Newsletter no 45 – Editorial

Food sovereignty – resisting corporate capture of our food systems

This year marks 25 years since the paradigm of food sovereignty was launched at the World Food Summit 1996 in Rome as a direct challenge to market-based food security promoted through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  Food sovereignty asserts the autonomy and agency of small-scale food producers and workers in the face of increasing corporate power over the entire realm of food.  Since its launch, the food sovereignty movement has grown, diversified, and birthed numerous initiatives to address historical and emerging injustices, inequalities, rights abuses, and oppressions. Today, the movement is at the cutting-edge of real systemic change, with millions of people all over the world engaged in and supporting solidarity economies, agroecology, territorial markets, cooperatives, the defense of land and territories, and the rights of small-scale food producers, workers, migrants, indigenous peoples, women and people living in protracted crises.

Ironically, this year, the United Nations will convene a Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) that is the polar opposite of food sovereignty. The structure, content, governance and outcomes of the UNFSS are dominated by actors affiliated with the World Economic Forum (WEF), as well as government and UN officials who believe that successfully tackling hunger, unemployment, climate change and biodiversity loss requires the central involvement of corporations since they have capital, technologies and infrastructure that surpass most nations and the entire UN system. 

The coincidence of these two moments clearly shows fundamentally opposing ideas about food systems. The UNFSS adopts a lens that serves the interests of the industrial, globalized, corporate controlled food system. By deepening dependency on corporate dominated global value chains, and capital-intensive and market mechanisms, this approach sidelines human rights and impedes real transformation of food systems. Food sovereignty, on the other hand, tackles root causes of hunger and malnutrition, emphasizes democratic control over food systems, confronts power asymmetries and calls for radical economic, social and governance changes to build just, equal, territorially rooted food systems that are in harmony with nature, revitalize biodiversity, and ensure the rights of people and communities. 

Corporations are using their considerable resources to co-opt the conceptualization and governance of food systems through financing, trade, investment, and multi-stakeholder platforms. The UNFSS is a dangerously perfect example of corporate designed multistakeholderism, where corporations can influence public decision making at the highest level but make no public interest commitments themselves. The UNFSS process has been characterized by a lack of transparency in decision-making and strong involvement of corporations in all parts of its structure, posing serious problems of accountability, legitimacy, and democratic control of the UN.

Over the past year we have demonstrated our ability to mobilize across multiple constituencies around the world against the corporate capture of food and for food sovereignty. We have succeeded in challenging the legitimacy of the Summit and prevented formal agreement to the creation of new institutions, such as a panel of experts on food systems.  The Counter-Mobilization to Transform Food Systems organized from July 25-28 reached almost 11,000 people world-wide.

Food is a basic need and a human right: food systems provide livelihoods for nearly a third of humanity and are intimately connected to health and ecosystems.  We need, therefore, to continue strengthening the convergence of food, health, environmental and climate justice movements, and continue to rise up against corporate food systems that are destroying our planet and our communities.

FIAN and Focus on the Global South