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The 2012 World Food Prize goes to the struggle of the Sri Lankan fishermen

Written By NAFSO on Friday, October 26, 2012 | 9:05:00 PM

by Melani Manel Perera
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) receives the award in recognition of the efforts of individuals or associations for food sovereignty. AsiaNews interviews Herman Kumara, President NAFSO and permanent member of the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP).

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) has received the 2012World Food Prize. The honor is symbolic in nature, and is awarded to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves for their commitment to food sovereignty.The Committee recognized the NAFSO's efforts and fight side by side with small-scale fishermen in Sri Lanka and its ability to bring to the attention of an international audience to often unspoken issues, and the courage to express dissent against the government. A few months ago, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries Rajitha Senarathna, criticized the movement for fomenting fishermen protests against the high cost of gasoline, and thus held responsible for the death (at the hands of police, ed) of a man. The award ceremony took place on 10 October in New York. For the occasion, AsiaNews interviewed Herman Kumara, president of NAFSO and permanent member of the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP).

As president of NAFSO, how did you feel at news of the award?

NAFSO is humbly proud and happy to receive this award. This is some what an answer too to the difficulties we face as a social movement in this country. Some wanted to destroy the movement with eliminating the leaders, putting activists in difficulty, blaming us as running behind foreign funds. This is a clear indicator of the assessment of our engagements on small food producers, specifically the small scale fishers by the people out side of our country. We feel greatly encouraged and strengthened, it is a moral boost to serve the people further with commitment and with our convictions.

Could you explain the work of NAFSO, that led to the award.

First, we created the movement Praja Abhilasha, who are fighting against the forced expropriation of land, and the Alliance of Protection of Negombo Lagoon (Apnl), which in 2010 blocked the Sea Plane project. Also in Negombo, we have promoted and encouraged the creation of a women's leadership through the creation of Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization. We brought the issue of the islands ofKalpitiya to a national level, capturing the national and international attention through media campaigns, field missions, permanent courts and diplomatic personalities invited to see the local communities with their own eyes. The involvement of international bodies to improve the future of small-scale fishermen and their industry is a unique feature of NAFSO. Moreover, the movement also focuses on the most pressing issues, such as the IDP (internally displaced people, IDPs ed), the loss of agricultural land, the difficulties of restoring a job in the northeast of the island, the area hardest hit by the civil war. From a certain point of view, this is the most risky work, but also the most requested. Only a few organizations have taken on the issue of IDPs.

Why did NAFSO not attend the awards ceremony?

Because those who were to go were denied a visa. I was not able to go, because I was busy with the campaign for food sovereignty here in Sri Lanka. A friend of ours in New York accepted the award for us.

What is your impression about the government programs and its efforts in food sovereignty?

The government always uses a downward approach in the field of food sovereignty. It destroys the ability of the people to decide what, how, when and for whom they should produce. This is food sovereignty. Today, the government is planning to destroy the food production systems by capturing resources like water, land and seeds, which are the fundamental aspects of food sovereignty. It imposes unacceptable limits on the use of chemical fertilizers, four times higher than necessary and with the effect of poisoning the ground; it privatizes water resources; it rents sea access, lagoons and other waterways. All this means it deprives people of important resources. All this is bad for food sovereignty.

Would you like to make an appeal to people?

We urge people to understand what is happening today. Understand the destruction of natural resources in the name of development. Loss of land from the food producers, poor and marginalized people, the issues of IDPs and their ability to produce food, understand the market forces destroy the small producers through dumping of cheap products in local markets.

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