uruguay: protecting biodiversity in agriculture
Friends of the Earth Uruguay / REDES recognize that declining diversity of food grown on farms is both a likely cause, and a consequence, of this crisis. As a solution, they aimed to use conservation and reintroduction of local varieties to build up the food autonomy of rural families. They also sought to bring decision-making about local resources — biodiversity, water, agriculture and food — back into the hands of people and communities. By promoting collective rights, this project would also challenge the ongoing corporate take-over of these resources.
what happened: FoE Uruguay began by compiling and generating value-added information on corporate behaviour and food sovereignty. This included reports, briefings, and magazine articles on: international financial institutions, US and transnational corporations, water and fisheries, and free trade and investment agreements. They shared this information with other civil society organizations, as well as members of parliament in Latin America.
FoE Uruguay also lobbied the government about the need to question policies which concentrate corporate power. They met with the Ministry of Environment and other key parliamentarians about the impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops. They also participated in a special consultative government committee on new water and fisheries legislation, as well as on the formulation of Uruguay’s biosafety framework.
At the same time, FoE Uruguay worked to build coalitions and networks which defend collective rights. This included a plan with Via Campesina in Brazil to carry out a massive campaign against monoculture expansion, working alongside other regional organisations and coalitions. At the international level, FoE Uruguay followed up the February 2007 Forum for Food Sovereignty in Mali with a meeting in Buenos Aires in June, where civil society groups agreed on strategies to confront agribusiness.
FoE Uruguay also used media work to raise public awareness on these issues. This included producing three radio programs broadcast by Real World Radio (www.realworldradio.org), which reached community radios all across Latin America, as well as print and TV coverage.
Finally, FoE Uruguay also took the step of legal action, to challenge corporate power and to defend citizens’ right to information.
what is changing: In a major victory, after pressure from FoE Uruguay and other groups, the national government has introduced a moratorium on new GM crops. FoE Uruguay are also hopeful that the new water and fisheries legislation might restrict corporate power.
FoE Uruguay’s work has strengthened coordination between organisations and movements working on water, human rights, food sovereignty and local economic development in Latin America, the Caribbean and even other Southern regions. FoE Uruguay is a key actor in an increasing number of Latin America fora. They have also strengthened their coordination of the Hemispheric Social Alliance with regard to corporates issues, and are actively preparing for May 2008 Summit of the Peoples in Lima.
In terms of media work, “We have been able to make our space in the mass media and kept developing the alternative media through Real World Radio and their quarterly magazine Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas.” They also have a permanent spot on two national radio programs, which allows them to reach almost 21,000 people every week. Dozens of other radio, TV and print pieces have covered their work.
In general, FoE Uruguay’s information and analysis helped inform and mobilize citizens on corporate issues related to food sovereignty and access to water at the national, regional and international levels. In 2007 they also worked to involve rural women’s organizations in these issues.
Two events, which FoE Uruguay helped organized, demonstrated the public’s greater involvement in social movements: the National March in Defence of Sovereignty, and the Forum of Southern Peoples (Foro de los Pueblos del Sur), held in parallel to the MERCOSUR (Latin American regional trade) summit. The latter was attended by one thousand people.
what we learned: FoE Uruguay faced a considerable challenge in convincing politicians to take their position, despite managing to consult with them and participating in special committees on the new laws. Although such consultative spaces have opened up, FoE Uruguay fears that, “at the end of the day, real participation in the definition of policies is not really allowed.”
Another challenge is that the need for jobs and new investment often trumps other issues when it comes to mobilizing people — a key challenge in FoE Uruguay’s efforts to oppose monocultures and the wood pulp industry. However, “The forums organized by REDES all over the country and the presentation of our video on the impacts of plantations have contributed a lot.”
Finally, despite a media bias toward the corporate viewpoint, FoE Uruguay was able to introduce their analysis to the debate; however obtaining media coverage of alternative visions remains a considerable challenge in Uruguay.
what next: According to FoE Uruguay, “We need to keep up the pressure to guarantee the creation of spaces for real participation, and to make sure that existing spaces such as the COASAS (for the defining of the water policy) allow for real participation.”
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs