Our Hungry for change campaign calls for aid that boosts the power of small-scale farmers within the global food system. In Sri Lanka, small-scale farmers have very little power individually, but together they form nearly three quarters of the electorate, so how do they make politicians sit up and listen to their needs?
It’s busy and loud. A thousand farmers, holding hand-written signs and shouting slogans, fill the streets. Lorries and rickshaws swerve round them beeping their horns. Crowds stop and wonder what’s going on. Orange-robed Buddhist monks mix with Catholic nuns. There’s street theatre and speeches. Police watch warily, ready to intervene.
These are paddy farmers whose lands were once protected by law, but their way of making a living is now under threat from large scale agri-business. They used to receive government support in selling and marketing their crops – but this has all gone.
On top of that, conflict and natural disasters have destroyed farmland, and few farmers have paperwork to prove ownership or claim compensation. The pressures on small-scale farmers are increasing and they are taking to the streets.
We support MONLAR, an organisation which works with farmers’ groups across Sri Lanka, bringing them together to stand up for their rights. The sudden announcement of elections prompted MONLAR to organise fifteen groups – including environmental organisations and women’s groups – to share their concerns and list their demands.
“Prices for paddy and vegetables have plummeted this year,” explains MONLAR’s Chintaka Rajapakse. “The low buying price since March has meant crisis for small-scale producers. It has prompted a wave of suicides by indebted farmers throughout the region, but these have gone unnoticed in the commotion of provincial elections.”
“A few weeks before the pre-election march, we sent a set of demands to local politicians of all parties and we invited them all to the rally. The chief minister invited us in for a meeting and admitted the issues we were campaigning on were justified. He lost the vote, but after the election, the opposition gained power and then they approached us to meet too.
“One of our main demands was for a guaranteed price for paddy. Before the election it was 28 rupees per kilo, and during the elections all candidates agreed to increase the price. After the elections it was raised to 32 rupees per kilo!
“To make an impact, we have to lobby decision-makers directly. We try and impress our experience on them and show them what reforms are needed. But we need to get large numbers on the streets to get things implemented. Only people in the streets can pressure the politicians. It’s how we get things done.”
In a world where nearly a billion people go hungry, yet we have enough food for everyone, we should all be hungry for change. This is the third in a series of blogs showing how CAFOD’s partner organisations across the world are doing amazing, innovative things to tackle hunger. We can play our part too: call on our government for a fairer food system now >