Specialized Meeting on Family Farming (Reaf) which was created in Mercosur, in 2004, in order to deal with issues related to family farming. In this regional institution, civil society pressure over government representatives led to the developed norms, that allows the participation of small farmers in regional debates over agriculture in a two-level structure.
Problems and Purpose
The Specialized Meeting on Family Farming (Reaf) was created in Mercosur, in 2004, in order to deal with issues related to family farming. In this regional institution, civil society pressure over government representatives led to the developed norms, that allows the participation of small farmers in regional debates over agriculture in a two-level structure. It entails national preparatory meetings of civil society and then of both, civil society and the local government. Later, their agreements and proposals are taken into regional-level meetings that mirror the national structure.
Nowadays, more than ten years after its creation, REAF is considered a successful experience within the regional integration process. It has spread ideas about family farming, fostered some national public policies aiming to overcome asymmetries in the area and is recognized as an example of participatory integration.
According to REAF official data, 24% of agropecuary production in the Mercosur region comes from family farming. It aggregates 5,2 million productive units and around 30,000 people make a living out of family farming. (http://www.reafmercosul.org/sobre-reaf)
Background History and Context
The Common Market of the South Cone of the Americas, Mercosur, was created in 1991 by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Shortly after, civil society actors from the member-states such as labor unions began to question the exclusion from the debates. The consequence of their absence was that they suffered the impact of Mercosur but had no channel to express their concerns. Moreover, many criticized the lack of debate about integration of the societies, which they believed, should come along with commercial issues. Ever since then, labor unions, cooperatives, environmental and women's movements have been demanding to have a voice on regional issues.
Many of these demands were successful and Mercosur created forums to deal with specific issues – one of these institutional forms are the Specialized Meetings. They are entitled to produce agreements and to prepare recommendations for the Common Market Group, which can turn them into resolutions for Mercosur. Recommendations need to be consensus among the state-parties.
Some of these Specialized Meetings were able to include civil society actors. The Specialized Meeting on Family Farming is one of those.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
REAF aims the development of agriculture in Mercosur being concerned specifically on family farmers. One of its objectives is to foster public policies within member countries (MERCOSUR, 2004).
Funding comes from national governments and international organizations. The Mercosur Office of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has been supporting REAF. Brazilian government supported some of the initiatives in the first years. Locally, the meetings are also funded by national governments.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Reaf meetings are attended by national government representatives from agriculture-related ministries and secretaries, alongside with foreign affairs. Bureaucrats from other areas such as women’s rights and the environment also engage in specific debates.
In the civil society branch the Confederation of Organizations of Family Farmers of Mercosur (COPROFAM) has a central role. It is formed by national representatives of small farmers, mostly of labor union origins. COPROFAM was initially composed by 14 organizations. They were mainly labor unions, but also social movement organizations. In 2011, Coprofam joined peasants and family farmers from the four member-states, plus Chile and Bolívia: 1- Argentina: Federación Agraria Argentina (FAA), 2- Bolívia: Coordinadora de Integración de Organizaciones Económicas Campesinas (Cioec), 3- Brasil: Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura (Contag), 4- Chile: Movimiento Unitario de Campesinos y Etnias de Chile (Muchech) and Voz del Campo - Confederación Nacional de la Agricultura Familiar Campesina, 6- Paraguai: Unión Agrícola Nacional (UAN) and Organización Nacional Campesina (Onac), 7- Perú: Confederación Campesina del Perú (CCP), 8- Uruguai: Asociación de Colonos de Uruguay (ACU), Asociación de Mujeres Rurales de Uruguay (AMRU), Comisión Nacional de Fomento Rural (CNFR) and Intergremial de Productores de Leche (IPL).
However, not all civil society participants of Reaf come from COPROFAM. In each country, other social movements and NGOs were incorporated to the debates. In Brazil, for instance, some subnational organizations like sustainable forest exploitation groups, as the Movimento Interestadual De Mulheres Quebradeiras De Coco Babaçu (MIQCB, Inter-State Movement of Women Extracting Babaçu Coconut), make part of the REAF.
Other participants come from universities and international organizations.
Methods and Tools Used
REAF meetings gather representatives of national administrations and members of civil society organizations – an important innovation for Mercosur.
These two groups meet in each country – during the National Sessions – and in regional meetings every six months (at each pro tempore presidency of the block).
In the National Sessions, the ideal dynamics includes a preparatory civil society meeting followed by a national meeting of both civil society and government bureaucrats. Their agreements are taken to the regional meetings.
In the Regional Session there is similar dynamics. There is a preparatory civil society meeting followed by working groups meetings. Finally, the general meeting takes place.
Several working groups study, debate and present proposals on specific areas such as Trade, Youth, Access to land and agrarian reform, Gender, Insurance and Risk Management.
The meetings are organized to that REAF produces recommendations for the higher levels of Mercosur which can approve, amend it or reject it.
Over the years other methods were developed, including exchanges of youth and regional courses aiming at technical and political formation of family farmers.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Family farmers of the Southern Cone of the Americas have been struggling with trade liberalization since the 1990s. Their several attempts to receive attention in Mercosur debates finally found resonance in the early 2000s, as a result of several processes related both to the political organization of small farmers around Coprofam and to the election of center-left governments in the region. Ever since, REAF has settled as an important regional space for family farming issues.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The official purpose of REAF is to instruct the actions of Mercosur and its member states on family-farming related issues. In fact, REAF has managed to include family farming among the issues dealt by Mercosur and included some differentiation between agribusiness and agriculture performed by small farmers, pointing out that some of its technical needs are different and that its particularities must be taken into account in regional trade agreements.
However, some of its main effects rests beyond the regional definitions. REAF and the debates it fostered have managed to create a shared idea, within Mercosur countries, that there is such a thing as family farming, and it requires specific policies.
Paraguay and Argentina have created national institutions for dealing with family farming. All Mercosur countries have included this category in agriculture policies including specific programs for economic support. It has also encouraged the production of national official information about family farming and its economical impact. It has had, in sum, impacts on agrarian policies of the countries.
REAF has allowed exchanges of experiences and horizontal cooperation among countries.
It has also fostered cooperation among family farmers civil society organization that began to meet at least twice a year and to strengthen ties.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In the REAF, national and transnational collective action are connected. Actors from different countries work together to face international challenges and to strengthen family-farming related policies nationally. The emergence of Mercosur had impact over agriculture, so small farmers answered to it by demanding specific attention to family farming. Organized civil society actors, mainly of trade union profile, were able to influence the debates over agriculture in Mercosur. They managed to connect to national bureaucrats and to put pressure for the creation of a regional institution for family farming. They also struggled to guarantee that this new institution would allow their direct and continuous participation. REAF is an interesting case of participatory institution designed in a two-level structure that allows both national interaction between civil society and government, and regional interaction between both. It has produced the idea of family farming in Mercosur and influenced the creation of specific national policies in this area.
CARVALHO, Priscila Delgado. Ação coletiva transnacional e Mercosul: organizações da sociedade civil do Brasil e do Paraguai na Reaf. Dissertação (Mestrado). Departamento de Ciência Política da Universidade de Brasilia (UnB), 2011.
MERCOSUR. MERCOSUR/GMC/RES. Nº 11/04. Resolução. Cria a Reunião Especializada sobre Agricultura Familiar no Mercosul, 2004a.
NIERDELE, Paulo Andre. A institucionalização da agricultura familiar no Mercosul: da definição normativa aos sistemas nacionais de registro. Novos Cadernos NAEA, v. 20, n. 1 (2017). Disponível em: https://periodicos.ufpa.br/index.php/ncn/article/view/3505/0
COPROFAM – Webpage: http://coprofam.org/
REAF – Webpage: http://www.reafmercosul.org/sobre-reaf
[[By: Priscila Delgado de Carvalho]]