Sweden should support the UN's work for the rights of smallholders

Take almost any country in the world and it is the people in the countryside who are exposed to the most human rights violations. Since 2012, the UN has wanted to produce a declaration that would enable the drafting of specific and necessary laws to protect this group. This week, the UN gathers again, but Sweden is still passive, several debaters write.

The poorest in the world live and work in the countryside. This is where hunger is at its worst, water shortages are greatest, access to education, health care and livelihoods are worst. It is those in rural areas who, despite development and growth in the rest of the country, are still not lifted out of poverty.

Since 2012, the UN has been working to produce a declaration that would enable the drafting of specific and necessary laws to protect smallholders and others working in rural areas. Sweden once again has a chance to break its passive attitude and actively support and contribute to strengthening the rights of these people.

The farmer finds it more difficult to cope

It is not just a declaration for the world's poorest. Violations against the rural population occur all over the world, including here in Sweden. Today, the individual farmer is finding it increasingly difficult to cope. Agriculture is closing down at an ever faster pace and access to central societal functions is deteriorating, with the closure of Sollefteå BB as perhaps the latest example.

It is in everyone's interest that the countryside can continue to exist. In recent years, the UN has signaled that it is absolutely crucial for both the environment and society in general to promote the development of the countryside and the people who live there. Despite the fact that the agricultural companies' lobbying activities are enormous, more and more information is emerging about how industrial large-scale agriculture poses an acute threat to the entire body of society, both in the global south and here in Sweden and Europe.

Treating food like any other commodity has proven to have catastrophic consequences. Especially for women. Partly because women make up the majority of the world's small-scale food producers and because women are the ones who suffer the most from hunger and malnutrition. But also because women are constantly exposed to double discrimination. Women do not have the same access as men to other resources and are discriminated against by laws regarding ownership of property, land rights and inheritance rights.

The situation in rural areas has also deteriorated in recent decades. The risk of human rights violations has grown at the same rate as land is sold to make way for large-scale export agriculture or for the extraction of natural resources, mines or power plants. Many smallholders have been forcibly relocated, their protests have been violently suppressed and criminalized. Many have been imprisoned or simply "disappeared". Food prices have been dumped, local markets have been replaced by global ones. The changes have most often taken place over the heads of those who are worst affected and all of a sudden it is cheaper to buy what used to be next door from another continent.

A declaration is needed

A new declaration is not written because there have been no rights before. Declarations are written because a certain group needs more comprehensive and specific protection in order not to have their human rights violated. This is what led to the Convention on the Rights of Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

We want to call on the Swedish government to support and participate actively in the work that is now underway within the UN. The declaration would mean increased protection for one of the most vulnerable groups of our time. Human rights must be a priority and are absolutely crucial for a sustainable and well-functioning society. The global food system must first and foremost satisfy our right to food rather than being controlled by market forces and large corporations.

If Sweden wants to be a champion in achieving the goals of Agenda 2030, pursue a feminist foreign policy and seriously work for sustainable development for people and the environment, active support for the declaration is a crucial opportunity to prove it.

Zarah Östman Pitaluga, Chairman of FIAN Sweden
Karin Ericsson, spokesperson for food and human rights Latin American groups
Torgny Östling, Chairman of Nordbruk

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