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ECUADOR
Water, land, and food under debate
Luis Ángel Saavedra
6/14/2012
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Indigenous organizations join forces to pass laws that guarantee food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty is fundamental to Sumak Kausay, or good living, an indigenous way of life grounded in the construction of social systems that are based on the reciprocity between humans and nature.

That’s how it’s understood by the principal indigenous and campesino organizations in Ecuador, like the National Confederation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations, or FENOCIN, which is closely aligned to the national government, and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE. The two, along with smaller organizations, are looking to join forces to get laws approved that guarantee food that is safe, healthy and permanent.

An early victory for the grassroots organizations was getting into the country’s 2008 Constitution articles on the right to food as well as to food sovereignty.

For example, Article 13 of the Ecuadoran Constitution states: “Individuals and communities have the right to safe and permanent access to healthy, sufficient and nutritious food, preferably produced locally and in accordance with their different identities and cultural traditions.” Specifically regarding food sovereignty, Article 281 reads: “Food sovereignty is a strategic objective and an obligation of the State to guarantee that individuals, communities, towns and nationalities achieve permanent self-sufficiency with foods that are healthy and culturally appropriate.”

For those articles to work, the Constitution places the responsibility on the State in designing fiscal, technological, and production policies, as well as those for biosecurity and the provision and use of seeds, among others.

After the new Constitution went into effect, the indigenous and campesino organizations took up a campaign together to seek approval of different laws that ensure food sovereignty. To that end, in early February 2010, about 75 grassroots indigenous and campesino organizations declared that year the Year of National Mobilization for Food Sovereignty.


For family and communitarian farming
Of primary concern to the organizations was the lack of consensus in the National Assembly to approve a Food Sovereignty Law, which elaborates on issues like agrarian development, seeds, local farming, and bans on transgenics, and which need to be buttressed by a Water Law, which would regulate access to water on equal terms, prioritizing human consumption and agriculture. These bills were drawn up in the National Assembly in 2009 without consulting the social sectors involved. This sparked an indigenous mobilization in September 2009 and lead to the death of Shuar professor Bosco Wisuma.

One disagreement over the Water Law is about managing the flow of water; the government wants to establish a state agency, disregarding the historic “juntas de agua,” or water boards, in which communities participate. Another point of contention is with the Land Act, which seeks land redistribution and the elimination of the large estates.

The call for the organizations’ campaign denounced the tendency of neoliberal governments to favor agribusiness, monoculture, the prioritization of agricultural production for export (of exotic products such as flowers, strawberries, uvillas, broccoli, etc.), for which entrepreneurs look to take over productive land and water sources. The organizations countered this with an appeal to promote sustainable agroecology, the recovery of traditional practices, and fair trade.

One of the campaign’s strong points was the call to reestablish family and communitarian farming practices, forms that allowed indigenous peoples to survive despite the pressure of the Western world.

“You just have to look at how the last indigenous march was held to know that indigenous communities can feed their people autonomously,” says Gloria Chicaiza, an activist with Acción Ecológica, the country’s leading environmental organization, referring to the mobilization last March in defense of water.

Chicaiza highlighted how in all indigenous protests, each community is responsible for feeding and supporting their own delegations, fully decentralizing the logistical responsibility for the general mobilization.

“A similar practice could ensure food not only for the communities but for the surrounding towns,” Chicaiza said.


Stalled laws
Despite the importance of the call to action and the involvement of pro-government organizations —like FENOCIN, the National Federation of Agribusiness Workers and Free Campesinos in Ecuador, or FENACLE, and the National Campesino Coordinating Body Eloy Alfaro, or CNC-EA — neither government officials nor President Rafael Correa accepted the proposals. The bills are held up in the National Assembly.

“Ensuring a system of food sovereignty requires the adoption of laws relating to the administration and regulation of water flows, and the redistribution of land; that is the only way to transform the agriculture and food systems in our country,” said CONAIE President Humberto Cholango.

He added that one of the basic requests of the recent indigenous march was the adoption of the Land Act, but despite talks with the government, no progress has been made because neither it nor the Water Act are priorities for the National Assembly.

“Without solving the problem of land tenure, without eradicating the large estates and redistributing idle land, we cannot guarantee food, let alone food sovereignty,” Cholango told Latinamerica Press, referring to the law’s basic points.

“In talking about land, we also should talk about its spiritual character, the community structures there, and not merely consider it as something to be exploited,” said Cholango, pointing out the difference with how land is seen by the indigenous groups allied with the government.

While the government talks of production and productivity, for which it is seeking to implement agrobusiness and turn communities into units of production, CONAIE claims the land is more than that.

In short, if it is true that the indigenous and campesino organizations have decided to act together on the issue of food sovereignty, there are still differences that divide them. In the meantime, the National Assembly and Correa’s administration are not making inroads to legislate and put into practice the constitutional principles adopted four years ago.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Indigenous people and campesinos set out to bring back family and communitarian farming. (Photo: Ana María Acosta)
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