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50,000 people say another world is possible

Photo: Focus on the Global South

Local Futures | 6 March 2024

50,000 people say another world is possible

by Alex Jensen

World Social Forum Nepal 2024 – Local Futures reports from the World Social Forum, Nepal 2024:

From the 15th to the 19th of February, some 50,000 people and 1,400 organizations from 98 countries converged in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the World Social Forum (WSF), reaffirming the central conviction that gave rise to the original WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 – that ‘another world is possible’.

‘Another’ world, of course, refers by contrast to today’s dominant systems of political and economic power, and to their various destructive consequences. Though the WSF encompasses a huge range and diversity of issues, causes, and yearnings, they are united by a basic rejection of neoliberal/capitalist globalization, corporate power, and militarism. They advocate for common values like justice, solidarity and sustainability.

Some of the main themes that cut across the bounty of workshops and sessions at the Forum were: climate justice; debt/debt cancellation-abolition; peace/conflict/war; agroecology/food sovereignty; inequality; land and livelihoods; smallholder/peasant farmers and fishers; community media; rethinking conventional education; and solidarity economy.

To pretend there was total unity of analysis on the challenges, struggles, and alternatives envisioned by the vast swathe of organizations and activists would be unrealistic. For some, the challenge was how to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, while for others the SDGs themselves are problematic, especially in their ongoing fidelity to objectives like economic growth (no matter how ‘inclusive’). For some, the challenge is stopping the privatization and corporatization of education, while for others, the problem is the modern education system and western-style schooling itself. For some, the challenge is democratizing and increasing inclusion in state programs and services, while for others, the state itself is the problem and radical democracy and political autonomy is the goal. Nevertheless, even in its more reformist strands, I think that the ‘other worlds’ aspired to by the participants in the WSF would be profoundly different – and profoundly more humane and sustainable – than the current global state of affairs. The attempt to steer the world in a different direction – away from corporate control and inequality, towards political and economic democracy – is the common, uniting endeavor.

A brief glance through the 27 pages worth of offerings during the Forum gives a taste of the massive diversity of concerns, broadly focusing either on resistance to the status quo, or on alternatives to it, and sometimes a combination of both. Of the former, for example:

• ‘Resisting False Solution on Climate Change’
• ‘Impact of Privatization on Public Services’
• ‘Fighting against Ecocidal Multinationals’
• ‘Mobilizing Against International Financial Institutions’
• ‘Resisting Free Trade in South Asia’

On the latter side of positive alternatives:

• ‘Agroecology as a Transformative Approach to Tackle Climatic, Food, and Eco-systemic Crises’
• ‘Let’s Create Our Own Money’
• ‘Staying Hopeful and Sustaining Ourselves as Activists and Organizers’
• ‘Agrobiodiversity and Community Seed Banks’
• ‘Revitalizing Rural Reconstruction Movements: Addressing Multiple Crises’
• ‘Decent Work and Care Economy’

Local Futures was involved in several sessions at the Forum, in collaboration with old and new friends and colleagues, organizations and networks. Among these were:

• Digo Bikas Institute from Nepal, which helped organize the Forum. Digo Bikas has participated in past World Localization Day events, and translates Local Futures’ materials into Nepali;
• Kalpavriksh from India, which was instrumental in starting the Vikalp Sangam/Alternatives Confluence process that networks hundreds of organizations and thousands of social-ecological initiatives across India. Local Futures has been a participating member of this network since its launch a decade ago;
• GRAIN, which I consider the alternative peoples’ research and analysis think tank on food and agriculture politics;
• – another peoples’ think tank affiliated with GRAIN, focusing on news and critical analysis of free trade agreements;
• Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity – part of the African Food Sovereignty Alliance;
• Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM) – an international network which is resisting international debt from countries to financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF. (This debt drives extractivism and exploitation globally and undermines local economies, and it needs to be abolished to achieve justice and sustainability.)

Together with GRAIN, represented by Afsar Jafri of India, Local Futures organized the aforementioned workshop ‘Resisting Free Trade Agreements in South Asia’, which brought together activists from South Asian countries to confront the massive proliferation of free trade agreements (FTAs) within the region and beyond, including and especially those with global hegemons like the European Union, China, United States and Japan. These agreements open up the economies of countries for corporate-dominated trade and investment by eliminating import tariffs, harmonizing standards and regulations on food, health and environment, and strengthening intellectual property rights. In general terms, these treaties hand more power to transnational corporations, with disastrous consequences for local food systems, local self-reliance, local economies, local health, and local democracy.

The workshop provided updates on the status of FTAs from all the countries represented, and highlighted the learnings from activists from Indonesia who are part of Transnational Institute and Afsar Jafri lamented that, where there had hitherto been robust resistance movements in each of the countries to the free trade agenda, today these movements have atrophied significantly. As such, one of the hopeful outcomes of the meeting was a commitment to form a ‘South Asia Trade Justice Campaign’ to oppose FTAs in the region.

Another session Local Futures co-organized was titled ‘Forum on Food Injustice: Quest for Addressing the Planetary Heath and Global Food Crisis’, in collaboration with Alliance of Agriculture for Food, Forest Action, Li-BIRD, Vikalp Sangam, and Digo Bikas Institute. This session featured Madhav Dhungel and Narayan Wagle, two small-scale organic farmers from Nepal; Sheelu Francis of the Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu, an organization which promotes women farmers’ land rights, ecological farming and local food revival among its 100,000 members; Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh, Vikalp Sangam and Global Tapestry of Alternatives; Frances Davies of the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity; and Uma Shankari, a long-time organic farmer from India. In my intervention for Local Futures, I focused on the intersecting ecological and social crises in food systems worldwide, brought about by globalization and corporate consolidation of food and farming from seed to retail. I highlighted the harm done to local food systems, small farmers and public and ecological health by trade liberalization and free trade regimes, and finally about the urgent need to confront these structures if the healthy, abundant, fair food systems we know are possible are to survive, prosper and spread.

On the penultimate day of the Forum, Local Futures, together with Shail Shrestha of Digo Bikas Institute, hosted a final session – ‘From Global to Local’. In this, we delved into a critique of both mainstream neoclassical economics and conventional notions of development, and laid out the basic case for and features of localization as we see it, with emphasis on examples of both resistance and renewal. This was an interactive session in both English and Nepali, starting with a screening of our short film, ‘Localization: For People and Planet’, giving rise to a spirited discussion and leading to further collaborations. Notably, some participants pledged to explore these issues in local college classrooms.

The WSF was unquestionably a vibrant example of the much-needed global collaboration among those struggling against the destructive status quo and for its many possible and actual replacements. Of course, the WSF alone cannot overturn the system and bring into being its alternatives. But it certainly has made a significant contribution to that crucial endeavor.

 source: Local Futures