Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its partners in Asia held a Regional Strategy Building on large-scale investments in agriculture on July 19 and 20 in Penang, Malaysia.
Attended by 22 organisations from seven countries, the two-day activity was the first regional gathering in Asia to address the issue of large-scale investments as well as strategies to defend the rights of rural communities, particularly of small food producers. Most of those who attended were from communities directly affected by land grabbing. Also, among the participants were non-governmental organisations that work closely with local communities.
Participants from various communities shared documented cases, stories and photos of how large-scale investments of local and foreign owned companies are displacing communities and how people oppose such type of investments. From Cambodia, Mr. Sokheng Seng of grassroots organization Peace- Building Network narrated how new laws on land and investments are facilitating land grabbing. He shared that Cambodia’s Economic Land Concessions decree issued by the Cambodian government in 2005 “grants private state land through a specific economic land concession contract to a concessionaire to use for agricultural and industrial-agricultural exploitation”.
In Sarawak, Malaysia on the other hand, indigenous peoples’ communities continue to face violence and displacement from their own ancestral lands because of land grabbing by giant corporations. Nicholas Mujah of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), an indigenous peoples’ organisation, emphasized that “disrespect of our native customary rights are among the many reasons why there is continued land grabbing in our communities.”
Like the participants from Sarawak, groups from Indonesia, Philippines and Pakistan also presented their preliminary findings on their community-led research of specific land grabbing cases. Aside from the impacts, they also shared how people from grassroots are resisting land grabbing. Affected communities employ similar actions such as taking the streets to protest, file legal cases in court against companies involved and sending petitions to their governments as part of advocacy strategies. Participants from Sri Lanka and India also presented specific cases of land grabbing in their countries.
Meanwhile, inspiring success stories from India were also shared such as how people in Sompeta village in the state of Andhra Pradesh defended their land against the State government, which declared their productive land as wasteland and gave it to a power corporation for its coal-based power plant. Tamil woman leader Magimai Appakutti also shared stories on how women in the villages of Tamil Nadu are slowly taking back the land for Dalits using various strategies.
Alongside the presentation of case studies and stories from the communities, a critique on how existing global mechanisms such FAO voluntary guidelines and frameworks like the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) failed to protect the rights of small food producers against investments that violate the rights small food producers.
At the end of the two-day meeting, the participants came up with strategies and actions plans on community organizing, policy advocacy, media advocacy, research and documentation. These strategies are to be carried out in the national, regional and international levels.
Terence Krishna V. Lopez
PAN AP Regional Land Rights Campaigner