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Mexico's 10 Million Farmers Call for 'Food Sovereignty'

Inter Press Service
October 16, 2001, Tuesday
MEXICO: PEASANTS CALL FOR "FOOD SOVEREIGNTY"
BY: By Diego Cevallos
MEXICO CITY:
Organizations of peasant farmers in Mexico urged the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today to replace the concept of food
security with that of "food sovereignty" -- the right of countries to make
decisions about all aspects of food production.
The request was set forth on World Food Day, commemorated this year by FAO
under the theme "Fight Hunger to Reduce Poverty."
The event spurred debates in several Latin American countries on poverty and
its consequences. For example, hunger has worsened over the past year in
Guatemala and other parts of Central America. As part of today's events, 24
peasant associations and social groups in Mexico discussed the impact of
transgenic corn, which is being introduced surreptitiously into the country,
and called for controls to protect native varieties of corn and measures
to bolster their production and distribution.
In Bolivia, a national food fair was organized to mark the occasion, while a
fund-raising lottery was held in Ecuador.
On World Food Day this year, "we advocate food sovereignty, in contrast to
food security, because it is not just a question of having enough food, but
of the right of peasant farmers to feed" the population, said the Mexican
groups.
In its documents, FAO speaks of food security, a term that addresses the
need to guarantee a basic diet for everyone and to promote efforts against
malnutrition.

In its report "The State of Food and Agriculture 2001," FAO says food and
livestock production in Latin America grew 5.4 and 5.7 percent,
respectively, in 1999, up from 1998 growth rates of just 1.8 and 0.7 percent.
But last year, agricultural yields in the region increased around 2 percent,
while production of grains, in particular, grew less than 1 percent, the
annual report added.

Meanwhile, livestock production rose around 3 percent in 2000, and non-food
crops 4 percent.
The report also underlined that although Latin America had posted relatively
poor performance in agriculture, hunger was not at dramatic levels in the
region.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today that it was important to
recognize that hunger deserves at least the same attention as poverty, when
it comes to global development priorities.
The U.N. agency underscored that there were 815 million hungry people in the
world, 200 million of whom are under 10.
Alberto Gmez, with the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant
Organizations, said in Mexico that "there is no lack of food in the world.
What there is, is poor distribution and attempts by transnationals" to
impose their food products.

The Mexican groups complained that with the complicity of government
officials, transnational corporations were introducing genetically modified
corn into Mexico, which they said was a violation of "the country's food
sovereignty."
The government of Vicente Fox has acknowledged that transgenic corn has
been detected in several states, but it does not see that as a threat.

Mexico, the birthplace of corn, imports six million tons of the crop every
year. An unknown quantity of those imports contain transgenic elements.
"Peasant farmers are capable of producing all of the corn that the
population needs, and without the dangers posed by transgenics," said Vctor
Surez with the National Association of Marketing Companies.
Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Aventis and Dow, leaders in the production of
genetically engineered seeds and crops, which also have a strong presence in
the agrochemical and pharmaceutical markets, say their scientific
contributions in the area of transgenics provide answers to hunger in the
world.
The transnationals impose themselves on poor farmers worldwide with products
whose impact on the ecosystem and human health is still unclear, but could
be catastrophic, protested the Mexican groups, which are opposed to such
technology.
Argentina, Canada and the United States grow 98 percent of the transgenic
crops sold throughout the world. But the seed giants are pushing to expand
the cultivation of genetically modified crops in other countries, especially
in the developing South.
World Food Day presents an opportunity to defend "food sovereignty" and urge
developing countries not to allow themselves to become the "booty" of a
handful of companies, said the Mexican groups

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