Via Campesina

“Fighting for Rights in Society and Representation in the Movement”

5th Youth Assembly of La Via Campesina
Photo: Via Campesina

From Via Campesina

Approximately 150 youth delegates from several regions where La Via Campesina has member organizations convened in Bogotá, Colombia, on December 1, for their 5th Assembly, marking a significant milestone in a process that began in 2004, in São Paulo, Brazil. The Youth Assembly serves as a political forum, a self-organized initiative led by young delegates from the main La Via Campesina conference. During this assembly, delegates from diverse regions come together to deliberate on the distinct challenges confronting peasant youth. They engage in thoughtful reflection, articulate positions, and propose solutions, culminating in a comprehensive plan of action to address and overcome these challenges.

Firstly, the assembly sought to further enhance the political participation and representation of young people within the peasant movement. Secondly, it aimed to articulate the challenges faced by peasant youth in society and formulate demands for solutions. This gathering reflects the ongoing commitment of La Via Campesina’s youth to fight for their rights and representation in both the broader societal context and the movement itself.

Building a process for youth representation

Since its establishment in 1993, La Via Campesina has strongly positioned itself as an inclusive movement. Drawing its membership from grassroots rural movements, including peasant, indigenous, rural women, and fisherfolk movements worldwide, the movement embodies a diverse and comprehensive representation. However, it wasn’t until 2004, during its fourth international conference in São Paulo, Brazil, that the youth within La Via Campesina were provided with their dedicated political space. This platform allowed them to reflect on issues specifically pertinent to their condition as young peasants, marking a crucial step in recognizing and addressing the distinct concerns of the younger generation within the movement.

Photo: Via Campesina

Since then, youth assemblies have been convened in Maputo, Mozambique (2008), Jakarta, Indonesia (2013), Derio, Spanish State (2017), and now in Bogotá, Colombia in 2023. Numerous accomplishments have been documented over the span of nearly two decades within the youth process. One particularly noteworthy achievement is the establishment of representation for one youth per region in the International Coordination Committee (ICC) of La Via Campesina—the paramount decision-making body of the movement between its international conferences.

Pramesh Pokharel, from the All Nepal Peasants’ Federation, speaking at the Bogotá assembly, remarked on the historical evolution of the youth representation process within Via Campesina: “Initially, when the concept of youth representation was introduced, only one slot was available on the ICC, permitting just one young leader to represent the youth across all regions.” Today, the youth of La Via Campesina takes pride in commemorating this milestone, a significant achievement.

Fighting for peasant youth rights in an anti-peasant capitalist society

The plight of peasant youth, both within La Via Campesina and on a broader scale, unfolds amid the encroachment of extractivist capitalism, extending its influence across the agricultural, hydroelectric, fishing, and mining sectors. This widespread influence brings about profound implications, especially for the youth, including the occupation of their indigenous territories, the expropriation of their farmlands and water resources by multinational corporations and local elites, and the imposition of genetically modified seeds that erode the value and relevance of traditional indigenous and peasant seeds and food systems.

A notable outcome of this situation has been the forced migration of young people from rural and agrarian settings, involuntarily abandoning their lands and territories, a situation that ultimately serves the interests of extractivist capital. This migration, prompted by the pursuit of economic opportunities elsewhere, further contributes to the perception of agriculture as an unattractive pursuit for the younger generation. The right to land holds significant importance for the youth, as access to this and other resources is crucial for their active engagement in food production, agriculture, and rural development.

The youth response

In a process initiated and solidified during an international meeting of Via Campesina youth in June 2023 in Indonesia, the youth have identified four priority areas that will guide their actions in the upcoming period. At the assembly, these priorities were vividly conveyed through a creative fusion of words, symbols, and performances in the form of ‘mistica. This innovative approach by the youth enhances the diverse ways in which the peasant movement articulates its politics and goals.

Generational renewal emerges as the foremost priority, encompassing not only the political dynamics and leadership within the peasant movement but also in the practical domain of agricultural production. The objective is to engage more young people in agriculture, with the aim of restoring and defending the dignity of being a young peasant. The second priority centers on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, known as UNDROP. While the youth celebrated the UN’s ratification and adoption of the UNDROP, the current challenge lies in propelling and demanding its implementation. This is crucial for the youth to safeguard themselves against the violation of their rights as peasants and to assert their rights to their territories and lands in the face of multinational corporations and other actors who often disregard these rights. The third priority involves the critical analysis of the increasingly introduced new digital technologies in agriculture. Understanding the implications of these technologies is essential to prepare and better defend against potential attacks on peasant and family agriculture. The fourth and final priority focuses on climate change and agroecology. Confronting the current climate crisis is of paramount importance, given its devastating consequences for peasant farmers, particularly in Africa and Asia. The aim is to put forth sustainable solutions, emphasizing the importance of agroecology to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“Identifying these priorities was the outcome of a collaborative process, reflecting our shared convictions. In the present juncture, we believe that these priorities are not just valid but imperative”, said Anuka da Silva, youth representative from the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform, MONLAR, in Sri Lanka.

“We represent the future of La Via Campesina. As we organize through the youth process, our objective extends beyond claiming space within the movement; we aspire to contribute to a more extensive societal transformation, steering towards a post-capitalist and post-imperialist world. Our task is not only crucial but also indispensable”, said Micherline Islanda Aduel from Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, of Haiti.