'We are humans (homo=man and humus=soil, earth). So to speak, we are soil… we are earth.'
This idea relates to the meaning of land to me and how I relate to it. My relationship with land is existential and transformative. That is, without land there is no me. Without land, I am uprooted from my human nature. My flesh is intimately related to the soil and other natural elements e.g. the sun and water. As such I have a birthright to have a place (land) to live and transform myself. I fully understood this while living with Indigenous people and doing my first ethnographic research in Colombia in the late 1990s.
I conceive the land as a social-natural relationship, which unfortunately has been broken. This rupture is the root of historical conflicts for land across the planet. For instance, the struggle for land is the original cornerstone of over 50 years of armed conflict in my native country Colombia. However, this is not only in the last 50 years but since the arrival of the colonisers and still continues. The imperialist quest in the Americas, with its plunder and pillage over resources, has not ended; it continues and so the struggle of people. I supported communities in Colombia who had to flee from their land but who never stopped making efforts to return to their land despite deaths and harassment against them. After I moved to the UK, I also had the privilege of supporting social movements such as the Landless Movement (Movemento Sem Terra - MST) in Brazil, the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) in Sri Lanka and the National Movement of Peasants (Uniao Nacional of Camponeses - UNAC) in Mozambique. These movements have taken the issue of land further, vocalising the need for agrarian reform and the challenging of the capitalist system.
As such the land issue is moved into a political arena that transcends geographical limits. It becomes a geopolitical phenomenon in which the local and the global are entangled. There is no way to detach the social-nature connection between humans-soil/earth at the local level from the national and global operations of corporations, States and para-State institutions, in both capitalists and socialists States. Following my research ‘Agroecological periurban agriculture and its contribution to food sovereignty in Cuba’, I found further evidence that the issue of a comprehensive agrarian reform - that is not only access to land but a systemic and radical change in the socio-natural relationship embedded in the concept of land - needs to be addressed in both capitalists and socialist States. This radical change is what La Via Campesina, a transnational social movement, put forward as the food sovereignty framework in 1996. The political grounding of the food sovereignty positioning led me to support the struggle of social movements, peasants and Indigenous communities/organisations and activists at local and global level. In the UK I co-worked with several organisations, activists, landless people, farmers and people interested in just food systems to develop what we called the UK Food Sovereignty Movement. We organised two food sovereignty national gatherings, in 2012 and 2015. In this last one, land inequality in the UK was brought up to the agenda. It was evident that without land, there was no food sovereignty.
I am thrilled to be part of Shared Assets at this point of my journey on and with this earth. I’m excited to join colleagues, communities, organisations, activists, academics and anyone ambitious to build new paths to understand and work with the land, as part of ‘the commons’: a public good for the good of all, including nature. As De Angelis and Harvie argue, understanding ‘the commons’ in the practical aspect as well as in the relational and structural sense. In other words, understanding the land in terms of governance, social, cultural, ecological and spiritual values.