malaysia: helping farmers protect their rights from us free trade
Friends of the Earth Malaysia / Sahabat Alam Malaysia is one of the main initiators of Malaysia anti-FTA campaign, and a key member of the Peoples Coalition Against the US FTA. As the coordinator for the Northern (Peninsular Malaysia) region, it represents the voice of the farmers’ movement and strong rural and grassroots communities. In 2007 FoE Malaysia carried out many activities to voice the concerns of these stakeholders, as part of their continuing efforts to mobilise opposition against this FTA.
what happened: FoE Malaysia carried out two workshops and five road shows for farmers and rural communities, and produced campaign materials for distribution. These efforts reached about 400 farmers/rural folk, who were informed about the FTA’s impacts, particularly with regard to liberalising sensitive crops, biosafety and patenting of seeds. This awareness-raising led concerned farmers to take part in the numerous mobilisations and events organized by the Coalition.
what is changing: In a major victory, FoE Malaysia, together with the Coalition, successfully lobbied the government not to conclude the FTA by the 31 March 2007 fast track deadline.
Farmers, once made aware of the FTA’s threats, became concerned about the FTA’s negative impacts, as well as other related issues such as GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and poor governance, and took part in the campaign. This not only strengthened the Coalition, it also enabled greater participation of the environmental and farming communities, and provided FoE Malaysia with an opportunity to strengthen their work with these groups.
Despite the expiry of the fast track authority, Malaysia continues to engage in negotiations, with the 6th round conducted in mid-January 2008. However, the mounting pressure from the anti-FTA coalition has continued to play an important role.
what we learned: One challenge was the negotiations’ lack of transparency. In fact, the level of secrecy was so great that it was hard to find out where and when meetings took place, information needed to prepare for protests. Luckily FoE Malaysia was able to find ways to gain this information and allow these important mobilisations to happen. Another challenge was a “black out” on the topic for all major news media, except alternative electronic and international media.
The complexity of this issue made it difficult to convey to farmers, and this was not helped by the government’s strongly pro-FTA stance. According to FoE Malaysia’s Mohd Nizam Mahshar, “The FTA issue is hard to chew and is something very new to the rural community and farming leaders … a frequent retort was, ‘surely the government must know if the FTA is good or bad.’” The lack of transparency and media coverage only made this more challenging.
A final challenge was the lack of a strong network within the alternative farmers’ movement; the official national farmers’ organization is government supported and funded. “However, SAM [FoE Malaysia], with the help of CAP [Consumers Association of Penang] is sowing the seeds of such a movement for the future,” said Nizam.
what next: Despite the expiry of the fast track authority, Malaysia continues to engage in negotiations, with the 6th round having been conducted in mid January 2008.
with thanks to our funders: the sigrid rausing trust
Photo credit: Farley Baricuatro