Newsletter no 30 – Editorial

Advancing the paradigm of food sovereignty

Illustration: Angelo Monne |

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the historic International Forum on Food Sovereignty that was held Mali in 2007. The Forum brought together more than 500 peasants, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, workers, migrants, women, youth, consumers, researchers and press/media from 80 countries to build a global movement on food sovereignty. The Forum was named Nyéléni, as tribute to and drawing inspiration from a legendary Malian peasant woman.

Nyéléni has since become a space of praxis, to convene, synergise and build forces to strengthen the different conditions for food sovereignty. These include defending and protecting land, water, territories, seeds and biodiversity; redistributive agrarian reform; secure access to land, territories and resources; agroecology and sustainable peasant agriculture; cooperative production and marketing; preventing corporate domination, capture and control over seeds, lands, water, technology, knowledge, markets and policy-making; resisting privatization; dismantling neoliberal trade-investment regimes; stopping the criminalization of frontline communities and rights defenders; and upholding the rights of small-scale food providers and workers.

As the paradigm of food sovereignty has expanded, so too have threats against it. The convergence of climate, finance, economic and energy crises over the past decade have triggered an explosion of large scale infrastructure projects, mining, oil and gas extraction, logging, industrial tree plantations, luxury resorts and property development, Special Economic Zones, and bogus climate ‘solutions’ such as REDD, blue carbon and soil carbon trading. Rural populations are losing their lands and territories, and facing escalating criminalization, violence and militarization as they organize to protect the very foundations of their lives.

New generation free-trade agreements (FTAs) threaten food sovereignty through extreme tariff cuts, changes in domestic regulation that remove supports for small-scale producers, and mechanisms for investor ‘rights’ protection that give corporations unfettered access to critical sectors such as food, agriculture, retail, medicines and public health. Equally dangerous are policies that enable corporations to control the production, use, price and marketing of seeds, promote genetic engineering, and to patent seeds and plant varieties (many of which are derived from bio-pirated materials).The mega-mergers of six corporations–Bayer + Monsanto, Dow + Dupont and ChemChina + Syngenta—will increase corporate control over seeds, agricultural technologies and equipment, undermining the productive potential of small-scale food producers worldwide.

These threats are being confronted at multiple fronts and levels by the growing global movement for food sovereignty. The recurring crises the world is facing are inherent to capitalism which is adept at re-inventing itself to maintain structural power. Tinkering with the wiring of the capitalist model will do little good. What is needed is deep systemic change, a complete paradigm shift from competiveness to solidarity, from extractivism to respect and from exploitation to dignity. This is the paradigm of food sovereignty, which the global movement is advancing through diverse knowledge, capacities, resources and social bases.

Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South