Food sovereignty

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"Food sovereignty" is a term coined by members of Via Campesina, the international farmers' movement, to refer to the right of communities and nations to implement their own food policies and promote local food systems respecting people's livelihoods, cultures and the environment. It is a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations around the world.


Principles

Via Campesina's seven principles of food sovereignty include:

  1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
  2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
  3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
  4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
  5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
  6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
  7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues.

Food sovereignty is increasingly being promoted as an alternative framework to the narrower concept of Food security, which mostly focuses on the technical problem of providing adequate nutrition. For instance, a Food security agenda that simply provides surplus grain to hungry people would probably be strongly criticised by food sovereignty advocates as just another form of commodity dumping, facilitating corporate penetration of foreign markets, undermining local food production, and possibly leading to irreversible biotech contamination of indigenous crops with patented varieties. U.S. taxpayer subsidized exports of Bt corn to Mexico since the passage of NAFTA is a case in point.


History of the concept

Food sovereignty is a relatively new political concept. After several years of development, it was first put forward internationally by La Vía Campesina at the UN FAO’s World Food Summit in 1996. Since then many social movements, organisations and people have adopted and taken part in developing the concept of food sovereignty. Via Campesina organized various Food Sovereignty Forums. One of the first was in la Habana in 2001. The Forum for Food Sovereignty in Sélingué, Mali, 27 February 2007 was one of the most influential. About 500 delegates from more than 80 countries adopted the Declaration of Nyéléni, which says in part:

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.

In April 2008 the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), an intergovernmental panel under the sponsorship of the United Nations and the Worldbank, adopted the follwing definition: "Food sovereignty is defined as the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies."

In September 2008, Ecuador became the first country to enshrine food sovereignty in its constitution. As of late 2008, a law is in the draft stages that is expected to expand upon this constitutional provision by banning genetically modified organisms, protecting many areas of the country from extraction of non-renewable resources, and to discourage monoculture. The law as drafted will also protect biodiversity as collective intellectual property and recognize the Rights of Nature.

Quotations

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets; and to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production."

"Statement on Peoples' Food Sovereignty" by Via Campesina, et al.


Writing in Food First's Backgrounder, fall 2003, Peter Rosset argues that "Food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security… [Food security] means that… everyone must have the certainty of having enough to eat each day, … but says nothing about where that food comes from or how it is produced." Food sovereignty includes support for smallholders and for collectively owned farms, fisheries, etc., rather than industrializing these sectors in a minimally regulated global economy. In another publication, Food First describes "food sovereignty" as "a platform for rural revitalization at a global level based on equitable distribution of farmland and water, farmer control over seeds, and productive small-scale farms supplying consumers with healthy, locally grown food."

The preface to the ITDG publishing / FIAN paper on food sovereignty says: "The Food Sovereignty policy framework starts by placing the perspective and needs of the majority at the heart of the global food policy agenda and embraces not only the control of production and markets, but also the Right to Food, people’s access to and control over land, water and genetic resources, and the use of environmentally sustainable approaches to production. What emerges is a persuasive and highly political argument for refocusing the control of food production and consumption within democratic processes rooted in localized food systems."

Online resources

  • Via Campesina