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Peasants' rights and the SDGs

Conference: Peasants’ Rights in Europe


The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants' contribution to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the UN Decade of Family Farming


Statement by

Birgit Van Hout

Regional Representative for Europe

UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR)


EU Economic and Social Council, Brussels, 30 September 2019


The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) is a landmark instrument for the protection of one of the most marginalized sectors of societies and an unprecedented achievement of the social movement of campesinos around the world.

Let me give you a brief overview of the main obstacles peasants face in enjoying their human rights. Peasants are the main people feeding the world, yet they face important challenges in the realization of the right to food for themselves. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development's (IFAD) estimates, small farms provide as much as 80% of the food locally consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, 80% of the world population suffering from hunger live in rural areas: about 50% live in rural small-holding farming households,  while another 22% are farming households that do not have land.

Peasants have precarious access to land and other resources. They have their lands expropriated, face forced evictions and displacement. Policies on access to land, such as agrarian reform and policies for rural development, are lacking. In times of austerity measures, social policies for the rural areas are often among the first affected, including through the privatization of services.

For women peasants the situation is even more gloomy. Although women are major contributors to agriculture and rural economies, they have less access to resources and services. 60% of those suffering from chronic hunger are women, and rural women are particularly affected. For a majority of women, discrimination in marriage, inheritance, legal capacity or access to financial and other resources are some of the obstacles preventing them from accessing, using and controlling land. The lack of secure tenure resulting from discrimination impacts on their own survival as well as on the well-being of their family and children, particularly in situations of divorce, death or remarriage of the spouse.

Rural women also carry most of the unpaid work burden due to stereotyped gender roles. Even when formally employed, they are vulnerable to labour exploitation and often engaged in work that is insecure, hazardous, poorly paid and not covered by social protection.

Rural women are also more likely to be excluded from leadership and decision-making positions. They are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and lack access to justice and effective legal remedies.

Excessive protection of patents over seeds and other resources by multinational corporations often indebts small scale farmers who are forced to purchase patented seeds.

The negative impact of climate change, such as increased flooding and droughts, irregular rainfall, extreme weather events, and soil erosion puts rural populations at increased risk of food insecurity.

The implementation of the Declaration represents a unique opportunity to re-balance power relations in rural areas, and ensure the respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. The Declaration is key to redressing the historical disadvantage that has affected peasants.

In the implementation of the Declaration, particular attention shall be paid to the rights of those who have historically been discriminated against, like older persons, youth, children and persons with disabilities, and women.

It is important to note that the Declaration builds on, and includes agreed language from a number of binding international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents an opportunity for the implementation of the Declaration. The 2030 Agenda is a historic pledge to end poverty, hunger and inequality; take action on climate change and the environment; ensure inclusive access to health, decent work, social protection and education; promote sustainable economic growth for all; and build inclusive, just and peaceful institutions and societies.

Human rights are woven across the entire 2030 Agenda, and clearly reflected in a number of targets: equal access to justice; decent work, gender equality, effective rule of law and good governance; effective, transparent and accountable institutions; and responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

As such, the Sustainable Development Agenda offers an effective entry point for human rights and therefore for the implementation of the Declaration as many of the targets aim to tackle the root causes of discrimination, inequality and injustice.

The 2030 Agenda has at its heart combating discrimination and inequalities through:

  1. an overarching commitment to leave no one behind and focus on the furthest behind first;
  2. dedicated goals and targets to combat discrimination and inequalities, including gender equality (Goals 5, 10, 16 and 17);
  3. a commitment to develop specific indicators to measure progress in the implementation of laws, policies and actions to address discrimination and inequalities;
  4. special attention to specific groups, including women, children, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, older persons and migrants; and
  5. a call for disaggregation of data on a broad set of grounds, including in target 17.18 that for peasants and people living in rural is crucial.

Globally, peasants have been left behind for a long time, facing challenges related to the enjoyment of their civil, economic, political, social and cultural rights. Women in rural areas are still amongst the world’s most hungry and disproportionately affected by malnutrition, poverty and food insecurity. The international community must reach them and make them protagonists of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

To achieve zero hunger (SDG2) for example or fight climate change (SDG13), the full and meaningful participation of peasants and other people working in rural areas must be guaranteed in the design, delivery and evaluation of the related development projects.

Peasants must participate, directly and/or through their representative organizations, in all decision-making processes that may affect their lives, lands and livelihoods. For this reason, the establishment and growth of strong and independent organizations of peasants and other people working in rural areas should be respected and supported by states and will be crucial in the achievement of the SDGs.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas should inform and guide the efforts of States towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This would ensure a human rights based development where peasants are not invisible or irrelevant any more but are crucial agents of change.

Thank you.