Press Release 17/04/2012

The colonized are now the colonizers – Irish companies involved in large scale land acquisitions overseas

***Groups across Ireland organize activities to mark 17th April, International Day of Peasant Struggle of Via Campesina

***Irish company involved in landgrabbing

***30,000 hectares of publicly owned land now privatized in Serbia by Irish investors

Over the last ten years foreign governments and private firms have been increas­ingly investing and acquiring large surfaces of fertile land in other countries – especially in Africa and Asia – but also in Latin America and in Eastern Europe, for the purpose of agricultural production and export.

This process of landgrabbing is integrated into an agro-industrial food complex which bases food production on unsustainable petro-chemical inputs, erodes biodiversity and the natural environment, and produces low quality food for the world’s population.

Instead of being dedicated to the production of food which is healthy, affordable and benefits people, it focuses increasingly on the production of raw materials such as agrofuels, animal feeds or commodity plantations.

This system has caused the enormous loss of small scale agricultural holdings and the people who make their living from those holdings, while concentrating power over the world’s food system in the hands of a few transnational corporations.

A recent report by the international agricultural research organisation GRAIN has highlighted the role of an Irish company – “Agricultural Capital Partners” in landgrabbing including one land acquisition of 30,000 hectares in Serbia, as well as other projects in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Agricultural Capital Partners includes the former Fine Fail minister Michael Smith who served in the cabinet of Bertie Ahern, as well as other Irish business people involved in International Financial services.

The Serbian government signed a European Union Association Agreement which entered into force this year. This agreement prohibits large scale acquisition of lands in Serbia until 2016 – meaning that the land acquired by Agricultural Capital Partners was done through a proxy company based in Serbia.

Over 100,000 hectares of land in Serbia are in the hands of just four landowners – and according to local sources many of the members of the Milosevic government are still involved in these deals as they involve the privatization of previously publicly owned land.

As much as 25% of the Serbian population works in agriculture – with 53% of small scale family farmers living on less than the minimum wage.

Ireland has a colonial experience unique in Europe which is not reflected in the Irish government’s position in International or European discussions on landgrabbing.

It is time for the Irish government to denounce landgrabbing in the strongest and most explicit way, and assert the right of people’s to protect their territories and lands from large scale privatizations which serve only to enrich the few and disenfranchise the majority.

There is a growing movement in Ireland calling for Food Sovereignty in Europe and internationally which is organizing events around the 17th of April to mark the International Day of Peasant Struggle organized by Via Campesina (, and to call for Food Sovereignty.

A European declaration for Food Sovereignty was endorsed by hundreds of organisations last year in the first European Food Sovereignty Forum in Austria. The declaration is available online on the Nyéléni Europe website (


Some of the activities organized by Irish groups and organizations include:


Tuesday 17th April: Open day in community orchard, with planting of wildflowers, putting up of bat boxes and food sharing


Tuesday 17th April, 6AM Sunrise Walk for Food Sovereignty, Dublin South Wall of Dublin Bay

Wednesday, 18th  of April Film screening “Via Campesina”

Venue: Irish Aid Volunteering Centre  9pm


Thursday, 19th April Film screening “Via Campesina” & Talk on Food Sovereignty

Venue: John Huston School of film NUIG, Galway

Sunday, 21st April Conference Latin America Week 2012

Venue: Galway Rowing Club, The Waterside, Woodquay



What is food sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is the principle that peoples have the fundamental right to grow and consume food  which is economically, ecologically, socially and culturally appropriate to local conditions, with the aim to empower people at a grassroots level to define their own agriculture and food systems rather than being subject to international forces. Food Sovereignty offers a straightforward framework which is easily integrated into any working democracy and offers a political and democratic model for  food systems based on social justice and solidarity. Food sovereignty is a global, regional and local framework which imagines a better way of organizing our food and agricultural systems in society.

Why is it relevant for Ireland?

Ireland has a strong agricultural sector, which in spite of historical difficulties is still tied into a market logic of exports and world market prices. While Ireland has a high number of small sized farms, few are “commercially viable” per se within the existing framework. The Irish government’s policy of basing growth predictions on this model is short sighted and does not offer long term economic sustainability for rural communities in Ireland. A Food Sovereignty framework in Ireland would offer the possibility for rural and urban communities to further develop spaces for long term economic and social collaboration, but also protect land, agriculture and food from corporate takeover while stimulating the Irish sense of identity, place, history and culture which food production, transformation and distribution can nurture.

For Farmers, growers and producers

The food sovereignty framework first and foremost values food producers within society. It aims to protect and promote ecological, small scale and localized food production and processing systems, including artisan fisheries. A food sovereignty framework for Irish food, agricultural and fisheries policy would mean increased public support for developing alternative distribution systems, helping farmers become established and find markets for their produce, and an increasing focus on promoting low or zero input farming systems which nurture biodiversity and provide multiple social and economic benefits to the rural and regional economy. Building a movement here in Ireland means engaging with farmers and farmer’s organizations to address the political and economic issues which affect them – it is essential that farmers can receive a fair price for their products and ensure a livelihood for themselves. Food sovereignty also promotes access to land for young farmers and the landless, as well as associated training and support systems.

For development organizations

A food sovereignty framework for Irish farming would also mean support for Food Sovereignty in developing countries. Food sovereignty offers a clear solution to world hunger through supporting the work of small farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and other groups with the same low to zero input production systems which can be used here. Food sovereignty implies a right and a responsibility – the right to protect ones own markets from low cost imports, and the responsibility to not dump low cost goods in other markets at the expense of producers there. Irish exports to developing countries can damage the potential for local markets to develop in those countries, as local producers struggle to compete with low-priced imports. As long as agricultural trade continues to be negotiated within the WTO, these imbalances will continue. Food sovereignty demands a democratic framework for negotiating agricultural trade which puts people, not corporations at the centre.

For environmental organizations

A Food Sovereignty framework implies the use of agro-ecological farming systems – based on low to zero inputs and high levels of soil conservation, biodiversity promotion and the use of locally adapted and reproducible plant varieties. Producing, processing and distributing food locally as opposed to globally means more resilient and sustainable food systems, which require less fossil fuel based inputs. Food sovereignty in Ireland would mean huge decreases in fertiliser, pesticide and antibiotic use, as well as increasing agricultural and non cultivated biodiversity, with the subsequent benefits to flora and fauna.

For grassroots and community organizations

As the food sovereignty framework offers an alternative to corporate led globalization of food and agricultural production, it provides a vital tool to help communities draw the links between nature, health, human survival and livelihoods, while helping to educate citizens in the political and economic impacts of the food system at a local and global level. Food sovereignty also implies a rejection of patriarchy in our political and economic systems. It means greater support for youth participation and for the community as active participant in contesting policy formulation and development. Food offers a direct point of entry for understanding the economic, social and political relationships which sustain the existing  corporate and financial market model of today’s society.

European context

Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is Europe’s biggest and most heavily funded common legislation, accounting for over half of the EU budget. There are two European networks of organizations representing the agriculture sector. One of these is COPA-COGECA, which represents the majority of farmers in Europe and which supports the conventional framework for food and agricultural policy. The IFA is a member of COPA-COGECA.

The other organization is the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) which supports a Food Sovereignty framework for the CAP. ECVC has no Irish member organization.

As well as this there is a growing movement based around the Nyéléni Europe Movement for Food Sovereignty, in which some Irish organizations have participated. There is also a broad group of organizations which work for a CAP based on Food Sovereignty, known as “FoodSov CAP”. They produce policy documents and proposals to the European institutions based on Food Sovereignty.

All groups at a European level are working intensely to have their voices heard as the CAP is facing a reform process in 2013. The 2013 reform is particularly important as it will normalize the situation for farmers in the Eastern European countries which joined the EU between 2004 -2007, bringing their rights for CAP funding into line with the existing system. These countries account for more than half of all the farmers in Europe.

Global context

Food Sovereignty was born as an international concept – as a response to corporate led globalization, and the negotiation of food and agricultural trade through the WTO. It is a term coined by members of La Via Campesina, the international movement of small farmers and landless peoples.

It has grown to become a framework which acts as a point of reference for many critics of the neoliberal and corporate controlled financial market based model of economic and social development. At the same time, International institutions such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO) and the Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier de Shutter, recognize the food sovereignty framework as offering an alternative within which many local alternatives may be built.

Internationally, La Via Campesina represents over 300 million farmers across the world, and has 148 member organizations in 69 countries.

Next steps?

The Nyeleni Europe Conference in Austria in August 2011 brought together more than 400 people from 34 European countries to discuss how to move build and strengthen a Food Sovereignty movement in Europe. The participants agreed on a declaration which is available on the Nyeleni Europe website –

They also agreed to develop a plan of action for moving forward – first to Resist, then to Build, and Finally to Transform the political, economic and social relationships around food and agricultural production at a local, regional and European level.

Press Release – Irish Delegation at first European Food Sovereignty Forum (21/08/11)

Nyeleni Europe 2011, European Forum for Food Sovereignty,                                                               Krems, 16th – 21st August 2011

Irish Delegation attend first European Food Sovereignty Forum – Building a food and agricultural system for the people by the people

Over 400 delegates from 34 Countries met in Krems, Austria, including 7 Irish delegates, to shape a new sustainable and just food system for Europe and the world. They participated in the first European Forum for Food Sovereignty named after the legendary Malian woman “Nyéléni”, whose spirit inspired the international food sovereignty forum held in Mali in 2007.

The 7 Irish delegates represented a wide variety of groups: LASC (Latin American Solicarity Centre), Gluaiseacht for Global Justice, Leitrim Organic Farmers, Dublin Community Growers and  Food Action Dublin. These different groups and organisations are working on food sovereignty issues in Ireland directly and indirectly.

The Forum opened on Tuesday 16th August with Ibrahim Coulibaly, Malian farmer leader and organiser of the 2007 Nyéléni forum handing over the symbols of Nyéléni’s fertility and productivity – soil, seeds and water – to a European farmer leader Geneviéve Savigny.

From August 16-21st, the forum provided a democratic and participatory space for debating, sharing experiences, building alliances and making collective proposals about what needs to be done to protect and promote healthy local food systems in Europe and other regions and how to reduce the damaging industrial food system.  “I am more convinced than ever that Ireland urgently needs to review its food system to become more sustainable and socially just, not only for farmers in the global south, but for Irish farmers at home to get a fairer deal in the long run.  Building food sovereignty awareness in Ireland will be a priority for us in the coming years. “ said John Brennan , an organic farmer delegate from Leitrim.

The forum was held in the midst of multiple social and financial crises, caused by an elite-driven, but much resisted, social and economic agenda, that is harming people and destabilising the region. Yet, more than 400 European delegates from 120 organisations participated.

Participants came from 34 countries across Europe – from Albania to the UK, from Azerbaijan to Norway, from Portugal to Russia. They were assisted by 80 Austrian volunteers and 55 volunteer professional interpreters from COATI. International observers from India, Mozambique, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada and the United States were also present to offer experience and political views and to get inspiration for their own struggles. “I have been truely inspired by the incredible people participating in this forum.  I have learnt so much about the issues that surround food sovereignty such as agricultural worker’s issues and women’s issues.  We shared many positive practices and solutions. Young people in Ireland need to become aware how important food sovereignty is not only for the survival of people in the global south but our own survival at home in the near future.” said Donna Bloss from Gluiseacht.

The Forum used a rigorous methodology that allowed a high level of participation by all the delegates, especially women and youth, in developing consensus policy documents. These addressed key themes including: Models of food production; Market/food chains; Social aspects and conditions of work; Access to land and other resources; and Public policies. The discussions were organised by theme, European sub-region and sector (food providers, consumers, environmental and development NGOs, workers). They provided a rich diversity of views that enhanced the Forum’s outputs: a declaration and a plan of action.

Food and agriculture are the cornerstones of society and the Forum comes at a timely moment for offering radically alternative and concrete solutions from the people themselves.

More info

Declaration: Nyeleni Europe 2011: European Forum for Food Sovereignty

Krems, August 21st 2011
Europe’s people are now experiencing the first structural adjustment policies which governments are imposing on their populations that until now have been imposed on peoples in other regions in particular the Global South; this with the sole interest of saving capitalism and those who benefit from it (private banks, investment groups and transnational corporations).
All signs are that in the near future these antisocial policies will become more severe and extensive. The first general mobilizations to denounce the economic and governance systems which have brought us to this point have begun and we offer – creatively and energetically – the response of European social movements to confront the model of global agriculture which is the exact reflection of the capitalist system that created it.
Food systems have been reduced to a model of industrialized agriculture controlled by a few transnational food corporations together with a small group of huge retailers. It is a model designed to generate profits, and therefore completely fails to meet its obligations. Instead of being dedicated to the production of food which is healthy, affordable and benefits people, it focuses increasingly on the production of raw materials such as agrofuels, animal feeds or commodity plantations. On the one hand, it has caused the enormous loss of agricultural holdings and the people who make their living from those holdings, while on the other hand it promotes a diet which is harmful to health and which contains insufficient fruit, vegetables and cereals.
This industrial model of production is dependent on finite fossil fuels and chemical inputs; does not recognize the limitations of resources such as land or water; is responsible for drastic losses of biodiversity and soil fertility; contributes to climate change; forces thousands of people into jobs without recognition of their most fundamental rights; and leads to the worsening of working conditions for farmers and workers, in particular migrants.
It moves us further away from a respectful and sustainable relationship with nature. Exploiting and treating the earth in this way is the fundamental cause of rural poverty and hunger for more than a billion people in the world (such as now in the Horn of Africa). In addition, it causes forced migration, while creating a surplus of industrial foods, which end up being wasted or dumped in markets both within and outside Europe, destroying local production.
This situation is the result of food, financial, trade and energy policies, which our governments, the EU (especially through its Common Agricultural Policy), multilateral and financial institutions as well as transnational corporations have been imposing. Examples include the policies of deregulation and liberalization of agricultural markets and speculation on food.
Changing the direction of this dysfunctional food system will only be possible through a complete reorientation of food and agricultural policies and practices. It is vital to redesign the food system based on the principles of Food Sovereignty, particularly in Europe, and to do it now.
As a consequence more than 400 people from 34 European countries from the Atlantic to the Urals and Caucasus, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, as well as international representatives from diverse social movements and civil society organisations, met from the 16th to 21st of August in Krems, Austria to take a step forward in the development of a European movement for Food Sovereignty.
We are building on the foundations of the Declaration of the Nyéléni 2007: Forum for Food Sovereignty, which reaffirmed the international framework for Food Sovereignty – the right of peoples to democratically define their own food and agricultural systems without harming other people or the environment. Numerous experiences and practices already exist here and now, at local, regional and European levels, which are based on Food Sovereignty and which demonstrate how it can be applied.
We are people who share values based on human rights. We want free movement of people, and not free circulation of capital and merchandise which contributes to the destruction of livelihoods and therefore forces many to migrate. Our aim is cooperation and solidarity as opposed to competition. We commit to reclaiming our democracy: all people should be involved in all issues of public interest and public policy making, deciding collectively how we organize our food systems. This requires the construction of democratic systems and processes, free of violence, corporate influence, and based on equal rights and gender equality, which will also lead to the abolition of patriarchy.
Many of us are young people who represent the future of our society and of our struggles. We will ensure that our energy and creativity make our movement stronger. In order to do so we must be able to participate in providing food and to be integrated in all structures and decisions.
We are convinced that Food Sovereignty is not only a step forward towards a change in our food and agricultural systems, but it is also a first step towards a broader change in our societies.
For this we commit to struggle for:
Changing how food is produced and consumed
We are working towards resilient food production systems, which provide healthy and safe food for all people in Europe, while also preserving biodiversity and natural resources and ensuring animal welfare. This requires ecological models of production and fishing as well as a multitude of smallholder farmers, gardeners and small-scale fishers who produce local food as the backbone of the food system. We struggle against the use of GMOs and grow and recuperate a wide diversity of non-GM varieties of seeds and livestock breeds in these systems. We promote sustainable and diverse forms of food culture, in particular the consumption of high quality local and seasonal foods and no highly processed food. This includes a lower consumption of meat and animal products, which should only be locally produced using local non-GM feed. We engage in re-embracing and promoting knowledge of cooking and food processing through education and sharing of skills.
Changing how food is distributed
We work towards the decentralization of food chains, promoting diversified markets based on solidarity and fair prices, and short supply chains and intensified relations between producers and consumers in local food webs to counter the expansion and power of supermarkets. We want to provide the building blocks for people to develop their own food distribution systems and allow farmers to produce and process food for their communities. This requires supportive food safety rules and local food infrastructure for smallholder farmers. We also work to ensure that the food we produce reaches all people in society, including people with little or no income.
Valuing and improving work and social conditions in food and agriculture systems
We struggle against the exploitation and the degradation of working and social conditions and for the rights of all women and men who provide food as well as those of seasonal and migrant workers, workers in the processing, distribution and retail sector and others. We work towards public policies that respect social rights, set high standards and make public funding conditional upon their implementation. Society must give greater value to the role of food producers and workers in our society. For us, this includes decent living wages. We aim to build broad alliances among all people who work in the food system.
Reclaiming the right to our Commons
We oppose and struggle against the commodification, financialisation and patenting of our commons, such as: land; farmers’, traditional and reproducible seeds; livestock breeds and fish stocks; trees and forests; water; the atmosphere; and knowledge. Access to these should not be determined by markets and money. In using common resources, we must ensure the realisation of human rights and gender equality, and that society as a whole benefits. We also acknowledge our responsibility to use our Commons sustainably, while respecting the rights of mother earth. Our Commons should be managed through collective, democratic and community control.
Changing public policies governing our food and agricultural systems
Our struggle includes changing public policies and governance structures that rule our food systems – from the local to the national, European and global levels – and to delegitimise corporate power. Public policies must be coherent, complementary and promote and protect food systems and food cultures. They must: be based on the right to food; eradicate hunger and poverty; ensure the fulfilment of basic human needs; and contribute to Climate Justice – in Europe and globally. We need legal frameworks that: guarantee stable and fair prices for food producers; promote environmentally-friendly agriculture; internalise external costs into food prices; and implement land reform. These policies would result in more farmers in Europe. Public policies must be designed with the help of publicly accountable research to achieve the objectives outlined above. They must ensure that speculation on food is banned and no harm is done to existing local or regional food systems and food cultures – either by dumping or by landgrabbing in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, or the Global South. We work towards new agriculture, food, seed, energy and trade policies for Food Sovereignty in Europe which are internationally sound. In particular these must include: a different Common Agriculture and Food Policy; the removal of the EU Biofuels Directive; and global governance of international agricultural trade located in the FAO and not the WTO.
We call upon the people and social movements in Europe to engage, together with us, in all our struggles to take control of our food systems and Build the Movement for Food Sovereignty in Europe NOW!