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People’s Caravan 2004 for Food Sovereignty
October 25, 2004

The month-long mobilization of peasants, farmers, and fisherfolk–the People’s Caravan 2004 for Food Sovereignty–came to a grand finale on September 30th in Kathmandu after traversing 16 nations in Asia and Europe. Organized by PAN Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) four years after the first Caravan, the second mobilization drew large crowds around the theme, “Asserting Our Rights to Land and Food.” The schedule included conferences on the effects of globalization in Kathmandu and Manila, as well as rallies, theater and other cultural events, including a food festival in Tamil Nadu featuring traditional brews of buttermilk,

A Caravan statement at the closing event in Nepal summed up the journey, “In each country visited by the People’s Caravan, the communities condemned corporate agriculture, which emphasizes food grown for export and not for communities. They further condemned the dumping of highly subsidized food and agricultural products from North America and the European Union, which is wiping out local food producers and increasing food insecurity. Throughout the journey farmers and agricultural workers testified about the harm that pesticides have caused to their health, to the environment and in the lives of communities, particularly those of women.”

A conference in Kathmandu on Food Sovereignty was one of the last events, held during a two-day General Strike called by Maoist rebels. The strike caused shops to close and emptied the roads in Kathmandu and large parts of Nepal, but did not stop approximately 2,000 people from attending. The proceedings began with a ceremonial exchange of seeds and water from peasant organizations across Asia, and continued with talks by Caravan peasants and farmers to their brothers and sisters in Nepal. The Nepalese Prime Minister also addressed the conference, organized by the All Nepal Peasant Association and the All Nepal Women’s Association.

In the early hours of September 28, 2004, three Caravan jeeps approaching Kathmandu were intercepted by Maoist rebels enforcing the General Strike. One jeep escaped, but rebels ordered travelers out of the two remaining vehicles and set them on fire. Caravan members watched their belongings go up in flames before they were allowed to continue their journey to Kathmandu.

Michael Hansen of the New York based Consumer Policy Institute attended Caravan events in Kathmandu and marveled at the turnout, “The conference was an enormous success, considering the strike. The hall was packed, which is incredible when the only way to get there was on foot. Its quite impressive to see how much bigger the Caravan has become. Caravan groups entered Nepal from two directions and converged in Kathmandu, when one group crossed the border, they were greeted by 7,000 supporters.”

On the last day the Caravan issued a closing statement raising concerns about the increased militarization faced by peasants and indigenous people, often in response to the movement’s growing strength. The statement reported, “States are criminalizing and imprisoning, even killing peasant leaders who are genuinely struggling for Food Sovereignty and rights of people. The People’s Caravan condemns these forms of repression of the people.”

PAN AP has posted testimonies from the month-long tour on a Caravan website. These stories from peasants, fisherfolk, organic farmers and plantation workers provide a window on their struggles for health, dignity, food and access to land. Following are excerpts of the daily postings from the Peoples Caravan, found at website: http://www.panap.net/caravan

From Tamil Nadu in India:

“Kasamu of Manpakam village comes from a contract farming family, who leases land from a landlord to cultivate paddy. The job of spraying pesticides was for the most part done by her husband. He was given the pesticides by this landlord, and told to use the various concoctions and bottles of poison to ensure that no yield losses occurred due to pest attacks. In the last two years, the use of pesticides intensified. Her husband had been spraying the fields as usual one day when he suddenly fainted. Kasamu had to help her husband get back to their home as he could hardly walk due to his weakened state. He remained severely ill for several weeks and then died.”

From Bangladesh:

“Kishani Savha is an organization of women farmers, working with landless women where up to 70% of the people are landless. For us, the struggle for land is necessary for the existence of our culture and for the future of our children. A landless person usually becomes a migrant laborer, and when these laborers migrate from village to town, his or her family, children and women in the family are abused in many ways. They are the main victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.”

From Orissa in India

Nilulata Patra, of the Kolkata-based Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (IMSE). "The livelihood of fisherfolk in the area is affected because the government has given multi-national corporations (MNCs) full scope to undertake shrimp culture. The government leases land to the industrialists and MNCs. Political goons are illegally arresting fisherfolk to harass them and so, reduce competition in their market."

Sources: Peoples Caravan website: http://www.panap.net/caravan, PAN Asia and Pacific, P.O. Box 2270, 10850 Penang, Malaysia, panap@panap.net; http://www.panap.net.

Contact: PAN AP, email, panap@panap.net; Consumer Policy Institute, email, hansmi@consumer.org.

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