Food sovereignty: more necessary and urgent than ever Why should social groups mobilize?

, by  Gérard Choplin, Michel Buisson

The demand for food sovereignty (FS) has been developed as a consequence of the events of triumphant liberalism (“Washington Consensus” in 1989, WTO Agreements in 1994, Food Summit in 1996). This is reinforced to the point of becoming a global demand supported by the rural movement Via Campesina and by numerous citizen movements. The difficulties encountered at the international level, the global food crisis, the beginning of numerous fronts of struggle (GMOs, farmers’ rights, land grabbing, agreements of “free”-exchange, climate), and the new practices of production and exchange, have made this demand evolve to the local level. Consequently, Paul Nicholson declared in 2012 “food sovereignty has become a social construction based on local realities”. More recently, Olivier de Schutter, in “the new shape of food sovereignty” presents the “repeasantization” as “the last concrete promise of food sovereignty”.

Faced with the dominating market forces to the progressively worsening consequences (1) since 1996, we have thought that the content of FS (2) may provide an essential part of the solution, if a large enough movement continues the fight to the international level and broadens it to the national and local level, articulating these three levels. The mobilization for FS may contribute to the development of an “anti-hegemonic” project in the face of the onslaught of dominant forces.

Address challenges of particularly severe consequences of the onslaught of dominant forces

The distorted responses to neoliberalism are at the forefront, notably those of Donald Trump, who, within his presidential plan, on one side developed protections against importation and blocked the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and on the other favored financial capitalism, multinational American companies, fossil fuels, and eco-capitalism.... all while denying climate change and suppressing social struggles. The European Union has not gone away, which has imposed on Africa highly unequal economic “partnership” agreements (EPAs), and now in the common agricultural policy (CAP), hidden protection instruments and dumping.

Multinational companies, especially those that focus on agribusiness, are the big winners at this time : the agreement “Grow” in 2009 has just been strengthened by the platform FreSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health). European corporations are also well represented in this competition : development of agrofuel production, an agreement between the April foundation and CIRAD ... Most recently the big data project, “agriculture 2.0” from leading corporations, aims to provide farmers with a “universal” service guiding the totality of their choices and, in this way, ... making them lose even more of their autonomy and increase profits. These agreements and strategies force more and more government decisions regarding the expansion of a few exported products and are implemented under very poor ecological and social conditions (Grain 2016). This expansion of multinational companies also leads to the increase of food imports, changes in production techniques and diets. More generally, corporations succeed in imposing private arbitration tribunals in trade agreements, a permanent menace with regard to all attempts at autonomy of the States.

These trends are so much more severe because they unfold without a climate change treaty, which is particularly destructive for the farmers to the South, including farmers’ conditions of living and development, within a context of competition between very unequal agricultural and agro-industrial systems.

This situation threatens the country, impairs resources, and sustains high levels of undernourishment and malnutrition. Production and food insecurity leads to heavy migrations and weakens a great number of countries, notably those with a high agricultural population percentage, who must maintain the maximum number of employees on small farms, to save/value natural resources, knowledge, local organizations ...

Social movements fight against “free”-exchange treaty proposals, for climate justice, for international solidarity, for gaining new rights for farmers, and for the respect of human rights throughout the world. These diverse struggles strive to respond to the expectations of the victims of the effects of neoliberal globalization, within the context of food, nourishment, the environment, revenue, and employment, notably. At the heart of these struggles is the movement for food sovereignty, which demands the right of populations to decide democratically their agricultural and nutritional policy, and strives for a profound change of our food systems.

These fights and the constructed solutions within all countries remain limited in their results and in their extent with regards to corporations and markets, and WTO trade rules which are still in effect and aggravated by the proliferation of bilateral agreements.

Possible contributions of food sovereignty

We propose to share two definitions established by the movement. The first establishes new international regulations and other policies: food sovereignty, which is “the right of populations, of their countries or unions, to define their agricultural and food policies, without dumping (or without prejudices) in relation to other countries”, (Via campesina, 2004). The second indicates that these new regulations and policies may favor a democratic and enduring function for food systems unlike the grasp for power by transnational companies : the SA “positions those that produce, transform, and consume a local and safe food, at the heart of food and agricultural policies and systems [...] in place of the needs of the market and multinational companies...”(Forum Nyéléni, 2007). Through these two definitions, like through other translations of the concept, the social movements that demand food sovereignty express a transnational solidarity ; they don’t dispute the role of international commerce but call for it’s regulation, to a rebalancing between international commerce and the reinforcement of local food systems.

Food sovereignty has yet to be voiced by the UN or by other authorities in a measure of “ordered pluralism” (M. Delmas-Marty). The aim was to construct a new international commercial law freed from liberal fundamentals, favoring the adoption of agricultural policies at the national and regional level adapted to the needs of the country. This concerns the organization of markets and support to sustainable farming and favorable for alternative practices of production and exchange. At the international level, the SA provides the base for going from currently hegemonic exchanges - favored by WTO regulations - to the profit of powerful States and multinational companies, through cooperative exchanges, limiting the advantages of countries that could abuse their competitive situation. The obligation of countries to not harm the agricultural economies of third-world countries must correspond to the right of putting in place real protections - customs duties and import quotas notably - justified regarding economic, social, and ecological plans.

The task group may, through Intercoll, provide a useful contribution towards food sovereignty.

The tasks of the group, founded on the exchanges between individuals and groups from websites, networks, and the development of texts and summaries (see annex) connected with advocacy groups, should favor the advances of movements mobilized on the problems of food sovereignty and related issues.

Food and nutrition concerns everyone. Together, farming and citizen’s organizations, certain institutions, and researchers, supporting local successes of “transition” and overriding the decisions of the States, must propose new regulations, new frameworks for international agricultural commerce and agricultural/food policies. There is an urgency. The future UN declaration on “the rights of farmers and other persons working in rural areas” and the advances among the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), notably regarding the importance of access to local, national, and regional markets for small producers, must constitute as much support as possible towards food sovereignty.

We make this extract from the declaration of Paul Nicholson our own, representing the European Farmers’ Coordination (CPE) to congress, from the UNAG to Managua in 1992 : “Together we must find solutions and present our suggestions in a unifying manner to the forums [...]. Our challenge is to create this common space and to make it public to the world”. Together, we must achieve progress, sources of new victories, and the strengthening of social movements.

Our priorities:

  • connect, with a dynamic perspective, the expected gains and contributions at three levels (international, national, and local) of the SA,
  • analyze the social movement and the different simultaneous and supplementary work sites of the SA against liberalism : international trade law, rights of transnational corporations (TNCs), policies, activity of the CSA regarding the development of food systems, the defense and advancement of farmers, the relations between the struggles and social movements concerning agriculture, food, climate, research ...

Regarding the base of analytic follow-up on these points, the group will disseminate and value (annual summaries) the information issued by members and available on websites or within institutions for sending warning signs, discussing leads, discussing propositions, the focus being to promote an exchange and a development involving the different forces of social movement and those close to the institutions.