Postcards from Porto Alegre
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG's Senior Policy Adviser, is in Porto Alegre
and will be filing regular personal reports on what he sees going on. His
"Postcards from Porto Alegre" are posted below on this site.
Download Postcards as a Word File
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ITDG @ WSF
The World Social Forum (WSF) facilitates the opportunity for civil society
groups to come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas
democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network
for effective action. The WSF met for the first time three years ago to stand
in opposition to the World Economic Forum in Davos - a forum of OECD countries
that advocates and promotes neo-liberal policies the world over.
There are five Thematic Areas at WSF 2003:
- Democratic Sustainable Development
- Principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality
- Media, culture and counter-hegemony
- Political power, civil society and democracy
- Democratic world order, fight against militarism and promoting peace
Each thematic area is conceived as a catalyst of concerns, proposals and
strategies that are already being pursued by the organisations participating in
the WSF process. Through the WSF, the aim is to give them visibility and, as
possible, have them adopted widely by the various actors of civil society that
are struggling against neo-liberal globalisation policies.
ITDG is focusing on issues relating to the first two areas. These areas are
particularly relevant in the follow-up to the Forum for Food Sovereignty held in
2002 in Rome in parallel with the World Food Summit. Important actions
resulting from that Forum included: Right to Food, Trade, Agroecology and
Access to Productive Resources (including Agricultural Biodiversity and Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture). The World Social Forum will take many of
these a stage further.
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG's Senior Policy Adviser, is in Porto Alegre and will
be filing regular personal reports on what he sees going on. His
"Postcards from Porto Alegre" will be posted on this site.
Postcards from Porto
Worm's Eye View of WSF
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, in Porto Alegre
24 Jan 2003
Amid the chaos caused by crashed computers and thus no published venues and
timings for around 1,700 workshops, 100,000 people from every corner of the
world crowded the streets of Porto Alegre for the opening march of the World
Social Forum. In a riot of colours and sounds, the voice of the people was
raised in cacophonous harmony in a spirit of renovation asserting that
"Another (peaceful) World is Possible".
This is the third Porto Alegre World Social Forum that expresses the diverse
demands of Civil Society for peace, justice and equality, held in opposition to
the government-dominated Davos World Economic Forum that fixes the economic
rules that impoverish the majority.
Although there are high-level objectives, the real strength of the Forum is
in its diversity and its ability to create democratic spaces in which civil
society organisations and social movements can debate major themes and
For example, from 21 to 23 January, the first Global Assembly of peasant
farmers' organisations, organised by Via Campesina, was held. In thematic and
regionally-based discussions, important advances in understanding were achieved
and demands clarified.
The platform of Via Campesina was strengthened with increased participation
by African farmers' and fisherfolk organisations and clear demands, in this
year of the Cancun WTO Ministerial meeting, for a radical overhaul of the
governance of agriculture and trade in agricultural commodities - calling for
agriculture to be taken out of the WTO.
The rights for access to land and waters; freedom from the imposition of
genetic engineering and GMOs in agriculture - criticising the Brazilian
agriculture minister for suggesting adoption of GM crops; freedom from the
restrictions of patents on seeds, and food sovereignty were equally demanded.
The new Brazilian Minister for Land Reform , Miguel Rosetto, addressed the
final session and committed the Lula government to a radical programme of land
reform implementation that will turn the countryside in all parts of Brazil
from violence to justice with dignity.
To a background of music and dance by people of all ages, races and
nationalities, and to the chants of "Globalise the Struggle - Globalise
Hope", the positive messages of the peasant assembly drew it to a close.
On Friday 24 January, President Ignacio Luis Lula da Silva of Brazil will
address 50,000 people in the giant football stadium at the Forum and he will
then take its popular energy to 1,000 people at the World Economic Forum in
Top of ITDG's agenda is the follow-up to the Forum for Food Sovereignty held
in 2002 in Rome in parallel with the World Food Summit. The key issues resolved
at that Forum were the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty; Priority for Food
Sovereignty over Trade; Agroecology as the dominant food production option; and
ensuring Access to Productive Resources - land, waters and GM-free and
patent-free genetic resources. This World Social Forum widens the opportunities
to debate these issues with more civil society organisations and social
movements and increase the pressure of demands on global governance structures.
Postcards from Porto
Beneath the surface
more from Porto Alegre
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG
28 January 2003
The Forum is drawing to a close today. Although there is no final
declaration as such, the general political consensus about challenging the
global institutions that govern the world has grown, widened and deepened as
the Social Movements have increasingly united. The top line message is that
this alternative process is lead increasingly by Social Movements, with NGOs
and 'experts' as welcome advisers.
Inclusivity, equity, justice and peace have been key themes in Porto Alegre.
And technology has surfaced in various guises from intellectual property rights
and genetic engineering to livelihoods and local economies.
Walden Bello, Director of Focus on the Global South who moderated the major
theme at the Forum of "Democratic Sustainable Development", with
reference to three of the Panel debates which were held in that theme, picked
out the issue of technology and society as a key issue. He located it within
promotion of localised economies / solidarity economies and environmental
management that were unifying topics across hundreds of workshops and
discussions at the Forum.
The abuse of genetic engineering technologies has been a dominant sub-theme,
here in Rio Grande do Sul, Europe's main supplier of GM-free soya beans. But
Monsanto, the developers of GM soya beans, is pushing the new government of the
State to licence their transgenic crops. Most people in the State do not want
this and Forum participants supported them.
Percy Schmeiser, the inveterate Canadian farmer, who provided witness at the
Forum, is the victim of pollution by Monsanto's GM rape seed and yet has,
perversely, been found guilty of harbouring their crops on his land without the
permission of the polluters, Monsanto. He accompanied Greenpeace activists who,
yesterday, unfurled a banner down the side of Monsanto's Porto Alegre offices
saying "Monsanto get out of our Food". Schmeiser told me that, as he
entered the offices, the Monsanto directors crept out of the back door,
"They are cowards" he said.
Brazil's Environment Minister, Marina Silva, confirmed on 27th
here in Porto Alegre that transgenic GM crops are not allowed in Brazil.
"Our government will adopt the Precautionary Principle", she said.
Marina Silva champions the new government's line on removing the social
divisions in the world that have created first and second division human
beings. President Ignacio Luis Lula da Silva, focused on this theme in his
address on 24 Jan to a capacity crowd of more than 70,000 people in an open air
arena. It was rapturously received and Lula took the lively energy of the World
Social Forum to the chilly climate of the Davos World Economic Forum.
In Davos, he urged the leaders of the rich countries to include the social
costs of their actions in future plans and pushed for a fund against poverty
and hunger and for social justice to be their dominant concern. Germany
responded very warmly and feted him in Berlin, with Chancellor Schroeder
promising improved links with Brazil.
Many World Social Forum meetings made it clear that they are not convinced
by this attempt to merge the agendas of the Social and Economic Forums. Rather,
they believe that now is the time for the world to push ahead with the new
Social agenda - one that prioritises social justice over economic growth -
before it is too late.
Postcards from Porto
The worm has turned
World Social Forum challenges US hegemony
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, in Porto Alegre
29 January 2003
As the echoes of 40,000 marchers' demands rumble North towards Cancun,
participants in this third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre are celebrating
the coming of age of a global social movement that is challenging the economic
orthodoxies of the powerful. Noam Chomsky said on Monday that the more optimism
rises here in Porto Alegre, the more despondent they become in Davos. To the
leaders of the crumbling neo-liberal model gathered at the World Economic Forum
in Davos, he said "Party time is over!"
Wherever the optimism comes from:
- the figures with 100,000 activists present at the forum including
20763 delegates, representing 5717 organisations from 156
countries and more than 25,000 young people who camped by the river;
- or from the quality of the 1286 official workshops and numerous
parallel rallies, conferences, assemblies, panels and testimonies that drew
together the world's foremost thinkers and analysts and cemented opposition to
inequality, injustice and war;
- or from the unity of realising that the political vision of a more just and
equitable world, locally responsive and with democratically accountable
institutions can now be achieved;
- or that Brazil has eventually elected a leader of a national social
movement as its president who energised a mammoth rally with his commitment to
end inequitable polices and violence against the poor and replace them with
equality, justice and dignity;
the World Social Forum is established as a new global force.
But to strengthen this position will require more openness and transparency
from the organisers, less focus on the Gurus and more on the grassroots, more
resolution of differences on policy issues. As Aye Aye Win of the IPS said
"Look who's talking. The question of democracy is something we all should
address. Which of the world's people elected an NGO to represent them here or
anywhere else for that matter. NGOs just sprouted like weeds in a fallow field
and proceeded to take over the land." And who are the Social Movements
that are championed as the new leaders?
The challenges are significant but as the Forum globalises, the organisers
are calling for a broadening of the constituency: "We have to conquer
other minds and hearts and show everyone that it is possible to build a better
world," said Candido Grzybowsky, a member of the World Social Forum's
international organising committee. Candido continued more specifically saying
that the issues of technology its social control and its role in underpinning
the diverse, localised economies that will drive this new world are crucial.
"We must start now to prepare for future Forums", he said.
This Forum has been an undoubted success in every dimension, raising global
awareness of the parlous state of the world and offering practical solutions.
It has united opposition to unjust power and undemocratic institutions. It has
Arundathi Roy, the Indian author of the "God of Small Thnings" in
an emotional speech, to more than 15,000 adoring and vociferous participants,
that closed the Forum at the final rally on Tuesday said that an impressive
achievement of the protest movement is its success at forcing the ambitions of
the empire builders out in the open. "We, all of us gathered here, have
laid siege to the empire. We have stood up and forced it to drop its
After celebrating the changes in the leadership in Brazil and being drowned
out by the chants "Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Lula,
Lula" Arundathi ended softly to a hushed crowd: "The World Social
Forum is coming alive - listen - and on a quiet day you can hear her begin to
Postcards from Porto
Passage to India
reflections on the World Social Forum's future
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, on returning from Porto Alegre
31 January 2003
For three consecutive years Porto Alegre has throbbed to an increasing babel
of voices calling for a new world order. The carnival now moves halfway across
the globe to India for the fourth World Social Forum. It may be held in Delhi
or in the geographically central city of Bhopal of Union Carbide infamy, or
possibly Hyderabad the capital of the '2020 vision' State of Andhra Pradesh and
the location of the preparatory 2003 Asian Forum, or even Kerala, the
south-eastern coastal state whose development achievements, through education,
are the envy of the world. The choice will be made in mid February, but,
wherever it is, the Indian organisers will have a tough challenge to meet the
high expectations generated at this year's Forum in Porto Alegre.
How will India contrast with Brazil and will the agenda change? It will
certainly be different, as the Indian writer Arundathi Roy pointed out in Porto
Alegre this week. President Lula's inclusive and popular socialist agenda of
peace and justice with dignity contrasts with what she called the
"neo-fascist religious regime in India that beat 2,000 of its Muslim
opponents to death in the recent Gujarati elections."
The social context will be different too. The impact of 320 million hungry,
poor people in India - nearly twice the total Brazilian population - causes
social tensions that run deeper than those between the favelas and the
favoured in Brazil.
The spontaneity of the Brazilian temperament may be moderated by more formal
Indian cultural values. And the dress code, which has been informal in Porto
Alegre, and in the case of young Brazilians, minimal, may have to be replaced
by more sober wear.
Environmentally, the context could not be more different. The luxuriant
Amazon rainforest, our planetary lung, has huge national relevance and makes
environment a key policy issue. In contrast, in India, the once abundant
natural resources are now stretched beyond capacity.
But the agenda will not retreat. Indeed the Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad
in early January 2003 was emphatic in its rejection of the neo-liberal economic
The Forum has reinforced a democratic momentum towards the dismantling of
the power structures that impoverish and the reassertion of local sovereignty,
rights, equity and justice for the majority. And where better to develop this
than in the land where, 60 years ago, one man defeated the Empire - Gandhi lead
his people to independence with nothing more than a dhoti, a staff and a
Among these principles, Mahatma Gandhi's crusade for self-reliance, often
symbolised by his daily cotton spinning using a Charkha, inspired generations
and underpinned the philosophy of Fritz Schumacher, founder of ITDG. Gandhi
demonstrated a deep understanding of the relationships of technology with
economic development - a theme that recurs in the Forum.
In the hands of the masses technology can enrich them, in the hands of the
powerful it will enrich the few. The painful hand-crushing 'punishments'
perpetrated in the 19th century by British soldiers on skilled
Indian weavers whose high quality products were seen as a potential threat to
the mechanical mills of Manchester, are strong in the folk memory of India. It
illustrates the potential of new technologies to corrupt their owners in the
drive for technological domination and profits - as true then as today, be they
energy or bio-technologies.
Fritz Schumacher, in true Gandhian tradition, called for all technologies to
be fitted to the human scale. Underlying Gandhi's notion of village industries
was his epigrammatic expression that "the poor of the world cannot be
helped by mass production, [but] only production by the masses."
[Schumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is Beautiful, p. 153)]
It is this relationship of technology with society that is becoming a
dominant theme in development discourse and is being raised in many ways in the
World Social Forum: genetic engineering, patents, Intellectual Property Rights,
biopiracy, biodiversity, nanotechnologies, corporate power, GM foods, trade,
localisation, solidarity economies, to name a few. The latter, local economies,
depend on technologies fitted to a local scale and controllable by local
Thus, the "socialisation of technologies", as Walden Bello put it
in his summary of the first theme of the Forum "Democratic Sustainable
Development", and their democratic control is likely to arise even more
pronouncedly in future Forums. Watch this space for news about the development
of ideas about Technology and Democracy in preparation for the 2004 Forum in
Next year's Forum will be very different, probably smaller on the inside but
even larger in its supporting mass rallies. And the issues of poverty,
livelihoods, technology, environment and development may be even more prominent
in the new Asian context. It will be an opportunity to explore these issues
with the wider social movement in a new context and strategise on how to make
technologies work with and for the people and in harmony with the environment.
The new venue and the leadership by the social movements could energise the
Forum to new heights building on the diversity of views and ideas developed in
Porto Alegre. Gandhi recognised the importance of rallying Indian social
movements to the cause of local sovereignty, justice and equity and was able to
topple the most powerful country in the world through non-violent protest. Can
the India World Social Forum in 2004 match this and spark the changes that will
make another world truly possible?
Technology and Democracy
A proposal for the World Social
Impact, evaluation, governance, ownership, choice and use or rejection of
new technologies are some of the crucial issues that confront society in the
21st century. These impact on the livelihoods and food sovereignty of the
majority as well as the integrity of the biosphere.
With IP laws and global trade rules protecting the technology choice
interests of the rich, the poor majority are in a weak position to exercise
their democratic rights, in particular with reference to technology choice.
Aware of the impacts on society, livelihoods and the environment of
industrial technologies, e.g. fossil fuel technologies, CFCs, genetic
engineering, GMOs and now nanotechnologies, Civil Society should be calling for
a new compact with global governance structures.
These must enable deliberative democratic processes to determine the
governance systems that are appropriate that will benefit the majority for the
public good not private appropriation.
With specific reference to technology - the knowledge and skills people use
to provide the goods and services they require - there have been many attempts
to find the best way forward. These are usually thwarted by the imposition of
unjust technologies through, projects, aid schemes, perverse subsidies and the
hegemonic tendencies of global corporations.
At the same, local communities continue to develop locally-adapted
technologies that sustain livelihoods and local agroecosystems and natural
resources. These include the knowledge and skills used by resourceful
indigenous peoples, women and men farmers, forest dwellers, pastoralists and
fisher-folk who have developed a myriad of varieties of every crop, breeds of
livestock and sub-species of fish and other aquatic organisms. These provide
for every possible social, cultural and economic need and are suited to a
kaleidoscope of different ecosystems, climates and pest and disease threats. By
developing, selecting and improving local varieties and livestock breeds,
swapping seeds and animals amongst themselves and sharing these with
neighbours, agricultural biodiversity has been maintained. This sustains Life
on Earth - food and livelihood security and ecosystem integrity.
The basic principles of technology choice were ably summarised by Kelvin
Willoughby about 10 years ago when he developed the idea of a specific
technology choice having three 'dimensions': Technical - does the technology
work? Political/Economic - are there opportunities for it to work to the
advantage of the users of the technology? Ethical/Personal - is the technology
suited to the ethical requirements and social needs of the users?
The keystone is building on people's capacity to develop and use their
skills and knowledge, make informed technology choices and pass on their skills
to a new generation. It is about innovation within the community, group or
local governance structures and not about "dumping" new technologies
on communities' doorsteps. It is also, importantly, about creating frameworks
that provide the necessary opportunities for local economies to thrive.
For local people-centred economies to work effectively, requires strict
enforceable regulation of extractive national and international public and
private sector enterprises that disrupt local production in favour of
globalised trade in goods and services. These are provided at low prices, often
containing hidden subsidies, and usually do not include social and
environmental externalities, minimise transport cost elements and contain a
profit that often only benefits small elites and distant corporations. It
requires minimal disruption from conflict, health pandemics and political
It requires local governance structure to control resources - land, water,
genetic resources, labour, local capital and so on - needed for production.
(see for example "Cutting the Wire, the Story of Brazil's Landless Workers
Movement", by Sue Branford and Jan Rocha.)
Privatisation processes, including the patenting of genetic resources that
remove control of assets and knowledge from the community, and especially poor
people, and enclose local and global commons allow neo-colonialism to thrive.
The struggle in Brazil for local determination to keep soya production in Rio
Grand do Sul GM-free, is a current, pressing example of corporate power over
Civil society organisations have helped to create global structures and
agreements that could respond to the needs of the majority and allow for
social, economic and environmental sustainability. The record of governments
implementing social and environmental agreements is poor and, rather, the last
decade has witnessed an unprecedented growth in corporate control of economies,
perhaps unsurpassed since the excesses of the colonial merchant era.
Local sovereignty over resources and the protection of local and global
commons are essential components for securing local livelihoods. (See for
example the report from the World Food Summit: five years' later "Hunger -
a gnawing shame" www.ukabc.org/wfs5+report.htm)
It is, thus, the task for Civil Society to find ways of supporting local
developments and change processes and at the same time developing new ideas for
local, meso, national and global governance. These will provide for
sustainability and continuance of Life on Earth and allow realisation of the
rights of all peoples to survive, thrive and develop to the best of their
Such a process is followed at the World Social Summit, held as a
counterveiling process to the ' Davos World Economic Forum' meetings of OECD
ministers and G8 summits.
We should look to the WSF process to provide guidance in our work. This
could be more profitable than the tokenisitic tinkering of treaties and
agreements, produced by global UN, WTO and Bretton Woods processes, that absorb
so much advocacy time. This is not to disavow work on confronting governments
and the global structures, but, rather to say that more time should be spent in
processes that are closer to the realities of poor people, their aspirations
and their capacities to govern and control.
For this reason, we propose that WSF should give more space for these
The Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
MESSAGE TO THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
Delivered by Mr. Nitin Desai,
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs,
Porto Alegre, Brazil, 27 January 2003
It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to this forum.
You meet against a backdrop of great anxiety - about the possibility of war
in Iraq, about nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula, about escalating
violence in the Middle East, and about the possibility of new terror attacks.
Indeed, the Security Council is currently facing one of the greatest tests in
its history and at this very moment is meeting in New York to hear reports from
UN arms inspectors about their progress in Iraq. I share your anxiety about all
of these crises, and want to assure you of my determination to continue doing
my utmost to address them in accordance with the tenets of international law
and the principles set out in the United Nations Charter.
But you have also gathered out of profound concern about a plethora of other
issues that are at the heart of the world's search for security, prosperity and
peace. The plight of the world's poorest people and weakest countries; the
merciless spread of AIDS; the relentless despoliation of the environment; the
unequal distribution of globalization's benefits; the trade barriers and
subsidies that deny developing countries a fair chance to complete in the
global economy or make it harder for some to meet their public health crises -
these phenomena and threats have an equal claim on the world's conscience,
resources and will. Yet like you, I am worried that they will be neglected,
will fall victim to short attention spans or narrow notions of national
interest, or simply have a hard time staying in the international spotlight
when so much else is, and may be, happening in the weeks and months ahead.
That would be a tragedy, not least because today we are better positioned
than ever before to tackle these problems. World conferences and summits of
recent years have won from States commitments at the highest political level to
open markets to developing-country products, speed debt relief, increase aid,
protect the environment, and place development at the centre of policy-making.
Moreover, we have more than pledges, promises and lengthy plans of action. On
the key question of economic and social development, we also have a common
framework to guide us; the Millennium Development Goals. Ranging from halving
extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDs and providing universal
primary education - all by the target date of 2015 - they represent a set of
simple but powerful objectives that every man and woman in the street, from New
York to Nairobi to New Delhi, can easily support and understand. Ambitious as
they might seem, they are not just wishful thinking. On the contrary, they are
fully achievable, even in the short time scale that has been set.
Governments must act to push the MDGs forward. All the main arms of the UN
system will come together to do everything we can to help. But neither we, nor
Governments, acting on our own, will succeed without your involvement - you,
the dynamic forces arrayed here in Porto Alegre. I see three main ways you can
First, you can hold your governments to their promises. Progress will be
monitored through a set of reports being produced through a collaborative
effort of governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other
partners. That offers a platform for you to air your views, to praise
governments where they are keeping pace, or to criticize when commitment seems
to lag or priorities seem amiss.
Second, even as you hold Governments to account, I would hope that you also
work in partnership with them, and also forge alliances with each other, with
UN agencies and, yes, with the private sector. NGOs and businesses both have
vital contribution to make, but must move beyond reflexive, counter-productive
mindsets of mutual disdain and demonization.
Third, you can enrich the debate on the direction of our international
system. Some of you have strong opinions about globalization. We can all agree
that many people and many countries have hardly benefited from globalization,
or not benefited at all. But the question is not whether we want globalization;
rather, it is what kind of globalization we want. Our goal must be to make
globalization an inclusive, equitable process. Your advocacy will continue to
play a vital part in the effort to shape it so that it offers opportunities not
just for a fortunate few, but for all people, especially the poor and
At times it seems if the international system will be forever held hostage
by power and undermined by greed. But there are also moments when opportunities
present themselves. Such a moment exists today. Now is the time when we must
redouble our efforts to build up a system of rules and law, a system that is
open and fair, a system that will not tolerate poverty or injustice, a system
that responds to the real needs of real people. That makes it vital for us in
the United Nations and you in civil society to continue our constructive
engagement. I attach the highest importance to that relationship, and to our
common quest for a peaceful, safe and just world. In that spirit, I offer you
my best wishes for a successful forum.