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TitleFood and Democracy--Introduction to Food Sovereignty
TagsAgriculture Foods Local Food Sustainability Genetically Modified Organism
File Size1.8 MB
Total Pages168
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Rob Avis, Sue Branford, Lester R. Brown, Peter Emerson, Marcin Gerwin, Richard Heinberg,
Toby Hemenway, David Jacke, David Korten, Geoff Lawton, Craig Mackintosh, Kelly McCartney,
Frances Moore Lappé, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Martina Petrů, Peter Rosset, Eric Toensmeier

Introduction to Food Sovereignty


Edited by
Marcin Gerwin

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Introduction to Food Sovereignty

Edited by
Marcin Gerwin

Polish Green Network 2011

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2006b). The climate crisis is beginning to affect both the livelihoods of rural people and
food production. As the climate changes and becomes more unpredictable, farmers
have to face shifting planting dates, drought in the rainy season, torrential rains and
floods in the dry season, increased average temperatures and aridity, and ever more
extreme climate events like hurricanes, monsoons, and extreme droughts (FAO, 2010).
Peasant farmers are then doubly victimized, as the false solutions to the climate crisis
like agrofuels and carbon credits generate still more land grabbing, evictions, and

Faced with these multiple crises, it is important to collectively seek solutions. In the
following, I outline several interrelated alternative paradigms.

In country after country, the proportion of food coming from the small farm sector
is far greater than – typically more than double – the proportion of land that is actually
in the hands of small farmers.1 These farmers are over-represented in food production
and under-represented in export and agrofuel production, because they have
a food-producing vocation. Yet, the continued growth of the dominant model directly
undermines food production, driving small farmers off the land and into migrant

In order to reverse these trends and provide a life with dignity for farming people,
protect rural environments, and correct the structural causes of the food crisis, we need
to revitalize family and peasant farming. That means restoring the public sector rural
budgets that were cut under neo-liberal policies, restore minimum price guarantees,
credit and other forms of support, and carry out redistributive agrarian reform. The
peasant and family farm sectors in most countries cannot be rebuilt without land reform,
which redistributes land from export elites to food producing peasants and family
farmers. This is a central pillar of the alternative proposal for our food and agriculture
systems, as put forth by the international farmers’ movement.

Many of the world’s organizations of family farmers, peasants, the landless, rural
workers, indigenous people, rural youth, and rural women have joined together in
global alliance, the La Via Campesina.2 According to La Via Campesina, we are facing
an historic clash between two models of economic, social, and cultural development
for the rural world; and La Via Campesina has proposed an alternative policy paradigm
called food sovereignty (La Via Campesina and People’s Food Sovereignty Network,
2006; Rosset, 2006a, b). Food sovereignty starts with the concept of economic and social
human rights, which include the right to food, but it goes further, arguing that there is
a corollary right to land and a ‘right to produce’ for rural peoples.

Food sovereignty argues that feeding a nation’s people is an issue of national
security – of sovereignty, if you will. If the population of a country must depend for
their next meal on the vagaries and price swings of the global economy, on the goodwill

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of a superpower not to use food as a weapon, on the unpredictability and high cost of
long-distance shipping, then that country is not secure, neither in the sense of national
security nor in the sense of food security. Food sovereignty thus goes beyond the concept
of food security, which says nothing about where the food comes from or how it is
produced. To achieve genuine food sovereignty, people in rural areas must have access
to productive land and receive prices for their crops that allow them to make a decent
living, while feeding their nation’s people.

But it also means that access to land and productive resources is not enough. The
current emphasis in trade negotiations on market access for exports, to the detriment of
protection of domestic markets for domestic producers, is a critical problem. According
to La Via Campesina, ‘food sovereignty gives priority of market access to local producers.
Liberalized agricultural trade, which gives access to markets on the basis of market power
and low, often subsidized, prices, denies local producers access to their own markets’,3

and thus violates the right to produce, while undercutting local and regional economic

One way to promote local economic development in rural areas is to recreate local
circuits of production and consumption, where family farmers sell their produce in
local towns and villages, and buy other necessities from artisans and merchants in those
towns. As been clearly demonstrated in a recent landmark study in Brazil, the presence
of agrarian reform settlements, as a result of land occupations by peasant movements,
boost local economies, even when a country lacks a comprehensive agrarian reform
policy (Heredia et al., 2006).

Only by changing development tracks from the export-led, free trade-based,
industrial agriculture model of large farms, land concentration, and displacement of
people, can we stop the downward spiral of poverty, low wages, rural-urban migration,
environmental degradation, and food crisis. Redistributive land reform and a reversal of
dominant trade policies hold the promise of change toward a smaller farm, family-based
or cooperative model, with the potential to feed people, lead to broad-based economic
development, and conserve biodiversity and productive resources. In this context, it is
useful to review current developments in agrarian reform.


For the past decade or more, the World Bank has been taking the lead in promoting,
and in some cases financing, comprehensive ‘reforms’ of land tenure, including titling,
ownership mapping and land registries, land market facilitation, market-assisted
or negotiated redistributive reforms, and credit, technical assistance and marketing
support. While they call this ‘land reform’, they are privatizing land and transforming it
from a collective right of rural people into a commodity that is bought and sold, where
money is the key to access to land. In this policy environment, national, and regional

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mitigates negative impacts... where we remember that communities affected by disasters
are not helpless, and where strong local organization for self-help is the key to recovery;

...peoples’ power to make decisions about their material, natural and spiritual heritage
are defended;

...all peoples have the right to defend their territories from the actions of transnational

Imperialism, neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism and patriarchy, and all systems that
impoverish life, resources and eco-systems, and the agents that promote the above such as
international financial institutions, the World Trade Organisation, free trade agreements,
transnational corporations,and governments that are antagonistic to their peoples;

The dumping of food at prices below the cost of production in the global economy;
The domination of our food and food producing systems by corporations that place

profits before people, health and the environment;
Technologies and practices that undercut our future food producing capacities,

damage the environment and put our health at risk. These include transgenic crops and
animals, terminator technology, industrial aquaculture and destructive fishing practices,
the so-called White Revolution of industrial dairy practices, the so-called ‘old’ and ‘new’
Green Revolutions, and the “Green Deserts” of industrial bio-fuel monocultures and other

The privatisation and commodification of food, basic and public services, knowledge,
land, water, seeds, livestock and our natural heritage;

Development projects/models and extractive industries that displace people and
destroy our environments and natural heritage;

Wars, conflicts, occupations, economic blockades, famines, forced displacement of
peoples and confiscation of their lands, and all forces and governments that cause and
support these;

Post disaster and conflict reconstruction programmes that destroy our environments
and capacities;

The criminalization of all those who struggle to protect and defend our rights; Food
aid that disguises dumping, introduces GMOs into local environments and food systems
and creates new colonialism patterns;

The internationalisation and globalisation of paternalistic and patriarchal values that
marginalise women, and diverse agricultural, indigenous, pastoral and fisher communities
around the world;

Just as we are working with the local community in Sélingué to create a meeting space
at Nyéléni, we are committed to building our collective movement for food sovereignty by

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