by Irene León
The town of Selingué in Mali, Western Africa, hosted the Food Sovereignty Forum - Nyéléni 2007- from 23 - 27 February 2007. Peasant organizations, small scale farmers, fisherpeople, shepherds, indigenous peoples, forest communities, women, consumers, environmentalists and some urban groups participated to strengthen the global movement involved in defending a future without hunger.
In order to accommodate the Forum and its 600 participants the communal space of Nyéléni, near Selingué, was constructed. It is a village symbolizing food sovereignty, built with native design, materials and manual labor. From now on, this village remains as a service for African social movements and others from around the world. This specific result showcases the complete vision of sustainability, underlying a proposal of ample reach, coined initially by Via Campesina . The proposal has now been taken on, shared and debated by a wide range of other sectors, whose involvement in the process of construction and development of the Forum gave rise to a new movement of proposal and action for food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty is understood as peoples’ right to be able to rely on nutritious, culturally suitable and accessible foods produced in a sustainable and ecological manner. It also means their right to define their own agricultural and fishing policies, management of land, water resources, seeds and biodiversity. This concept represents the widest framework for exercising the right to food. At the same time, its correlation with lifestyles, development options, geopolitical perspectives and future visions covers a spectrum of socioeconomic reordering that, in addition to the subject of foodstuffs, alludes to the future of societies and the survival of the planet.
In addition to the definitions and the socio-political content of food sovereignty, the common agenda adopted in the Nyéléni Forum points out the practices that will allow its achievement: peoples’ sovereignty; food self-sufficiency; agro-ecological and local production; artisan fishing and cattle farming; egalitarian economic interchanges; respect for biodiversity; gender equality; socially aware consumption and others.
It also identifies capitalism and commercial appropriation of the food process as the main obstacle to food sovereignty. It points out that these factors are the main causes of world hunger and of the increasing impoverishment of those communities -generally focused on small scale local production- that intervene in production and in independent food chains on the global market.
Transnational control of the food process, the search for profit and the development of international norms to legitimize these, especially within the World Trade Organization, are at the antipodes of the sustainability proposal intrinsic to the theory of food sovereignty. This notion holds that peoples should have the exclusive right to protect and regulate production and internal and external commerce; to prevent food dumping; to resist the assault of bio piracy; to defend native seeds that produce healthy foods and to reject genetically modified food.
Among the distinctive aspects of the food sovereignty principle, a key element is the enormous world-wide pool of knowledge and practices, which have fed human kind for generations. This is the source of its viability, since the fact is that the entire world, and above all poor countries, are fed by small-scale agriculture, artisan fishing and livestock rearing, for which a key factor are the chains of food supply sensitive to human needs.
However, the well-known irrationality underlying the rules of market, that inspires international food policies, argues that transnational corporate control of production is the only way to eradicate hunger. Apart from outlining policies, this model strives to multiply conditions to strengthen this control, adversely affecting local production. Furthermore, the mercantile rules applied to the food process push small independent production to the verge disappearance, since the corporate perspective imposes not only unequal competition but also viewpoints that promote corporative interests and profit as the central and unique parameters of development.
The proposals for joint action adopted in the Nyéléni Forum emphasize the need for mobilization and resistance, in the face of the omnipresence of multinational corporations in food production and distribution. This could include disobedience to neoliberal regulations, policies and expressions, among them the policies and agreements of free trade.
The fight for land, water and seeds appears as the central axis of the proposal, indicating that to this end, what counts are direct actions and demands of moratoriums on GMOs (genetically modified organisms); integral land reform; protection of seeds as the peoples’ heritage; the rejection of agro-fuels and the privatization of water, land, the sea and natural resources. In the same vein, numerous initiatives propose to generate territories free of GMOs and to resist the proliferation of green deserts; to recover natural resources monopolized by different corporations; and to create tribunals and observatories of transnational corporations and of the effects of neoliberal policies on foods.
Initiatives that propose to reform the European Common Agricultural Policy and the Farm Bill policy of the United States are also on the agenda. The inclusion of food sovereignty in national Constitutions, as has already occurred in Nepal; and demands for reparation of damages caused by the agribusiness, the privatization of the sea and commercialized cattle and livestock production. The denunciation of multilateral organisations’ responsibility in the destruction of societies and looting of resources has also been documented.
On the other hand, the urgency to strengthen local markets and the connection between producers and consumers stands out. Also, the development of new proposals of integration initiated by peoples and their self-determination, and based on food sovereignty. And, since those responsible for the world food crisis are also at the national level, it was agreed to contest neoliberal governments, the militarization of the countryside and the criminalization of social struggle.
African delegates and those of different thematic groups that approach aspects such as technology and knowledge emphasized the right to information and communication, as a core aspect not only for building the food sovereignty movement, but also as a necessary strategy for strengthening the analyses and actions of raising awareness that were agreed on in the Forum. Another conclusion was the importance of defending peoples’ knowledge and the urgency of creating a moratorium on the technologies that experiment with living beings, since these are factors that put biodiversity and human survival at risk.
In summary, the Forum of Nyéléni concludes by emphasizing the importance of forging a food sovereignty controlled by peoples; of creating an economy and policies based on solidarity; of changing the world and its relations, and to do all this with priority to gender equality and the fight against the patriarchy. The challenge and the common agenda are now drawn up.
Irene León, Ecuadorian sociologist, is a member of ALAI.
Published in América Latina en Movimiento, No. 419, ALAI, Quito, April 2007.