As the world celebrated the “World Food Day” last 16 October, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) together with peasant organisations from the region conducted a coordinated series of counter-protests marking 16th of October as World Hunger Day.
According to Rahmat Ajiguna, APC Secretary General, the protests aim to expose the reality wherein farmers, fisherfolks and other small food producers in Asia suffer from food insecurity and in most cases remain the hungriest sectors of society. “Worse, landless farmers are increasing and remain impoverished elsewhere in poor countries,” Ajiguna added.
Increasing violation of peasant rights and intensified land grabbing are a result of neoliberal policies implemented in the region, according to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines – KMP). In the Philippines, according to KMP, 9 out of 10 Filipino farmers remain landless. Landlessness has worsened in the past years as a result of massive land grabbing, land use conversion and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects promoted by the Aquino government and private investors, said KMP.
In Bangladesh, 4.5 million inhabitants are completely landless mostly residing in rural areas, according to a 2008 Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics survey. “In reality however, the number of landless people is higher than government statistics. In 2008, 13% of rural households were landless and this continues to increase (it was only 9% in 1983-84),” remarked Nasrin Sultana, also from the APC and President of the National Women Farmers and Workers Association (JKSS) in Bangladesh.
“Unfortunately, 60% of the world’s hungry are women and 300 million children go hungry every day. Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger while around 9 million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year,” added Sultana.
The World Food Day is an annual event promoted by the UN-sponsored Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This year’s theme “Social Protection and Agriculture,” builds on the role of social protection systems as a means to fight global hunger. ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates however indicate that 70 percent of the world’s poor still do not have access to adequate social protection.
“In Bangladesh, the conditional cash transfer (CCT) covers secondary education (Bangladesh’s Female Secondary School Assistance Program or FSSAP) while Indonesia covers primary and secondary education (Indonesia’s Jaring Pengamanan Sosial or JPS). In the Philippines, despite spending P245-billion for CCT since 2008, poverty is undeniably increasing. According to Ibon Foundation’s poverty survey, 7 out of 10 respondents considered themselves as poor. This is consistent with the estimate that some 66 million Filipinos are living with a P125 (US $ 2.7) daily income or even less,” said Ajiguna.
Ajiguna further added that despite the increasing number of CCT programs being implemented in the region, poverty rates continue to rise. He said that CCT programs in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan are dole-outs that if anything, would only exacerbate national debt. Most of the CCT programs in these countries are cashed in through loans from financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, he said.
Meanwhile, KMP Chairperson Rafael Mariano questioned the sincerity of Asian governments in their pursuit to end hunger. “Governments in Asia are marketing Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme, where both domestic and foreign investors will be given legal authority to make it easy for them to further intensify land grabbing, to multiply plunder of available resources and step-up corporate takeovers of other vital sections of the economy,” Mariano said.
Mariano further cited the Philippine government’s Clark Green City project – which includes a highway construction project that will displace 20,000 indigenous peasant families in the Pampanga province. In India, the government is set convert 12,000 hectares of agricultural lands into a city development project that will affect 100,000 peasants in Andra Pradesh, Mariano added.
In addition, the group also lamented the case of indigenous peasants in Manipur wherein a mega-dam construction threatens to submerge 1,215 hectares of fertile land in Senapati and Ukhrul districts.
Protesting against the World Food Day, the APC organized coordinated actions last July 18 in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and the Philippines stating that “to end hunger, advancing the struggle for genuine agrarian reform and building anti-imperialist movement is necessary.” ###