Via Campesina

Environmental crisis is an effect of capitalism, not of humanity, says MST leader João Pedro Stedile

Stedile participated of the third day of the International Conference of Via Campesina
Environmental issues were one of the topics discussed during the conference. Foto: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

By Lucas Estanislau
From Brasil de Fato
Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brazil was one of the 82 countries to attend the 8th International Conference of Via Campesina, a platform that gathers the most important organizations fighting for rights in rural areas from all around the globe. The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST, in Portuguese) was represented by João Pedro Stedile and a delegation of other members of the movement.

During the third day of debates, on Tuesday (05), Stedile talked about the universal challenges the peasant movement faces and highlighted the urgency of putting the struggle against climate change at the center of the peasant movement.

“We need to place the fight against environmental crimes and climate change at the center. To do so, going to the COP [UN Climate Conference] isn’t enough, because it is a lie. Now, 24,000 people are in Dubai, but they are deciding on nothing,” he said.

The MST leader also pointed out the structural character of climate problems and said the environmental crisis is caused by aggressions perpetrated by capitalism, not by humans.

“Billions of people live in balance with nature. Therefore, the cause of the environmental crisis is the aggression of the capitalist system which, facing a crisis, tries to seize the common goods of nature to accumulate more capital and try to get out of the crisis,” he said.

Stedile also talked about how urgent it is to train rural workers so that agroecological experiences and those of producing organic food can be massive and use renewable sources of energy and other elements that boost the collective agroindustry.

“The agroindustry is fundamental to generating jobs and income for youth and women. Without that, we won’t have alternatives to offer decent paid work so that young people stay in the countryside,” he stated.

João Pedro Stedile: “environmental crisis is an effect of capitalism, not of humanity” / Rafael Stedile/Via Campesina

Diversity and unity

In addition to the Brazilian participation, the second and third days of debates, on 04 and 05 November, were marked by representatives from all regions of the world, who denounced aggressions suffered in their home countries and shared proposals for combating hunger and promoting food sovereignty.

Mayumi Yokoyama, from the National Family Farming Movement in Japan, said that free trade agreements between her country and the US have harmed small local producers, as many of them make Japanese legislation strict about patenting large agribusiness companies regarding seeds.

“In my region, we see how export-oriented agriculture and the use of pesticides on crops are imposed on peasant families, to the point that many countries already promote agriculture without peasants,” she explained.

Hendrick Ndlovu, representative of the Zimbabwe Small Farmers Forum, highlighted the role that multilateral financial organizations play in advancing the monoculture model for export in the global south.

“Many governments in African countries face the dilemma between food and money to pay off commitments. However, if we look at agriculture as a business, there will be no way out. We cannot support big farmers more than we support peasants,” he said.

Having one of the world’s five highest inflation rates, Zimbabwe is sanctioned by international entities such as the IMF for defaulting on its external debt, which exceeded US$14 billion dollars in 2023. During a summit held in May this year to address the debt, the country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, presented high wheat production to creditors as a way of raising dollars to pay off debts.

Tove Sundstrom, from the Swedish Small Farmers Movement, said that in Europe “land concentration is increasing, and farmers have already lost more than half a million farms”. “Big companies are taking our lands because agribusiness is meant to be a sound investment, so it doesn’t matter if it is managed at the expense of democracy, the environment and local communities,” he said.

The representative of the Canadian Peasants’ Union, Genevieve Lalumiere, stated that the struggle movements in the countryside oppose the free trade agreement between the USA, Mexico and Canada, “particularly the regulations related to patents on seeds and to price dumping of agricultural products.”