Nyéléni, Mali : A global alliance against land grabbing
FIAN-Report about International Peasant Conference (December 2011)
By Brigitte Reisenberger and Sofía Monsalve Suárez
From 17-19 November 2011 women and men peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and their allies from across the world gathered together in Mali to participate in the first international peasants’ conference to stop land grabbing. The meeting took place in Nyéléni Village, a centre for agro-ecology training near Sélingué and a symbolic place for the global struggle for food sovereignty: the first international forum on Food Sovereignty was held here 2007. Two-hundred-fifty participants from 30 countries around the world came together to share with each other their experiences and struggles against land grabbing and to build and strengthen their alliances.
At the opening ceremony Ibrahim Coulibaly, president of the National Confederation of Peasant Organisations (CNOP) of Mali, said: “We have seen an increase in land grabbing. Just in Mali alone the government has committed to give 800,000 hectares to business investors. But these lands are not empty! People may not have legal titles, but they have been there for generations, even centuries, whereas the Malian state was first founded in 1960.” And he added: “Governments are pushing farmers off their lands. This is not acceptable.”
CNOP, together with other Malian peasants' and farmers’ trade unions such as AOPP and Sexagon, started supporting local communities affected by the big land deals the Malian government has been undertaking in the region administered by the Office de Niger around two years ago. In Samanabougou, for instance, the Malian businessgroup GDCM, which works on cereals commercialization, got a land lease for 7,400 ha for 30 years to plant wheat. The conflicts with the local communities started in 2009 when the company began to pressure them to vacate the lands. In June 2010 one of the most serious incidents happened when the company, with the support of the police, entered the lands with bulldozers and destroyed fruit trees. A police post was installed and prevented local people from accessing their plots. Many people were injured during this incident including a pregnant woman who had a miscarriage. Several people were detained and some of them remain imprisoned in Markala.
CNOP, AOPP and Sexagon worked to build a national civil society coalition in support of cases like this one. In November 2010 they organized the first national meeting of people affected by land grabbing in Kolongotomo. In the “Kolongo Appeal”1 they reminded the government that every Malian citizen has the right to land ownership under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that Mali must respect these rights; urged the government and the Office du Niger to freeze ongoing work to develop disputed sites, suspend transactions and/or talks until conflicts have been resolved; and engage in policy dialogue with farmers by organising a national round table to discuss investment policy for the agricultural sector. Furthermore, the Malian organizations actively engaged with many other African farmers organizations in the World Social Forum held in Dakar in February 2011, which led to the adoption of the “Dakar Appeal against Land Grabbing.“2 This appeal has been signed by 900 organizations worldwide and eventually became one of the major tools to organize resistance against land grabbing.
The Nyéleni Alliance against Land Grabbing
Since the beginning of the international debate about land grabbing, the Nyéléni conference is the first international meeting organized by affected peasants themselves, with the support of the international peasant movement La Via Campesina and the West African farmers network ROPPA. Farmers and pastoralists from other African countries and from the Americas, Asia and Europe responded to the call of their Malian counterparts to come together and build a powerful alliance. Participants gave testimonies on the different forms of land grabbing they face, be it due to mining, forest plantations, agribusiness or conservation parks. Women peasants were emphatic about the land grabbing they suffer due to patriarchy. Participants from Mauritania recalled the oppression of ethnic minorities leading to dispossession of their territories and slavery. Representatives from the peasant movement of Bajo Aguán, Honduras reported that 50 peasants and human rights defenders have been killed in a land conflict related to the interests of agribusiness and the failure of the state to carry out agrarian reform. Young French peasants told the audience about the increasing concentration of land in Europe, the loss of peasant lands due to different forms of land use change such as infrastructure projects and the extreme difficulty of the peasant youth to have access to agricultural land.
The significance of the newly created alliance lies in the fact that it has emerged from concrete struggles in defence of peasants' and pastoralists' lands and for restitution, redistribution and agrarian reform wherever necessary. Participants reiterated their firm opposition against land grabbing and made clear that they were not there to discuss how to get better deals with companies and governments to sell or lease their lands. They were there to reinforce their strong commitment to food sovereignty and to peasant agriculture and small-scale food production as the most economically, socially and environmentally sustainable form to use natural resources for food production. Thus at the core of the conference were very practical questions such as how to ensure that people are aware of their right to land and are able to challenge government when it states that the land belongs unconditionally to it; how to establish effective people's legal aid; how to maintain community cohesion when powerful interests seek to deceive community members and corrupt local leaders; how to strengthen capacity at the local level to organize resistance; and what are the key elements of a powerful advocacy strategy to stop land grabbing. The conference participants reiterated their commitment to resist land grabbing by all means possible, referring to the Dakar Appeal. They agreed to support all those who fight land grabs, and to put pressure on national governments and international institutions so that they fulfill their human rights obligations. In the declaration the global alliance demands from governments to “immediately stop land and natural resource transfers to business investors, cancel contracts already made, restitute the grabbed lands and protect rural and urban communities from ongoing and future land-grabs.”
Alongside peasants' and pastoralists' representatives, other civil society organizations sharing the same political stance attended the conference. GRAIN, for instance, presented new data and analysis of the newest developments highlighting particularly the role of pension funds. Focus on the Global South and the Land Research & Action Network (LRAN) shared their analysis of the situation in the Asian context and their struggles for the commons and agrarian reform. Friends of the Earth International and the World Rainforest Movement enriched the discussions with the perspectives from analysis and action by the environmental movement. Terra Nuova shared the experiences of EuropAfrica in alliance building with farmers networks for advocacy purposes at the international level.
Organizations working on World Bank issues and the ffinanacing of agriculture, such as the Italian CRBM, offered research capacity and mobilization for addressing the role of the international financial institutions in land grabbing. Several other organizations, like PELUM, aGter, IGO and Justicia y Paz, were also present. Likewise, young scholars and well-known academics, such as those associated with the Land Deals Politics Initiatives and the Transnational Institute brought their insights into the debate and committed to continue undertaking critical studies.
FIAN International supported the organization of the conference and contributed to the discussions and plan of action from the human rights perspective. The final declaration clearly refers to human rights obligations: “Secure access to and control over land and natural resources are inextricably linked to the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several regional and international human rights treaties, such as the rights to self-determination, an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health, culture, property and participation.” FIAN is already supporting several concrete struggles on the ground, like the Bajo Aguán case in Honduras and the community of Samanabougou in Mali already mentioned. Thus FIAN is fully committed to be part and support the newly created alliance. In particular, FIAN will contribute to capacity building, advocacy strategies using human rights and facilitating more organizations from the global right to food movement and the human rights movement at large join this alliance. Moreover, FIAN will continue engaging in international policy forums, such as the UN Human Rights System, the Committee on World Food Security and FAO, transmitting the core demands of the alliance to stop land grabbing, to protect and promote people's rights to natural resources and to strengthen a sustainable peasant agriculture to ensure the right to adequate food for all.