A brief primer on food sovereignty in the context of global economies, trade, and human rights.
FOOD SOVEREIGNTY 101
What is Food Sovereignty?
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 prioritizes 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.
Where does the concept of Food Sovereignty come from?
The concept of food sovereignty was developed by Via Campesina and brought to the public debate during the World Food Summit in 1996 and represents an alternative to neoliberal policies. Since then, that concept has become a major issue of the international agricultural debate, even within the United Nations bodies. Via Campesina has played a major role in the development of international networks gathering social, environmental movements, development NGOs, consumers…From Seattle to Genoa and Porto Alegre, those networks develop proposals and strategies which are essential to putting an end to neo-liberal policies and to develop solidarity policies.
How are neo-liberal policies wrecking food sovereignty?
Neo-liberal policies prioritize international trade, and not food for the people. They haven’t contributed at all to hunger eradication in the world. On the contrary, they have increased the peoples’ dependence on agricultural imports, and have strengthened the industrialization of agriculture, thus jeopardizing the genetic, cultural and environmental heritage of our planet, as well as our health. They have forced hundreds of millions of farmers to give up their traditional agricultural practices, creating and a rural exodus and forcing migration in search of food and work. International institutions such as IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank, and WTO (World Trade Organization) have implemented policies dictated by the interests of large transnational companies and superpowers. International (WTO), regional (North American Free Trade Agreement – NAFTA), or bilateral ” free” trade agreements of agricultural products actually allow those companies to control the globalized food market. WTO is a completely inadequate institution to deal with food and agriculture-related issues. Therefore Via Campesina wants WTO out of agriculture.
Does Food Sovereignty include fair trade?
Food sovereignty is not contrary to trade but to the priority given to exports. Under the responsibility of United Nations (UN) trade must be granted a new framework, which:
- prioritizes local and regional production before export,
- allows the Countries/Unions to protect themselves from too low priced imports,
- permits public aid to farmers, provided these are not intended directly or indirectly to export at low prices,
- guarantees stable agricultural prices at an international level through international agreements of supply management.
Agricultural policies have to support sustainable family farming and fishing in the North and the South. In order to be able to make their food sovereignty work, countries in the North and in the South have to be able to support their agriculture and fishing to guarantee the right to food of their populations, to preserve their environment, to develop sustainable agriculture and to protect themselves against dumping. They should also be able to support their agriculture and fishing to fulfill other public interests that can differ according to countries and their cultural traditions. But at present the United States and the European Union in particular abuse public support to reduce their internal market prices and to dump their surpluses on the international markets, destroying family farm based agriculture and fishing in the North and the South.