Rural youth, advance the people’s rights to land and life! Fight for genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty!

Unity statement issued by participants of the Youth consultation workshop on enhancing youth participation in rural issues, struggles and alternatives, 16-18 July 2016, MangaRita Organic Farm, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines

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We believe that landlessness underlines the various structural social ills facing the vast majority of rural people in the region. Lack of own land to till leads to the physical, economic and cultural dislocation of countless peasant and indigenous communities. To survive, many are forced to sell their labor very cheaply as farm workers or migrate to urban areas for odd jobs with incomes that do not afford them a decent living.

Worse, the concentration of land in the hands of a few continues to intensify under neoliberal globalization. In complicity with national governments and international financial institutions, big local and foreign business interests are grabbing away land, water and other resources, including through public-private partnerships (PPPs), from local communities resulting to greater poverty and hunger in the rural areas. Corporate plantations are aggressively expanding and in the process do not only grab away lands but also poison the people and the environment with their agrochemical-intensive and unsustainable farming systems. These agrochemicals include even those that are already banned in industrialized countries and dumped in poor countries.

In addition, extreme weather events brought about by climate change make farming even more challenging and difficult, thus further aggravating the plight of farmers and resource-dependent communities.

Indeed, it is the biggest irony that those who directly produce food are among the world’s hungriest and most food insecure as a handful of landlords, local elites, and corporations accumulate wealth from the poverty and displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples.

We note that the realities of landlessness, land grabbing, and relentless neoliberal onslaught in agriculture in the region exploit and oppress the rural youth in various ways. At a young age, the rural youth become unpaid laborers in haciendas and plantations to help their families make both ends meet. When they themselves become tenant farmers or plantation workers, they suffer the exploitative production relations with landlords, local elites, or corporations. When they migrate to urban centers or to other countries in desperation to look for better economic opportunities, they become even more vulnerable being away from their families at an early age. Rural women youth are particularly exposed to trafficking, sexual harassment and prostitution.

Education and cultural identity are central to the holistic development of the youth. But poverty and lack of economic opportunities due to landlessness, coupled with the sheer abandonment and neglect of governments to provide education for its people under neoliberal globalization, deprive the rural youth of access to education. Meanwhile, the kind of education being peddled by neoliberal globalization promotes individualism, colonial mentality and subservience to the interest of the market instead of the development agenda and aspirations of the people, including the promotion of agriculture for national industrialization and food sovereignty. Cultural identity and traditional knowledge are systematically eroded to transform the youth as slaves of global monopoly capitalism.

We also take notice, with utmost urgency, how the rural people, including the youth and children, become victims of human rights atrocities and repression being carried out by state and private security forces to protect and expand corporate interests in the rural areas.

In the face of such huge challenges, we, the rural youth, as members of families and communities of rural people; and collectively the inheritor of the future we choose to forge today, demand:

  1. The implementation of genuine agrarian reform through the free distribution of land to the landless, and dismantling the land monopoly of landlords and corporations.
  2. The promotion of food sovereignty or the power of the people and their communities, including the rural youth, to assert and realize their right to food and to define their own food systems.
  3. An end to land grabbing being carried out through the expansion of agricultural plantations, implementation of so-called “development” projects under public-private partnerships, etc. to enable the rural population to enjoy the fruits of their labor and have a degree of economic security.
  4. The promotion of and support for farmer-centered agricultural research and development, including adequate and reliable state support in infrastructure and other services as part of a genuine agrarian reform program, to ensure sufficient livelihood and decent employment opportunities for rural people and end forced migrations.
  5. The promotion of just wages and safe labor conditions that will allow the rural youth, including migrant workers, and others engaged in waged agricultural work and their families to achieve decent living standards.
  6. The preservation and promotion of indigenous, traditional, and collective culture and knowledge among the rural youth.
  7. The democratization of access to education, which sufficiently discusses the important role of sustainable agriculture in the comprehensive and appropriate development of national economies responsive to the immediate and long-term needs of its people.
  8. The delivery of sufficient basic social services and safety net programs to the rural areas, including health and medical services for young rural women; and expose bogus social protection programs, which merely serves to obscure landlessness and other fundamental causes of rural poverty.
  9. The protection of the environment and people’s health by promoting organic and agro-ecological farming, climate-resilient agriculture, and safe food as opposed to corporate, chemical-intensive agriculture.
  10. An end to state-sponsored political persecution and human rights violations against rural people, including the youth, who are defending and asserting their collective rights to land and livelihood; make accountable all those responsible for the abuses; and assist the families of the victims.

We vow to use various strategies to push forward our demands, including through grassroots education, organizing and mobilization; policy advocacy; research and documentation; cultural work and advocacy; exchange programs; alliance building; coordinated regional and global actions; and maximizing information and communication technology, among others.

As youth activists and advocates, we firmly believe in the energy, vitalitity, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment of the rural youth to become leading participants in the movement to defend the people’s collective rights to land and life, for genuine agrarian reform and for food sovereignty.

Rural youth rise now! Assert people’s rights and food sovereignty! Fight for genuine agrarian reform!

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