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La Via Campesina, Jakarta 2013: Reflections by Aussie Farmer Samantha Palmer

posted Aug 29, 2013, 7:15 AM by Scott John

Samantha Palmer is a small scale family farmer who, with her husband, Ray and two children run Symara Farm. All the produce grown on the farm is sold directly to local families through a ‘box scheme’ and a farmers market. Samantha was recently part of an Australian farmer delegation at the 6th International Conference of La Via Campesina, held in Jakarta, Indonesia in June 2013

It was one of those moments where you are so filled with emotion you get goose bumps all over your body, your heart fills with pride and hope and what you are hearing resonates with all that you believe. ‘Yes!’ you think, that’s it, that is what we need to do!

This happened to me as I was listening to the culmination of three days work by family farmers across the globe in outlining who they were, what they stood for, what they would fight against and what they wanted to achieve over the next four years.

Not exactly a normal reaction to feel when you hear or read an organisation’s strategic plan - but this is the kind of raw emotion that being part of a La Via Campesina gathering can bring out in you.

Myself and four other Aussie Farmers were given the opportunity to attend the 6th International Conference of La Via Campesina in Jakarta, Indonesia in June 2013.

We joined 600 other family farmers from 88 different countries to share issues and struggles, celebrate successes and to set the strategic direction for the organisation for the next four years.

What is ‘La Via Campesina’?

La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying people and nature.

La Via Campesina comprises about 150 local and national organizations in 80 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Altogether, it represents about 200 million farmers. It is an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent from any political, economic or other type of affiliation.

La Via Campesina is widely considered to be the world’s most important and perhaps largest social movement.

What it meant to me

This was the first time that Australia had ever been invited to attend a La Via Campesina International Conference.

To have the opportunity to connect with so many other family farmers from so many other countries was exhilarating.

Like most other farmers, I love connecting with fellow farmers and sharing ideas and different ways to farm. On our own farm, any major changes we have made have always been a result of visiting other farmers and seeing how they do things. You can imagine the thrill of possibly talking to 600 other farmers over 10 days - kind of like speed dating except your collecting farming ideas, not phone numbers.

It was eye opening and heart wrenching to hear the stories of struggles, violence and oppression that some of these farmers faced daily. Loss of land to transnational corporations, death for standing up for your rights, migration away from rural areas, loss of culturally significant seeds and suicides.

Yet La Via Campesina is not about glorifying the issues and struggles of farmers. It was refreshing to hear clearly articulated solutions that are about building hope for the future through alternatives. They advocate that Food Sovereignty*, Agroecology** and true Agrarian Reform are the solutions to so many of the issues facing family farmers today.

I also felt hope as I heard about the successes. Like the Korean woman who has successfully fought off the government twice from taking her land for development and the Taiwanese girl who after going to university wanted to become a farmer, her farming family would not accept this, so she found a farmer who would teach her and she is now happily farming in secret.

It was humbling to be surrounded by farmers with such passion, vision and hope. You could feel the strength that they had and hear the conviction with which they talked about fighting for their fundamental right to farm, despite any language barriers there may have been.

I felt a kinship and connection with these farmers. We were all family farmers and we were more alike then we were different. We are all facing similar problems and united we have the power to be the solution.

As farmers it is easy to feel completely isolated and alone with our problems, especially in Australia with the tyranny of distance, so it was heartening to know that there are millions of other family farmers out there and we are all in it together.

It also cemented more firmly in my mind that family farming IS the way of the future and IS what is needed to solve many of the current environmental, social and economic crisis that we as a civilization are facing. Family farmers can and are making a difference.

What benefits could there be to other Australian farmers

Agriculture in Australia is facing numerous crisis. Land and resource grabbing, aging farmers, economic viability and climate change to name a few.

If we are to survive, Australian family farmers can no longer remain isolated from the knowledge, experience and global solidarity that comes from meaningful engagement with the global family farming community that is La Via Campesina.

If we don’t fight together we will loose together. There is strength in numbers and together we can creatively and collectively find solutions.

What next?

From this interaction with La Via Campesina there is support from those who went to the conference, other family farmers who know of La Via Campesina’s work and the organizers and supporters that got us to the conference, to now start working on what a family farming organisation might look like for Australia.

To have an organisation that enables family farmers to connect, share ideas, solve problems together and to support the concepts of Food Sovereignty and Agroecology, despite the tyranny of distance would be of such great benefit to so many family farmers.

To then have that organisation tap into the knowledge, experience and strength of La Via Campesina and other family farming organisations across the globe would take it to new levels and add to the power of La Via Campesinas’ international campaigns.

So why isn’t La Via Campesina more widely known in Australia?

At present, there is no farming organisation in Australia that is affiliated with La Via Campesina. La Via Campesina has very strong policies not compatible with our mainstream farming organisations such as being against Free Trade, asserting that unrestricted trade is bad for farmers.

Also, being very strict about where funding comes from (no corporate sponsorship here!) the whole organisation runs on less then a shoestring, leaving advertising out of the budget.

A unique fundraising idea

Funding for us to get to Jakarta came through crowdfunding, which is a new and exciting way to access funding beyond ‘official’ channels. You pitch your project, advertise it using social media and connect directly to switched-on consumers, fans, peers & like minded strangers who pledge money to support your project. We were able to raise $12,000 in 21days using the ‘Pozible’ crowdfunding platform (a great big THANK YOU to all those that did pledge money to make this trip happen)

The delegation

There were five Aussie farmers, being: Garry Fetherston, Featherview Farm, Mullumbimby, NSW; Chris & Lee-Anne Geri, Rawganix Farm, Tansey, Qld; Michael Croft, Mountain Creek Farm, ACT and myself, Samantha Palmer, Symara Farm, The Summit Qld.

There was also two supporters being: Luke Sbeghen, Food Connect, connecting family farmers with consumers and Dianne James, Reciprocity, supporting La Via Campesina and its relationship with Australian Family Farmers.

The organizers and supporters

Like a lot of other female farmers I am busy with with raising kids, helping run the business, trying to keep the books up to date and the house in order. Opportunities like this don’t happen without a lot of organization in the background. It is only because of the hard work of Reciprocity and Food Connect that we were able to get away from our farms and have this amazing experience.

Food Connect has played a foundational role in the evolution of multiple alternative food systems, structures, policies and practices in Australia and plays a pivotal role in sharing La Via Campesina’s Food Sovereignty campaign throughout Australia.

Reciprocity has been a key contributor to the initiation and maintenance of long-term relationships among members of La Via Campesina and Australian family farmers.


*"Food sovereignty", a term coined by members of La Via Campesina in 1996, asserts the right of people to define their own food systems. Advocates of food sovereignty put the individuals who produce, distribute and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the corporations and market institutions they believe have come to dominate the global food system.

**“Agroecology” seeks to create a truly sustainable food system, environmentally, economically, socially, politically and culturally.