Food Sovereignty and the Contemporary Food Crisis

Sunday 25 January 2009 by LRAN

Peter Rosset examines the current global food price crisis, identifying both long- and short-term causes. He argues that to escape the crisis, countries must rebuild and protect domestic peasant and family farmer food production and public inventories. The ‘food sovereignty’ paradigm put forth by the global peasant and farmer alliance, La Via Campesina, may well offer our only way out of the current conundrum.

KEYWORDS food crisis; food sovereignty; La Via Campesina; peasant; farmers; agrofuels; hedge funds

Introduction

In today’s world, we find ourselves mired in a global food price crisis that is driving in creased hunger and even food riots in several continents. It seems odd that we are in a crisis of high food prices when the past 20^30 years have seen a crisis of low prices, prices so low that millions of peasant and family farmers around the world were driven off the land and into national and international migrant streams. To confront this harsh reality, La Via Campesina, the international alliance of organizations of peasant and family farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, landless peasants, and rural women and youth (www.viacampesina.org), developed a comprehensive alternative proposal for restructuring food production and consumption at the local, national and global level, called ‘food sovereignty’ (Rosset, 2006).

Under food sovereignty, and in contrast to the ‘one size fits all’ proposals of the World Trade Organization (WTO), every country and people is deemed to have the right to establish its own policies concerning its food and agriculture system, as long as those policies do not hurt third countries, as has been the case when major agroexport powers dump foodstuffs in the markets of other countries at prices below the cost of production, thus driving local farmers out of business (Rosset, 2006). Food sovereignty would allow countries to protect their domestic markets against such practices.

But now that we have shifted from a period of artificially low prices to a period of high prices, does food sovereignty still make sense? An examination of the causes of the current crisis, which turn out to be not so different from the previous crisis, shows that it indeed does. In fact, food sovereignty may well offer our only way out of the current conundrum.

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