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Food safety, for whom?

Food safety, for whom?

By Ignacio Birriel

Within the framework of a prior agreement with a series of peasant organizations and NGOs, some communities were visited. In a coexistence internship regime, to know the work and life structure of the different peasant and indigenous groups of some countries in South and Central America.

Food Safety, for whom?

Job presentation.

Within the framework of a prior agreement with a series of peasant organizations and NGOs, some communities were visited. In a coexistence internship regime, to know the work and life structure of the different peasant and indigenous groups of some countries in South and Central America.

These visits took place in the context of a work that the author is developing in different Latin American countries. It consists of the compilation and systematization of information regarding the peasant structure, its survival strategies, organization and technology adoption strategies. Mainly, oriented to the way in which peasants are taking the path of Agroecology, as an alternative of production and a fairer life, of food security and sustainability. This activity has already been developed by the author in countries such as Brazil (MST), Venezuela (Land Committees), Colombia (RECAR and ASPROINCA), Nicaragua (Campesinos de la UNAG) and in Guatemala, where it is currently being developed in some organizations belonging to the Agrarian Platform.


During the visits, meetings were held with local actors, with whom they interacted, in the form of coexistence, sharing work, housing, food and customs with peasant families, for periods of 3 to 15 days.

In the form of informal interviews, a series of variables to be developed in the article were determined, on the way in which the issue of international aid for peasant development and Food Security is developing.

In experience visited in Colombia and Central America (Nicaragua and Guatemala), it is possible to verify a strong presence of international organizations that are financing food security work, intensively, using Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as intermediaries.

Previous analysis

In the vast majority of cases, the work carried out by NGOs, which promote this issue, lies in the fact that promotional activities within the broad topic of Food security are concentrated in training workshops (1), the delivery of agricultural work goods (Tools), seeds that are given at specific times, etc.

These organizations promote the development of agroecology, from the perspective of increasing food production, improving production techniques (soil conservation and organic fertilizers), reducing the use of pesticides, maintaining some varieties of local seeds, etc.

After developing this work in various peasant organizations, which are being supported by NGOs, it is determined that those that have some degree of efficiency are those that have developed complex and effective technical advisory systems based on the continuous monitoring and evaluation, week by week, developed by the farmers themselves (ASPROINCA in Colombia and Campesino a Campesino in Nicaragua). They have achieved a technology incorporation efficiency of 90%. In other words, the vast majority of producers have managed to implement the ecological proposal on their property and still continue to work in an ecological way.

In most of the cases studied, farmers have improved their access to food in the short term (more varied and of better quality) by a high percentage. In a small percentage, they have increased economic income and developed some strategy of economic accumulation. Access to education, land, investment credits, housing has not improved at all. Many of these results depend on the capacity of the field technicians and their advisers within the institution; thus, most of these organizations are financing specific jobs, with a slight intention of peasant organization.

Oscar Tenorio Baltodano says: “Ecology is better than political work in the FSLN”, an ecological producer from Nicaragua was part of a cooperative that in the government of Violeta Chamorro disintegrated due to lack of financial support and never returned to arm, not even with an agroecological proposal. Oscar Tenorio has worked, and still works, with several NGOs, but with none have they resumed the process of reforming the cooperative; moreover, a work of this nature has never been questioned. In the dialogue, he admits that he is “spoiled by the NGOs”, which provide him with inputs and pay him training as a promoter (US $ 20 per day). These attitudes show the need for institutions to obtain results quickly and that is why producers already experienced in the field of ecology are used so that the impact is positive and in the short term and, in this way, shape the financial institutions in the short term. term and in a simpler way than to train new farmers. The other advantage is the technical training of these producers, which for the most part exceeds the training of the NGO technicians themselves, being the first source of technical training for the institution.

The case of the technicians from CARITAS (Non-governmental Organization, which is working in the department of QUICHE, town of Uspantan, in the North of Guatemala), they are rented and move in the area, looking for farmers to whom they advise in "Ecological production" to justify their high salaries disconnected from the peasant reality. Story of a peasant in this town, belonging to the organization; Association for Integral Development in Quiche, "Kumool", this producer says: "They come to give us talks and tell us how we should do things, but it is very difficult for us." The technical agroecology packages are the same in all the organizations, they refer to the production of vegetables in the yard by women, the raising of domestic birds, the production of organic fertilizers, level crops, etc. Geographical, environmental, sociocultural (which is very important for the Mayan Cosmovision), economic and market characteristics of each region are not taken into account. Starting from a predefined base, an outdated and outdated technical extension system is adopted, which seems to be the key to obtaining financial resources for the subsistence of the company or NGO. Pure imposition of new production methodologies, the technicist model, there are no instances of sincere dialogue, follow-ups and adequate evaluations in which the technicians end up criticizing the poor peasant predisposition, from their perspective: totalizing, university and bourgeois.

Why the producer adopts the proposal.

The average land tenure in Colombia in the organizations studied is one block per Family (7000m2), in Nicaragua with an agrarian reform program in between, it reaches 8 blocks per family. But in Guatemala we go down and the average land tenure does not exceed one block per family, with entire communities of more than two hundred families, who own less than 400 m2, per family (R Hernández, 12 2004), it is added to this that Most of the land is on the slopes of the mountain with slopes reaching 80%. In these conditions of land tenure and without the support of credit policies, technical assistance and even, being these families inhabitants of isolated communities, without roads (hardly any paths), without access to markets, without transportation, they become hostages of merchants or powerful institutions that set prices and payment conditions (the Union of Coffee Growers, western Colombia). This situation creates the optimal conditions for the peasant groups studied to take a decisive initiative within the framework of organic production. It is that, at a rate of 20 U $ S per 50kg bag of commercial fertilizer, NPK or UREA, conventional production becomes impossible, production that in other times was an alternative, due to the high value of coffee or other products. Thus, the only alternative for the producer is proposed and framed, to associate with NGOs, to develop agroecology.

Thus, these NGOs, in a high percentage financed by the World Bank (E Hernández, 2005) and with an important economic flow that allows them to develop investment plans, take action to support the producer, to generate an alternative life and development, conserving the soil, water sources and the forest, in other words: biodiversity, and with it, gene banks (Tuxill and Nabhan, 1998).

The final result of the experiences visited is positive if we look at it from a purely technological point of view. These peasants respond to the proposal for reasons of support (the only support they receive), seed, financing, technical assistance, but almost never for a solid ideological principle. This is the case of the producers of ASPROCAFE, (Coffee entity, from the state of Río Sucio, Colombia, which is working with the Fair Price Market (2)) that are reconverted to the production of organic coffee, because they receive a better price for their product, but they continue to assimilate a technology of high costs in external inputs, since they pay up to US $ 22 per liter, for an ecological fertilizer, produced by important companies suppliers of agricultural inputs (personal verification); that is, they continue to assume the lie, the external package, model of the Green Revolution, which now adopts organic technology.

Where is the strength of the proposal? What will happen if the world market again demands the conventional product with good prices?

Will the producers maintain the integrated system of ecological management, or will they again acquire the behavior of capitalist work and for the market?

These questions were formulated by the author, in several interviews with organic producers, who are being reconverted after the coffee crisis in Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala (1999). A high percentage hesitate before answering and in 100%, the answers are not concise and decisive.

Food safety for whom?

This is the question posed to us.
It is that with the development of these institutions and their work, a degree of improvement can be projected in the matter of food security of the most deprived sectors, impacted by these companies or NGOs; By improving the strategy of obtaining food, the farmer calms his stomach and calms his soul. The peasant in his small plot, and immersed in his ignorance, if he has enough food for his food and that of his family, he becomes a serene, peaceful, tolerant being, who refers to living his life exporting children to the large capitals and developed countries, working hands, ignorant, without too many wage claims or job security. Cheap and tolerant arms of the rigorous working conditions proposed by the multinational companies that today operate in our continent (E Tamayo G, Revista América Latina en Movimiento, 04, 2004). In addition to being a promoter and conservator of genetic resources, today, the largest research and consumer product of the transnational Pharmaceuticals. As proposed by Tuxill and Nabhan (1998), traditional agriculture is a source of production and maintenance of genetic resources. Due to its characteristics of selection, integration of crops, introgression, use and maintenance of local species.


But the proposal leaves a great bitter taste, from the beginning of human development, because the great social needs remain empty. Where is education, decent housing, access to land, access to markets, in other words, where is the rest of human needs? The needs that lead to the integral development of the human being and the future in the field of the next generations (World Agrarian Reform Forum, Valencia 2004).

We agree, it is not the role of the NGOs to satisfy these needs, but neither to disintegrate the organization, because the NGOs capture a portion of peasants in a region, other NGOs capture a different portion than the previous one, in the same area. working uncoordinately, they destroy the grassroots organization. Institutions of this type tend to atomize peasant work, disintegrating it, individualizing it in their proposal for integrated work, within their farm. The so-called community leaders are formed, who are immediately absorbed by the activities to promote the proposal themselves, these almost never have time to develop union activities, to generate ties with other communities and not with other organizations at the national level. These leaders go on to play a fundamental role in obtaining specific results within the community (results that are of interest, fundamentally, in order to demonstrate actions with impact and justify the financing of the NGO) and almost never at a global level that concern the peasant class and to ensure a true development process, ensuring land tenure, decent education, Satisfied Basic Needs, etc. “We are doing the dirty work for the World Bank”, a reflection that emerged in a workshop with peasant women (Guatemala, 2005). In this meeting, with the majority of women leaders of the communities, it was concluded that the needs of the peasant class itself are used to promote strategies with a double game, in which in the end the one who benefits is the system Neoliberal.

The call is towards peasant organizations, that they are the ones that should take action on the matter, using the technical and financial capacity of the NGOs, to promote social promotion activities that do not destroy the union structure itself. In this way, the NGOs are put at the service of the peasant class, reversing the usual scheme, in which some peasants agree and organize on time, to satisfy the projection needs of companies or NGOs, contributing to disintegration, the conflict between leaders and communities, even the conflict between the NGOs themselves.

This is how we want to come to the reflection of Sustainable Food Security or Food SovereigntyThis is the case of organizations such as the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, MST, which have taken the forefront, providing for the solution of these questions the only infallible weapon: political-ideological formation, as a liberating element of the individual and paradigm in the integral development of the peasant.

The peasant class must take a definition as such and, based on it, establish an adequate development process (Martins de Carbalho, 2004). Thus, the integration of rural social movements is essential, at the national level in each country and at the global level in the international arena (Propuesta de la Via Campesina, San Pablo, 2004). Only in this way will the peasant be able to leave the state of misery in which he currently lives in Latin America, finding his own paradigm.

It is in this context that a firm and solid form of work is proposed for the NGOs that are developing actions of social impact and that are considering a dignified future for the children of the peasants who today are working with these institutions. Take advantage of foreign resources, destined to agroecology, Food Security, Sustainable Development, Gender, etc. Generate training instances, in which the institutions work together (in Nicaragua, the GPAE, Group for the Promotion of Ecological Agriculture, is an example) and consequently, the peasants associated with them, combat isolation, strengthen ties and union activities in the peasant associations. Cut with the isolated concept of ecological production and incorporate the broad definition of Agroecology, as a new attitude and conception of the world, globalizing peasant needs and family production, developing a definition of Peasant Class (Martins de Carbalho, 2003).

Thus, the different grassroots organizations, associations, rural workers' unions, indigenous communities, regional groups will be able to generate strategies for action to fight, proposals before the institutions, state policies, the entities in charge of enforcing the laws and rights of agriculture family and indigenous. In this way, an instance is provided, superior to the work of the NGOs themselves, which consists of the claim work themselves, developed by the peasants.

Returning to the aforementioned point, in which the fact that no support organization can, replace the role of the State and therefore solve the problems that concern the peasant class was expressed. It is that the concept of work for ideological formation and organization is developed. Some NGOs are already in this line of stimulating the peasant presence in decision-making areas, with clear proposals and the ability to defend them, as Marta Iasodara, from the "CUCULMECA" (NGO, Nicaragua, Jinotega) says: "We have it very clear, the peasants must go out alone and based on their own organization and proposal ”, we are, facilitators of information and strategies. Also the organization “Tierra y Vida”, (Nicaragua, Carazo), these two NGOs, in Nicaragua have developed a work, of conscience and proposal from the own peasant base, in pre-electoral periods, in the mayoralties, with important impacts, for peasant communities.

Other peasant organizations present this attitude, ideal to be reproduced, from the very heart of the peasant organization, this is the case of the MST (Brazil) and Plataforma Agraria (Guatemala). Which work at the national level and have developed the capacity for proposals, articulating initiatives to be carried out with NGOs. The latter acting as mere technical assistants of the peasant proposals and not as promoters of works conceived in their own bosom without prior and solid connection with the rural organizations.

Therefore, the problem is great and it is only up to the peasant class to define strategies clear lines of action and bond on these sensitive issues. Class consciousness itself, the orderly strategy, and the mobilization and demand of the peasants is the only way to solve the problems in a solid and permanent way (J Stedille, Brazil 2004). There is no non-governmental institution that is capable of lifting the peasant class out of the crisis, but it is this very class that must swim with its own arms.

(1) - These trainings consist of general terms and are very widespread in these countries; in concentrating a group of peasants, from a region, paying for transportation and food, to give a talk of conventional characteristics and vertical condition.
(2) - The Fair Price market is a Non-Governmental organization, which has markets for the sale of mostly artisan products and some food, such as coffee; distributed in some European countries. Its main slogan is the Fair price, paying in Colombia the equivalent of one dollar per pound of coffee, a product that is sold in Spain for 5 euros (personal verification).

Doctor in Veterinary Medicine, Specialist in Peasant Organization and Agroecology.
Guatemala, 2006


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