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March 19, 2020
El Salvador, like many countries around the world, is reeling from the effects of COVID19. To clamp down on the spread of the virus, on March 15th, the government declared a state of emergency and approved a partial suspension of constitutional rights. What does that look like?
On March 18th, El Salvador registered it’s first single confirmed case of the virus, from a Salvadoran returning from Italy, who defied the barrier the President put in place around the perimeter of the country. Because of citizen denouncements, he was picked up and tested positive for the virus and subsequently the entire municipality of Metapan, in the department of Santa Ana has been cordoned off for the next 48 hours in an effort to find his line of infection.
Impacts on the Salvadoran Society
The majority of the population has reacted with panic, no matter how many calls for calm are made. Supermarkets are crowded and supplies are beginning to become scarce, partly because there is hoarding and price inflations. For example in some places bottled water is selling for three times its normal price.
Bukele has said that the department of labor will do what it can to make sure employers and workers are economically supported during the quarantine, but every hour labor abuses are being called out via social media of workers being indiscriminately laid, off, mistreated or made to work when they aren’t supposed to.
The sectors most economically impacted by this national quarantine are the service industry, domestic workers, day laborers, street vendors, factory and sweatshop workers. Also affected are those Salvadoran families who already live in El Salvador’s precarious situation of water shortage. For young girls and women who face abuse at home, the situation of isolation becomes even more serious. It encourages victim control and greater submission of the victim.
Impacts on VOICES’ work
VOICES, like other NGOs, is having to adapt to these measures. For example, this situation forced us to cancel the annual South Bay Sanctuary Covenant delegation this March, as well as suspend the special delegation of teachers from Amando López to the United States in April.
Likewise, the SBSC fundraising event scheduled for April 26 in California, at which our director was to speak, was canceled.
Also with the suspension of classes the reproduction phase of the ECHO project workshops in Morazán is on hold; likewise, some community activities, workshops and meetings.
It’s safe to say that human rights don’t simply go away because of a national quarantine, and neither will VOICES’ commitment to accompanying our local partners as best as we can. As an organization, VOICES’ staff are adhering to the rules put in place by working from home.
This involves catching up on programming materials and fine tuning our evaluation frameworks, but we are also finding other ways to support our partners in the following ways:
Women’s Network of Morazán (9 municipalities served)
– Providing 15 canasta basicas for the Network’s most vulnerable members and their families.
Amando Lopez grade school (9 communities served)
– While some students may enjoy the meal provided by the school, other families may see it as a lifeline. The school’s staff compiled a list of 88 students who are most at risk from malnutrition and we will work with them to find the best way to help feed these kids during the quarantine.
Youth Development Association of Morazán (3 communities served)
– This inspiring youth group has had to cancel all of their programming including their special activities, community events, workshops and schools like their school of nutrition, which not only serves as a means to teach recipes, but also supports families’ ability to practice food sovereignty through the family farms component. We will work with AJUDEM to ensure that those most affected will have access to plants, seeds and compost to keep their farms growing.
El Salvador is a resilient country full of ingenuity and as long as we continue to practice true solidarity, we will all be able to come out of this pandemic with heads high and the prospect for a brighter more sustainable future.
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This morning 5,000 Salvadorans from 150 civil society organizations and communities took to the streets in San Salvador to demand that the Legislative Assembly ratify a Constitutional Amendment recognizing food and water as a basic human right.
In 2012, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to Article 69 of the Constitution recognizing access to food and water as basic rights to be protected by the State. If the current Legislature ratifies the amendment, Article 69 will include the following language:
“All people have the right to adequate nutrition. The State is required to create food sovereignty and nutritional policies for all inhabitants. A law will regulate this issue.
Water is a resource essential for all of life, and as such the State is required to protect and preserve water resources and provide it for all inhabitants. The State will create public policies that regulate this issue.”
The Legislative Assembly first approved the amendment on April 19, 2012, just 12 days before the current legislature took office. To complete the process, this Legislature has to ratify the amendment before their 3-year term expires on April 30.
When the marchers reached the Legislative Assembly this morning, Diputados (Representatives) Lourdes Palacios and Yoalmo Cabrero greeted them and declared that all 31 representatives from their leftist FMLN party would vote in favor of the amendment. They pointed out, as did many marchers, that it was the right-wing ARENA, PCN, and PDC representatives that have blocked ratification. During a meeting last month with members of MOVIAC, Representative Palacidos said that they have brought the ratification vote to the floor twice and both times ARENA, PCN, and PDC [representatives] blocked its passage. She also said that they have yet to give a valid argument for their opposition.
A statement released by MOVAIC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change), declared that “water and food, like air, are elements essential for human life and other creatures of the biosphere. Human beings are unable to live without food and water.
“It seems like a lie and its shameful that in the twenty-first century, fifty years after we put a man on the moon and reached high levels of scientific and technological development, that we still are fighting for the recognition of such fundamental rights as access to food and water.”
The holdup seems to be privatization. MOVIAC and others believe that the ARENA, PCN, and PDC Representatives blocking ratification of Article 69 are backing the corporations and investors that want to privatize and control water and food. Representative Palacios confirmed that the opposition from the conservative parties is strong.
In addition to calling for the ratification of the amendment, marchers ask Salvadorans to vote against any legislator or party that has refused to support ratification (on March 1, El Salvador will hold elections for the Legislative Assembly and Municipal governments).
Water resources in El Salvador are scarce and for years Salvadoran organizations have fought to ensure that all Salvadorans have access to potable water. Currently, 20% of Salvadorans do not have access to potable water. That means they have to get water for drinking and to run their household from surface waters, 90% of which are contaminated with agrochemical runoff, untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and other pollutants.
Access to adequate food and nutrition has become more difficult in recent years. Neo-liberal economic policies prioritize using El Salvador’s farmland for growing exports like sugarcane instead of corn, beans, and vegetables for local consumption. U.S. policies such as Partnership for Growth, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and others have made it increasingly difficult for families to feed themselves or make a living farming.
Ratifying Article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution will not mean that everyone will have access to water and food, but it will require the executive and legislative branches to take affirmative steps in that direction – like passing the water law that has been lingering in the Legislative Assembly for 10 years.
News out of El Salvador is generally bad – gangs and violence, and 60,000 youth showing up on the U.S. border. That won’t change with the government doubling down on “mano duro” policies and tougher law enforcement. Things will only get better when the government is ready to engage in long-term solutions that ensure Salvadorans have what they need to survive, and nothing is more fundamental than access to food and water.
The inability for some politicians to recognize that people should have the right to access food and water indicates just how far El Salvador has to go before it can resolve its more complicated issues.
To commemorate World Food Day (October 16) several coalitions in El Salvador joined together to draft a declaration that calls on the Legislative Assembly to take specific actions to help Salvadorans achieve food security.
Achieving food security, and more specifically food sovereignty, is the number one priority for the communities that Voices’ serves in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután. The Bajo Lempa has some of the richest, most productive land in El Salvador, yet agricultural and economic policies have made it almost impossible for small farmers to even feed their families. Free trade agreements allow large, subsidized farms in the U.S. access to Salvadoran markets, and local farmers simply can’t compete. Grocery stores and markets in urban areas are full of grains and processed food from the U.S.
Supporters of globalization might argue that grocery stores in San Salvador or Zacatecoluca full of Welches Grape Juice and Pancake syrup is a positive development. But many in the Bajo Lempa argue that it ruins the local economy and is replacing their culture of food. The community of Amando Lopez has recognized this as an important issue and for their community assemblies requires participants to bring their own cups and bowls and instead of serving cookies and cokes for refreshments they serve traditional tomalies, fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice, hot chocolate or other locally produced snacks. But even organized communities like Amando Lopez struggle to achieve food security.
Instead of food for local consumption, policy makers are pushing other crops like sugarcane for export or altogether different industries like tourism. Communities are trying to reject sugarcane production because of the heavy use of toxic chemicals that are sprayed with crop dusters and contaminate nearby communities, causing alarming rates of chronic renal failure and other diseases. They reject tourism in their region because of the impact it will have on valuable natural resources like the Jiquilisco Bay and surrounding mangrove forests, and the strain it will put on El Salvador’s already tenuous water supply.
Communities in the Bajo Lempa share a common goal – they want to farm and feed their families with locally produced grains, fruits and vegetables. And they are calling on the Legislative Assembly help them achieve these goals.
Voices partners in the Bajo Lempa, including NGOs like ACUDESBAL, ADIBAL, are members of MOVIAC (Movement for the Victims of Climate Change), and helped author this declaration. We’ve attached it below, first in the original Spanish and then and English translation below.
LUCHA Y UNIDAD POPULAR POR LA SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA EN EL SALVADOR
En el Día Mundial de la Alimentación, diversas organizaciones comunitarias, campesinas y cooperativas agropecuarias, organizaciones ambientalistas, organizaciones de mujeres rurales, movimiento de agro-ecología, redes de economía solidaria, entidades de investigación y organizaciones no gubernamentales estrechamente vinculadas a la pequeña producción campesina, nos unimos para luchar por la Soberanía Alimentaria, entendida como el derecho de nuestro pueblo a alimentos nutritivos y culturalmente adecuados, accesibles, producidos de forma sostenible y ecológica, y el derecho a decidir nuestro propio sistema alimentario y productivo. Al mismo tiempo reiteramos que la alimentación adecuada es un derecho consagrado en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y otros instrumentos jurídicos internacionales.
Sin embargo, El Salvador aún no reconoce constitucionalmente este derecho, a pesar que muchas familias que viven en condiciones de pobreza en el campo y la ciudad, no consumen los alimentos necesarios para tener una vida sana y activa, situación de inseguridad alimentaria que es una consecuencia de las políticas neoliberales. La dolarización y la firma de Tratados de Libre Comercio abrieron totalmente al país al comercio agrícola internacional, eliminando todo tipo de protección a la producción nacional, razón por la cual más de la mitad de las personas que trabajan en la agricultura viven en condiciones de pobreza y extrema pobreza. En esta realidad las mujeres son las más desfavorecidas, a pesar de sus grandes aportes en la producción de alimentos, ya que son las mujeres del campo las que garantizan el sustento de las familias.
Otro problema que tiene relación con la inseguridad alimentaria es la injusta distribución de la tierra, injusticia que es más grave en el caso de las mujeres, a pesar de la Reforma Agraria, el Programa de transferencias de tierra y entrega de títulos de propiedad por el actual gobierno. El acceso a la tierra con equidad e igualdad de condiciones para mujeres y hombres, y la garantía de hacer uso sostenible de ella es un problema no resuelto en el país.
El incremento del monocultivo de la caña de azúcar con sus perjudiciales métodos de producción, el interés de empresas transnacionales por llevar a cabo megaproyectos de explotación minera en la zona norte del país, así como la amenaza de proyectos turísticos en la zona costera y la permanente destrucción de los recursos naturales, principalmente el suelo, la biodiversidad y el agua, dañan severamente la agricultura campesina y la producción de alimentos.
También el uso indiscriminado de agroquímicos tóxicos provoca inseguridad alimentaria y contaminación ambiental, matando a la población campesina con enfermedades como la insuficiencia renal crónica. Muchos de estos productos son prohibidos en sus mismos países de origen, sin embargo, en El Salvador aún se comercializan mientras se debate su prohibición.
Por todas estas razones exigimos que se cumpla nuestro derecho a la alimentación sana, nutritiva, suficiente, culturalmente aceptable y con equidad de género, por tanto demandamos de la Asamblea Legislativa, de forma inmediata:
1- Aprobar la Ley de Soberanía Alimentaria que fortalezca la producción nacional campesina y familiar de alimentos con equidad de género, que garantice el derecho a la tierra y al agua para las y los campesinos, la asociatividad en la producción y distribución de los beneficios, garantizando el derecho de todas las personas a una alimentación adecuada, promoviendo la agroecología, la economía solidaria y los mercados campesinos.
2- Ratificar la reforma al artículo 69 de la Constitución reconociendo el Derecho Humano al Agua y la Alimentación.
3- Aprobar la Ley General de Aguas, con participación y gestión comunitaria.
4- Aprobar la Ley de Promoción y Fomento de la Producción Agropecuaria Orgánica, presentada el 24 de septiembre de 2013.
5- Prohibir la exploración y explotación de minería metálica aprobando la Ley presentada el 1 de octubre de 2013.
6- Prohibir el uso de riego aéreo de agroquímicos, la quema fundamentalmente en los cultivos de caña de azúcar y frenar la expansión de este monocultivo.
7- Superar las observaciones del Presidente Funes, a la reforma aprobada por la Asamblea el pasado 5 de septiembre, referida a la prohibición de 53 Agrotóxicos.
¡¡ EXIGIMOS LA APROBACIÓN DE LA LEY DE SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA!!
¡¡MUJERES Y HOMBRES DEMANDAMOS LA GARANTIA DE UNA ALIMENTACION SUSTENTABLE Y LIBRE DE TOXICOS!!
San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013
Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa
Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador
Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria
Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador
Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC
POPULAR STRUGGLE AND UNITY FOR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN EL SALVADOR
On World Food Day, community organizations, farmers and agricultural cooperatives, environmental organizations, rural women’s organizations, members of the agro-ecology movement, solidarity economy networks, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations associated with small peasant agricultural production join the fight for food sovereignty. We the people have the right to food that is nutritious and culturally appropriate and produced using sustainable, organic practices. We also have the right to choose our own food and agricultural systems. We reiterate that the right to adequate food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.
The Salvadoran Constitution, however, has yet to recognize this basic right, and too many families from urban and rural settings continue to live in poverty and lack the food they need to live healthy, active lives. And food insecurity is a consequence of neoliberal policies. Dollarization and the signing of Free Trade Agreements have opened El Salvador to international agricultural markets by removing all means for protecting domestic producers. As a result more than half of all agricultural workers live in poverty or extreme poverty. Even though they make great contributions in the production of food, women are the most disadvantaged because they put the well being of their families first.
Another factor that contributes to food insecurity is the unfair distribution of land, despite Agrarian Reform Program land transfers and the current government’s efforts to provide land titles to rural farmers. Again women suffer the most from unequal distribution of land.
Other causes of food insecurity include the increased production of sugarcane and the growing reliance on destructive methods of production, as well as mining exploration conducted by international corporations in northern region of El Salvador, the threat of tourism along the southern coast, and the constant destruction of natural resources like soil, biodiversity and water. These issues severely diminish the ability of peasant farmers to produce food or otherwise achieve food security.
The indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals also contributes to food insecurity, also resulting in significant environmental destruction, and high numbers of death among the peasant population, which suffers from epidemic rates of chronic renal failure and other infirmities. Many of these toxic chemicals are banned in most other countries but are still sold and used in El Salvador while the government debates whether or not to ban them.
For all of these reasons we demand that our international right to healthy, nutritious and, culturally acceptable food, as well as gender equality be respected, and we call on the Legislative Assembly to immediately:
1 – Pass a Food Sovereignty Law that strengthens domestic family farming and food production, while promoting gender equity, and guaranteeing the right to land and water for all peasants, as well as the right of all people to adequate food, while promoting agro-ecology, the solidarity economy, and farmers markets.
2 – Ratify a reform of article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution to recognize the right to water and food.
3 – Approve the General Water Law, which ensures community participation and management.
4 – Approve the Law on Promotion and Development of Organic Farming, which was proposed on September 24, 2013.
5 – Ban metallic mining exploration and exploitation by passing the law proposed on October 1, 2013.
6 – Ban the use of aerial spraying of chemicals, the burning of sugar cane crops, and curb the growth of monoculture production.
7 – Veto President Funes’ comments on the amendment passed by the Assembly last September 5, relating to the prohibition of 53 pesticides.
WE DEMAND THE APPROVAL OF FOOD SOVEREIGNTY LAW!!!
MEN AND WOMEN DEMAND THE GUARANTEE OF FOOD SECURITY AND FREEDOM FROM TOXIC CHEMICALS!!!
San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013
Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa
Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador
Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria
Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador
Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC
Movimiento Popular de Resistencia 12 de Octubre
This year our Salvadoran partner communities and organizations asked Voices to join them in a national effort to ban a long list of agrochemicals, including Paraquat, DDT, and Toxaphene. Many of the chemicals are banned in other countries but continue to contaminate Salvadoran communities, resulting in high rates of renal failure, cancer, and other public health issues.
If you follow Voices on Facebook (if you don’t we’d love for you to join us) you might recall that a few weeks ago we posted a photo of communities in the Bajo Lempa, along with Voices staff, CESTA, and MOVIAC all meeting with FMLN representatives in the Legislative Assembly. Our partners were lobbying representatives to consider legislation that would ban a list of toxic agrochemicals. The meeting was successful and the representatives said they were interested in taking action.
On September 5, the Legislative Assembly took action – they passed a bill banning 53 toxic agrochemicals. It was great news and our partners celebrated it as a victory. There was more motivating the Legislative Assembly’s passage of the ban than our meeting. In recent weeks there has been a tragic story in the Salvadoran news about several barrels of agrochemcials that have contaminated the town of San Luis Talpa, killing at least 60 people. This story helped the FMLN put together a majority of votes to pass the Sept. 5th ban.
But since the law passed, CAMAGRO (the Chamber of Agriculture and Farmers), the rightwing ARENA party, ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and multinational corporations like Monsanto have been lobbying President Funes to veto the bill. They argue that the chemicals are necessary for coffee production and that there are other ways to protect the population from exposure. Funes seems to be hearing them out. He still hasn’t signed the ban into law and supporters of the ban are worried he might veto it.
Members of MOVIAC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change) held a press conference during which they demanded that President Funes sign the bill into law. They also responded to the argument that chemicals are necessary for cultivating coffee and other crops. In a statement released this morning, MOVIAC states, “Changing the agricultural model is fundamental in order to protect people and the environment, and for this reason the message is not only to policy makers, but to farmers that there exist other forms of cultivation that protect ecosystems and don’t need the use of fertilizers.”
So all sides are stepping up pressure on President Funes to sign or veto the bill. This is a very important issue in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután where large sugarcane plantations spray large quantities of agrochemicals, contaminating nearby fields, water resources, and local villages.
Below (in English and the original Spanish) is an op-ed piece that Voices’ Field Director Jose Acotsa published in the Diario Co-Latino about the ban on agrochemicals. Jose grew up farming in a rural community in Santa Ana and many in his family still grow crops on their small plots. Jose has also spent the past 20 years working with farmers in rural communities like the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. His article reflects the majority of views and opinions of Voices’ partner communities, and has been widely circulated at the local level.
Here is Jose’s op/ed in English:
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Program defines food security as the condition in which people at all times have access to supplies of safe and nutritious food that is sufficient to meet their cultural preferences and nutritional needs for a healthy and active life.
Since the Legislature reformed the Law on the Control of Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Agricultural Products, to ban 53 agrochemicals, the CAMAGRO (Chamber of Agriculture and Farmer) and other rightwing parties and organizations that supposedly represent peasant farmers lobbied the President to veto the reforms. They argue that the reforms will have negative economic repercussions on families involved in agriculture and result in greater food insecurity.
Food security has been a problem for decades. The UNPD reports that 17% of rural households and 9.2% of urban households live in the state of food depravation, meaning their food consumption is less than the minimum needed to have the energy required to function properly – and these numbers are likely on the low end. Food security has been an issue with the use of agrochemicals and there is no evidence that the ban will make it worse.
The causes of food insecurity in El Salvador are structural, and include the imposition of the neoliberal economic model that promotes ending agricultural production for domestic use. Proponents of the neoliberal model say that free, open markets will provide the most food at the lowest prices. For this reason, El Salvador dismantled the institutions that supported the Salvadoran agriculture sector.
For example, the government got rid of the Institute of Supply Regulation (ARI, in Spanish), meaning it no longer has purchasing power that allowed it to protect prices for producers and consumers. Without the ARI, markets are exposed to competition with foreign grains; there are no import quotas; and import tariffs are drastically reduced – all creating a lucrative business for domestic importers putting thousands of families into poverty.
Unequal land distribution also has a negative impact on domestic agriculture and food security. Despite land reform, land transfers, and efforts by the current administration to help families get titles to their land, poor families still do not have sufficient access to land or the protections that ensure they can use the land they have in a sustainable and production manner.
The problem is not a ban on agrochemicals. The problem is with the agricultural model that has been forced upon us. The debate should not focus on the poisons that kill weeds, pests, or diseases. The questions should center around the causes of the pests and diseases, and what is causing weeds and diseases to become more invasive. The debate should focus on why people believe agrochemicals are even necessary. It appears that conventional agriculture is counter to nature.
Its now necessary to stake out a new relationship between agriculture and nature so that food production is in closer harmony with nature and achieves more of an ecological balance. Endless economic profits should not be the goal or motive, rather producing food in a sustainable manner, caring for the health of the soil, water, biodiversity, and people. Without question, the ban on agrochemicals is a bold step in the right direction.
A new agricultural paradigm also requires spiritual, ethical and moral values. When asked about the Church’s position on agrochemical issue, Archbishop Escobar Alas expressed quite clearly, “using a proper scale of values, life comes first.”
Here is the original Spanish:
La Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y Alimentación FAO, define seguridad alimentaria como una situación en la cual todas las personas tienen acceso en todo momento a alimentos suficientes, seguros y nutritivos para cubrir sus necesidades nutricionales y preferencias culturales para una vida sana y activa.
Ante las reformas a la Ley sobre Control de Pesticidas, Fertilizantes y Productos para uso Agropecuario, la CAMAGRO en conjunto con partidos de derecha y organizaciones presuntamente campesinas, han manifestado que si el Presidente no observa o veta tales reformas habrá repercusiones en la economía de las familias dedicadas a la agricultura, asimismo se afectará profundamente la seguridad alimentaria.
Sin embargo, la seguridad alimentaria está afectada desde hace décadas. El Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, sostiene que el 17% de los hogares rurales y el 9.2% de los hogares de la zona urbana, viven en situación de privación alimentaria, lo que significa que consumen alimentos por debajo de las necesidades mínimas de energía que requiere el organismo para funcionar adecuadamente, lo cual demuestra que el uso de agroquímicos no soluciona el problema del hambre.
La inseguridad alimentaria del país tiene causas estructurales, una de ellas es la implementación del modelo neoliberal en el que prevaleció la idea de acabar con la agricultura nacional, porque el libre mercado se haría cargo de proveer los alimentos a precios más convenientes. De esta manera se desmontaron y desaparecieron las instituciones que apoyaban la agricultura.
Se suprimió el Instituto Regulador de Abastecimiento (IRA), eliminando el poder de compra estatal que aseguraba precios justos para el productor y para el consumidor. La desaparición del IRA provocó la liberalización total del mercado de granos básicos con el exterior, se eliminaron las cuotas de importación y se comenzó un proceso de reducción drástica de aranceles, generando un lucrativo negocio para los importadores nacionales y hundiendo en la pobreza a miles de familias campesinas.
Otro problema, que tiene mucha incidencia en la agricultura nacional, es la injusta distribución de la tierra. A pesar de la reforma agraria, transferencias de tierra y el proceso de legalización de propiedades, impulsado por el actual gobierno, el acceso a la tierra para los campesinos y la garantía de hacer un uso sostenible y productivo de la misma es un problema no resuelto.
No obstante, el problema de fondo es el modelo de agricultura que se nos ha impuesto; por tanto la discusión no debe centrarse en los venenos para eliminar hierbas, plagas o enfermedades, lo que hay que cuestionar es la causa de las plagas y enfermedades, debemos preguntarnos ¿Porqué las hierbas que crecen junto a los cultivos cada vez son más abundantes y agresivas? ¿Por qué cada vez es necesario utilizar más agroquímicos para obtener menores resultados? Evidentemente sucede porque la agricultura convencional actúa en contra de la naturaleza.
Ante este escenario es obligatorio replantear una nueva relación entre la agricultura y naturaleza, para que la producción de alimentos se comporte en armonía con el equilibrio ecológico, no se trata de generar lucro económico de forma ilimitada, si no de producir de forma sostenible, cuidando la base vital como lo es el suelo, el agua, la biodiversidad y la salud de las personas. Sin lugar a dudas con la prohibición de agroquímicos el país está dando un paso firme en la dirección correcta.
Un nuevo paradigma de la agricultura también requiere de valores espirituales, éticos y morales. Monseñor Escobar Alas, al ser consultado sobre la posición de la iglesia con respecto al tema de los agroquímicos, expresó con absoluta claridad… “En una adecuada escala de valores, la vida está en primer lugar”.
Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután need your help protecting their invaluable, irreplaceable coastal environment and agrarian way of life. Developers are planning to build resorts, golf courses, and shopping centers in the region, and our local partners fear it will destroy their agricultural land, mangrove forests and the other ecosystems upon which they depend.
We at Voices need to raise $7,600 by August 2nd so we can help our partners develop a legal and political strategy to protect their land, launch a national advocacy campaign, and organize a small, eco-tourism alternative.
Plan for Large-Scale Tourism – Developers are planning large-scale tourism projects for the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. With support from the Salvadoran government they recently completed Phase One – building a highway out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and purchasing large tracts of land. They are now preparing to begin Phase Two – construction. The government is again supporting them by proposing that the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation provide financing. Yes, the Salvadoran government wants to give U.S. tax dollars to well-financed developers to build high-end resorts.
Protecting the Local Environment – Communities in the region have simple goals – food security and environmental sustainability. They celebrate their peaceful agrarian lifestyle and would rather have productive farmland and healthy environment than tourism. The government claims tourism will provide jobs and economic opportunities, but our partners want to farm, not clean bathrooms. They want healthy a healthy bay and mangrove forests, not manicured golf courses and jet skis. Government officials say they will require developers to meet “minimal environmental standards” but El Salvador lacks a positive record of enforcing its laws.
Please Help Protect the Region’s Environment and Agrarian Culture! – Our partners ask that we help them 1) organize a legal and political strategy, 2) fund a national advocacy campaign, and 3) support a small eco-tourism alternative. But we simlply can’t do it without your help. Time is short and we need to raise $7,600 by Friday, August 2nd. Help our partners’ VOICES be heard by making a generous donation today!
P.S. Lara Whyte recently published a piece in the Digital Journal about La Tirana and the Tourism threat. Als0, Justine Davidson, one our of Osgoode Hall Law School summer interns wrote an informative article on the Peninsula and the tourism issue.
Here is an overview of the projects/activities we need funding for:
Workshops to Develop Legal and Political Strategy
|Voices’ volunteers and staff are helping our local partners develop a legal and political strategy to defend their land and way of life. By July 15th our partners will be ready to present their proposed strategy to their communities, and solicit their input and cooperation. They want to hold open meetings in key communities like Zamorano, La Tirana, El Chile, and Isla de Mendez. Our local partners will then host a weekend conference with 20 community leaders to organize a national advocacy campaign. Each of the open community meetings will cost $400 in transportation, printing, and refreshments. The weekend retreat will cost $1,000 in lodging, transportation, food, and printing.
National Advocacy Campaign
|In August, after the workshops and weekend conference, our local partners will be ready to launch their National Advocacy Campaign. Organizers have asked Voices and partner organizations to help contribute funds to hire attorneys to file legal cases and monitor environmental permitting processes, arranging transport for rural community members to meet with policy makers in San Salvador, buying one-page advertisements in national newspapers and additional campaign opportunities. These activities will far exceed $3,000 but Voices is joining forces with several Salvadoran organizations that will also contribute to the campaign.
|The community board of La Tirana has asked Voices and CESTA (a Salvadoran environmental organization) to help them develop an eco-tourism project as an alternative to the mega-projects. Birdwatchers and naturalists already visit La Tirana but residents are unable to offer lodging or food. CESTA is willing to help build small, comfortable cabins and a community-run restaurant if Voices will help the board develop the infrastructure and capacity to manage the project in the long-term.
We are ready to begin in July, but need $2,000 to help the board develop a business plan and build their capacity in areas such as accounting and business management which will enable La Tirana residents to sustain their own eco-tourism initiative in the long-run.
Food security and water issues in El Salvador are partially caused and definitely worsened by the effects of climate change. The unpredictable patterns of rainfall and drought that are characteristic of climate change negatively affect crop production, thereby leading to reduced yields and higher market prices.
José Camilo Rodriguez, mayor of the community of Tonacatepeque, remarked in an interview conducted by the World Bank on the stress that has been put on the poor farmers in his community, due to the effects on the market that were caused by precarious weather conditions, such as floods.
Floods, in addition to harming crops, often tend to lead to the contamination of rivers as sewage and rainwater combine and flow back into rivers as the floods subside. FAO estimates that a mere 16% of Salvadorans have access to water that is safe to drink. The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) additionally notes that only 2% of the rivers in El Salvador hold water that is suitable for human consumption. MARN alleges that one of the most contaminated rivers is the Lempa River, which reaches a large number of communities over its 360-kilometer span and is highly polluted by fecal bacteria.
In regards to food related security, FAO cites that 9% of the Salvadoran population is undernourished, missing about 190 calories from their diet. Inequality in access to food is troublingly high. Despite all of the challenges and problems the Salvadoran people face, at least a few communities have come together in community-based projects to improve their food and water security situations.
Grassroots community efforts to improve food security and water quality are making concrete, positive impacts in El Salvador. We at Voices on the Border have had a direct hand in working with communities in the Lower Lempa to help develop irrigation systems that facilitate crop cultivation, especially during the dry season and periods of drought, which threaten crop yields.
In addition, communities in Santa Marta, El Salvador, with the help of an international NGO have successfully worked to raise fish, harvest honey, and crops. These products are sold at market and some of the profits are invested back into the venture, to keep it growing. This project enjoys the help of many members of the community, who take turns fishing or selling their products at market. Grassroots level improvement of the food security situation in El Salvador is promising and seems to be gaining popularity.
Supplementing these grassroots initiatives are the efforts of various international organizations that have attempted to help improve the food security situation in the country. On March 24, the USDA, under their Food For Progress (FFP) initiative, donated 30,000 metric tons of wheat to El Salvador. The sales of this wheat are intended to generate about $11 million of revenue that will be utilized to finance infrastructure and development projects to help farmers affected by Tropical Storm Ida. Food For Progress also urges them to take advantage of the trade opportunities afforded to them under the DR-CAFTA agreement. Since 2001, USDA has delivered 130,400 metric tons of food to El Salvador, for a total value of approximately $27.5 million. While this form of aid seems both promising and beneficial to food security measures, due to the direct investment in domestic production El Salvadoran agriculture, other programs have not been as conscientious.
USAID’s “glass of milk” project, was launched in 2009 with the intention of providing a daily glass of milk to 3,790 students in 15 schools of Ataco, Ahuachapán, with the aim at improving the physical health and development of Salvadoran youth. USAID invested $76,317 for the provision of these resources and the program was successful with the caveat that it missed a prime opportunity to invest in the Salvadoran economy. Instead of cooperating with local dairy farmers within the country, USAID financed the importation of dried milk imported from northern US states. This large-scale importation of milk drove down market prices for dairy products, creating adverse consequences for local dairy farmers. While the aid of international organizations is necessary for food and water improvements in El Salvador, this project is an example of why organizations need to be wary of the manner in which they seek to make improvements.
Food and water security is a vital issue for communities in El Salvador who are experiencing unpleasant consequences on their agricultural sector from the economic interdependence that has arisen from globalization and the effects of climate change. These factors continue to complicate El Salvador’s quest to better its food security situation, but through domestic investment in agricultural infrastructure and products and grassroots community efforts to promote sustainability, it is likely many of these problems could be mitigated.
El Salvador has not been exempt from the food security problems that have historically plagued developing countries. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food security exists when “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Currently, El Salvador’s food security condition remains stable, without instance of acute food shortages. Although ‘stable,’ the food security situation in El Salvador is definitely less than ideal and market prices for agricultural products continue to climb.
FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture reports (GIEWS) highlight a few important characteristics of the current Salvadoran state of food security. A 40% rise in the price of maize and beans since last year is the first among the challenges facing Salvadorans. These are the country’s basic food sources, which experienced severely reduced yields due to the excessive rainfalls of 2010, coupled with the international rise in grain prices. Finally, the 2011 sowing of cereal crops is predicted to be low due to the damage caused by the La Niña phenomenon.
Food security problems in El Salvador have historical roots. Landholdings in El Salvador were once concentrated in the hands of a small group of wealthy elites until agrarian reforms were initiated in 1980. This group of landholders instituted a system of cultivation in which they focused on a singular export, producing a mono-crop culture that would persist for decades. The focus of production on a singular crop necessitated the importation of many other important agricultural commodities that were not being domestically produced. The first of these mono-crops was cacao, during the end of the 16th century, followed by indigo in the 18th century, and then finally in the mid-19th century, coffee. From 1871 to 1927 El Salvador was referred to as the “coffee republic.” The extremely lucrative nature of the coffee trade served to further concentrate land in the hands of oligarchy that had developed.
The beginning in the 1980s witnessed an increase in demand for government intervention in the agricultural sector, as Salvadorans pressed to gain access to land through protests and other public demonstrations. An agrarian reform eventually liberated over 500 hectares from 230 estates, or about 15% of the country’s farmland. Although the redistribution of land seemed to be promising, overall it was not effective enough to change the trajectory of El Salvador’s agricultural sector or economy.
During the Cristiani administration (1989-1994), El Salvador’s economy remained dependent on agricultural imports. Cristiani prioritized his family business, Semillas Cristiani Burkard (SCB), a privately held seed company headquartered in Guatemala City, Guatemala, over internal development of the agricultural sector. Crisitani curtailed the growth and development of the domestic sector by heavily importing seeds from SCB in order to accumulate personal wealth.
Cristiani also pushed for further industrialization of the country, which had been seen briefly during the Civil War, in the form of maquiladoras, which contained free economic export zones or ports commonly located in and created by third world countries, which dealt mainly with exporting cheaply priced, handmade products. Maquiladoras were located in the metropolitan areas of El Salvador, which heightened the level of urbanization, creating problems of congestion, but also demands for more industrial commodities and services, such as electricity and transportation.
This population shift, from rural to urban centers of living and sometimes from El Salvador to other international locations, had significant impacts on the agricultural sector. Remittances provide a clear example of the consequences of migration on agricultural practices. Salvadorans are extremely dependent on remittances, and as much as 20.7% of their GDP consists of said monetary transfers. The Central Bank estimated that in 2010 remittances from Salvadorans working in the United States totaled a hefty $3.5 billion. Essentially, the less developed communities in El Salvador are making lifestyle and economic shifts that signify a movement away from subsistence agriculture, made possible by remittances that supplement or comprise their household incomes.
The Funes administration (2009-present), has been left with the historical lack of diversification of agricultural production, along with the absence of development of the domestic agricultural sector as a consequence of Cristiani’s strategy to focus on crop imports. Almost 95% of fruit and vegetables consumed in El Salvador are imported from abroad, along with 30% of all its beans and 40% of corn. Funes and the FMLN have made it a goal in May of 2011 to achieve “food sovereignty” meaning the ability to decide what agricultural policies El Salvador will implement which will also hopefully lessen the impact the international market has on the Salvadoran agricultural sector.
In an effort to achieve “food sovereignty,” Funes has explicitly recognized the role of small, non-commercial family farmers who produce 70% of the country’s domestically cultivated grains, mainly for the consumption of their own family. These farmers are particularly significant to stability of El Salvador’s food security situation and Funes proposed the Family Agriculture Plan in an effort to aid them. This plan intends to serve over 325,000 families that are dependent upon subsistence agriculture by continuing to provide them with free agricultural packets of seeds and chemical fertilizer.
Food security has historically and currently is a major issue that confronts El Salvador. The problems caused by a lack of food security must not only be addressed by the Salvadoran government but also highly prioritized, as current environmental and market conditions—climate change and high market prices for agricultural commodities—are only serving to exacerbate the insecurity.
We are watching Tropical Storm Matthew, which is currently located about 12 hours off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. While forecasters do not believe that the storm system has the time or energy to develop into a hurricane, they are concerned that it will weaken and “become part of a nearly stationary broad area of low pressure over Central America.” They are concerned that “such a weather pattern would likely produce dangerous torrential rains in Central America over the next few days.”
We are particularly concerned about this storm because our partner communities in the Lower Lempa Region of Jiquilisco, Usulután have already experienced consistent, heavy rains for the past few months and their properties are already saturated. The heavy rains that forecasters are predicting could result in severe flooding.
In terms of food security, most farmers in the Lower Lempa have already lost their corn crops this year. Those who have access to irrigation systems have not even planted corn this season and are waiting for the dry season to plant when they can better control the conditions.
We will keep monitoring this storm and provide updates as we get them.
Tropical Storm Matthew was down graded to a low pressure system on Sunday and is now lingering over northern Honduras. Rains continue intermittently and communities throughout El Salvador have reported slight flooding and minor landslides. The Lempa River has not gone over the levees in the Lower Lempa, but several communities are flooded from swollen creeks and excess rain. Some families from Nueva Esperanza, Los Lotes, and El Marillo have sought temporary shelter in Ciudad Romero. The rain is expected to continue through out today.
Last week, the United Nations World Food Program made the last of three food handouts to citizens of the Lower Lempa. Severe drought followed by flooding resulted in near 100% crop failure throughout the region last year, and families needed the donations to ensure their survival until the August 2008 harvest. The World Bank defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life.” Last year’s crop loss and the need for food handouts highlight how far El Salvador is from achieving “food security.”
While it is easy to attribute the current food shortage in the Lower Lempa to last year’s sever weather, the region’s unstable position and the nation-wide food crisis are rooted in bad economic policy and the government’s failure to serve the interests of all Salvadorans.
Since before the civil war ended in 1992, the Salvadoran government and international community have weakened El Salvador’s food security by promoting a neo-liberal, open market system that prioritizes the industrial and service sectors over the agricultural sector. The new economic focus favors foreign investment that requires cheap labor, and permits food imports to replace domestic products. Between 1979 and 1981, which was a period of great civil unrest, El Salvador exported $552.6 million more in agricultural products than it imported. Between 1989 and 1991that number dropped to $92.6 million more in exports than imports. By 2004, however, El Salvador was importing in excess of $456 million more in agricultural products than it was exporting. While levels of agricultural exports grew between 1991 and 2004, El Salvador became more dependent on imports for their food consumption. Then President Alfredo Cristiani led the movement by lowering tariffs on imports, deregulating agricultural markets, and promoting foreign investment. At the same time that he was lowering tariffs on imports, President Cristiani also set up a agricultural import business.
Fifteen years into these reforms, agricultural production is limited to large corporate farms that produce coffee, shrimp, cereals, and sugarcane for export, and small sustenance farmers that grow enough beans, rice, and corn to sell at market and feed their family. Sustenance farmers, however, are paying 80% more to plant their crops than they did even four years ago – the result of higher prices for seeds and agrochemicals (an industry dominated by a company owned and run by ex-president Cristiani), and higher rates on the agricultural loans needed to purchase them. Many farmers that receive remittances from family members living and working in the United States have stopped planting, while others have moved to urban areas to work in the industrial or service sectors. Small farmers that still cultivate their land have to produce enough so they are able to pay off the loans they took to by seed and agrochemicals, while setting aside enough to feed their family. With exceedingly tight margins, a bad year can be devastating and jeopardize their very survival. So when the drought last year killed the first crop and floods drowned the second, families in the Lower Lempa had to turn to the World Food Program for assistance.
The decrease in domestic food production and the dependence on imports has weakened El Salvador’s food security. With almost no control over market prices, Salvadorans are now subject to the ups and downs of the international market, which has seen a lot more ups (in prices) than downs. The recent oil crisis, for example, has increased the cost to transport food imports to the Salvadoran marketplace, causing drastic increases of food prices, even those produced domestically. The high oil prices have also increased the demand for bio-fuel, resulting in increased market prices for corn, a staple in all Salvadoran diets, and the main ingredient in the national food (the famed Pupusa).
While El Salvador is wise to expand other sectors of their economy, they ought not do so at the expense of their agricultural markets and food security. Government agencies ought to take affirmative steps to strengthen food security by raising tariffs on cheap imports, subsidizing small farmers and giving them greater access to regional and national markets, lowering or suspending taxes on domestic food products, encouraging more sustainable forms of agriculture, and taking other such measures. While some solutions may be counter to the global movement towards open markets and free trade, El Salvador has to achieve a certain level of economic and social stability before it can participate in or realize the advantages of a global market.
Instead of considering some of these options or directly addressing food security, the central government has proposed a new Ley de Arrendamiento de Tierras (The Law on Renting Land). While proponents of the law claim it will increase domestic food production, many Salvadorans see it as another attempt by El Salvador’s wealthy to take their land from the poor. Their fears are well founded. Ever since land reforms of the 1980s limited the amount of land an individual could own to 245 hectors (605.4 acres), wealthy land owners have tried to retain or get back their land, while the poor have struggled hold on to the land they have.
If passed, the new law will require individuals and cooperatives to “rent” fallow or under-cultivated land to corporations or individuals so they may cultivate it. The tenants will pay the owners of the land a monthly rent or a percentage of the sale price of the crops. If the tenant makes improvements to or investments in the land, the owner of the property must compensate the tenant at the end of the lease agreement. For example, if a tenant plants lime trees and installs an irrigation system to produce export quality limes, at the end of the lease agreement the owner will have to compensate the tenant for the value of the trees and irrigation systems. If they are unable to do so, the tenant will have the right to continue farming the land indefinitely. While domestic food production is important, it is unlikely that tenants would plant the beans, corn, rice, and produce necessary to increase food security. They are more likely to plant crops for export, which will have a higher return, and require capital investments that the owners will be unlikely to compensate them for.
Communities, organizations, and farmers in the Lower Lempa, however, are not waiting around for the Salvadoran government to alter its failed economic policies. Instead, they are organizing to promote food security within their micro-region, through communal gardens, alternative forms of agriculture, crop diversity, and improved infrastructure. In addition, they are initiating advocacy initiatives to influence policy-making at the regional and national regions.
In Community Otavio Ortiz (C.O.O.), for example, community leaders are organizing 50 families to each plant a plot of tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and eggplant. With proven success in several pilot gardens around the community, this year C.O.O. is likely to meet their entire demand for vegetables and produce from their own local gardens. In doing so they are limiting the costs of production by eliminating all middlemen, transportation costs, and taxes, and significantly improving their level of food security. And though Salvadoran farmers generally do not plant in the dry season, C.O.O. will rotate four irrigation systems between dozens of plots of land, allowing farmers to continue growing corn and vegetables throughout the year and save crops they might otherwise loose during periods of drought. In addition, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. donated an 8-ton truck to the community so they are able to transport excess products to markets outside there region, freeing them from the high costs of outside transportation.
United Communities, a local grass roots organization, is helping C.O.O and other communities in the Lower Lempa, address the flooding issue that contributed to last year’s crop failure. They are organizing community members to clean and expand the drainage system (with the help of bulldozers and excavators) that will channel floodwaters into the Bay of Jiquilisco. In addition, they are experimenting with more flood resistant varieties of crops such as rice and sesame seed. United Communities also promotes organic and alternative agriculture to break the dependence on agricultural loans and expensive agrochemicals, as well as improve the health of the farmers and their environment. With assistance from Horizons of Friendship, Voices on the Border, and others, United Communities recently began offering women in the Lower Lempa low-interest loans to purchase cattle, one of the main agricultural products in the region.
Communities and organizations in the Lower Lempa are also joining together to fight the Ley de Arrendamiento de Tierras and to prevent large corporations from taking over their land. La Coordinadora del Bajo Lempa, United Communities, representatives from directivas and other local governments, Procaris, and many others have formed the Land and Agricultural Defense movement. The group came together after the government’s recent exclusion of communities in the Lower Lempa from a program that distributed agricultural packages (fertilizers and seed) to small farmers. As with many other government programs, the aid was distributed to benefit the ARENA party’s electoral interests. Communities further east in San Augustin have also joined the movement after surveyors with armed guards appeared and began taking notes on specific plots of land. The group will also address other land use issues that threaten their agricultural community, including corporate and transnational tourism agendas, the promotion of genetically modified seeds, and the need for a national policy to support local agriculture.
So while hundreds of families picked up their supplies from the World Food Program trucks in a somewhat festive atmosphere, community leaders and organizations throughout the Lower Lempa are working hard to eliminate the need for such aide. They are augmenting and diversifying local food production, addressing infrastructural needs, organizing and informing farming families, advocating for the rights of campesinos in their communities and all of El Salvador, and other important measures. In addressing their own food security needs, they are creating a model for other regions in the country.