Stories of Hunger, Landlessness and Armed Struggle

Asia Pacific farmers, advocates meet in Negros conference

Stories of hunger, oppression, government neglect, landlessness, greediness of agro-chemical transnational corporations, to democratic protest movements and armed struggle for genuine land reform and social change in Asia-Pacific are narrated by farmers and advocates of agrarian reform in the region during a recent conference in Negros Occidental.

By Ranie Azue

TALISAY CITY, Negros Occidental – Farmers and advocates of agrarian reform in Asia-Pacific countries now attest to how they have been victimized by the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) neo-liberal policies and programs of re-concentrating vast agricultural lands in the hands of the big landlords and TNCs, destroying local agricultural production and producers, and making them mere dumping grounds of agro-industrial imports.

Stories of hunger, oppression, government neglect, landlessness, WTO and World Bank destructive policies, greediness of agro-chemical transnational corporations, to democratic protest movements to armed struggle for genuine land reform and social change in various parts of Asia-Pacific, were narrated in a two-day research conference on agrarian reform sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN) and Pesticides Action Network-Asia Pacific (PAN-AP) in this city, central Philippines.

Farmer-leaders, NGOs, land reform advocates and social researchers from Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan participated in the conference held Oct. 17-18.

Neo-liberal offensives

Neoliberal policies in agriculture have wreaked havoc on ASPAC economies, and displaced millions of farmers and agricultural workers, conference speakers said.

Gilbert Sape of the PAN-AP and member of Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI) noted that “globalization” driven by WTO, transnational corporations (TNCs), international financial institutions and supported by national elites, have ruined the lives and devastated food sovereignty, resources and the environment. As a result, millions have lost their livelihoods, rights to food, shelter, land, water, seeds, forests and other resources.

Millions are now faced with increasing unemployment, the increasing use of child labor, bonded form of labor and forced migration, Sape also said. These adverse forces have reduced peasants and agricultural workers of Asia Pacific to a form of redundant labor, making them more vulnerable to exploitation, oppression and subordination.

Sape also said giant corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto in collaboration with local landed elites have monopolized and promoted productive resources and means of production through corporate agriculture. This form of agriculture is ecologically unfriendly, externally dependent and promotes hazardous technologies including pesticides and chemicals that threaten or pose danger to health, food safety and the environment.

Marlo Abaja of the APRN, on the other hand, added that the global economic, political, social, and cultural spheres are controlled by neo-colonist forces that are well positioned and entrenched. Through its power and influence, the State it is able to violently suppress people’s movements and resistance, and to criminalize and imprison movement leaders.

There is also the increased use of force through militarization to break up strikes and workers mobilization, Abaja said. Agricultural worker leaders are even being killed, kidnapped or detained and tortured under the bogey of the “war on terror.” It is used to dismantle all mechanisms that protect and promote the universal rights of people, he added.

Sape raised the alarm over the scheme of TNCs in the Philippines to use NGOs, people’s organizations (POs) and local government units (LGUs) to promote social acceptability for their corporate agriculture and disastrous technologies among the farmers and farm workers.

In some countries in the region, including the Philippines, he revealed, agro-chemical TNCs are not only pouring in millions in advertisements to promote themselves with a “benign image,” but also support for LGUs, NGOs and POs in promoting their products in the guise of sustainable agriculture, nature-friendly organic technologies, and food security.

Land reform

Participants in the conference agreed that land reform programs in Asia Pacific have grossly failed because they did not alter existing skewed class structure.

Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed, founder of Roots for Equity, a development NGO in Pakistan, said land reform programs in most Asia Pacific countries, including in her country, are dismal failures because they have been designed and implemented in response to international capitalist pressures to avert revolutionary responses by peasantry, and to legitimize oppressive regimes.

Land reform laws in these countries have taken a market-led orientation, i.e., “letting the market forces dictate the value, production and management of lands,” she said.

Citing Pakistan’s own experience, Dr. Azra after the British colonizers left the country following independence in 1947, military rule took over. Most agricultural lands were never given to peasants and farm workers but were usurped by big landlords while others were sold to transnational corporations. Most Pakistanis, she said, do not even know that a Land Reform Law exists.

Biplap Halim of the Institute for Motivating Self-employment in Governments in Calcutta, India, said that the land reform program in his country that begun in the 1970s failed because it was very much a compromised program, loophole-ridden. Ownership ceilings and prices of lands were disadvantageous to poor farmers. The absence of farm support system, coupled by pressures from big landlords and TNCs, have forced millions of supposed recipients of land reform sell their lands to big landlords and private corporations.

The implementation of liberalization of India’s agriculture in the 1990s has only worsened the inequitable land structure of the country, Halim said. TNCs with government support have seized vast tracts of land and promoted corporate farming, contract growing, oriented and massive production of cash crops for exports, he said.

He also said that the growing problem of poverty and hunger in India is linked to the basic problem of landlessness. “A growing number of people are hungry because they don’t have access to food producing resources, no access to lands,” he said.

Agnes Vimala of Society for Rural Education and Development India agreed with her colleagues, stressing however that women are often the worst victims of government’s land reform policies. She said, in India’s patriarchal system, women are either not allowed to own the lands or are forced to work in the farms like slaves the rest of their lives.

She said, women work longer than men, receive low wages, and more vulnerable to hazards of work. These conditions often forced women to leave farms and migrate to urban centers only to end up as slaves in commercial stores and prostitution dens.

She also said that the failure of land reform program in the countryside has direct correlations with the growing cases of crimes and social unrest not only in the rural areas but in urban centers as well. In farms operated by TNCs where big plantations of flowers for perfumes are produced, women’s groups affiliated with Vimala’s group uncovered a number of women farm workers that have developed deceases in their ovaries.

Siva of Human Development Organization of Sri Lanka said that the neo-liberal policies in agriculture in his country have not only rendered government’s agrarian reform inutile, but also undermined the country’s food security and the social security of most agricultural workers.

In Indonesia it’s even worse, said Erfan Faryadi, Secretary General of the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA). The mere talk or issues about genuine land reform have been long considered a taboo in Indonesia. The lack of programs for genuine land distribution has been the root for growing unrest in the country, he said.

The land reform problem in Indonesia is no different from countries in the Asia Pacific. It is also market-led, giving more bias to big landlords and TNCs now swarming Indonesia’s countryside.

In Mongolia, revealed Delgermaa of the Center for Human Rights and Development, the land reform program of their government has retaken all lands given to farmers and farmworkers since the 1990s in favor of the implementation of Land reform policy paper of IMF-WB setting prices for lands at higher value, and giving priority to TNCs and big landlords and capitalists to own lands for commercial ventures.

She said this has threatened the food security of her country.

Carl Anthony Ala, public information officer (PIO) of KMP, said that the growing dissatisfaction of farmers and agricultural workers toward government land reform programs, is a common trend in Asia Pacific. But this is a good sign, for it means, peasants are looking for better alternatives, he added.

Philippine experience no different

The Philippines is no different, said Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general. “All the land reforms in the country since 1960s to the present’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), have all been failures because they were crafted by big landlords, compradors and bureaucrats,” he said.

Ramos said the main problem in the Philippines is still landlessness. Citing official data, he said, out of every 100 farmers 21 are agricultural workers, 28 are unpaid family workers, 26 are under some form of tenancy relation and only 25 own land. Seven out of 10 do not own the land they till. On the other hand, only few families control vast tracks of lands; 60 percent of the agricultural lands are owned by 13 percent of landowners. The biggest landlords, only 9,500 people, own more than 20 percent of all agricultural lands in the country.

The CARP, said to be former President Corazon Aquino’s centerpiece program, turned out to be a huge graveyard for Filipino peasants, Ramos said. It’s clearly pro-landlords and pro-TNCs as evidenced by all sorts of exemptions and conditions for evasion in the course of its implementation.

Jennifer Malonzo of IBON Databank and Research Center explained that market-oriented land reform program being implemented by the GMA administration is a direct assault on farmers and agricultural workers because it is nothing but “a land transaction between willing buyers and sellers.”

These take the forms of voluntary offer to sell, stock distribution option, joint venture agreements, and numerous other land distribution evasion schemes, she stressed.

Truth is, she said, there is no actual expropriation of private lands for distribution, only voluntary land transaction, using property as collateral in the credit market.

Karl Ombion of the Center for Investigative Research and Multimedia Services (CIRMS) expounded on Malonzo’s report by citing the case of Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr’s Joint Venture Agreement cum Corporative Scheme in Negros Occidental, where instead of transferring his 1,200 hectares of lands to farmworker agrarian beneficiaries he offered them stocks to his corporate venture company. ECJ still controls the “financing, production, development and management of the venture,” Ombion said.

Ombion also cited several SDO schemes being implemented in Negros, and similar other programs of land reform sans land transfer.

More displacements and killings

Ramos added that Macapagal-Arroyo’s full implementation of neoliberal policies particularly her adherence to “WB’s market-assisted land reform program” and her agriculture modernization program, have further displaced millions of already landless and poor peasants.

Peasants resisting these neoliberal onslaughts have been brutally suppressed by the President’s state security forces. To date, peasants still bear the worst records of human rights violations, Ramos said. (

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