Developing and strengthening the concept of peoples’ food sovereignty


There is a strong need to develop and strengthen the concept of peoples� food sovereignty. The aim of this document is to be a helpful tool in that work.

Food sovereignty is a rather new political concept. It was widely introduced internationally for the fist time at the World Food Summit in 1996 by La Via Campesina. Since then many social movements, organisations and people have adopted and taken part in developing the concept of food sovereignty. New issues and challenges are constantly brought up in the debates.

Food sovereignty is a political concept and framework which give space for a rich diversity of concrete policies suitable to the local and national situation, different cultures, the will and needs of different peoples.

Slightly different definitions of food sovereignty are used by different movements and organisations, and there are different interpretations of what food sovereignty actually is. There is therefore a need to discuss and deepen the common understanding of food sovereignty. As important is it to develop the concept further; discuss challenges, principles, what it means for different groups, how possible conflicts can be solved etc. Hopefully this paper can be to some help in this work.

How to define peoples’ food sovereignty?

Different definitions of food sovereignty are used by different movements and organisations. How do you / your organisation define it, and how would you like to define it?

One of the most used definitions: Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture policies; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production.

Another definition: Food sovereignty is the right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own policies for agriculture, fisheries, consumers, and trade of food as long as these policies are ecological sustainable, contribute to social justice and not restrict the possibilities for others to do the same.

What are the main arguments for food sovereignty?

Which facts and arguments do you use if you are explaining the need for food sovereignty for others? What do you find most important, and what are additional arguments? Below are some commonly used. What do you want to add or take away?

– The need to eradicate hunger

– The necessity to offer a fair price for farmers

– The fight against poverty

– The welfare of all food producers

– The need to produce more food in the future

– The support sustainable food production and to change a lot production from unsustainable to sustainable.

– To dismantle the multinational companies

– To respect local communities and the diversity of culture

– To preserve the cultural landscape created by rural communit

– National security and political reasons

– The need for just, flexible and diverse trade rules

Principles or key elements

Some organisations and people have singled out what they see as the main principles or key elements of food sovereignty. What do you and your organisation see as main principles or key elements of food sovereignty?

Here are some key elements of / principles for food sovereignty used by some organisations:

The right to food

The right to food is a human right which is not fulfilled for hundreds of million of people. Food sovereignty will realize the right to food. The right to adequate food is realized when every man, women and child, alone or together with others, at all times have physical and economical access to adequate food or means to buy it.

Access to and control over productive resources

Food sovereignty means the right for farmers, fisherfolks, pasturalists, herders, gatheres, indigenous peoples and other food producers to access and control over land, water, seeds, genetic resources, biodiversity and other productive resources like credit and training.

Agro ecological production

Food sovereignty is based on and supports ecological sustainable production, first of all agro ecological production. Food sovereignty does not give anyone the right to destroy the environment, reduce the biodiversity or by any other means reduce the natural resources for future generations.

The rights for consumers

Food sovereignty is the right for consumers to choose healthy, locally produced and organic food products according to their culture and preferences

Trade policies and local markets

Food sovereignty promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production. It promotes local and national markets as the most important. Trade can not be seen as an objective in itself but rather as a tool to provide people with adequate food. International trade with food does play a minor role, but still important role for some countries, people and small scale producers. Food sovereignty does not negate international trade, but a lot of this trade is not ecological sustainable and has to be reduces. It is necessary to develop mechanisms to regulate international trade and markets so to guarantee fair prices to the produsers, prevent ecological damage, and to guarantee food sovereignty.

Some political challenges

Below are some of the issues and possible conflicts we see there is a need to discuss more among people and organisations who support or are positive to peoples� food sovereignty.

Sustainable production

Most of the small scale food production is ecological sustainable, but not all. For industrial agriculture and fisheries, most of the production is not sustainable. Is it a prerequisite for food sovereignty that the production is ecological sustainable? If it is so, and some local communities, farmers, fisherfolks, pasturalists or others decide to produce in a non sustainable way, what implications does that have for their right for food sovereignty? Who should have the right to intervene and decide that the way of production has to change? Other producers, the state?

A lot of the activities in modern societies are not sustainable. The use of petroleum is just one example. Is it then right to have ecological sustainable production as a prerequisite for food sovereignty � as long as so much of other activities in the society is not sustainable? How can we promote sustainable development, and how can food producers be in the forefront of the fight for sustainable development without putting idealistic demands on food producers or other demands on them than on the rest of the societies?

There are also questions about what is sustainable production of food. Should the production only be based on local resources? If farmers in Europe use imported fodder from developing countries to produce meat, is that sustainable production?

Conflicts of interests among producers

There are some times conflicts of interest between different groups of producers, for instance between pasturalists and farmers and among producers, for instance over the use of grassing areas. How can such conflicts be solved within the framework of food sovereignty.

What does food sovereignty means for consumers?

Everyone will probably agree that it is the right to choose healthy, locally produced and organic food products according to their culture and preferences. But is food sovereignty also the right for consumers to choose products from other areas or countries, because of better quality, preferences of taste, or lower prices? And what about wishes from consumers to buy products can simply not grow locally like coffee and bananas in the north or apples in the south?

How to implement food sovereignty locally?

There might be different interests in local community in areas linked to food sovereignty. Local producers might want to keep the local marked for themselves, but other consumers might want to buy food from other areas because of better quality, lower price or that they would like something not produced locally but which compete with local products. There might also be different interests locally about the use of land or scarce water resources. Should some of the land be used for housing or grassland for animals? How much of the water should farmers be allowed to use, and how much for each family? Should the water be for free or should it be a price on it? Who should decide on all these kind of issues?

Free to protect and support?

Some supporters of food sovereignty argue that even if the concept means that all countries, also the rich countries, have the right to protect and support food production for domestic consumption, the rich countries should not use this right because of the imbalance between rich and poor countries. As long as this imbalance exists the rich countries should cut all (or most) the subsidies and other support for farmers, cut import tax and open up for free (or more) import from developing countries (or from poor farmers in developing countries). Do you agree or disagree? Why?

How can sustainable international trade to the benefit of people be promoted?

International trade of food and other agricultural products are important for many people � to meet their need for food or for economic income. Food sovereignty does not negate this kind of trade, but many people, raise questions about how sustainable international trade to meet peoples need can be promoted within the concept of food sovereignty. What is your answer to this?

What kind of trade rules?

Food sovereignty is not a fixed set of trade rules. It gives the space and possibilities for different kind of trade policies. But is there on the basis of food sovereignty, some basic trade rules we can outline? Below are some proposals.

– Each country should have the right and obligation to produce the basic food for domestic consumption.

– Each country has the right to decide the level and kind of protection, support and regulation of production of food for domestic consumption.

– International trade agreements on agriculture and fisheries should only deal with the conditions for these kind of products which cross borders /are traded internationally. The agricultural Trade agreements should only deal with trade between countries or Unions of countries. Those international markets have to be managed through multilateral Bodies and have to offer a facilitated market access to small and medium farmers from developing countries.

– All kind of direct or indirect subsidies on export from rich countries has to stop. Developing countries should be aloud to support export from small scale and poor farmers.

– Patents on seeds and all other forms of life have to be banned.

– Commodity agreements for international supply management and price control have to be developed to restrict overproduction and guarantee farmers a fair and good price.

– The power of the multinational companies has to be restricted /dismantled.

– Fair trade initiatives and other arrangements which give the producers better prices and bring producers and consumers closer, should be supported.

– International trade rules have to be flexible and diverse to meet the different needs, cultures and economic development. The concept of �one size fits all� has to be banned.

Not only discussions, actions are needed!

The fight for food sovereignty is not about winning academic discussions, but about the life and death of billions of people, a fight for democracy, for consumer rights, and for preserving the environment for future generations. Farmers, fisherfolks, pasturalists, herders, indigenous peoples and other food producers are fighting every day to keep their dignity, livelihoods and preserve the environment. There are needs for lots of discussions, but also urgent needs for actions and fights to realize food sovereignty.

What kind of political fights and actions are going on or are the most important locally where you live, nationally, in your region and internationally? How can you and your organisation contribute?

Building alliances

An important part of the fight for food sovereignty is to build alliances between different groups and organisations � like farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, pasturalists, workers, environmentalists, women�s movements, consumers, solidarity groups, other NGOs, youth groups, local authorities, institutions, intellectuals etc. How can you and your organisation take part and strengthen alliance for food sovereignty?