‘We are what we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. And reclaiming democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom’ (Vandana Shiva)
“Over a half century ago, Mahatma Gandhi led a multitude of Indians to the sea to make salt – in defiance of the British Empire’s monopoly of this resource critical to people’s diet. The action catalyzed the fragmented movement for Indian independence and was a beginning of the end for Britain’s rule over India. The ‘act of making salt’ has since been repeated many times in many forms by people’s movements seeking liberation, justice, and sovereignty: César Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Zapatistas are just a few of the most prominent examples. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance movement seeks food sovereignty from the monopolies that dominate US food systems, with the complicity of the US government.”
So begins a statement by the People’s Movement Assembly on Food Sovereignty from the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit. Today, we can find similar declarations on food sovereignty crafted by communities around the world, from small rural towns and villages to high-profile global gatherings.
Food sovereignty is not a one-size-fits-all approach but an expansive set of principle, policies, and practices. It is grounded in the belief that everyone has the right to healthy, sustainably produced food, and that people and nations must have a democratic control over their food and agricultural systems.
In 2007, in the West African country of Mali, more than 500 small farmers, food producers, and activists from around the world came together for the Nyéléni Forum for Food sovereignty, named after a legendary woman farmer from the region. The final statement articulated six key attributes of
1-. Focuses on Food for People. Food sovereignty stresses the right to sufficient, healthy and cultural appropriate food for all individuals, peoples and communities. Food sovereignty rejects the proposition that food is just another commodity for international agribusiness.
2-. Values Food Providers. Food sovereignty values and supports the contributions, and respects the rights, of women and men, peasants and small scale family farmers, pastoralists, indigenous people, and agricultural and fishery workers, including migrants, who cultivate, grow, harvest and process food.
3-. Localized Food Systems. Food sovereignty puts providers and consumers at the center of decision-making on food issues; protects food providers from dumping of food and food aid in local markets; and resists governance structures, agreements, and practices that promote inequitable international trade and give power to remote and unaccountable corporations.
4-. Makes Decisions Locally. Food sovereignty seeks control over and access to territory, land, water, seeds, livestock and fish population for local food providers. These resources ought to be used and shared in socially and environmentally sustainable ways, which conserve diversity.
5-. Builds Knowledge and Skills. Food sovereignty builds on skills and local knowledge of food providers and their local organization that conserve, develop and manage localized food production and harvesting systems, and that pass on this wisdom to future generations. Food sovereignty rejects technologies that undermine, threaten or contaminate these, e.g. genetic engineering.
6-. Works with Nature. Food sovereignty seeks to heal the planet so that the planet may heal people; and rejects methods that harm beneficial ecosystem functions, that depend on energy-intensive monocultures and livestock factories, destructive fishing practices and other industrialized production methods.
‘This is not ultimately a battle about food and farming. It is about the survival of all of us’ (Shalmali Guttal)