Until relatively recently, knowledge about how to produce or collect food was the domain of rural communities. Over generations, communities built an impressive base of agricultural biodiversity, effective fishing methods, technologies and knowledge that was adapted to their local environmental conditions, their socio-economic needs, and their cultural interests. Innovation happened and technologies were developed by and for local communities. The twin processes of colonialism and industrialization undermined a lot of this. Agricultural research was pushed off the farm and moved into far away institutes and labs run by Western scientists. Local fishing techniques were supplanted by floating industrial factories. Indigenous peoples saw their territories and livelihoods invaded by settlers, plantations and mining industries. In agriculture, the ’green revolution’ was probably the most dramatic example of this push to industrialise agriculture based on the heavy use of external chemical inputs, and do away with a broad mosaic of local and diversity-based production systems. In a similar way, corporate interests are threatening the rights of livestock holders to use and develop their own breeding stocks, and a ‘blue revolution’ is being pushed upon the fisheries sectors, promoting destructive industrial aquaculture and fishing methods.
Despite the onslaught of the Western technology model, the majority of the world’s food is still being produced or collected by local communities, based on local knowledge, with locally based technologies and locally available resources. For many people, a central element of food sovereignty is the promotion and further development of these local technologies and knowledge, and the strengthening of local control over them. Across the world, people are rescuing and re-integrating indigenous knowledge in their livelihood systems. Indigenous crops and seed varieties, much better adapted to local growing conditions are being exchanged and promoted. Agro-ecological production methods are being recognised as much more productive and sustainable than industrial agriculture. The same is true for indigenous fishing techniques, local livestock herding and breeding, and local agro-forestry management systems. Fighting for food sovereignty means taking these indigenous knowledge and production systems as a central element in strengthening local food systems under control of local communities.
Is all locally developed knowledge good? How can it be improved? How can we strengthen its use? How can we help adapt it to changing environments (eg. global warming)? What if communities have lost their indigenous knowledge? How can this knowledge be revived and reclaimed? What initiatives currently exist to protect and develop local knowledge, technologies and control over them? How can they be strengthened? How can local knowledge, technologies and control be protected at the regional and international levels? What is hampering this effort?
Food sovereignty is simply not possible on the basis of industrial technology under the control of multinational corporations. Industrial technology is aimed at large scale production, oriented towards food processing and international trade, often produces low quality ‘junk’ food, and destroys small scale food producers and the environment in the process. The most recent and extreme example of unsustainable and corporate controlled technology is genetic engineering in agriculture, livestock breeding and fisheries, which is now being forced upon farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists and consumers alike. Furthermore, new technologies, such as animal hormones, aquaculture and food irradiation, are emerging to allow food to be industrially processed and easily transported. Biofuel crops are being designed to supply fuel to industrializing countries, rather than to feed people and combat world hunger. These industrial technologies reach all corners of the world through free trade agreements in which on one hand, any regulation of technology in the public interest is viewed as a barrier to free trade and on the other hand, technologies and knowledge are protected by corporate friendly intellectual property regimes. In addition, development aid programs are increasingly becoming conditional on accepting such technologies. Meanwhile, consumers who do not produce their own food are left completely unaware that their food is developed or contaminated with these technologies. Questions: • Does western science and technology, which is increasingly dominated by corporate interests, have a place within a food sovereignty context? If yes: in what ways? How can their useful elements be appropriated to support food sovereignty? If no: why not? How can their negative impacts be stopped? What can we do about it? Nyéléni 2007 is an opportunity to continue and develop regional, national and international campaigns to strengthen local control and knowledge, while defeating the invasion of damaging technologies. There are many possible actions and strategies do counter wrong technologies and promote local knowledge.
There exist numerous local and regional initiatives and networks to use and exchange local seed varieties, information about local knowledge systems, etc. to regain local control. How can we encourage more such initiatives, strengthen them locally and back them up internationally? Many similarities exist in the corporate push for the ‘green’, the ‘blue’ and the livestock revolutions, and joint strategies against them could be explored between those involved in farming, in livestock keeping and in fisheries.
How can we strengthen alliances between the different sectors to fight against damaging technologies, such as industrial plantations, factory farming of livestock, genetic engineering and patenting on life forms? What international campaigns targeting specific corporations, foundations and institutions promoting damaging technologies can be developed?