Free Trade and Climate Change Resistance: Voices from the South (5)
Yoon Geum Sum, a peasant leader in South Korea, joined Trade to Climate Caravan to advocate for the right of small farmers and peasants to produce food locally and sustainably to feed themselves and their communities.
As a woman peasant leader in South Korea, YOON GEUM SUM has worked for years to improve the condition of women peasants affected by free trade liberalization. She is on her way to Copenhagen (COP 15) from Geneva (7th WTO Ministerial) with the Trade to Climate Caravan to advocate for the right of small farmers and peasants to produce food locally and sustainably to feed themselves and their communities. While on the caravan, she spoke to MARY LOU MALIG of Focus on the Global South and CECILIA OLIVET of Transnational Institute about her struggle and how free trade liberalization pushed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is causing a situation where the price farmers receive for their rice does not cover their production costs.
How did you get involved in the struggles for social justice?
When I was a child I heard about the happiness involved in growing something, in growing life. This is when I realised that to cultivate, to be a farmer, is to live, it is life. Impacted by experiences in my childhood, I became interested in environmental issues. Also, when I started cultivating, I realised that peasant women were suffering a lot of discrimination and living in poor social conditions. Experiencing this situation drove me to work with other woman peasants to improve our condition. During the process, I became the leader of my local community. In 2003, Via Campesina visited South Korea on a fact-finding mission to assess the agriculture and farming situation. At the time I met Henry Saragih (International Co-ordinator La Via Campesina), and from then on I became involved with the Via Campesina movement. In 2003, I was part of the Korean delegation that visited Cancun to struggle against the WTO and in 2005, when Hong Kong hosted the 6th WTO Ministerial, I was in involved in organising the mobilisation of peasant women as part of Via Campesina’s big demonstration against the WTO. I am part of Korean Women Peasant Association (KWPA) and a member of the International Coordinating Committee of Via Campesina.
How are Korean farmers, particularly women, affected by free trade policies?
The price of rice is a critical issue for Korean farmers. Since South Korea joined the WTO in 1995, we started to feel the effects. We have been squeezed out of business by the WTO's push to end farm protectionism and encourage international trade in agriculture. Also, our incomes have stalled because rising imports have driven crop prices down. Because of that the debts and suffering of the farmers has greatly increased and many farmers have committed suicide. The agriculture in Korea was subsequently almost destroyed. So we are strongly against the WTO and Free Trade Agreements, because they are fundamentally oriented towards the interests that benefit large corporations and businesses at the expense of small farmers and peasants. Our demand is that Agriculture should be out of the WTO.
What solutions do you propose to solve the climate crisis?
In our struggle to preserve the price of rice, women peasants have maintained constant mobilization; for example, we organized demonstrations in front of the national parliament, we are advocating alternatives, and we promote the preservation of native seeds. Farmers have the right to have control
over seeds, this is a center part of our struggle for food sovereignty. Without our seeds we cannot have food sovereignty. Women Peasants are also making an effort to return to small-scale farming. At the local level, we are trying to establish direct links between producers and consumers based on organic farming, so farmers can directly deliver healthy and fresh food from the field to the table.
Furthermore, last October in the international conference of Via Campesina, we launched the campaign against violence towards women. This involves members of Korean Women Peasants educating women on violence against them.
Why are you on the Caravan and what do you hope to achieve in Copenhagen?
I joined the caravan to denounce how free trade liberalization pushed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is causing the price of rice in our countries to collapse. Also, I believe that the issues of trade and climate are intimately related and the caravan is helping to expose this links. I would like to believe that in Copenhagen the world governments will agree on real solutions to climate change, however, that is not possible as long as our voices are not heard.