Food sovereignty: for a future without hunger

Irene León
Wednesday 25 April 2007 by LRAN

The town of Selingué in Mali, Western Africa, hosted the Food Sovereignty Forum -
Nyéléni 2007-from 23 - 27 February 2007. Peasant organizations, small scale farmers,
fisherpeople, shepherds, indigenous peoples, forest communities, women, consumers,
environmentalists and some urban groups participated to strengthen the global movement involved in defending a future without hunger.

- Irene León, Ecuadorian sociologist, is a member of ALAI.
Published in América Latina en Movimiento, No. 419, ALAI, Quito, April 2007.

In order to accommodate the Forum and its 600 participants the communal space of
Nyéléni, near Selingué, was constructed. It is a village symbolizing food sovereignty,
built with native design, materials and manual labor. From now on, this village remains
as a service for African social movements and others from around the world. This
specific result showcases the complete vision of sustainability, underlying a proposal
of ample reach, coined initially by Via Campesina . The proposal has now been taken on,
shared and debated by a wide range of other sectors, whose involvement in the process of
construction and development of the Forum gave rise to a new movement of proposal and
action for food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty is understood as peoples’ right to be able to rely on nutritious,
culturally suitable and accessible foods produced in a sustainable and ecological
manner. It also means their right to define their own agricultural and fishing
policies, management of land, water resources, seeds and biodiversity. This concept
represents the widest framework for exercising the right to food. At the same time, its
correlation with lifestyles, development options, geopolitical perspectives and future
visions covers a spectrum of socioeconomic reordering that, in addition to the subject
of foodstuffs, alludes to the future of societies and the survival of the planet.

In addition to the definitions and the socio-political content of food sovereignty, the
common agenda adopted in the Nyéléni Forum points out the practices that will allow its
achievement: peoples’ sovereignty; food self-sufficiency; agro-ecological and local
production; artisan fishing and cattle farming; egalitarian economic interchanges;
respect for biodiversity; gender equality; socially aware consumption and others.

It also identifies capitalism and commercial appropriation of the food process as the
main obstacle to food sovereignty. It points out that these factors are the main causes
of world hunger and of the increasing impoverishment of those communities -generally
focused on small scale local production- that intervene in production and in independent
food chains on the global market.

Transnational control of the food process, the search for profit and the development of
international norms to legitimize these, especially within the World Trade Organization,
are at the antipodes of the sustainability proposal intrinsic to the theory of food
sovereignty. This notion holds that peoples should have the exclusive right to protect
and regulate production and internal and external commerce; to prevent food dumping; to
resist the assault of bio piracy; to defend native seeds that produce healthy foods and
to reject genetically modified food.

Among the distinctive aspects of the food sovereignty principle, a key element is the
enormous world-wide pool of knowledge and practices, which have fed human kind for
generations. This is the source of its viability, since the fact is that the entire
world, and above all poor countries, are fed by small-scale agriculture, artisan fishing
and livestock rearing, for which a key factor are the chains of food supply sensitive to
human needs.

However, the well-known irrationality underlying the rules of market, that inspires
international food policies, argues that transnational corporate control of production
is the only way to eradicate hunger. Apart from outlining policies, this model strives
to multiply conditions to strengthen this control, adversely affecting local production.
Furthermore, the mercantile rules applied to the food process push small independent
production to the verge disappearance, since the corporate perspective imposes not only
unequal competition but also viewpoints that promote corporative interests and profit as
the central and unique parameters of development.

Action lines

The proposals for joint action adopted in the Nyéléni Forum emphasize the need for
mobilization and resistance, in the face of the omnipresence of multinational
corporations in food production and distribution. This could include disobedience to
neoliberal regulations, policies and expressions, among them the policies and agreements
of free trade.

The fight for land, water and seeds appears as the central axis of the proposal,
indicating that to this end, what counts are direct actions and demands of moratoriums
on GMOs (genetically modified organisms); integral land reform; protection of seeds as
the peoples’ heritage; the rejection of agro-fuels and the privatization of water, land,
the sea and natural resources. In the same vein, numerous initiatives propose to
generate territories free of GMOs and to resist the proliferation of green deserts; to
recover natural resources monopolized by different corporations; and to create tribunals
and observatories of transnational corporations and of the effects of neoliberal
policies on foods.

Initiatives that propose to reform the European Common Agricultural Policy and the Farm
Bill policy of the United States are also on the agenda. The inclusion of food
sovereignty in national Constitutions, as has already occurred in Nepal; and demands for
reparation of damages caused by the agribusiness, the privatization of the sea and
commercialized cattle and livestock production. The denunciation of multilateral
organisations’ responsibility in the destruction of societies and looting of resources
has also been documented.

On the other hand, the urgency to strengthen local markets and the connection between
producers and consumers stands out. Also, the development of new proposals of
integration initiated by peoples and their self-determination, and based on food
sovereignty. And, since those responsible for the world food crisis are also at the
national level, it was agreed to contest neoliberal governments, the militarization of
the countryside and the criminalization of social struggle.

African delegates and those of different thematic groups that approach aspects such as
technology and knowledge emphasized the right to information and communication, as a
core aspect not only for building the food sovereignty movement, but also as a necessary
strategy for strengthening the analyses and actions of raising awareness that were
agreed on in the Forum. Another conclusion was the importance of defending peoples’
knowledge and the urgency of creating a moratorium on the technologies that experiment
with living beings, since these are factors that put biodiversity and human survival at

In summary, the Forum of Nyéléni concludes by emphasizing the importance of forging a
food sovereignty controlled by peoples; of creating an economy and policies based on
solidarity; of changing the world and its relations, and to do all this with priority to
gender equality and the fight against the patriarchy. The challenge and the common
agenda are now drawn up.

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