Designing foreign policy to support peasants and rural areas
In 2018, the United Nations adopted the «Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas» (UNDROP). The instrument is highly relevant: peasants are key to global food security and thus to the transformation towards sustainable food systems. In addition, it is based on the needs of the people at its centre who participated in the negotiation process.
The HEKS/EPER Landforum 2021 which took place online on 10 December 2021 and was jointly organized with the «Friends of the declaration» formulated recommendations for ensuring that Switzerlands foreign policy and engagement is consistent with UNDROP. Peasants provide immense services to the world such as through producing food and preserving biodiversity but suffer disproportionately from poverty and malnutrition and ongoing human rights violations such as eviction, political repression or poor working conditions. Civil society groups, policy influencers and others are now working to put the articles of the Declaration into practice. In this context, the Swiss HEKS/EPER and the «Friends of the Declaration» coalition commissioned a study «Switzerland’s Foreign Policy and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants» (available in English, French and German) to identify measures that can support or run counter to UNDROP, and to formulate recommendations as to how Switzerland should meet its UNDROP obligations.
The HEKS/EPER Landforum 2021 brought together a diverse group including parliamentarians, government officials, civil society and academics and identified concrete steps towards the UNDROP implementation. Peasants around the globe play and a crucial role in food production and stewardship of resources and therefore in the world’s wellbeing and should be able to shape policies through democratic participation. The Forum centred on the following three topics:
- Mainstreaming UNDROP: The objective of mainstreaming UNDROP is to make it a reference point at the international level, to support domestic implementation around the world. Civil society groups in Switzerland are undertaking advocacy in the Human Rights Council towards creating a new special procedure wholly dedicated to peasants’ rights, with an event planned in spring 2022.
- Trade policy, including trade-related intellectual property protection for seeds: The Swiss government’s position on intellectual property (IP) and peasants’ rights to seeds creates tensions. Many voices demand from Switzerland not to ask countries with which it negotiates trade agreements to join the 1991 version of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), i.e. that trading partners adopt stricter IP standards than Switzerland itself. Some participants invited the Swiss Development Cooperation Agency (SDC) to provide technical assistance to countries to recognize peasants’ seed systems.
- Food systems: Most actors agreed on the importance to develop food policies based on agricultural frameworks that strengthen local, territorial food systems, recognize the concepts of food sovereignty and agroecology as well as the crucial role of women producer groups. This is a matter for Switzerland nationally and in its foreign policy. Environmentally and socially sustainable food systems cannot be built if peasants are dependent on companies and lack their knowledge and participation. Local or national authorities should set clear criteria and conditions for collaboration with the private sector and strengthen smallholder farming, which improves food security and biodiversity conservation.
"The friends of the declaration” are: Alliance Sud, BfA/PPP, CETIM, Fastenopfer/AdC, FIAN, Geneva Academy, HEKS/EPER, Swissaid, Uniterre.