Towards a food sovereignty action agenda

February 2007

From: International Steering Committee (ISC)

To: Participants

Towards a food sovereignty action agenda (PDF – whole document)

At Nyéléni 2007, delegates will debate food sovereignty issues in order to deepen collective understanding, strengthen dialogue among and between sectors and interest groups and formulate joint strategies and an action agenda.

As a way to focus discussion and organise the debate, the International Steering Committee (ISC) has proposed seven themes covered by separate thematic working groups through three steps of discussion.

Step 1: what are fighting for? Step 2: what are we fighting against? Step 3: what can do about it?

The seven themes proposed are: 1) Trade policies and local markets; 2) Local knowledge and technology; 3) Access to and control over natural resources – land, water, seeds, livestock breeds; 4) Sharing territories and land, water, fishing rights, aquaculture and forest use, between sectors; 5) Conflict and disaster: responding at local and international levels; 6) Social conditions and forced migration; and 7) Production models: impacts on people, livelihoods and environment.

The thematic working groups are the central space of the Forum where the real work will be done.

This document first summarises the current food sovereignty policy framework. It then expands on each of the three main objectives of the Forum and the outputs expected from each thematic working group. Annexed to this paper are seven short discussion guidance notes for each thematic working group.

Food Sovereignty Policy Framework

Food sovereignty is a political proposal. After several years of development, it was launched internationally at the World Food Summit in 1996 by La Via Campesina. Since then many social movements, organisations and others have adopted and taken part in developing the way in which food sovereignty is described and how it can be implemented. New issues and challenges are constantly brought up in the debates.
Food sovereignty gives space for a rich diversity of concrete proposals suitable to local and national situations, different cultures, and the aspirations and needs of different peoples. It puts farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and other food producers as well as consumers at the centre of food and agriculture policy development rather than the demands of markets and corporate driven food production. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.

Food Sovereignty represents a countervailing agenda to the neo-liberal policies of globalised trade and food security as currently defined by the corporate food regime and its agro-industrial production model. It offers both a strategy to resist and dismantle this regime, as well as providing directions for improved food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems.

Food sovereignty is not against trade nor food security per se. Rather, food sovereignty provides for genuine food security and equitable trade with a priority given to local markets, producers and consumers. Food sovereignty supports farmer-driven agriculture, fisher-focused fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, all based on environmental, social and economic sustainability, as opposed to industrial agribusinesses and corporate driven food production. Food sovereignty promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production and harvesting of food.

Food Sovereignty has been described as the following:
• the right of individuals, peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food, land and water management policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances;
• the true Right to Food and to produce food, which means that everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies;
• the right to protect and regulate domestic production and trade and prevent the dumping of food products and unnecessary food aid in domestic markets;
• self reliance in food to the extent desired;
• managing the use of, the rights to and control over natural resources – land, waters, seeds, livestock breeds and wider agricultural biodiversity unrestricted by intellectual property rights and without GMOs;
• based on and supportive of ecologically sustainable production and harvesting, principally agroecological production and artisanal fisheries.

In order to have control over food production, small farmers and peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples and other small-scale food producers need to be actively and decisively involved in policy formulation processes. Women food producers, play a major role in food production, the maintenance of agricultural diversity and household nutrition. They especially need to be directly and actively involved in making policy decisions and setting research priorities if these are to respond to their needs and thus those of communities as a whole. As a comprehensive framework that includes production, distribution, exchange and consumption, food sovereignty also has important implications for rural youth. Reviving and strengthening local economies and ensuring that rural communities have the resources needed to be self reliant means that young people have opportunities for self development and employment.

Thematic Working Group Discussions

Nyéléni 2007, Forum for Food Sovereignty, has three objectives. Under each of these objectives, there is a description of the context for discussions within each Thematic Working Groups, as well as the Steps intended to frame the discussions, which will lead to an action agenda. (For more on this, see the ISC’s document about Process and Programme).

In the Annex to this paper, discussion guidance notes for each theme are presented.

Deepening our understanding of food sovereignty

Objective 1:”to deepen the understanding and the meaning of “food sovereignty”: what does food sovereignty mean for us, what kind of food production and consumption do we defend?”

At the moment slightly different definitions of food sovereignty are used by different movements and organisations and there are different interpretations of what food sovereignty policies include. There is therefore a need to discuss and deepen our common understanding of food sovereignty. It is also important to further develop food sovereignty, discuss challenges, principles, what it means for different sectors, how possible conflicts can be resolved, etc.

Food sovereignty includes a rich diversity of concrete local initiatives and policies appropriate for local and national situations, different cultures, and the aspirations and needs of different peoples.
Nevertheless within this diversity, the commonly held views and principles must be clear. Food sovereignty puts farmers/peasants, pastoralists, fishers, indigenous peoples and other food producers as well as consumers at the centre of food and agriculture policies, rather than the market and the corporate sector. Food sovereignty also defines the model of food production and consumption we defend. Dumping and technologies, such as Terminator and GMOs, are examples of what are not acceptable under food sovereignty, as they have strong negative impacts on communities, the environment and the model of food production and consumption we defend.

Unfortunately, food sovereignty is being co-opted by the dominant neo-liberal system and by some of those actors, such as President Chirac of France. They define it according to their interests. For example, they talk about food sovereignty for countries, but do not criticise the dumping practices of the same country. The word “sovereignty” has also historically very different connotations in many countries, which makes the term positively received in some countries, while in others it is associated with regressive, nationalist views. Some see food sovereignty, however, as a policy principle that should be respected by the international community with regard to nation states. Some also use the term to justify agriculture trade policies that benefit corporations and large commercial producers.

The Nyéléni 2007 Forum for Food Sovereignty is about PEOPLES’ food sovereignty which is to be defined by social movements. It is a “vehicle”, a carrier, for our collective political project and our joint strategies and actions regarding food production and consumption at all levels.

Food sovereignty is under attack, the actors of the dominant neo-liberal model want to capture and destroy our model of production and consumption in order to bring natural resources, production and consumption systems under their control. We have to define clearly against whom we are fighting, who our common enemies are, and where we should put our joint energies.

Strengthening the dialogue among sectors

Objective 2: “to strengthen the dialogue and alliance building between different sectors and interest groups and seek a
better understanding of their analyses, goals and strategies.”

At the moment, organisations in the different sectors (peasants/small farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, pastoralists, consumers/urban movements and workers) are working together at different levels. Although this collaboration is growing, there is still a strong need to strengthen it. The Forum gives us an important possibility to help us create a space and a stronger process for inter-sectoral dialogue and collaboration after Nyéléni. Sectors and organizations can get a better understanding of each others’ goals and strategies, be able to strengthen and support each others’ struggles and be able to define achievable joint priorities for strategies and actions.

Of crucial importance are discussions about conflicts of interest that exist between sectors, for example between small farmers and pastoralists or indigenous peoples. We need to find mechanisms to analyse these conflicts and find ways to resolve them or to deal with them equitably in our joint struggles. For this, we can learn from many experiences that exist at national levels. One Thematic Working Group will specifically focus in depth on this issue but all will deal with it to some extent, as each thematic working group will include delegates from all sectors.

Formulating joint strategies and an action agenda

Objective 3: “to establish joint strategies, a joint action agenda and to increase our joint commitment in the struggle for food sovereignty.”

We have to find ways to increase our pressure on the dominant neo-liberal development model and force it to retreat. This would enable changes in national and international policies and agreements that are desperately needed to realise food sovereignty for all peoples. Therefore we need to agree on clear JOINT political commitments for strategies and struggles which will be carried forward under the shared responsibility of all the sectors. We have to define real joint priorities, priorities that are priorities for ALL sectors instead of making a “shopping list” in which each sector, region, or
organisation puts priorities that it alone holds. This requires an intense debate among and between sectors and an in-depth analysis of the current context. To determine where to place our JOINT energies, we have to agree on common joint priorities to which all sectors can contribute.

Seven Thematic working Groups

The selected themes, cover some of the most crucial issues related to food sovereignty that multiple sectors and interest groups (environmental, women and youth) have raised. Within each of the themes, it is proposed that delegates focus the debate on key issues that are seen to be central to the theme and that have the potential to develop joint priorities for action.

Each thematic working group will debate its theme in relation to the specific issues raised (see annex) and in terms of the overarching issues impacting:
• food sovereignty
• gender
• youth
• environment

Each thematic working group will also look at ways to actively and decisively strengthen the involvement of sectors in policy formulation processes in order that they can have control over food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems, environmental protection, research agendas and the policies that frame these.

It is proposed that each thematic working group will discuss the issues in three steps:
Step 1: What are we fighting for? What does Food Sovereignty mean for us? What do we have in common? What do we defend? What do we do to sustain it? Special emphasis on what Food Sovereignty means at local levels.
Step 2: What are we fighting against? What is preventing us from realising Food Sovereignty? What are the problems? How is neo-liberalism (from local to international level) affecting us? What are our internal potential tensions or conflicts of interests and how to overcome them?
Step 3: What can we do about it? What are our common struggles? How to strengthen our movements (from local to international levels)? How can we increase our resistance? How can we work better together and support one another?

Each thematic working group will conclude by proposing:
• One key priority for action, campaigning etc.
• One key priority for strengthening the dialogue and the movements themselves.

The Annex contains discussion guidance notes for each theme:
1) Trade policies and local markets
2) Local knowledge and technology
3) Access to and control over natural resources – land, water, seeds, livestock breeds
4) Sharing territories and land, water, fishing rights, aquaculture and forest use, between sectors
5) Conflict and disaster: responding at local and international levels
6) Social conditions and forced migration
7) Production models: impacts on people, livelihoods and environment.

The results of the three sessions of each thematic working group, and especially the key priorities
agreed by delegates, will be summarised by the Chair of the Working Group assisted by the facilitator
and staff. This summary will contribute to the ‘Synthesis Report’ of the Forum, which will describe
delegates’ understanding of food sovereignty and the strategies and actions proposed. It will also
contain an Action Agenda