ASUNCION – More than 1,000 peasants marched through the streets of the Paraguayan capital on Wednesday to call for agrarian reform in a nation where 5 percent of property-owners control 90 percent of the land.
People from 11 of Paraguay’s 17 provinces came to Asuncion for the 25th annual March of the Poor Peasant to demand access to land and technical assistance, as well as fair prices for what they produce.
The event was organized by the National Peasant Federation (FNC), which is asking the government to commit to devoting 4.5 percent of gross domestic product for the next 10 years to an agrarian reform aiding the roughly 300,000 poor rural families without land of their own.
An FNC member who grows vegetables in the central province of Caaguazu told EFE that a key concern among farmers in her area is economic insecurity due to the government’s failure to maintain a floor under agricultural prices.
“When production is worth less and there are no price supports, the government doesn’t worry about it, and there is more violence against women,” Marciana Amarilla said.
Family farmers need access to technical help, credit and crop insurance, she said.
“There is no policy of aid to small producers, but there is for the big landowners, for the soy growers,” Amarilla said. “For the small producers there is a policy of elimination.”
Much of the produce grown by peasant farmers ends up rotting in storehouses, while the major food distribution companies import fruits and vegetables from neighboring countries, she said.
Paraguay imported $500 million worth of basic foodstuffs last year, FNC director Marcial Gomez told EFE.
He stressed the “necessity of transforming the structure of land tenure in Paraguay, of domestic production and consumption, for the development of the country.”
Paraguay is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of soy and the spread of that crop is increasingly displacing peasants to cities and towns, according to the charity Oxfam, which says that more than 90 percent of the country’s arable land is devoted to export crops.