La Vía Campesina
Globalization and the Power of Peasants
La Via Campesina is an enjoyable, accesible, and useful book about Via Campesina, a prominent peasants’ movement in the contemporary period. Geographers should read it-but not because the book is much of a contribution to geographic understanding. Rather, although the author, Annette Desmarais, has a Ph.D. in Geography, the book deals with a wide range of political and conceptual issues regarding agriculture, rural development, globalization and trade but without the author connecting her views to the geography literature. Why, then, should geographers-and especially readers of Human Geography-pay any attention? I will outline four reasons below, but allow me first to sketch out a quick description of the book and then identify some positive feature, as well as one or two flaws.
…Desmarais effectively weaves together her matierials on the movement with analysis of and comment on changes in the agricultural sector. She also tries hard to let us hear activists’ voices in relatively long quotations. And her analysis is open to the internal diversity within the movement. Although there are areas where she falls into line with certain groups and perspectives within movement. Although there are areas where she falls into line with certain groups and perspectives with the movement as a whole-for example, when she uncritically accepts arguments from the movement’s International Coordinating Commission, which states that ‘Great care has to be taken not to let national issues and conflicts to be drawn into the Via Campesina’ (p. 148; also Chapter Five more generally)-the work as a whole seems quite open about the movement’s future directions. Thus, in describing the movement’s internal battles to map the path towards success, Desmarais avoids the trap of offering an overly-confident, even cocky, and prescriptive account of ‘what should have been done.’ Her treatment of competing views regarding strategy and the way forward for the movement is balanced. - Alistair Fraser
At this pivotal juncture, where alternatives are so desperately needed, there is no greater source of hope than Via Campesina. Via Campesina has emerged as the leading force opposing what’s wrong with the global food economy and the institutional architecture entrenching it, especially the World Trade Organization (WTO). Desmarais very effectively details this dogged oppositional character (highlighted in the title to Chapter 4: “The WTO…Will Meet Somewhere, Sometime. And We Will Be There”). She describes how it arose out of the growing awareness of the need to jump scales in advocacy (or to ‘go global’, as she puts it), from the local and national levels, where the energies of farmer movements had long been vested, to the scale of multi-lateral organizations where important rule making had shifted. - Tony Weis