Acceptance speech: PANAP Executive Director acknowledges millions of rural women

I would like to thank KEMI for nominating me and the members of the selection committee. As a woman, a feminist, and an advocate of agroecology and for the elimination of pesticides, it is an honour to be one of the recipients of the “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award.

Let me acknowledge the millions of rural women on the ground who are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers. This recognition I dedicate to and share with them.

They have inspired me with their commitment to protect their children, their families, and their communities from hazardous pesticides and to work for non-chemical alternatives. The reality of pesticide use in the farms and plantations is horrendous and women as sprayers often do not have the information about what they are spraying and what the impacts are. When they are poisoned, there is no medical support. Their health issue, like issues of women in general, are rarely taken seriously. This is because as women, they are still in position of subordination in their homes and communities, and at the national level.

It has been my privilege to contribute in the struggle of women through our work at PANAP. In our little way, we help build the capacity of women to monitor the impact of pesticides on health and the environment through what we call community pesticide action monitoring or CPAM. This process helps women become more organised to take action against harmful pesticides in their communities and at the national level. We take the results of these community monitoring initiatives to the global level such as here in the BRS and other platforms. By doing so, we hope to highlight the reality faced by many communities that are exposed to highly hazardous pesticides and lobby for policy reforms.

Aside from pesticide monitoring, we also provide support to women and other rural sectors for capacity building in agroecology. All these efforts are meant to ensure that women and children and the communities are no longer poisoned and silenced; and that they have sustainable livelihoods, healthy and safe environment, and production systems that are just.

This recognition will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice.

Thank you.

 

 

PANAP’s Sarojeni Rengam clinches award for championing women’s struggle against toxic pesticides

For her efforts in championing women’s issues in various campaigns against toxic pesticides in the past 25 years, Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of Malaysia-based PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), was recognized in the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions on May 3, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rengam was among the recipients of the ‘Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified’ award given by the BRS Conventions for distinguished advocates of advancing gender equality and mainstreaming gender issues in the area of chemicals and wastes.

In her speech accepting the award, Rengam acknowledged the millions of rural women on the ground that are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers.

“This recognition I dedicate to and share with them. This will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice,” Rengam said.

Ule Johanson, senior advisor for Development Cooperation, International Unit of Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) who nominated Rengam for the award said, “We are very happy to hear that Ms. Rengam has received this award. Her long and persistent fight for human rights at all levels and in particular for rural women is noteworthy and makes her a perfect choice.”

Dr. Burnad Fathima Natesan of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) said this is a proud moment for many rural women whose rights and interests Rengam has steadfastly fought for in PANAP’s campaigns, including on harmful pesticides and right to land and resources.

“The impact and awareness she has created in helping rural women understand the hazards of pesticide application in their fields and the impacts on one’s health, especially on women’s reproductive health, makes her the right person for this award,” Burnad said.

Burnad pointed out that Rengam has initiated a special program called Women and Agriculture in PANAP to study and look into the aspect of women’s land rights and to expose the role of corporations in promoting highly hazardous pesticides. “The rural women from India and from women’s movements in the region rejoice over this special moment,” said Burnad.

The PANAP official is known for her strong position on issues of women, farmers, farm workers, indigenous people and other marginalised rural sectors.

Glorene Amala, Executive Director of Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based advocacy group working with migrants, refugees and women, described Rengam as an “embodiment of women empowerment”. She continues to inspire women through her leadership by building women’s resistance against pesticides and chemicals through many programs and activities nationally, regionally and at the global level,” Amala said.

Situations change when people are informed and empowered.

“To make things change you have to educate and empower people. To improve farming conditions and reduce the negative impact of pesticide use you have to collect evidence of malpractice and cases of people getting hurt. Rengam has done all of this, and year by year conditions start to improve,” said KEMI’s Ule.

Amala added, “Her (Rengam’s) work has brought about tremendous changes in the lives of those who have been affected with pesticides and chemicals as she led many of them in global actions and movement on environment issues, food security and sovereignty, and women’s rights over land and productive resources.”

Based in Switzerland, the BRS Conventions are multilateral environmental agreements that aim to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes. The “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award is part of its activities on gender equality.

Click here to read Sarojeni Rengam’s acceptance speech

###

 

 

Day of the Landless: Resistance and people’s rights, best counter vs. land grabs – PANAP

(“The Right to Resist Land Grabs” is a short film that tells the story of land grabbing and repression faced by rural communities, and the people’s resistance. PANAP is launching it today to mark the Day of the Landless.)

 

Press statement

29 March 2017

Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net

PENANG, Malaysia – Still the most effective way to counter the land grabbers is the collective action of rural communities to resist and to assert the people’s rights to their own land and resources.

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) stressed this message as it joined various peasant organizations and advocates of the right to land in the region in marking 29 March as the “Day of the Landless”.

Landless peasants across the region are taking bold actions to reclaim the lands that have been taken away from them. In the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, for instance, farmers and farm workers have occupied portion of a banana plantation. They asserted that 145 hectares of land inside the plantation operated by Lapanday Foods Corporation, one of the country’s largest banana exporters, rightfully belong to them.

PANAP staff join the solidarity mission to support farmers resisting land grabbing at the Lapanday banana plantation in Mindanao, Philippines, 15 December 2016.

But these actions are often countered with violence. Alleged security personnel of the plantation fired upon the farmers in separate shooting incidents that wounded at least 10 people. In a solidarity mission to support the farmers, PANAP also learned that allegedly the plantation aerially sprayed pesticides on them and their children.

Despite the violence and harassments, the farmers and their supporters remained steadfast in their assertion to reclaim their land. Government eventually issued a cease and desist order against the plantation while Congress also probed the case.

29 March has been declared “Day of the Landless” by the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – and supported by PANAP and other advocates of the people’s right to land – to highlight the struggle for genuine land reform and food sovereignty.

To commemorate the day, PANAP also launched a seven-minute animation “The Right to Resist Land Grabs”. The group said that through the video, it hopes to help popularize the issue of land grabbing and the repression faced by rural communities, and generate broader support.

PANAP pointed out that land grabs in the past decade have already turned over some 30 million hectares of farmlands from small farmers to foreign corporations, citing data from the group GRAIN.

This worsens the chronic poverty in the rural areas where 8 out of 10 of the world’s poorest live, PANAP said. At present, just a quarter of farmlands worldwide are in the hands of small farmers, based on World Bank data.

The Penang-based advocacy group has been a staunch supporter of community-led campaigns in Asia Pacific to expose and stop land and resource grabbing. PANAP and peasant groups from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, among others initiated the “No Land, No Life!” campaign to highlight the human rights dimension of land grabbing. ###

#NoLandNoLife | An appeal to stop killing farmers, Lumad fighting land grabs, and pursue peace to address land issue as cause of conflict in the Philippines

As working closely with farmers and farmworkers’ groups and human rights advocates in the Philippines, we are alarmed by what appears to be an escalation of the attacks against leaders of rural communities fighting for their land and rights.

Since the start of the year, unknown assailants have killed five people already for reasons that could be related to their role in opposing land grabbers in their communities. This translates to one killing per week.

Among those killed are Lumad leaders Venie Diamante (killed on 5 January), Veronico Delamente (20 January), and Renato Anglao (3 February). Lumad pertains to the indigenous people in Mindanao, the country’s southernmost island. Accounts say that the victims are involved in resisting the encroachment on their ancestral lands by a palm oil plantation, a mining firm, and a pineapple plantation.

The two other victims are farmer-leaders Alexander Ceballos (20 January) and Wencislao Pacquiao (25 January). They are both active in opposing schemes by local politicians to seize lands from the farmers, based on reports. Ceballos’s assailants also hit his four-year old niece.

Photo by UMA

Such assaults have been going on for a long time now. Filipino activists and human rights groups pin the blame on the military’s counterinsurgency campaigns for these extrajudicial killings as well as other human rights violations.

Based on our monitoring, from January 2015 up to the present alone, at least 46 Filipino farmers, indigenous people and activists engaged in land struggles and conflicts have been killed already. (See Land & Rights Watch – http://panap.net/2017/01/land-and-rights-watch-20170131-2)

Compounding this is the reported termination recently by the Philippine President, Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, of the peace talks with revolutionary groups represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Mr. Duterte’s decision came at a time when the peace panels are already negotiating key social and economic reforms that aim to address the roots of armed conflict in the country – chief of which is landlessness and poverty in the rural areas.

We share the anxiety of our Filipino friends and fellow advocates of the people’s right to land and resources that this unfortunate development could lead to more atrocities against rural communities, especially those that are resisting land grabbing.

We urge the Duterte administration to seriously look not just into the recent spate of killings of Lumad and farmers but past similar killings as well, immediately make those responsible to account for their crimes, and help end the reign of impunity that has long been gripping the Philippine countryside.

We also join the peace advocates in the Philippines in their appeal to both the Duterte administration and the NDFP not to totally abandon the ongoing peace negotiations. We believe that it provides a useful venue to institute the needed policy reforms that will help address the land issue which fuels rural unrest and the armed conflict. ###

#NoLandNoLife | PANAP joins solidarity mission vs. land grabbing, repression of farmers in Philippine banana plantation

Press Statement

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Regional advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) joined a solidarity and fact finding mission for farmers and farm workers engaged in a land dispute against Lapanday Foods Corp., one of the Philippines’ largest banana plantation operators in Madaum village, Tagum City in Mindanao on 15 December.

In the past week, 10 people have been reportedly wounded in three separate shooting incidents as Lapanday security personnel tried to take down the camp out of farmers and farm workers asserting their rightful claim to 145 hectares of land grabbed by the company.

“We are deeply alarmed that these cases of violence seem to be committed by the alleged security people of Lapanday boldy and without fear of being held liable. We went here to let the farmers know that many groups, including those outside Mindanao and the Philippines, are supporting them. We join in the call for justice and accountability. We join in the call that the rightful claim of the farmers to their land be respected,” said Deeppa Ravindran, a program coordinator for PANAP, during the solidarity mission in Madaum.

PANAP also found out that aside from bullets, Lapanday also allegedly used toxic agrochemicals to drive away the protesting farmers. On the morning of 12 December, a Lapanday plane sprayed pesticide twice in the direction of farmers and their children who were having breakfast then. The aerial spraying “hurt their eyes and nose”, said one farmer.

“Pesticides, of course, have other long-term health impacts, including cancer and learning disorder, with children the most vulnerable. This is outrageous and enraging. Is Lapanday also using poisonous pesticides against the farmers and their innocent children? Someone should be made accountable here and we call on the authorities for a prompt and impartial probe,” Ravindran emphasized.

According to PANAP partners Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) and the Union of Agricultural Workers (UMA), the plantation’s workers had been picketing in front of the Lapanday gate for the past seven months and decided to reclaim the 145-hectare land with support from other farmers’ groups last 9 December. The said land has already been awarded by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to 159 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).

Based on initial accounts, seven of those wounded were from the shooting incident on 14 December while three were hurt on a separate incident on 12 December. The first shooting incident happened on 9 December, the first day of the camp out, but no one was reported injured.

In a statement on International Human Rights Day (10 December), PANAP revealed that almost 16 farmers, indigenous people, and advocates of the people’s right to land were being killed every month this year – or three times the average in 2015 – in Asia Pacific and other regions. The data cover incidents that occurred in the Philippines. ###

Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net

Killings of defenders of people’s right to land, three times worse in 2016 – PANAP

PENANG, Malaysia – Advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today said that the attacks against defenders of the people’s right to land and resources continued to intensify and worsened to even more alarming levels in 2016.

An average of almost 16 farmers, indigenous people, and advocates of the people’s right to land were being killed every month this year – or three times the average in 2015 – in Asia Pacific and other regions, the group claimed.

PANAP made the statement as the world marks the International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

“The sharp rise in the number of killings and the overall increase in human rights atrocities against poor rural communities embroiled in land conflicts is alarming, to say the least. It underscores the impunity with which these political killings and brutalities are being committed,” said Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.

In 2015, PANAP monitored 61 victims of killings that ballooned to 171 from January to November 2016. There were also 32 victims of frustrated killings, adding up to the 54 victims last year. Meanwhile, the victims of arbitrary detention from January to November this year numbered 118 and trumped up charges, 14; in 2015, the figures were 127 and 82 victims, respectively.

The trend in worsening killings noted by PANAP is consistent with the data compiled by UK-based campaign group Global Witness, which has been tracking the killings of environmental and land activists since 2002. Global Witness reported that in the past 13 years there have been 1,209 killings of land and environmental activists worldwide. The trend has worsened with the average killings per year more than doubling from 55 annually in 2002 to 2009 to 128 in 2010 to 2015. Last year was the worst year, said Global Witness, with killings recorded at 185.

“These human rights violations represent double repression. The people’s collective rights to own or control their land and resources for livelihood and cultural needs are wantonly being violated by corporations and governments. When these people rightfully resist and defend their rights, they are harassed and in many cases, killed,” Rengam said.

PANAP’s data are based on its Land & Rights (L&R) Watch initiative, which monitors various cases of human rights violations against farmers, indigenous people, and advocates of the right to land and resources. L&R Watch started compiling data based on online reports and reports from PANAP partners in the region in January 2015 and is an ongoing effort. The latest data are as of end-November 2016.

Land grabs to intensify

PANAP expressed concern that the atrocities will not just continue but will even further intensify as recent global and regional trends and developments are fanning social conflicts in the countryside between rural communities and governments and profit-seeking corporations and local elites. The onslaught to monopolize land and resources for private profits – and massively displace peasant and indigenous communities, in the process – has intensified more than ever.

“One particular trend that should be closely watched in relation to our campaign against land grabbing in the region is the steady rise of China as an economic giant and the consequent surge in its appetite for more land and resources to feed its economy,” said Rengam.

PANAP noted that China has been leading the efforts to push for more trade and investment liberalization through its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), especially with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) expected to slow down under a Trump administration in the US.

China is also aggressively funding infrastructure development projects that stir land conflicts such as its ambitious trillion-dollar modern “Silk Road” covering about 60 countries. Public-private partnership (PPP) to build infrastructure that lead to massive displacement of rural folks will get a boost as well with the recently established China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), along with the usual PPP funders like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In a recent meeting with peasant and indigenous leaders and campaigners from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, PANAP learned of the increasing Chinese presence or involvement in various development projects such as in economic zones, plantations, eco-tourism, and others that displaced or are feared to displace numerous rural communities.

Greater vigilance, resistance and support

“Now more than ever, we need greater vigilance and resistance to protect and advance the people’s collective right to land and resources. We must generate broader support for the peasant and indigenous communities that are fighting back as those who want to take away their farm and ancestral lands for profit become more and bigger,” Rengam emphasized.

The PANAP official pointed out that while China is emerging as a new formidable foe, the usual powerful forces and players remain such as the local elite and corrupt politicians, and the corporations and financial institutions from the West.

“It’s good that the theme for this year (of the International Human Rights Day) is to stand up for someone’s rights. It’s a call for everyone who believe in what is just and democratic to stand up for the landless and join the movement to defend the people’s rights,” said Rengam. ###

Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net