Fighting a government-assisted land grab with #peoplepower in Hungary

Feature story - 4 December, 2014
Many progressive farmers have for years been producing food ecologically around the world. They are the growing evidence that ecological farming is a real and better alternative to the industrial and chemical intensive farming system which is polluting the planet and our food. However, sometimes long established ecological farms are threatened. Sadly, this is the case at Kishantos, an organic farm in central Hungary. Many Hungarians alongside Greenpeace have been supporting their struggle and taken various actions to defend Kishantos. To find out more read the full story below and show your support by sharing it.

Sowing sustainable seedsOne of Greenpeace first actions was the symbolic sowing of sustainable seeds as a call for the general public to help save Kishantos.

In 1990, a year after the break up from the Soviet Union, a small local community in Kishantos in Central Hungary dared to dream big.

Ferenc Bolye, a local-born farmer, studied ecological farming, democracy and adult education at a Danish folk high school. Back home, he decided to share the benefits of ecological farming by encouraging local villagers to create an organic farm in Kishantos, using the profits from sales to educate farmers about this sound practice.

Although many essential elements like land, money, collaboration, and perseverance were challenging, after seven years of hard work, their dream became reality. In 1998 a German-Hungarian agreement was signed in which the Hungarian government agreed to lease out 452 hectares of state-owned land for a German-designed organic show farm - The Kishantos Rural Development Centre, modelled on the Danish folk high school.

The centre progressed for 15 years, educating thousands of farmers. An exchange program between Kishantos and the Danish high school attracted more than 200 young Hungarians to the Denmark centre.

But the progress stalled in January, 2013, when the Hungarian government reclaimed the land from Kishantos, breaching numerous Hungarian laws. This precious land was then split into eight pieces and leased to new, non-organic farmers – even to 'entrepreneurs' without any agricultural background.

Greenpeace Hungary decided to intervene to save Kishantos and preserve its organic status. We have begun our fight against the decision of the government and the land grabbing.

Despite the lawsuits initiated by Greenpeace and Kishantos, the new land-leasers simply disregarded them and started to cultivate the land. To stop this, Greenpeace activists patrolled the lands for several months in 24/7 shifts.

Protecting the organic landPhysically protecting the organic land and learning about the soil and organic farming by spending weeks on patrol with local people was an incredibly empowering experience for activists.

Greenpeace launched an exceedingly successful mass mobilisation and our media campaign kept people updated about what was happening at Kishantos.

A month after the new land-leasers took over the fertile organic land the movement to save Kishantos bloomed rapidly with more than 24,000 individuals, 300 non-government organisations (NGOs) and 70 organic farmers signing an open letter demanding the government to reverse its decision on the lands.

Kishantos - a symbol of both injustice and resistanceAs a result of our campaign, the Kishantos-case alerted the general public, and has become a symbol of both injustice and resistance.

Greenpeace activists many times prevented the new land-leasers' attempt to destroy the germinating organic seeds. They were able to hold on until the 12th April, 2014, when the new leasers blocked the roads to the land with armed security and ploughed the organic wheat which would have been ready to harvest one month later. Greenpeace called the police to no avail.

We responded against this scandalous destruction in a creative way. We asked people to gather in front of the Hungarian Parliament and gave them the remaining seeds from Kishantos. More than 3,000 people came together.

The new leasers' attempts to cultivate (or rather, destroy) the land were stopped several times by brave local farmers and Greenpeace activists.

This video became one of the most viewed on YouTube in Hungary.

But in September 2014 the new land-leasers spread chemical fertiliser on the land and sprayed herbicides, ruining this wonderful organic living, natural soil which is home to millions of ground creatures.

Hungarians won't give up the fight: they will win the lawsuits, they will keep telling the world about Kishantos and they will rebuild the Kishantos Rural Development Centre with your help.

Please share this story and the full video to keep the Kishantos movement growing and succeeding.

Katalin Rodics is Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe food and agriculture regional campaigner.

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