From Farmers’ Rights in Colombia to Spring Farming in Eidsvoll
2020 suddenly turned very different from what the exchange participants in the Solidarity Brigades pictured in April. After six weeks in Colombia, the corona pandemic took Maren Vedvik Dammen (23), Oda Stey (24) and Joanna Svärd (27) from the countryside in Colombia to the countryside in Norway.
— To deliver 42 lambs during spring farming in Eidsvoll was definitely not part of the plan! Maren says laughingly.
The three brigadiers had just started their exchange when the global corona outbreak was a fact, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated their travel advice and the message came: They had to go home, half a year too early.
— It was very emotional! There were not just a few tears when we received the message. Nobody wanted to go home. We were all eager to learn more, experience more and contribute more, and then all of a sudden it was over, tells Maren.
Instead of cancelling when the exchange was interrupted, The Norwegian Solidarity Committee for Latin America (LAG), in consultation with Norec, completed an alternative arrangement with online teaching and placement in farms through the Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders Union (NBS). For Oda, Joanna, and Maren, the journey continued to the farm Sander Nordstuen Gård in Eidsvoll. While the corona pandemic led to closed borders, media attention on infection rates and social distancing, Norwegian farmers got an extra crisis: they did not have enough labour for the spring farming.
— When we couldn’t use our exchange to learn about the situation for smallholder farmers in Colombia, we all joined in to help the Norwegian farmers as best as we could in their collective effort during the spring farming, Oda adds.
— Many interesting conversations around the dinner table
In normal situations, LAG usually arranges farm placements for the exchange participants that come to Norway. The project coordinator for the exchange, Elise Øksnes Fjordbakk, points out that solidarity with Norwegian farmers is important for the exchange project after many years of visits from partner organisations.
— In addition, the Norwegian brigadiers that return from their exchange often point out that they wish they knew the Norwegian farming model and the situation for smallholder farmers here better before they left. The corona pandemic has suddenly made it possible for Norwegian brigadists to learn more about Norwegian smallholders, Fjordbakk explains.
The farmers Tone Bech and Magne Stenersen received Oda, Maren and Joanna at the organic farm Sander Nordstuen Gård.
— Usually, we get volunteers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms during the spring farming, but that wasn’t possible this year due to the closed borders. Because I’m part of the NBS board we got the opportunity to receive the brigadists, which we of course said yes to, Magne explains.
— What has it been like?
— It has worked out very well! They came straight to the lambing. All three are very engaged in the environment and what’s happening around us. That has led to some very interesting conversations around the dinner table, Tone laughs, before Magne adds:
— I believe the placement here is something the brigadists may make use of later, knowing how to cultivate food using knowledge about seeds. That is something they can take with them no matter where in the world they end up.
Smallholder farmers in Latin America
Before the brigadists had to interrupt their exchange, they were already well under way with their work. During the six weeks they visited universities, observed in demonstrations, participated in meetings and in advocacy work, lived with local farmers, learnt about the judicial system in Colombia and the social movements that fight for miners and smallholders in the country. This is among the things the Norwegian participants focus on in their project: solidarity in practice through specific labour tasks with their partner organisations, and by taking part in the everyday-life life of their grassroot host-families in Latin America.
— The slogan of the Solidarity Brigades is “solidarity in practice”. Solidarity is based on our shared interest of creating change in the world. We have all got a reminder of how important solidarity is during the corona crisis, and how important Norwegian farming is. Both considering self-sufficiency, food security, and sustainability, says Oda.
Inspirational social organising
The social movements in Colombia left traces in the brigadists: the hard struggle for the right to land and how important it is.
— We got to know the grassroot movement’s political work for the rights of smallholder farmers. In Colombia, the smallholder farmers fight for their right to land, and it’s a source of war and conflict. Land is a scarce natural resource that the farmers must fight for. The social networks they have built, like the Vía Campesina that our partner organisation is a member of, are important to ensure the rights of the farmers. They are a big inspiration when it comes to the social organisation of civil society, solidarity and a collective mindset, Joanna concludes.
- Since Norway started to support the Brigades exchange in 2003, more than 360 participants have travelled on exchange.
- The Solidarity Brigades is a triangular Norec exchange between LAG in Norway, CAN in Colombia, MST in Brazil, and CUC and Conavigua in Guatemala
- LAG — Latin-Amerikagruppene i Norge — Norwegian Solidarity Committee for Latin America
- CNA — Coordinador Nacional Agrario — National farmer network in Colombia
- MST — Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra — The Landless Workers’ Movement
- CUC — Comité de Unidad Campesina — The Committee for Peasant Unity
- Conavigua — Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala — National network for widows in Guatemala.
- The exchange partners of the project are all organised in the international smallholder farmer network Vía Campesina. In Norway, Norsk Bonde- og Småbrukarlag (NBS) is the only member organisation in the network.
- Every year, 36 participants travel on exchange, 12 South-South, 4 North-South and 20 North-South.
- From 2016, the project also supports South-South exchanges between CAN, MST, CUC and Conavigua.
- They all have in common that they operate in countries where there is wide popular organising to change societal conditions to the better for the majority of the population.
- The aim of the Brigades project is to strengthen LAG and their partners’ organisational capacity through network building, developing organisational structures and skills development among the participants.
- Solidarity is built through exchange of knowledge.
- The Norwegian participants focus on solidarity in practice through specific work tasks among the partners, and by participating in the everyday life of host families on the Latin American grassroots.
- The Norwegian participants have done things like community work , building houses and latrines, they have participated in water supply projects or built resource efficient stoves.
- Others have been election observers, contributed to communication projects, or documented consequences of Norwegian investments in Latin America.