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.
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.
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.
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 – www.nyelenieurope.net.
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.