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By Via Campesina, Grain
As governments converge at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, the brutal murder of Peruvian indigenous activist Edwin Chota and three other Ashaninka men last September sheds light on the connection between deforestation and indigenous rights to territory. The truth is very plain and clear: the most effective way to avoid deforestation and impacts on the climate is to recognize and respect the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over their territories.
The violent agrarian conflicts in Peru also shed light on another issue of equal importance to the climate crisis, and that can no longer be ignored: the concentration of land in the hands of a few. In Peru, small farms, less than 5 hectares, represent 78% of all farms in the country, but occupy less than 6% of agricultural land.
This disturbing figure reflects the global situation.
Globally, small farms make up 90% of all farms, but occupy less than a quarter of agricultural land. This is very bad news for the climate crisis.
The dispossession of indigenous peoples' territories has given way to unsustainable and destructive extraction, and the dispossession of peasant lands laid the foundations for an industrial agri-food system that, among many other negative effects, is responsible for 44-57 % of greenhouse gas emissions. Diet may not be as heavy as it does in the climate crisis. GRAIN estimates that a global redistribution of land to peasants and indigenous communities, coupled with policies that encourage local trade and cut the use of chemicals, can cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half in a few decades and significantly stop deforestation.
By simply reconstituting the organic matter that was extracted from the soil by decades of industrial agriculture, farmers could return to the soil a quarter of all the excess carbon dioxide that is now in the atmosphere.
Restoring land to indigenous and peasant communities is also the most effective way to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population in a time of climate chaos. The global data available show that small producers are more efficient in food production than large plantations. In the fractions of land they maintain, peasants and indigenous communities continue to produce most of the world's food - 80% of the food in "developing" countries, FAO says. Even in Brazil, a powerhouse of industrial agriculture, small farms occupy a quarter of agricultural land but produce 87% of the country's cassava, 69% of the beans (or beans), 59% of its pigs, 58% of dairy products, 50% of chickens, 46% of corn, 33.8% of rice and 30% of cattle.
The double urgency to feed the world and cool the planet can be faced. But nothing will be accomplished if the meeting of governments in Lima continues to ignore and violently repress the struggles of native peoples and peasants in pursuit of their territories.