Moving Towards Food Sovereignty: The Right To Healthy And Culturally Suitable Food

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Food sovereignty is about focusing in the first place on food producers, and then consumers. The concept of food sovereignty developed as an anti-colonial criticism of the foreign domination of developing states by the trade rules imposed by the World Trade Organisation. It was also a rejection of the corporate-globalism credit conditions forced upon them by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.   

Food sovereignty developed as a right of people to nutritious and culturally appropriate food. The production methods have also been given importance with the use of ecologically sound plus sustainable methods. Food sovereignty also gives the right to every people to outline their agricultural system and the food they consume.

Food Sovereignty: Ensuring The Right To Food As Enshrined In The UN

Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty in essence defines how to reach a state of food security and differs majorly from the latter. It is rooted in the grassroots food movements, mainly in the developing nations of Latin America. It emphasizes the need for a democratic food system, where both the consumers and the producers have equal say.

It is rooted in the concept that all people should have economic and physical access at all times to safe, sufficient, and healthy food. It should meet both their dietary needs and food preferences for a healthy and active life.

Also read: Sustainable Food And Saving The Environment: Everything To Know About It

The term first came into prominence in 1996 when La Via Campesina, an international movement comprising peasants, agricultural workers, and small-scale farmers, and indigenous groups defined it to ensure their rights to define their agricultural system and the food they consume.

This right to food is enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and stresses the fundamental right to freedom from hunger. The 164 member states are obliged that their people are guaranteed access to an adequate quantity of the right food.

Food security, on the other hand, is concerned only with the distribution and protection of existing food systems.

Food Sovereignty: Its Origin And Growth

Food Sovereignty

The food sovereignty concept is linked to the struggle down the ages for self-determination and autonomy and ancient food traditions. For centuries, peasants and subsistence farmers, fishermen, herders, indigenous peoples, and traditional societies developed and maintained sustainable food structures. People grew what they needed and a little more to sustain them through the season.

These traditions’ production and distribution values were disrupted and replaced by the colonial system. The colonialists devalued such traditional knowledge of growing, collecting, and distributing food that always relied on sustainable methods.

Such methods were replaced with mass production of mono-crops that catered more to the demand of the colonialists than to the needs of the local population.

Traditional and sustainable practices were further disrupted by the accelerating pace of industrialization of the systems of food production and distribution across the world in the last hundred years.

The advent of the much-vaunted Green Revolution led to the employment of chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and biotechnology. This vastly accelerated food productivity. Land ownership passed into the control of giant corporations that employed the most modern agricultural methods.

Also read: Factory Farming: Everything To Know About The Cruel Method

The use of such technologies and practices came with the promise to resolve world hunger. But it has led to acute food insecurity across the world that has grown with every decade. And this scarcity has been accompanied by the utter degradation of the environment through the usage of toxic chemicals at every stage of food production and distribution.

The unregulated use of fertilizers, pesticides have led to water, soil, and air pollution that has led to concern about the impact such industrialized production practices are having on the growth of food and the health of the environment.

The production of single crops has also led to a change in the food we consume. Traditional food preferences have given way to unhealthy food practices that have been permitted by the multiple increases in production of mono-crops during the misguided Green Revolution.

The introduction of genetically altered crops was another step that was untested for its effect on the environment. It was aimed solely at maximizing industrial profit and production, to the detriment of small and marginalized farmers.

The rise of the WTO proved to be a rallying ground for the food sovereignty drive. Opponents of the World Trade Organization argued that it was pushing through trade and agricultural policies that tried to concentrate agricultural practices in areas where the production and labor costs were at their lowest. This disrupted agricultural practices and led to the collapse of rural communities in many developing countries.

The most dangerous byproduct was the introduction of monoculture yields. It had adverse environmental and social implications.

Such monopolistic practices were challenged by the growing movement for food sovereignty. It grew through its nascent years as a fresh approach to achieving food security.

Rejecting the methods adopted by the developed nations that led to the concentration of power and wealth. But it has now become a threat to food security across the globe, something it had sought to reform. It has also harmed cultural diversity plus the ecosystem that supports all life on our planet.

With the growth of the food sovereignty movement, it became linked to environmental and climate justice, agro-ecology, and the rights of women and peasants. The civil rights of workers in the agricultural sector and agrarian reforms also subsequently became a part of the movement.  

Intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and national governments have incorporated its tenets into their policies.

Moving From Protest To Policy: Facing The Challenges Of Institutionalizing Food Sovereignty

Food Sovereignty

The movement to ensure food sovereignty grew in response to the failure of the current approaches to alleviate the twin challenges of environmental degradation and global food insecurity.

The movement is a grassroots mobilization demand that the state plays a more proactive role in developing policies to ensure the right of small-scale farmers, fishermen, and other indigenous producers of food.

It recognizes their right to exist as guardians of food production and the global socio-ecological resource base. Specific policy reforms are needed to ensure both community and individual food security and a sustainable local and national agricultural sector.

This mobilization has grown into a cry for institutionalizing the right to food and food sovereignty at the international level.

Such policy initiatives are diverse and include redistributive policies such as social safety, agrarian reforms, and food security.

Resting On The Seven Pillars Of Food Sovereignty

It began as the six pillars of food sovereignty that were established at the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyelieni. It was established given the failure of the neo-liberal policies and the deteriorating conditions of living of both societies –  urban and rural.

Various social movements and political decision-makers started to take an interest in the concept of food sovereignty. A seventh pillar was added that stated that ‘Food is Sacred’ and was included by the members of the Indigenous Circle at the time of the People’s Food Policy process.

The first pillar focuses on guaranteeing food for people. It aims to ensure that people’s need for food is placed at the center of every policy. It also asserts that food is considered more than merely a commodity that is traded or speculated on for corporate profit.

The second pillar aims to build upon traditional knowledge and skills. With the support of further research, such knowledge and skills have to be passed on to future generations. This pillar also called for the rejection of technologies that undermine or contaminate local food systems in favor of monoculture food systems.

The third pillar exhorts a return to nature. It optimizes the contribution of ecosystems to the food production process. It requires that the production and distribution systems work towards protecting natural resources and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It also stresses the need to avoid intensive industrial methods of agriculture that damage the environment and the health of those involved in it.

The value of all food providers should be respected. Instead, most smallholder farmers suffer marginalization, racism, and violence from corporate landowners and governments. Agribusinesses and mining interests push such farmers off their land and are exploited, even forced into bonded labor.

The role of women and their knowledge is often ignored even though they are actively involved in the process of food production around the world.

Food should be seen primarily as supporting sustenance for the community and not as a business commodity. Under the system of food sovereignty, local and regional food provisions are given precedence over distant markets. The concept of export-oriented agriculture is rejected in favor of localized food systems.

The concept of ‘free trade’ policies is also inimical to the development of local agriculture as they are supported by subsidies and tariffs.

Also read: Reusable Straws Can Make The Difference For Several Thousand Marine Lives

Food sovereignty stresses local control over land, territory, water, grazing, livestock, seeds, and fish stocks. The local population can utilize and share them in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable. Privatization of such valuable resources through the implementation of intellectual property regimes or commercial contracts is rejected explicitly.

The final addition to the tenets of food sovereignty asserts that food is sacred. It is a gift of life and should not be squandered.

Food Sovereignty And The Indigenous People

Though it has been used frequently in recent years, the concept of food sovereignty is rooted in ancient cultures and traditions. Indigenous peoples had control over their food production systems that agreed with their sustainable practices and cultural values.

Even the invasion of colonial practices in agriculture never managed to destroy these practices even though it has impacted adversely the communities and the way they have traditionally grown and procured their food.

One indigenous community that has suffered greatly was the Native Americans. Persecuted terribly by the European invaders, they were driven from their customary areas to reservation and internment camps. They were made to subsist on administration-issued rations that included flour, sugar, lard that were never traditionally consumed by the indigenous communities.

This led to dangerous levels of food insecurity, lingering health conditions, plus the destruction of customary ecological expertise that they had followed for centuries to sustainably take care of their land and the production of food.

The settlers used food as s powerful weapon to subjugate and oppress the indigenous people after they were herded into reservations.

The traditional ways of life have been restored to some extent, but at a high cost. Though they have got back many of their tribal fishing and hunting rights, they face multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing their traditional foods.

Modern food production and procurement methods have also rendered many reservations into food deserts.

The bitter legacy of colonialism has left its mark on traditional food procurement methods of the indigenous people that have endured for centuries. But many communities are adopting food sovereignty, and it is helping them restore traditional methods of growing and procuring food.

By preserving traditional crops and rejecting genetically altered seeds, people are again establishing traditional methods of agriculture that are more resilient and are more agreeable to their health and taste.

Communities are striving to keep alive the traditional ways of life and are teaching their young to grow and gather food, hunt, and fish in keeping with the cultural practices and beliefs.

Food Sovereignty And Food Security

Food sovereignty arose from the need for a current interpretation of food security. While the latter has been regularly recognized at the international level as one of the basic human rights, it has limited itself to working within the present industrial agricultural system.

Food security has stressed the need for safe, sufficient, and complete food for all. The food people receive should meet both their dietary requirements and also food preferences. Only a combination of the two can ensure a healthy and active life.

But food sovereignty seeks to transform the food security concept into a democratic, just, and ‘bottom-up approach. So, instead of working under the control of corporations who hold the reins to the distribution and production process, people will have control over the way the system works.

Instead of being trapped in the bottom line approach of profitability and expansion, food sovereignty lays importance on trade and ecological sustainability that acknowledges the right of everyone who is affected by the existing food system.

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