Capacities for Change, GFAR blog

Slowly but surely, international community takes steps towards recognizing peasants’ rights


For almost 14 years, farmer and civil organizations, as well as other stakeholders, have struggled for the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas to be fully recognized by the international community, and their implementation to become an obligation for national governments.

A peasant is a man or a woman of the land who has direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the production of food and/or other agricultural products. Peasants work the land themselves, rely above all on family labour and other small scale forms of organizing labour. Peasants are traditionally embedded in their local communities and they take care of local landscapes and of agro-ecological systems. The term peasant can apply to any person engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, pastoralism, handicrafts-related to agriculture or a related occupation in a rural area. This includes indigenous people working on the land (Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas)

The negotiation process has been long, where some countries have not supported the need to recognize peasants’ rights. But farmer and civil society organizations have not wavered in their intention to reiterate the importance of their past, present and future contributions in conserving biological and genetic resources, improving and making them available for further research and innovation; and call for the recognition of their human rights as peasants, based on that premise.

The role that farmer and civil society organizations have played in the negotiations has been active and purposeful, especially regarding the right to land, right to biological diversity, right to seeds, right to decent income and ensuring rural women’s human rights.

Advocate groups have demanded that peasants and people working in rural areas be provided with the means to keep practicing environmentally sustainable agriculture. They have asserted that access to land, water, seeds and other natural resources is essential to guarantee food security, secure the sustainable use of natural resources, improve rural development, and reduce poverty and hunger.

At its 21 session in 2012, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations adopted Resolution 21/19 by which it decided to establish an Open ended intergovernmental working group to negotiate, finalize and submit a draft United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas on the basis of the draft submitted by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. The Open-ended Working Group held its third meeting on May 2016 where a new draft declaration was discussed.

But efforts to see these rights embodied in an international declaration on peasants’ rights will only be fruitful if they are implemented by national governments through legislative, administrative and other appropriate steps; governments must ultimately be accountable for their implementation.

Peasants’ rights include the sovereign right over the natural resources in their communities. Peasants have the authority to manage and control their natural resources and enjoy the benefits of their development and conservation.  They have the right to decide whether or not to grant access to the natural resources in their communities, and to obtain fair and equitable participation in benefits arising from their utilization.

Peasants have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that would affect their rights, directly or through their representative organizations in accordance with their own customary laws and practices. They also have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development; the right to full, transparent, timely and adequate information about the factors that may affect the production, processing, marketing and distribution of their products; the right to food, to land, and to other natural resources; to means of production and to seeds; to conserve, use, maintain and develop their own crops and genetic resources; and the right to decide what to cultivate.

Next step: Get governments on board

These and other rights established in the draft Declaration have already been recognized by International Conventions and Treaties, including the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Convention on Biological Resources.

But governments need to start implementing international agreements already in force relevant to peasants’ rights, avoiding spending valuable resources re-inventing the wheel.

It is time for action…

It is time for commitment…

It is time for accountability…

It is time to move forward and achieve the goals of alleviation of hunger, food security and reduction of poverty.


Blogpost by Juanita Chaves Posada, Farmers’ Rights Expert, Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR)

Photo credit: ©FAO/Sergey Kozmin

1 thought on “Slowly but surely, international community takes steps towards recognizing peasants’ rights”

  1. It is time to move forward and achieve the goals of alleviation of hunger, food security and reduction of poverty.

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