With its streets full of the smells of savory Caribbean and Latin cuisine, its sounds of many languages, and its population of Haitian, Mayan, and Latino peoples, one might mentally place the town of Immokalee in any number of locations, but probably not Florida. English is seldom heard here and Americans rarely seen in this town, which serves as a bedroom community for tens of thousands of migrant workers.
Likewise, the organizing strategies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—the local farm workers’ association—have more in common with the grassroots struggles in Latin America than in the United States. In fact, the Coalition was founded 11 years ago by participants and allies of the campesino movements in Haiti and Chiapas, and the survivors of dictatorships in Guatemala.
Food is the most basic necessity of life. If we are to fulfill our potential as thinking, feeling beings, then we must feel secure about where our next meal and that of our family will come from. Yet sometimes when we hear the phrase "food security" used as policyspeak, we lose sight of the fact that food is a human right that is increasingly being violated in this world of free trade and in our
Soon after peasant farmers first led plant explorers to wild stands of Zea diploperennis (perennial maize) in
"I couldn’t stand; my eyes were watering and my throat hurt from the gas. I would run outside the field to get some air. The boss made me go back, to keep working without a mask. Now I can’t breathe well, and my vision is blurry, cloudy.” Jorge Fernandez pauses to gasp for breath, a result of chronic on-the-job exposure to pesticides. Fernandez is a Salinas, California farmworker who spent 11 years applying fumigants without access to protective equipment. “The inspectors are friends with the bosses. They say, ‘So what if this Mexican dies, there are more.’ They just find other workers.”
Industrial agriculture is notorious for low wages, workplace health hazards, racial discrimination, and dependence on the legal vulnerability of undocumented immigrant labor. This is especially true in California, where twenty-first century agriculture was built on wringing short-term utility from workers, soil, and petrochemicals to minimize costs and maximize profits.
Farmworkers Fight Back * Alternatives in Agriculture * Organizing Strategies (Volume 2, No. 1: Spring 1991)
People who live in cities -- especially people of color -- should pay attention to the struggle of farmworkers against pesticides. Many African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos -- including some comfortably in the urban middle class -- are only one generation away from rural poverty themselves. They should easily understand the importance of joining with farmworkers to secure decent environmental conditions in which to live and wok.
Food is something many of us take for granted. Supermarkets are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, stocked with foods shipped in from all over the world, providing us with the illusion of health and abundance. We do not often stop to consider where that food came from, whose hands harvested it, how it was grown, and whether it is safe, equally available to all, and produced in a manner that does not degrade and destroy resources and communities.
Alternative models to corporate agribusiness
For thousands of years, small family farmers across the globe have grown food for their local communities, planting diverse crops in healthy soil, recycling organic matter, following nature’s rainfall patterns, and maintaining our rich biodiversity. Today, this agricultural system—which was built on knowledge accumulated and passed on from one farming generation to the next—faces both an environmental and moral crisis.
What’s called “modern industrial agriculture” is replacing family farms with corporate farms, and biodiversity with monocultures. This agricultural model is trading local food security for global commerce.
Biopiracy and the privatization of global resources
The primary stewards of the world’s biodiversity are the farmers, Indigenous peoples and local communities, primarily in the global South, who developed, nurtured and continue to use these resources today. Rural poor people in the global South rely on biological products (i.e., derived from plants, animals and microorganism) for an estimated 85 to 90 percent of their livelihood needs. More than 1.4 billion rural people depend on farm-saved seeds and local plant breeding as their primary seed source. More than three-quarters of the world’s population rely on traditional medicines for their primary health needs.
Planting the seeds of health, environmental and economic hazards
As drought plagued southern Africa in summer 2002, biotech companies lost no time in exploiting hunger for profit. The United States offered to “help” by donating food from crops containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). But African scientists knew there was a catch. They had seen demonstrations showing that Europe wanted no part of the technology. They knew that GMOs were associated with health and environmental dangers. Worst of all, they were aware that if genetically modified (GM) seed was planted in Africa, the next generation of GM plants could result in farmers owing “technology fees” to biomaster Monsanto.
The impact of U.S. food policy on Mexican farmers
Mexico City, 2003
Víctor Suí¡rez, executive director of the National Association of Rural Producers’ Enterprises (ANEC)