Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

To manufacture food or to grow it? The new and old GMOs of Europe, a battle spanning over 30 years

Antonio Onorati, ECVC European Coordination Via Campesina, Italia

The European Union, the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products and the world’s largest importer, boasts an agricultural system that relies on small farms, 77% of which are less than 10 hectares in size and 69% of which have an economic size of less than €8,000.

But 4 of the 6 companies that dominate the world seed market are European, the largest of which has a sales volume three times greater than the second largest. The market power of the companies in the seed market – which is already highly concentrated – increases when one moves from the conventional seed market to the GMO seed market, and from the GMO seed market to the market for the control of digital sequence information (DSI).

In this context, the strategy of the farmers’ movement, also shared by many environmental movements, can only be articulated on a number of levels. From mobilisation with direct actions of disobedience, such as the mowing of fields sown with GMOs – old or new – to legal action and recourse to the courts, such as the action at the European Court of Justice, which is currently blocking any attempt to avoid applying the current legislation on “new” GMOs (new genomic techniques [NGTs], products with CRISPR or in vitro mutagenesis[1]). In addition, there is the construction of useful legislation to protect the farmers’ seed systems and prevent the cultivation of GMOs (as in Italy, a country with “GMO-free” agriculture since 2000, or in France).

How a society wants its food to be produced is a purely political issue. This is why mobilisation must continue.

More info here and here.

Voice from the field 2

Peasant seed systems and the implementation of farmers’ rights in national legal frameworks – the case of Mali

Alimata Traore, COASP – West African Peasants’ Seeds Committee, Mali

Our farmers’ seeds are freely reproducible and thanks to our practices and know-how, we are able to select them by reseeding them each year in our fields. Thanks to their diversity, they evolve and adapt to our needs, our fields, and our techniques.

Our farmers’ seeds are our identity, they are our life.

Our farmers’ organisations provided information and training on farmers’ rights. After analysing the status of their implementation in our national laws, we held discussions with our government representatives on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) focus points.

Together, in 2017, we created a national consultation framework with a mandate to ensure that peasant seed systems and farmers’ rights are recognised and implemented in national legislation. This is chaired by the Ministry of Agriculture and the secretariat is provided by the National Coordination of Farmer Organisation (CNOP). The basis of our proposals was as follows:

1.  A clear definition of the varieties of seeds (including traditional and local).

2.  The recognition of specific regulations that guarantee the quality of our peasant seed systems, and ensure the protection of peasant knowledge through collective rights defined by the community according to its habits and customs.

3.  The right of farmers to sell their seeds without the obligation of registration in the official catalogue.

4.  The right of farmers and their organisations to participate in decision-making with mechanisms to ensure transparency.

5.  Supporting and strengthening farmers’ seed systems, farmers’ seed houses[2], farmers’ seed festivals and markets.

Voice from the field 3

We need diverse livestock breeds to combat future pandemics

Tammi Jonas – Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance

Australian farmers produce 93% of the food we eat, even while exporting some 70% of what is grown, and the export focus is framed within a moralising discourse that Australian agriculture is ‘feeding the world’. Yet, the reality is that exports are directed not to countries suffering widespread food insecurity, but rather the ‘highest value markets in developed economies and to the middle classes in developing countries’.[3]

This productivist paradigm has led to a steady decline in breed diversity in Australia and globally, and in the Global North, 90% of cattle belong to just six breeds, with 20% of livestock breeds at risk of extinction.[4] A decline in breed diversity means a loss of livestock adapted to local conditions and a life on pasture, and also the danger of creating what Rob Wallace calls ‘food for flu’ – because ‘raising vast monocultures removes immunogenetic firebreaks that in more diverse populations cut off transmission booms’.[5] The incidence of COVID-19 globally, Japanese Encephalitis Virus further south in Australia than ever before, and now Foot and Mouth Disease becoming a growing regional threat, make it ever more obvious that we must stop narrowing the genetic diversity of livestock and crowding them in unhealthy conditions.

In Australia, there is a growing movement of smallholders growing heritage and rare breed livestock to reverse this trend, collectivised within the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) and supported in their in situ conservation efforts by the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia. In a pandemic world, moves to conserve and promote diversity at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels will literally save lives.

Voices from the field 4

Agroecology, agroforestry and community-based forest management: powerful tools for defending peoples’ rights, livelihoods, and the natural assets of forests.[6]

Nuie anak Sumok – Residents’ Association of Sungai Buri, Sarawak, Malasia

Known to her friends as Superwoman for her work ethic, Nuie anak Sumok fights for her family, her community, and the environment by farming on her roadside plot in Sungai Buri, northeast Sarawak, Malaysia.

With the women’s group and the Residents’ Association of Sungai Buri on the northeast coast of Sarawak, we have been strengthening our resistance to the imposition of palm oil monoculture through agroecology, agroforestry and community-based forest management. Through these practices, we have also been reversing the damage caused by this monoculture and forest destruction, and challenging the destructive development model.

We do not have the luxury of planting just one crop, we have to do what is most beneficial for us. And no one can tell us what to do.

We have chilli, pineapple, courgette, bananas, native forest species, daun long… and the forest gives us seeds, fruit trees, other food, water, wood, fuel, shelter, biodiversity, honey, medicine. and animal feed. Also, materials to make our crafts. We do our best to help the community to plant local species of trees.

With sister organisations in Marudi, Long Miri and Long Pilah we set up a seed exchange scheme where different groups collect seeds from their locality – merbau, jelayan, rattan, engkabang, meranti – and fruit trees such as durian and langsat, and our nurseries are enriched.

Through this work we also protect our rights and those of all communities as well as our livelihoods and the natural assets of the forests”.

Voice from the field 5

The Latin American Agroecological Institute under construction and the role of agroecology

Aldo González, IALA Latin American Agroecological Institute, Mexico

Nowadays, more and more young people from Indigenous and peasant communities have the opportunity to study. Many receive scholarships and leave the community to go to university, in most cases the idea of progress gets into their heads: the city offers them modernity, and many do not return, school has taken away their identity.

Faced with this panorama, the organisations that make up La Via Campesina in Mexico decided to set up the Latin American Agroecological Institute (IALA-Mexico), with the aim of going beyond simple technical training. At the IALA we are interested in contributing to the strengthening of struggles in defence of territories, cultural identity, and Food Sovereignty.

For us, agroecology is a way of life, based on principles that recognise that there is a diversity of territories and that these generate a diversity of cultural relations between human beings and nature. This care, rooted in ancestral peasant traditions, is based on common principles that must take into account ecological, cultural, and economic aspects that respect Mother Earth.

These relationships have generated forms of family and community organisation that allow us to survive. For example, the guelaguetza or guzun that is practised among the Zapotec Peoples of Oaxaca, has its similarities among many peoples of Mexico and the world, and is based on reciprocity in order to get the “milpa” ready (as  agricultural fields are called in Mexico), build a house, hold family or community celebrations, etc. The IALA is interested in strengthening these forms of organisation.

Our farming systems, such as shifting cultivation, wrongly called “slash and burn”, are ways of farming that were developed in the past and are important to reclaim from agroecology. Sustaining life in the soil, recycling nutrients, and conserving energy from the local to the global are principles that have been practised in traditional agriculture and that we will continue to promote.

We are heirs to a great biodiversity, as well as the wealth of knowledge associated with it. However, the science produced by our peoples is disqualified by research centres; in spite of this, it is urgent that we establish a dialogue from our own corners with Western science that will allow us to combine the knowledge that we safeguard for the good of humanity and thus generate new knowledge that will be put at the service of the peasants of Mexico and the world.

[1] More info on “new” GMOs, here.

[2] Seed houses in West Africa are places where seeds are collected and sorted, identification sheets are made, storage and conservation techniques are improved, practices are exchanged and training is provided.

[3] Muir 2014: 5

[4] FAO 2019

[5] Wallace, et al. 2021: 195

[6] More information here.


Box 1

Community-based forest management: historical practice for transformation and resistance [1]

Community Forest Management (CFM) is a way of life and a cultural and spiritual – thus historical – practice developed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities to politically control and manage, in an organised and planned way, the land and its natural assets and resources. It is a political process that, through horizontal decision-making mechanisms, including transparency and accountability to the rest of the community, achieves conservation and sustainable use of Nature as well as social, environmental, cultural, and economic benefits.

CFM also involves aspects of appropriate technology, ancestral knowledge, and community practices of planning and organised resource use, but goes beyond simple technical management, such as in so-called sustainable forest management (advocated for by popular forestry science), which often destroys forests and biodiversity in favour of corporations.

CFM is closely linked to Agroecology. They are both broad, holistic, dynamic, and diverse approaches that respond and adapt to the geographical, ecological, and cultural conditions of each territory, its shared goods, and associated traditional knowledge. While agroecology focuses on the central elements of food, such as soils, seeds, goods on which harvesting peoples or artisanal fishing communities depend, waters and fishing or grazing areas, among others, CFM directs its actions towards the other natural and cultural goods managed, used, and protected in forests, such as trees, forest seeds, wood, fibres, fauna, and even the health of the ecosystem.

Box 2

Digitalization of agriculture and food systems

We increasingly hear that the digitalization of all aspects of life is an inevitable future that we must gladly accept. In the case of agriculture and food, there is talk of the ‘Digital Food Chain’ being the only option for solving hunger and climate problems. Digitalization, they say, will enhance agroecology, strengthen communities, and promote independence. In reality, the digitalization of agriculture opens the door to an even more extreme commodification of nature by the same old toxic agribusinesses, now in league with Big Tech giants. This includes the use of digital tools in the design of new transgenic crops, financial speculation relating to the carbon in agricultural soils, and “sustainable intensification”.

The digitalization of agri-food systems is defined as the “application of digital tools, strategies and business models to food and agriculture.” But this innocent-sounding definition hides the fact that increasing dependence on Big Tech’s digital tools can exacerbate corporate extractivism and displace human labour; that digital strategies are built on the looting of information, spying on communities and manipulating consumers; and that digital business models are about achieving more control of biodiversity and production systems and human de-skilling, through data grabbing and automated and digital processing technologies (from robots to artificial intelligence). Corporations’ aim is to be in control of what is grown, how the harvest is processed and who gets to eat it, and what is destroyed in the process.

It is important to measure the immense number of people and families who carry out agroecology within the framework of the CFM in order to reaffirm the importance of forests for the right to food.

[1] Article based on the Friends of the Earth International article, Community Forest Management and Agroecology. Links and Implications.

In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

Agricultural biodiversity and agroecology: peasants, families, artisans and Indigenous People’s relationship with nature

Peasants, farmers, pastoralists, forest dwelling people, artisanal fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples and other small-scale rural and urban food providers are considered a part of our global biodiversity. According to many ancestral worldviews, nature, Mother Earth, maintains a mutual nurturing relationship with human beings as a family – we are not separate from her. This ancestral relationship of mutual interaction shapes our existence in a type of “co-evolution”. Peasant practices that care for our biodiversity are not only determined by food and material needs, but also by spirituality, culture, health, and emotion.

Despite the pressures associated with modernisation, where traditional worldviews and practices are still in place, biodiversity continues to respond to this mutual nurturing. In places where these practices had been lost and are now being reclaimed, biodiversity is being revived in new forms. These practices and the caring of farming communities and families – the systems of knowledge of small-scale food providers – are at the heart of what the international community refers to as “biodiversity”.

This agricultural biodiversity supports – and is the fruit of – ancestral peasant strategies for subsistence, health, and autonomy. It manifests the creativity and knowledge of peasants and their relationship with the natural environment. As a tapestry of dynamic relationships, agricultural biodiversity embodies a constantly changing mosaic between people, plants, animals, and other organisms, water, the forest, and the “environment”. Agricultural biodiversity can be seen as the result of the interaction – in all ecosystems and over thousands of years – of cultural diversity and biological diversity.

Some agricultural production systems exhibit an extraordinary variety of crops, animals, and associated species. Small-scale food providers not only develop and sustain most of the planet’s biodiversity, they also provide most of its food.

Despite the challenges posed by the powerful trend towards the homogenisation of lifestyles and food habits, and the strains on territories, there are significant local actions of resistance. There are a wide range of initiatives such as improving the diversity of household gardens in rural and urban areas, undertaking agroecological cultivation, restoring mangroves, developing sustainable fishing protocols, and managing waters. These and other practices contribute to promoting food and nutritional sovereignty, and conserving and protecting ecosystem functions.

Peasant-led, agroecological agriculture, practised by small-scale food producers, is an essential tool for building Food Sovereignty and defending Mother Earth. Communities committed to producing food for themselves and others in an independent, non-corporate way know that caring for biodiversity and practising agroecology is a way of life and is the language of nature. It is not a mere combination of technologies or production practices, nor is it universally applicable in all territories.

Agroecology is based on principles that are similar everywhere, but which require specific features and careful respect for the local environment and culture. Thus, agricultural biodiversity is fundamental to autonomy and agroecology. The food autonomy that a peasant agroecology allows for displaces the control of global markets and promotes collective self-governance.

In this way, Indigenous Peoples and peasant communities reduce the consumption of purchased products, which come from outside. As the people who feed the world, having control over their native seeds is fundamental to Food Sovereignty. Millennia-old connections between people and crops perpetuate innovation, research, selection and breeding of their own crops and livestock. Communities like this do not produce raw materials or commodities for export, but are the ones who produce the majority of food, and care for biodiversity and territories.

Fundamental to this is:

● Respecting the collective rights of everyone who maintain and enhance peasant agricultural and food biodiversity, and uphold their knowledge and the integrity of their crops through the use of agro-ecological principles and the exchange, breeding, and above all self-reproduction of their own seeds, livestock breeds, and fish.

● Strengthening our interconnected and collective rural-urban food systems and networks and local markets, promoting agricultural biodiversity and agroecology.

● Promoting comprehensive agrarian reform.

● And the most important thing is to promote and ensure the self-determination of rural and urban peoples, communities, and collectives that care for biodiversity and the integrity of their territories, and ultimately a life of justice and dignity.

Food Sovereignty, a healthy environment, and above all our future, depend on it all.

In the spotlight 2

Biodiversity’s planned dispossession

The Green Revolution established the ascent of corporations in their push for control over the growing of food. It urged peasants in different parts of the world to boost “agricultural productivity in what is today the global South”. The promoters said they were concerned with “filling hungry stomachs”, and insisted that traditional agriculture was redundant.

Corporate executives and government policy makers disregarded the enormous amount of work, and the centuries-long continuity involved in the careful relationship peoples have with Nature, with their land, forests, and waters, with seeds and their infinite transformation. This relationship is responsible for “the incredible biodiversity and cultural prowess that brought us crops like wheat, maize, rice and potatoes”.[1]

The promoters of the Green Revolution replaced all the above with “radically standardised, so-called high-yielding types. The new seeds, as farmers would come to learn, required a package of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and irrigation to grow well”.[2]

Of course, all this move was not taken lightly and “met deep resistance from peasant farmers, local communities and civil society at large”.[3]

But although there was resistance, the damage was done. The era of research institutes assuming the role of international agricultural crop and seed developers substituted the millenary knowledge and strategies of thousands of real life agricultural communities in the world and pushed a corporate narrative that is still in place: that peasants do not know what they do, that their cultivation strategies are wrong, that their yields are extremely poor. This opened space for hybrids and even GMOs. The effects were devastating for the peasant population and for small farmers. For anyone that relied on native seeds and traditional methods of growing food or taking care of their animals.

Industrial agriculture went to impose techno-fixes to raise the yields with a lot of agrochemical toxic substances involved. It diminished the varieties and even the species involved in growing food, and the livestock breeds that before were normal.

According to FAO’s figures, since the 1900, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity “has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties… Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species”.[4]

The Green Revolution is not the only culprit, although there were huge sudden losses during its implementation. Free trade agreements, intellectual property rights, the incisive attitude of contract farming, luxury fashions in export crops (berries, avocados, agaves, tomatoes, and other greenhouse varieties) are also to blame. Now synthetic biology wants to substitute the whole agricultural process.

Resisting industrial agriculture and its monocultures involves enormous efforts if communities want to remain independent. But it is crucial for biodiversity to stop these schemes.

In the spotlight 3

Nature Based Solutions: a corporate smokescreen that won’t stop biodiversity loss

The concept of Nature Based Solutions arose from large conservation organisations as a way to promote funding for their vision of protected areas. Despite using the word “nature”, the vision of NBS promotes the idea of “natural capital” i.e., a capitalist approach of paying for services provided by ecosystems. This often goes hand in hand with the commodification and financialisation of nature.

More recently, the driving force of NBS comes from the need for nature to be a climate solution. This is driven by the escalation of so called “net-zero” climate targets where the “net” is carbon emitted minus the carbon removed from the atmosphere. So, trees, soils, and lands are needed to provide carbon offsets and carbon removals to enable fossil fuels, agribusiness and other corporations to expand their emissions and extraction heavy plans. This comes with several dangers: land grabbing, further commodification of carbon and nature, enclosures of land, failure to stop climate chaos and the destruction of nature. It can also allow corporations to profit from new nature based market schemes.

Just the scale of land required for NBS to be a climate solution is a danger for biodiversity. The most influential paper on ‘Natural climate solutions’[5] advanced the claim that “nature based solutions”[6] could help mitigate up to 37% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The calculations in the paper on closer inspection appear to be technically problematic, implausible, and politically unrealistic.[7] For example, it suggests that an area of 678 million hectares is potentially available for reforestation. This is twice the area of India, or more than two-thirds of the United States! The paper also suggests up to 10 million hectares of new tree plantations, to make NBS profitable and therefore worthwhile for companies to pursue.

Even if only a fraction of the corporate net zero pledges are pursued through “nature based solutions”, it will significantly deepen and expand corporate control over land. This is because of the sheer scale of emissions released by the corporations and therefore the need for them to find forests and lands to claim they are offsetting their emissions.

NBS is a vaguely defined term with very little political analysis behind it. Therefore, anything can be defined as a nature based solutions, from monoculture plantations to agroecology. Brazilian company Suzano, the biggest producer of pulp is just one of those taking advantage of vaguely defined NBS to promote their genetically engineered plantations as achieving nature based solutions to climate change.

Conservation organisations and corporations are also rebranding discredited REDD+ schemes which do not value the role of local communities and Indigenous Peoples in managing forests and have caused huge divisions, and displacement of forest communities as NBS.

[1] GRAIN, Funding industrial agriculture vs agroecology: not a simple binary

[2] Ibidem.

[3] All the above passage is in the blog by GRAIN.

[4] FAO, What is happening to agrobiodiversity

[5]  Griscom et al, 2017. Natural climate solutions, PNAS, October 31, 2017. vol. 114. no. 44. 11645–11650.

[6]  The Nature Conservancy calls them Natural Climate Solutions

[7] REDD-Monitor. Offsetting fossil fuel emissions with tree planting and ‘natural climate solutions’: science, magical thinking, or pure PR? , 2019

Newsletter no 49 – Editorial

Food sovereignty and agrobiodiversity

Illustration: Colour drawing on amate bark-paper by the artist Abraham Mauricio Salazar. Reproduced for informational purposes from the book El ciclo mágico de los días, by Abraham Mauricio Salazar and Antonio Saldívar. CONAFE, Mexico, 1979.

At a time when the media is sounding the alarm on high prices and shortages due to the war in Europe, even if there is not always an exact correlation, we are once again questioning the information that places large corporations as the suppliers of most of our food. Anchored to this fabricated image, the industrial agri-food system pushes a new assault on agriculture with the digitalisation of its processes, promotes “carbon sequestration” based on so-called “nature-based solutions”, continues its drive to control and regulate supply chains to benefit its interests, and even seeks to supplant the attempts of peasants in many parts of the world by sponsoring an “agroecology” that is now promoted by the same corporations and investment funds that for centuries have stripped peasants of the possibilities of an independent agriculture.

We are therefore committed to defending our Food Sovereignty: the possibility of being able to reproduce our seeds on our terms and in our spaces, i.e., in full freedom, and to maintain our total independence in producing our own food. For this, it will remain crucial to challenge land grabbing and to insist on autonomy and on the defence of peasant and Indigenous territories and even urban spaces of popular self-management within neighbourhoods.

IPC for Food Sovereignty, FoEI and GRAIN

Voices from the field

Latin America and Caribbean – Alianza

The nights are sacred for the gatherings of my Kuna people in Panama. There, we nourish ourselves with oral history, with the struggles for self-determination of other peoples. There, we embrace the universe, and organize ourselves in the defence of Mother Earth. Nyéléni is the Peoples’ Assembly for Food Sovereignty, where we share global struggles, feed ourselves with the strength of the people and the embrace of our sisters and brothers from other continents. For over 500 years the problems have remained the same. The struggle for life, water, territory, have other names and other forms, but continue to be the same problems that each generation must face with new strategies and tactics. The Nyéléni process is an opportunity for coordination between diverse organizations focused on the defence of Mother Earth and the Food Sovereignty of the peoples. Now, it is extremely important to weave alliances and organizational work in the face of the threat of megaprojects and extractive projects, as well as to define strategies to overcome the impacts of COVID 19.

As with every starry night, with or without the moon, with the sea choppy and storms approaching, the Kuna communities discuss how to solve social, cultural or spiritual problems in the same way that the Nyéléni process is a moment in time to gather the peoples of the world, to sing, to dance, to dream, to understand that we are part of Mother Earth, of Grandmother Sea, of Grandfather Sun and they call us from their shells to start a conversation around the fire, between social movements and Indigenous Peoples, to organize ourselves in the defence of Mother Earth.

Europe and Central Asia – Nyéléni ECA

Our world, including Europe and Central Asia, is undergoing a series of inter-related crises: armed conflicts and civil unrest associated with humanitarian crisis caused by war and political instability in many parts of our region. It is an economic crisis that manifests itself in food and energy price increases, and increased vulnerabilities related to loss of employment, access to healthy affordable food, the on-going COVID 19 pandemic, and the on-going climate crisis. The latest crisis is the war in Ukraine, which affects both people and the land, and impacts food security policies in the region and beyond. This crisis has shown us the level of local communities’ resilience and the importance of local food systems and of the central role of the Nyéléni space, allowing different constituencies to come together in solidarity and to work on policies related to our struggles.

Just like Nyéléni, the legendary Malian peasant woman who farmed and fed her people, small-scale food producers (farmers and fishers alike) in Ukraine, courageously struggle to continue feeding local populations in times of war, including the recent destruction of the national seed bank. But little is written about this, nor is much support provided to them.

The war also contributes to the aggravation of longer-term issues such as climate change. The majority of women and children in several regions are either internally displaced or have sought refuge in European countries. While in Russia, Indigenous Peoples and human rights defenders continue to be repressed.

The Nyéléni process implies a duality of influencing public policies at all levels and independent social movement-building. Social movements of the various constituencies are brought together through this work in intersectional support. The process also includes a broader, more intersectional, and much-needed approach to address the deep multiple crises of economic, social, and environmental issues around the world.

IPC African region

As the national government and private sector continue tightening the space for the family farmer to produce what they eat and eat what they produce by the introduction of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, this destroys the environment. The Nyéléni processes support the promotion of agroecological approaches which encourages socially acceptable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly production while also protecting the natural environment. This approach ensures the promotion and protection of biodiversity conservation. The process further discourages the corporate powers that prevent our family accessing territorial markets with their cheap food and food that puts our health at risk and damages the environment. food sovereignty cannot be obtained where food, land, seeds, fish and livestock are in the hands of corporate control.

The Nyéléni process helps to prevent the privatisation and commodification of native seeds from the introduction and use of new and old GMOs in our farming and food system. We are continuing to face land grabbing by corporate powers, corporate capture of our territorial markets, and challenges created by climate change and other external factors such as COVID 19 and other conflicts.

We believe that the Nyéléni process can support the social movements on the ground in strengthening and promoting collaboration and participation in regional policy dialogues where changes in national public policies happen. The stimulation of movements and the intersectionality of struggles can help in promoting land justice, agroecology, and territorial markets. Together we can enhance advocacy on land, seeds, and water for small-scale food producers.


In the North African region, food sovereignty is commonly understood as a tool for democratisation that can provide major support to rural populations in order to include demands relating to the various threats identified. In this case, water contamination, privatisation of rural land, and the commodification of our food. In contrast, in the Middle East region, food sovereignty is seen more from a political perspective, particularly because of the people’s aspirations for the liberation of occupied and/or semi-occupied territories. The new context today calls, more than ever, for a synergy between the discourse and practice of food sovereignty in order to implement the principles in the daily work of the actors involved in the production, distribution and consumption of food.

It should be noted that the past Nyéléni meetings presented a strategic vision for achieving food sovereignty that recognises the contribution of women to peasant agriculture, yet these documents do not take into consideration the issue of gender relations.

On the other hand, food sovereignty must be understood as a multifaceted political project in constant evolution, whose substance is highly likely to vary according to the type of collective actors who claim it. In this sense, the Nyéléni process can support social movements in the MENA region to strengthen the convergence among movements of different constituencies. This is key to ensuring the development of the capacities of the social movements via the capacity building of the movements’ youth and leaders around food sovereignty.

IPC Asia and Pacific

Asia and the Pacific, home to 60% of the world’s population, is faced with a multitude of challenges in terms of food sovereignty.

All around the world, over 2.5 billion small-scale farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and artisanal fisherfolk grow, collect, and harvest food for human consumption. Such localised food systems provide the foundations of our nutrition, incomes, economies, and culture throughout Asia and in the world.

The COVID 19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing challenges to food security such as climate change impacts, disaster risks, shrinking natural resources and degrading environments, use of GMOs, changing demographics and labour profiles, and infrastructure deficits, among others. In the context of growing populations, increasing urbanization, and changes in the food value chain and food industry, the food sovereignty debate is quite crucial.

Local people’s loss of capacity for autonomy and self-determination is a direct consequence of the expansion of the industrial, heteronomous model of development rooted in commodity production. We as IPC need to collectively assert and advance the principles and policies that constitute food sovereignty and reject those that aim to further embed corporate interests in our food systems.

The notion of ‘food sovereignty’ is perhaps best understood as a transformative process that seeks to recreate the democratic realm and regenerate a diversity of autonomous food systems based on equity, social justice, and ecological sustainability.

Gender equity and respecting the voices of the very poor and marginalised remain urgent challenges for the food sovereignty movement and civil society at large. The Nyéléni process can strengthen the organizations of women, men and young people, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, migrants, rural workers, fisherfolk and others.

IPC North American region

On April 5 and 12, 2022 the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) organized two online consultations for the North America region (United States and Canada) as part of the Nyéléni process. The dialogues brought together a diverse range of small-scale food producers, rural worker organizations, Indigenous and Native Peoples, scholar-activists, and civil society organizations to discuss the future of the food sovereignty movement and build common priorities for navigating the inter-related food system crises in the region.

Over the past two years, COVID 19 has laid bare the fragility of concentrated corporate food value-chains in North America, with farmers forced to dump milk and destroy crops, workers falling sick due to lack of protective equipment and corporate collusion, and rising food insecurity in marginalized communities. These challenges, coupled with mobilizations against racial injustice and the impacts of the climate crisis on rural communities, have shaped new opportunities for farmer-worker solidarity and union organizing, greater awareness and investment in resilient local food systems, and policy action on equity and justice in agriculture. In this context consultation participants emphasized anti-capitalist, racially just, anti-imperialist, and radically feminist approaches to organizing around land access, dismantling corporate monopolies, advancing agroecology, the right to food, and strengthening indigenous sovereignty.

Since the first forum in Mali in 2007, the political declarations and relationships that have emerged from Nyéléni have shaped the direction and strength of the food sovereignty movement in North America and solidarity actions beyond the region. As this collective work continues, the Nyéléni process provides a dynamic forum for building rural power within and across our communities as we advance the principles of food sovereignty in our local food systems and international policy spaces.


Box 1

The Right to Food Sovereignty

The International Forum on Food Sovereignty in Sélingué, Mali in February 2007 was the beginning of the Nyéléni journey to build a global movement for food sovereignty. The concept of food sovereignty was introduced by La Via Campesina (LVC) in the 1996 International Food Summit a year after the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with its infamous agreements on agriculture, intellectual property rights, industrial policy, standards, and investment. Social movements, unions, activists, and academics knew that “food security” and “development” were smokescreens to camouflage the expansion of corporate power that WTO rules were designed for.  The call for food sovereignty was thus, as much a rejection of corporate, market domination of food, agriculture, and the economy, as it was a rallying cry for people all over the world to reclaim agency, autonomy and capacity to build a paradigm of progress centred on human rights, justice and respect for the planet.

As the concept gained support from a wide array of actors including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, LVC joined hands with other social movements and civil society actors to convene an autonomous and international forum to elaborate on food sovereignty for different constituencies and regions, based on diverse, lived experiences and contexts.

The first Nyéléni forum brought together more than 500 representatives from over 80 countries and numerous constituencies to share knowledge and discuss the multiple dimensions of food sovereignty, from land and water to seeds, breeding, and labour, recognizing the central role of women. These deliberations are summarised in the Declaration of Nyéléni and the Women’s Declaration on Food Sovereignty. At Nyéléni in 2007, we started to construct a new right: the right to food sovereignty.

Box 2

Global alliance against land-grabbing

In November 2011, we, peasants, pastoralists, Indigenous peoples and their allies gathered together in Nyéléni to share our experiences and struggles against land-grabbing with each other. We came to Nyéléni in response to the Dakar Appeal, which calls for a global alliance against land-grabbing for we are determined to defend food sovereignty, the commons and the rights of small scale food providers to natural resources.

In this meeting, we clearly identified that land-grabbing is a global phenomenon led by local, national, and transnational elites and investors, and governments with the aim of controlling the world’s most precious resources. The global financial, food, and climate crises have triggered a rush among investors and wealthy governments to acquire and capture land and natural resources, since these are the only “safe havens” left that guarantee secure financial returns. Pensions and other investment funds have become powerful actors in land-grabbing, while wars continue to be waged to seize control over natural wealth.

Land-grabbing goes beyond traditional North-South imperialist structures; transnational corporations can be based anywhere in the world. It is also a crisis in both rural and urban areas. Land is being grabbed in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe for industrial agriculture, forest plantations, mining, infrastructure projects, dams, tourism, conservation parks, industry, urban expansion, and military purposes.

But we are not defeated. Through organisation, mobilisation, and community cohesiveness, we have been able to stop land-grabbing in many places. Furthermore, our societies are recognising that small-scale food production is the most socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable model of using resources and ensuring the right to food for all.

Recalling the Dakar Appeal, we reiterate our commitment to resist land-grabbing by all means possible, to support all those who fight land-grabs, and to put pressure on national governments and international institutions to fulfil their obligations to ensure and uphold the rights of peoples.

Box 3

International forum for agroecology – Nyéléni 2015

At the end of February 2015, organisations and social movements of small-scale food producers, workers, women, Indigenous Peoples, consumers, environmentalists, and human rights organisations met at the Nyéléni Forum to agree on a common multi-sectoral vision on agroecology and strategies to defend and promote it.

Agroecology, it was agreed, is a way of life, a way of producing food, a science, and a movement to transform food systems for food sovereignty and social, racial, gender, economic, intergenerational, and environmental justice. It is based on similar principles that are implemented in diverse ways across a wide diversity of territories.

It was also agreed that the fundamental pillars of agroecology are: solidarity; local territories and the right of peoples and communities to preserve the spiritual and material links to them; collective rights and access to the commons; organisation and collective action; and the different knowledge and ways of knowing of our peoples, and the Dialogue of knowledge (Diálogo de saberes) as a way to develop, innovate and research.

The forum made it clear that agroecology seeks to transform power structures in society, so that the people control seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, water, knowledge, culture, and other common goods, and ensure a collective way forward to overcome crises.

The forum is a central milestone of the movement, and its agreements are a driving force for the broadening of alliances for the promotion and defence of agroecology and food sovereignty. Read more here.

In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

The current political conjuncture: why do we need a new Nyéléni Global Forum?

In the last two decades, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) has assiduously worked alongside the communities of small-scale food producers, Indigenous Peoples, consumers, and citizens, guaranteeing the rights of those who produce and those who are marginalised. Today, the landmark results achieved by the IPC risk being overshadowed by a complex collision of several deep-rooted crises and the resulting shift in the geopolitical landscape which threatens the principles and values that the IPC has always defended and put forth in the quest for food sovereignty.

The COVID 19 pandemic has shone a light on the connections between different global justice struggles. It has exacerbated existing inequalities and reinforced power imbalances to the extent that many countries tumbled into a deep social and economic crisis where the most vulnerable suffer the most. The voices of those communities calling for systemic change, based on the existing experiences of agroecology and peasant family farming, which are feeding the vast majority of the world, need to be strengthened in a global alliance with social movements and Indigenous Peoples to address this urgent issue so that it is not eclipsed by the immediate issue of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Against this backdrop, the IPC is organising a new process for the purpose of discussion, not only within the movements struggling for Food Sovereignty, but with a whole new range of movements from different sectors. This new Nyéléni process aims at building responses at the global, regional and local level and tightening alliances with other movements that share the IPC’s vision and struggles, but which come from other fields: labour justice, climate justice, women’s struggles, for example. The process, in which intersectionality is a key aspect, collects the different but overlapping local struggles from the ground and takes them to the global level and will allow the participation of different movements at different levels.

If intersectionality is one innovative aspect in the process of Nyéléni, the second defining aspect is the focus on the process itself instead of only on the final Global Forum: it strives to build an entire process that brings with it all the power of the grassroots movements. As an initial phase of the process, IPC’s regions, working groups, and global organisations will undertake an exercise of internal consultation to reflect on, deepen, and widen the principles and concepts of food sovereignty into the new reality. The outcomes of these consultations will form the backbone of the Nyéléni process. Simultaneously, new alliances will be sought with social movements working on different issues: climate and labour justice, feminist movements, Indigenous Peoples movements, Black movements, and anti-war movements, to create an intersectional convergence towards joint proposals for systemic change.

Ultimately, the Nyéléni process will culminate in the Global Nyéléni Forum, in which hundreds of delegates from all over the world will discuss strategies and solutions for more just, inclusive, sustainable, and diverse food systems, and will relaunch a global alliance that is capable of counteracting the forces that are pushing the world into a deeper, multidimensional crisis.

In the spotlight 2

Nyéléni: territory, process, and methodology

The International Forum for Food Sovereignty: Nyéléni 2007 (see box 1) was the result of a long regional and international process of cross-sectoral political accumulation. It was a milestone that provided us with principles, a political framework, methodologies, and an agenda of initiatives to continue advancing food sovereignty and the defence of territories and peoples’ rights. Nyéléni was also home to two other important international processes on this journey: in 2011, to coordinate resistance to land grabbing (see box 2) and in 2015, to build a common multi-sectoral vision on agroecology and agree on strategies to defend and promote it (see box 3).

Nyéléni is the territory and platform for our multi-sectoral convergence process, which has allowed us to deepen our analysis and positions, make struggles visible and resist their criminalisation, strengthen solidarity links, build cross-sectoral agreements, and agree on initiatives to transform food systems and our societies. It is a common programme of local, regional, and global struggles built on the experiences and knowledge of social movements and organisations.

It is a process whose objective has always been to accumulate forces to strengthen the popular mobilisation of resistance to colonial, patriarchal, imperialist, and racist capitalism, its false solutions and all its forms of exploitation, oppression, and commodification of life, but also in defence of the commons, the sovereignty, rights, and self-determination of peoples and social, racial, gender, economic, intergenerational, and environmental justice.

Our methodology has a founding principle in Internationalist Solidarity on which to implement Dialogue of knowledge (Diálogos de saberes) that, based on the heritage, patrimony and diversity of peoples, cultures, and struggles, builds unity in action, while strengthening territorial organisational processes, since without strong and coordinated organisations, from the local to the global, there will not be sufficient resistance to the power of capital and conservative forces, nor systemic transformations.

These 15 years have been instrumental in raising the visibility of food sovereignty, agroecology, and integral agrarian reform, among others, in international, regional, and local political spaces and institutions, and have motivated various levels of government to implement our agenda. They have also been central in unmasking and denouncing attempts at corporate co-optation of our solutions and have made food sovereignty a political objective of various movements (feminist, climate justice, social justice, among others).

However, in order to dismantle the power of agribusiness and provide a global response to the rise of right-wing conservative forces, it is necessary to converge with peoples facing different forms of oppression, and with them to agree on programmes and strategies for social, racial, gender, economic, intergenerational, and environmental justice.

The Nyéléni process has given the food sovereignty movement the commitment to be a key driver in building a broader social front with the feminist, LGBTQI+, trade union, anti-racist, class-based oppression resistance and anti-colonialist movements.

In the spotlight 3

Join the Nyéléni process towards a new Nyéléni Global Forum of Food Sovereignty!

The International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) is the world’s largest alliance of small-scale food producers, including peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists and herders, nomads, Indigenous peoples and organizations, forest dwellers, landless people, urban producers, and rural workers.

The food sovereignty movement has been a dynamic part of the process of transformation and finding solutions; since its emergence as a global platform for the interaction of social movements of small-scale food producers and Indigenous Peoples, it has empowered the struggle of people for their human right to food, against dispossession and land grabbing, has managed to influence several international processes and has given a voice to people for the radical transformation of food systems, such as the historic 2007 Nyéléni Forum for Food Sovereignty.

Today, we face overlapping and deep-seated crises: economic, social, democratic, environmental, health, patriarchal and racist.

The COVID 19 pandemic is turning into a profound social and economic crisis in which the most vulnerable will again be the hardest hit: lacking access to healthcare, losing their jobs and income. A major food crisis is also looming in many regions, as people will not be able to afford food.

The current wars have become an opportunity for large corporations, through speculation, to increase the prices of input for food production; transnational corporations (TNCs) are increasingly influencing international institutions, including UN bodies and agencies, in order to receive favourable public policies and regulations. Through the direct influence of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and other high-level (non-governmental) spaces in political processes, corporations have managed to slowly transform the governance principles and practices of UN institutions such as the FAO, as well as the approval of natural “protected areas” under the pretext of biodiversity protection, to continue with the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ territories and natural resources and assets.

Faced with this situation, the IPC proposes to build a space for exchange and convergence among social movements across sectors, since it is imperative, in the current circumstances, to advance in the struggle by strengthening alliances with other global movements. This favours the development of collective strategies, the solidarity economy, protection of Indigenous knowledge and genetic resources, climate change adaptation and mitigation, individual and collective human rights and mutual support action to advance our vision of food sovereignty as a pillar of structural change and push back global capital.

Therefore, we encourage all our peoples, movements, organizations, collectives, and working groups to promote local and regional processes to engage in this new stage of the struggle for a just, resilient, and united world. This is the main goal of the upcoming Nyéléni Global Forum of Food Sovereignty.

Newsletter no 48 – Editorial

Nyéléni process: Towards a Global Forum of Food Sovereignty

Illustration: Rosanna Morris

Under the eye of Nyéléni, an African woman who defied discriminatory regulations and burned with creativity and agricultural progress, we will find the energy to transform the right to food sovereignty into a beacon for the construction of another world. (Women’s declaration on food sovereignty)

As the world lurches from one crisis to another, Nyéléni symbolizes the convergence of our struggles and commitments to build a world free of greed, hunger, exploitation, extractivism, misogyny, racism, discrimination, and violence. Since 2007, Nyéléni has been a space where we meet in order to build collective strategies to advance food sovereignty, rights to land and territories, agroecology, and the rights of all small-scale food providers. Our articulations have given us the strength to organize against capitalism, neoliberalism, corporate power, patriarchy, and ecocide.

Through the Nyéléni meetings in 2007, 2011 and 2015, the food sovereignty movement created the basis for our future position in many global negotiations. These events and the concepts born therein led to the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, and the implementation of Farmers’ Rights in the context of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

But in the present global context, the food sovereignty movement cannot make it alone. To dismantle agribusiness and corporate power, as well as provide comprehensive responses to persisting systemic crises and the rise of conservative right-wing forces, we need to converge with peoples’ organisations facing different forms of oppression and threats. Collectively, we can propose true alternatives for all and advance social, gender, racial, economic, intergenerational, and environmental justice. The Nyéléni meetings are thus essential for building principles, concepts and strategies shared and reinforced by many movements across different sectors, while defending the most vulnerable at local levels.

IPC for Food Sovereignty, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Crocevia and FIAN

Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

Reflection from a young fisher

Tylon Joseph, Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organizations (CNFO), Grenada

I am a young fisherman and fisherfolk leader from the community of Gouyave, the fishing capital of a Caribbean Island called Grenada. I have been fishing ever since I was a child, casting lines from the shore and our local jetty: catching Scad (or as we locally call it jacks), other Carangidae species and small finfish in general. My father is a fisherman by profession. I learnt a lot of what I know about fishing from him and being in that environment. I have truly learnt to appreciate my innate understanding of the marine environment, which stemmed from being a fisherman while pursuing a marine and wildlife conversation biology degree at St George’s University. Being a fisherman is what primarily pays for my tuition to attend school. Initially, I never thought about going to university; after I spent around 5 years fishing for a living, I realized that my country started to regress rapidly despite industry development. There is little to no government systems and staff in place to help the industry move forward nor are fishers involved in the big policy decisions and the local exporters who I sell to started taking more and more advantage of our fishers. I then decided that if I want to build a home and to be able to provide for my future family, then I had to branch out into another field and I choose one close to fish and fishing.

Voice from the field 2

Struggles of Small-Scale Fishers. A perspective from a Brazilian small-scale fisherwoman

Josana Pinto da Costa, Movimento de Pescadores e Pescadoras Artesanais do Brasil (MPP), WFFP

I am a fisherwoman and I live in the Amador community in the municipality of Óbidos in the state of Pará. I speak from the perspective of a small-scale fisherwoman. I have witnessed losses in our territories and the main threats are the expansion of agribusiness, hydro-business, and mining, as well as the privatization of our waters. As a way to solve this type of problem, we small-scale fisher people have organised collectively as Movimento de Pescadores e Pescadoras Artesanais do Brasil (MPP). We have also joined the World Forum of Fishers Peoples (WFFP) and I currently serve on its coordinating committee. In both MPP and WFFP, we have embraced the challenge to launch the ocean grabbing peoples’ tribunal in 2021. We recognize it as one of the main tools of information and education in the struggle against capitalism in our waters. The relevance of the tribunal must be recognized by all, galvanizing our social struggles and the preservation of the environment. Our aim is to always have free lands and wholesome food.

Voice from the field 3

A view from a non-fisher on small-scale fishers

Ravindu Gunaratne, Sri Lanka

I live in a village where most of my neighbours and friends make a living from fishing, but I am not involved in fishing. I come from a middle-class family and go to university. As I see it, small-scale fisheries are diverse, dynamic, and attached to the livelihoods and culture of the local communities. I’m an advocate for small-scale fisheries and support fishers for their betterment. The fishing industry contributes to less than 2% of the country’s gross domestic product, but small-scale fishing is of great importance for providing food on the table, and also for social functions such as providing work in rural areas. The majority of small-scale fisheries in Sri Lanka are traditional fisheries. I am a person who associates with small-scale fishers and understands the sector as I live in a fishing village. When it comes to the youth, I see how they struggle with both poverty and unawareness. Small scale fishing is eco-friendly, but there is a huge threat with garbage and plastic wastes near the shore. I’m working with the youth to promote environmental well-being and to make others understand that small-scale fishers do less harm to the sea and the environment because of their use of more nature-friendly fishing practices. When it comes to the challenges faced by the fishing community, I think of resource depletion, poor economic performance, food and nutritional insecurity and social and cultural stress among defenceless people. Small-scale fishing is a sustainable oriented livelihood occupation. I have noticed while working with SSF community that small scale fisheries have received relatively little attention or support from our government. It is contended that both the assessment and management of small scale fisheries increased effort in understanding and developing processes, mechanisms and methods that are more attuned to the issues faced by small scale fisheries. Promotion of the small-scale fishery is very important based on the principles of social, climate and economic justice, which empowers our fishing villages. All of these justices are part of food sovereignty. I stand for food sovereignty!


Box 1

Climate change and the Ocean- are Marine Protected Areas a just solution to the climate crisis for fishing communities?

Coastal fishing communities are among the most vulnerable groups globally, bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and changing climate conditions which alter the ocean and marine resources. However, in the decision-making processes and discussions on impacts and solutions for the oceans, the voices and experiences of small-scale fishers and their communities are largely absent, with little regard for the possibility of any pre-existing system of customary law or customary fishing rights to govern, manage, and conserve the resources.

The COP26 negotiations of November 2021 illustrated the lack of inclusion of the voices of marginal communities. The same false solutions to the climate crisis that have been punted in the past in order to help countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions and achieve a 1.5°C future were adopted. One such solution is that of the push for carbon markets as a technical and financial solution to achieve net-zero emissions. Although COP26 has attempted to close some of the loopholes of the carbon market, such as double counting emissions, through the development of a rulebook, the voluntary market is still uncontrolled and resembles greenwashing, with no real results and rather shifting CO2 credits from one side of the world to the other. The offsetting of carbon credits through the carbon market is a simplistic solution to a complex issue, allowing developed nations and the big polluters to continue emitting carbon, and further impacting vulnerable communities, without any benefit for the environment.

In the ocean space, the financing and expansion of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is considered a form of carbon offsetting and gaining carbon credits (“Blue Carbons”). Environmental NGOs and large industries and corporations are pushing this narrative as a solution to the climate impacts on the oceans. However, MPAs lead to ocean grabbing and the marginalization of fishing communities, as small-scale fishers are excluded and denied access from traditional fishing grounds and criminalized for undertaking customary and traditional livelihood activities for the sake of conservation and biodiversity protection. The democratic participation of small-scale fishers in decision-making processes relating to marine protection should be promoted in line with the principles Food Sovereignty as well as the concept of Other Effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs), including preferential areas of access for small-scale fishers. OECMs are a conservation designation for areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas.

A just and real solution to the climate crisis in the marine environment must involve and prioritize the voice of small-scale fishing communities in decision-making processes in working towards achieving both social development and environmental protection. Fishing communities need to actively take part in the governance, management, and conservation of coastal and marine resources. This inclusion could result in the improved resilience to climate change-related risks for vulnerable coastal communities, improved governance, management, and protection of MPAs and OECMs, as well as improved livelihood conditions and food sovereignty.

Box 2

Masifundise and its work with small-scale fishing communities

Masifundise works with small-scale fishing communities in South Africa, which are amongst the poorest and most marginalised groups in the country. These communities are extremely vulnerable to climate change despite the fact that the sector’s contribution to carbon emissions is insignificant (in comparison with tourism, industrial fishing, etc.). The country’s complex history of colonial and racially-based spatial planning and conservation has shaped current conservation efforts, resulting in conflict between traditional communities and conservation authorities, as well as the undermining of human rights, customary livelihood practices, and access rights. In the protection of marine and coastal biodiversity, the prioritization and support of indigenous fishing communities is almost non-existent, as the emphasis is on conservation rather than human rights. Of 231 coastal fishing communities, 60 are located within or adjacent to MPAs. South Africa’s Small-scale Fisheries Policy (2012), which was developed hand-in-hand with small-scale fishers, has the primary goal of introducing “fundamental shifts in Government’s approach to the small-scale fisheries sectors” with an emphasis on “community-based co-management” and a “community-based system of [fishing] rights allocation”. However, in areas within and adjacent to MPAs, the policy implementation is not in line with its objectives and principles, co-management is ignored, and community-based fishing rights are yet to be recognised by conservation authorities. Small-scale fishers in the Dwesa Nature Reserve, Eastern Cape, have expressed that they “do not have access to fish and collect wood and reeds to secure livelihoods”, despite ongoing attempts to engage directly with the Reserve authorities as well as other stakeholders to find solutions. Since 2010, four recognised small-scale fishers have been shot and killed within MPAs, and in November 2021 alone, park rangers in the Isimangaliso World Heritage site, KwaZulu Natal, shot at four fishers. The South African case highlights the lack of inclusion of the voice and experiences of coastal communities in the journey towards the protection of marine resources.

Box 3

Small-scale fishers rising with the ocean

Two years of the pandemic have pushed fishing communities further to the fringes of society: Fishers are struggling to make ends meet, while all the ‘usual’ problems remain or have worsened. We are witnessing the culmination of political marginalisation of fisher movements, evident from the countless plans and policies being rolled out at national to international levels without any meaningful participation of fisher peoples and their allies. The new catch of the day is “multistakeholder” initiatives (MSIs) used by powerful elites such as transnational corporations and many environmental conservation organisations to work hand-in-hand with our governments. The High Ambition Coalition is one such MSI set up to eliminate human activity within 30% of the planet’s surface, and hence, accelerate the problems mentioned in the article on Box 1.

Another example of a multistakeholder process is the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, orchestrated by the UN together with the World Economic Forum and a wide range of corporations and organisations. Aquaculture, in a new ‘Blue Food’ disguise, was presented as a solution to the multiple crises. The High Level Panel on a Sustainable Ocean Economy, launched by the conservative Norwegian prime minister in 2017, is yet another multistakeholder space. This panel also promotes aquaculture as the solution to food insecurity and argues that the ocean economy is a triple win (good for nature, for the economy and people). These spaces and processes, amongst others, all contribute to the shaping of the agenda of the UN Ocean Conference that will be held in Lisbon in June 2022. Fisher movements, on the other hand, have not had a chance to influence the agenda.

In response to the deepening crisis affecting all small-scale food producers and other working people, several fisher movements and allies are embarking on a different strategy. Following the path-breaking peoples’ tribunals on the ocean economy held in five Asian countries in 2020/2021, movements from around the world are stepping up in collecting testimonies and conducting more peoples’ tribunals on ocean and fisheries issues to highlight the plight of fishers and hold responsible actors accountable. The IYAFA can serve as the key moment.

Box 4

Ocean grabbing: a political narrative for small-scale fishers

In 2012, the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and allies embarked on a path-breaking attempt to discuss ocean grabbing, raise consciousness, and build global resistance against the ever-increasing expropriation of fisher communities and destruction of nature. The outcome produced in a report also predicted the rise and the threat of the blue economy paradigm. Since then, this ‘emerging mantra’ has captured almost all spaces and institutions that address the ocean: countless ‘blue’ conferences, and numerous governments, NGOs, and academic institutions are actively facilitating the growth of the ‘blue’ paradigms. The pandemic also provided an opportunity for these actors and the corporate world to ‘seize the moment’ and entrench the blue narrative through new legislations with no democratic process. The global blue spaces such as the UN Ocean Conference in 2022 have also been ‘captured’, while the recognition and the representation of small-scale fishers and fisher workers remain largely ignored, or outright excluded.

According to Naseegh Jaffer, former WFFP General Secretary, “the conversations on the ocean have been co-opted by others. Governments and corporates are using a blue ‘ocean’ language that is now dominating. Many spaces where the fisher movements managed to articulate their interpretations have been taken over by others. FAO is inviting entities who are less struggle-oriented and more theoretical and academic to be the voice of the movements, while the representation of the movements is becoming suppressed”. Nadine Nembhard, WFFP General Secretary, encouraged that “this is the moment for us to revitalise ocean grabbing as a narrative. We are in IYAFA and also in the year leading up to our next general assembly. That is a good moment to bring conversations on ocean grabbing to life”.

In India, ocean grabbing is the narrative used by fisher movements in their resistance and in demanding redress for human rights violations and restoration of nature and territories. As Jones Spartagus, the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) puts, “Ocean grabbing should be placed at the centre of the Peoples Tribunals. Through People’s Tribunals we can bring back our language to assert our fisher people’s sovereignty”.