Prem Dangal

by Prem Dangal | 17 Oct 2007

Prem Dangal is secretary-general of the All Nepal Peasants Federation, an umbrella group of different 25 farmers’ organisations. It has about one million members all over the country. It campaigns on issues of food sovereignty, agrarian reform, peasants’ rights and sustainable agricultural development.

Today, we all are fighting against the corporate regime. It is as if our rights are under siege by this. There is a battle between people’s power and corporate power. Who is more powerful? It ought to be people. It was so in the past and it will be so in the future, no doubt at all. But for the time being, we are in an era of corporate control. Rights are inherently vested in the people. Nobody grants them rights. They possess them by the very fact of being human, and they are basic to a person’s survival with dignity. For example, once a human being is born he or she has a right to decent survival (food, shelter, education and health). However, these basic rights are either being denied or not being respected. There is a crisis of life and living. People are dying of hunger, not because there is no food, but because they do not have access to food.

It is the urge to make profits that is violating and denying people’s rights by many different means. One such instrument is “Intellectual Property Rights”. Who makes these? For whose benefit? It is very clear that they are being imposed by the corporate regime, which is making profit out of it, converting even knowledge into property. We do not need to ape those so-called “rights” which enable “property” values to be imposed on our commonly held resources and knowledge. We should not allow them to control our commons. On the contrary, we have to defend our commons to defeat the corporate regime. And the people will win; and, once they win, they will win forever. It may take time and there might be many failures, yet, despite the repeated setbacks, ultimately the people will win and they will restore their rights as they understand them.

Our rights are the old rights

We are pushing back those elements that are trying to snatch away our rights. We are not developing alternatives but protecting our old way of life. People say, for example, that “food sovereignty” is an alternative programme to neo-liberal economic policy. But that is the wrong way of thinking about it: food sovereignty was there, is there, and will be there. The neo-liberal policy is the new policy that is being pushed as an alternative to food sovereignty. This should be our starting point and the way we understand it.

For me there are two different kinds of collective rights. One kind concerns property. Land reforms have been undertaken with collectiveness in mind. But when land is collectivised, no tiller feels that he or she is the owner and thus responsible for production. So productivity decreases and the state ends up by handing back ownership to the peasantry. But there are areas where collective rights are appropriate. Building a nation, for example, needs collective effort. Fighting the corporate regime will also require collective effort.

Meanwhile, what should we do in the current situation? Our responsibility is to work with people and share the truth. For example, food sovereignty for a European and food sovereignty for me, a peasant working in a rural area, mean different things. For generations we have been defending what amounts to food sovereignty, but we have been referring to it in other ways. We have been demanding land reform, the right to food, shelter, education, safe water, and so on. These are our old demands. We have had to reformulate those demands in a new situation where neo-liberal economic “reforms” are taking place. So, when we are organising our people, we should explain that we are not inventing new demands but merely expressing in a new way what we have long been demanding. We are struggling to protect our customs, ethics and culture, everything that people have been practising traditionally. And people will understand this.

Author: Prem Dangal