What is Food Sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is a political concept that emerged as a response to conventional notions of food security. The prevalent development policies define food security as the natural outcome of liberalized international trade. Accordingly, even an import-dependent country is considered food secure, as long as it is able to finance its imports.1 The food sovereignty movement, on the other hand, proposes an alternative approach to food security. Comprising a network of NGOs, the movement prioritizes the right of peoples’ and countries’ to maintain and develop their own agricultural policy in order to produce their own basic food, while respecting cultural and productive diversity.2

The concept was introduced by La Via Campesina (World Peasant Movement) in 1996 at the World Food Summit.3 La Via Campesina is a self-styled international farming and peasant movement created in 1992 at the Congress of the National Union of Farmers and Livestock Owners (UNAG). The movement coordinates member groups from 56 countries including Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Member groups of Via Campesina include the Family Farmers’ Association (UK), Confederation Paysanne (France), Bharatiya Kisan Union (India), Landless Workers’ Movement (Brazil), National Family Farm Coalition (USA) and the Landless Peoples’ Movement (South Africa).4

The food sovereignty movement is not against trade, but instead questions the validity of neoliberal trade policies that prioritize international trade over national sovereignty. Food sovereignty implies the recognition of the right of farmers and peasants to produce food and the right of the consumers to decide what to consume. In a deregulated trade environment however, small farmers in developing countries cannot compete with low-priced imports of foreign food. Dumping, that is exporting at an unfairly low price, injures domestic economies by making them import dependent and vulnerable to global price and supply fluctuations.

The food sovereignty movement supports local solutions to secure access to food. Although popularized by international organizations, free trade has a minimal contribution to food security with only 10% of global food production traded internationally. For most countries, food security is achieved through domestic production, often by subsistence farmers.5

The food sovereignty movement favors family-based agriculture and recognizes women as the main force of production. The movement further respects women as protectors and managers of sustainable agriculture. In order to achieve food sovereignty, the movement rejects industrial agriculture and export-oriented food production. Instead, the proponents of food sovereignty argue that the control over natural resources should be given to the local people.6

[1] http://www.africaaction.org/resources/issues/FoodSovereigntyandtheFoodCrisis.htm

[2] http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=47&Itemid=38

[3] http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=47&Itemid=38

[4] http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=60

[5] http://programs.ssrc.org/gsc/publications/quarterly9/suppan.pdf

[6] http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=139&Itemid=38