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Agricultural Missions "Education for Rural Justice Tour" is Underway

Pictured left to right: Salete Carollo, Stephen Bartlett, Antonio Valenzuela

October 1, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - Advocates for family farmers and farmworkers in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and the United States are engaged in a 20-day "Education for Rural Justice Tour" that is seeking to broaden the movement for sustainable local agricultural economies and practices.

Their international struggle against rural poverty and the adverse effects of corporate-led globalization is rooted in the needs and aspirations of millions of ordinary people.

Carollo, Bartlett, ValenzuelaFor example, for Brazil’s 4.8 million landless rural people, struggling to survive on the $2 or less that they can earn as day laborers, it means getting their own parcel of land big enough to grow enough to eat three times a day and sell a bit of surplus, says Salete Carollo, veteran activist and organizer of the Movimento Sem Terra (MST).

Founded 18 years ago, MST successfully has relocated 300,000 landless families on land. To learn more, see www.mstbrazil.org

For Mexican family farmers in a "corridor" from Puebla, Mexico, to Panama, it means resisting the implementation of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), which seeks to buy them out and construct a series of massive industrial development corridors, says Antonio Valenzuela of the group Indigenous Without Borders.

"Most of the family farmers in the Plan Puebla Panama corridor consider themselves to be members of indigenous groups," Valenzuela said. "Their communal land holdings are threatened by Plan Puebla Panama." Indigenous people in Mexico number 24 million, he said, and until recently provided 80 percent of the domestically consumed maize.

"When farmers are dislocated, to survive they take jobs in the new factories at sweatshop wages," Valenzuela said. "If they organize and demand a living wage, the factory moves overseas. Many formerly self-sufficient family farmers end up squatting in cardboard shacks in Mexico City and begging in the streets." Valenzuela’s movement has helped two rural villages resist the takeover of their land. For more information, see www.asej.org

Ms. Carollo and Mr. Valenzuela - along with Santiago Obispo, a Venezuelan indigenous and campesino organizer - are touring 10 U.S. states under the auspices of Agricultural Missions, Inc., an ecumenical organization that accompanies rural peoples in their efforts to address the structural causes of impoverishment and injustice in their communities.

On the group’s itinerary Sept. 18-Oct. 10: meetings with farmers and fieldworkers; colleges, universities and theological seminaries; ecumenical and denominational groups including local churches, and with grassroots activists for sustainable agricultural economies and practices. The group’s tour covers New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Representatives of U.S. rural and urban movements are joining these presenters at stops along the way. For example, in New York City, Noelle Damico joined them to talk about a boycott of Taco Bell - a major purchaser of tomatoes grown in Southwest Florida, where fieldworkers earn about $50 for every two tons of tomatoes they pick - a day’s work. The United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Church (USA) have endorsed the boycott. For more information, see www.ciw-online.org or www.pcusa.org/boycott/

To learn more about Agricultural Missions, the tour and the issues, contact Stephen Bartlett, Latin America Liaison for Agricultural Missions: stephen@ncccusa.org; 502-894-9308 or 212-870-2553. And visit www.agriculturalmissions.org

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