMP staff and relief volunteers who were on their way to deliver relief packs to farmers in Bulacan. He presented the demands of the Filipino farmers which include the immediate implementation of genuine agrarian reform, freezing land-use conversions done by the government, increasing land productivity through peasant-led agroecological food systems, and providing of urgent socioeconomic assistance during calamities, among others. 

APC presented its alternatives and solutions to the looming food shortage and food insecurity that are threatening the world. 

In the discussion, the speakers stressed that, APC remains firm in its campaign for genuine development which can only be achieved through land distribution to actual tillers and genuine agrarian reform. The millions of hectares grabbed by large plantations which has destroyed ecosystems can be regained and strengthened if the land and natural resources will be in the control of farmers and will be developed through a program on sustainable agriculture.

The APC webinar series is being carried out in cooperation with PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP). The two regional groups are leading the “No Land, No Life!” campaign to expose and oppose land grabbing and rural repression in Asia Pacific. ###

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