By Matt Davies (Mexico)
I was recently reading an article by members of Social Watch about the UN post-2015 development agenda which will see the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a change cynics might say that goes little further than one letter in an acronym. However, the process by which the SDGs have been drafted and are now being negotiated has been more open than that which saw the MDGs adopted in 2000. This has allowed civil society organisations to provide input into the process, including ATD Fourth World. Returning to the article, one particular paragraph grabbed my attention as it spoke of one of the key principles of the SDGs to “Leave No One Behind,” an ambition long lauded by ATD Fourth World.
The article questioned countries’ sincerity in backing the concept of no one being left behind. “But behind what if the current development model is unsustainable?,” the article questions, and goes on to explain, “What does it mean to put money into assisting the poor to somehow enter the market economy, for example, without challenging the trade and economic policies that keep people deeply poor in the first place?”
It reminded me of several experiences during a recent visit to Peru. Part of my time there was spent in the rural community of Cuyo Grande, about 50km from Cusco in the Peruvian highlands at an altitude of over 3500m. It is a farming community, principally producing potatoes but also other crops such as corn. It was fascinating to join ATD Fourth World colleagues who live in the community and meet with the residents who participate in the activities and projects. One such project is called the Uyarinakusunchis, a Quechua word meaning “Listening to one another”. It provides a trusting and safe space for people from a background of extreme poverty to meet together, share their knowledge and learn from one another. The particular meeting I attended was on the theme of Social Programmes. It was interesting to hear that the majority of the farmers receive social assistance, either because they are over 65 or because they have school-age children. What was more revealing though was that this assistance was a greater source of income than the crops which they produce. In fact, the farmers I spoke to told me that they do not sell their crops anymore but rather keep them for their own household’s consumption.
Without the social assistance, and crucially money sent from the city by their adult children (few young adults choose to remain in the community to continue the farming lifestyle), they would not have any income. Such small-scale farmers cannot produce enough to have crop leftover to sell once they put aside what their family will eat from the harvest and the price they can ask for their potato does not make selling worthwhile. Add to this the effects of climate change that farmers already bear witness to, particularly water shortages which have reduced their yield, and the future for such farming communities is bleak.
This is not a criticism of the introduction of social protection measures, which are a major contributor to the reduction in financial poverty. But it would be disingenuous to say that the farmers of Cuyo Grande are not being left behind. Their community’s way of life is being eroded and once this generation of farmers are no longer around, will there still be any farming to speak of in this community? From hearing the farmers speak during the Uyarinakusunchi, they possess individual and collective knowledge which, if listened to, will ensure they are not left behind. They exchange thoughts and ideas, for example, of how social assistance can be delivered in such a way that is empowering rather than demeaning. They are actively listening to one another, but is anyone listening to them?