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Nyeleni newsletter - Now is the time for food sovereignty!

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Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. (…) Declaration of Nyeleni.

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Newsletter no 30 - Voices from the field

Voice 1 – Globalise the Struggle, Globalise Hope !

Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La Via Campesina

There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone, but you won’t go far. If you want to go far, go with others.”

I believe that the struggle for Food Sovereignty is captured in the latter part of the proverb. Food Sovereignty is a lasting global solution for how we should relate with nature and people as we feed ourselves. It is a struggle that requires alliances for fully recognizing and realizing peasants’ rights, and achieving social, economic and ecological equity and equality. This can only be done through collectiveness, in alliance across movements, regions, cultures and genders to ensure global solidarity and effect real change.

To build and realise Food Sovereignty, it is imperative to work and engage with others—peasants, indigenous people, fisherfolk, women, men, progressive researchers, consumers, etc.—to rethink ways and means of farming and mobilisation. By sharing ideas and generating knowledge, we are able to shape a society based on justice and solidarity, build healthy, inclusive communities, and improve social integration and cohesion. La Via Campesina recognizes the importance of alliances and we have joined hands with other social movements and organizations to push for Food Sovereignty in many national and international spaces. As a result, Food Sovereignty is included in some policies, enshrined in constitutions by some countries, while in others, debates continue on what to adopt.

Today, Food Sovereignty is a living concept because of continuing alliance work. It is the struggle for local food systems based on agroecology ; access to local markets ; access to and control over productive resources such as land, water, seeds, etc ; recognition of peasant rights ; and resistance to industrial agriculture, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Transnational Corporations (TNCs).

Voice 2 – The State of Palestine : Internationally recognized yet stripped of Food Sovereignty

Jamal Talab, Land Research Center, Palestine

Perhaps the loss of food sovereignty for the people of an occupied state doubles the negative impact of the violation of their fundamental human right to a life of dignity. The State of Palestine, recognized as a member state by the United Nations (UN), still does not have full sovereignty, including over natural resources. The Israeli occupation controls 80% of the underground water and 64% of the total area of Palestine, reserved for the expansion of settlements that are illegal according to UN Resolution number 2334 of December 2017.
Furthermore, the Israeli occupation has constructed an apartheid wall (774km), opened colonists-only roads (1270km), confiscated 50% of Palestinian lands and uprooted over two million fruit trees, 70% of which were aging olive trees. It established over 488 colonies and outposts on Palestinian hills and mountains, pumping untreated sewage water and banned pollutants (pesticides and fertilizers) onto Palestinian agricultural lands, resulting in the contamination of plants and degradation of lands.

The concept of food sovereignty entitles peoples to control their food chains and systems. Yet all concepts are not applicable in Palestine. Also, the occupation has besieged the Gaza strip for over ten years and Israel executes full control over land, air and water. Fishermen are only allowed a quarter of the entitled mileage into the sea, which negatively affects their fishing capacity and income.

The presence of over 742 Israeli military checkpoints across all Palestine fully restricts the movement and transportation of goods. Above all, Israel has imposed hindrances that undermine local markets to shift Palestinians from producers to consumers of Israeli markets that are more organized and modern.
With over 41 days of hunger strike for dignity and freedom, Palestinian prisoners urged the international community to stand by their side for their full rights and sovereignty.

Voice 3 - The women’s movement and Food Sovereignty

Sophie Dowllar, World March of Women

The World March of Women participated in the Nyéléni International Forum on Food Sovereignty in Mali in 2007 as a feminist movement, contributing to the expression of women as political subjects. One of the most important themes in food sovereignty is women’s access to land, water, seeds and territory. Land should be in the hands of those who work it. Ultimately, those who stay in the countryside to till the land for food production are peasant women. Rural women are permanently concerned with rescuing and maintaining biodiversity, and preserving the land, which is reflected in their use of sustainable, agroecological practices. Water should be respected within the framework of food sovereignty. The privatization and commodification of water as a common good is a crime against nature and humanity. For peasant women, protecting and saving seeds is a fundamental role and way of contributing to food sovereignty.

In order to produce and distribute nutritious food to everyone, women’s movements are already engaged in different forms of community based agriculture that link rural and urban women, and in joint initiatives that build and strengthen alliances among women from different sectors including fisherfolk, migrants, peasants, environmentalists, etc. Despite the contradictions due to existing in a capitalist and patriarchal society, these initiatives create opportunities to learn, organise, develop new forms of conviviality, forge meaningful alliances for sustainable food production and solve problems together. There is also a shared vision that includes seed preservation, food sovereignty and the relationship between peoples and territories.

The affirmation of women’s knowledge and contribution to food production, preparation and distribution is one of the greatest hopes that lies ahead for food sovereignty to thrive. There has to be recognition of their indigenous knowledge and their contribution to the production, preparation and distribution of food. Food sovereignty means the future.

Voice 4 - Why we choose Food Sovereignty

Zainal Arifin Fuad,Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI)

Food Sovereignty as an alternative paradigm to Food Security was first adopted by the government of Indonesia in 2009 following a long struggle by the Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI) to counteract the introduction of the Food Security framework adopted by the FAO in 1996 to overcome hunger.

Food Sovereigntyis concerned not only with shortages of food, but also with agrarian reform, biodiversity, environment, energy, workers rights, consumers, economic institutions, financial institutions, markets, transportation and politics, which are part of food based geo-politics. The implementation of Food Security reproduces poverty, hunger and agrarian conflicts because of the role of corporations in providing and controlling food through the green revolution, land grabbing and free markets.

Therefore, SPI realizes that Food Sovereignty should be supported by all components of civil society (academics, students, NGOs, women, workers and other social movements) and the government. La Via Campesina’s slogan : “Peasants’ Struggle, Peoples’ Victory” is a message that the struggle for Food Sovereignty is for everyone.

Now there are many laws in Indonesia containing Food Sovereignty explicitly as well as implicitly, such as The Law of Land Protection for Sustainable Food Based Agriculture (2009), The Law of Food (2012), The Law of Farmer Protection and Empowerment (2013) and the Development Program of Jokowi (2014-2019). However, the way forward is hard and even paradoxical at the level of implementation. There are many constraints and interventions from many actors, both national and International, who still want to implement Food Security. FAO has already opened a window for Agroecology in 2014 and processes are ongoing in the Human Rights Commission in Geneva on the Declaration of Peasant Rights. Therefore, SPI and La Via Campesina continue their struggles at the grassroots level, as well as for public policy space at national, regional and international levels.

Voice 5 - Consumers and Food Sovereignty

Isa Álvarez, Advocacy officer URGENCI

From the point of view of consumers, food sovereignty is a key right in order to obtain a full and dignified life. It is difficult to consider ourselves as living in dignity if there is limited autonomy of choice about how we feed ourselves.

In today’s times the capitalist system values citizens primarily in two ways : as a workforce to feed the production system or as a niche in the consumer market that continues making that market viable. At the same time through mechanisms of mass publicity it has constructed an imagined world where consumerism is the only entry point for rights, making invisible the human rights which all citizens have for the mere fact of having been born.

It is becoming increasingly urgent that it be the people who are able to decide on their own political policies in all areas but especially in that of food and agriculture. Today the globalized market, in the hands of transnational corporations, inundates is with ultra processed products which make us sick, while associating such products with progress and being a citizen of the 21st century. This leads to the disappearance of not only other forms of foodstuffs which are more suitable to our real needs, but also progressively of small farmers and peasants.

The negative impacts of these edible products (not foodstuffs) on our health are already evident. Curiously, in the face of this evidence some false solutions are instead putting in focus citizen responsibility - especially that of women - perpetuating their unequal role as carers, as if the act of deciding what to eat in today’s world was a free act made in a neutral environment. Instead, we should not forget the role and capacity which public policies have of choosing (or not) our foodstuffs, as well as the need that these policies become the fruit of participatory processes among all citizens and not the result of pressure applied by large transnational corporations which have little or nothing to do with human necessities.

Voice 6 - The road towards people’s Food Sovereignty

Diego Montón, Operative Secretariat - CLOC-Vía Campesina

From our understanding it is impossible to achieve people’s food sovereignty in the framework of the capitalist and patriarchal system. Given that, it is necessary to build a popular program based on solidarity, on social, gender and environmental justice and on food sovereignty.

Advancing towards food sovereignty on the continent with the largest level of land concentration means defending the social function of land, while also defending peasant seeds and resisting any and all initiative to privatize them. Therefore the struggle for integrated agrarian reform and the construction of local systems of seed production are key central commitments of the CLOC.

At the same time, we need to transform the models of production imposed by transnational corporations and dominant classes at a national level. Agroecological production is fundamental in retaining the autonomy, the realisation of the right to food and the environmental sustainability of peasants and small farmers. In this area education and training play a fundamental role and for this reason the CLOC has created IALAS and agroecology schools in various countries.

To reinforce the work of peasants and small farmers while generating opportunities for rural youth, it is vital that the state plays an active role through public policies which :
• Ensure the equal access of women to resources and policies ;
• Ensure a dignified life in the countryside, guaranteeing a minimum income, health cover, educational access and other rights ;
• Develop local and small-scale agroindustries which add value to primary products which can subsequently be marketed in local and urban markets ;
• Guarantee infrastructure for local markets ;
• Subsidise logistical support in transporting products from farms to markets and fairs ;
• Define different standards so that peasant products can be sold directly into local markets, through urban and rural planning avoid the mass concentration of the population in cities ;
• Fortify peasant and small farmer organisations ;
• Promote integration between popular organisations from the countryside and the cities which permit them to debate and consolidate food sovereignty as a right of all citizens.

To advance down this road we need : strong democratic states as well as UN resolutions which control and penalize transnational corporations and their states of origin when those states or TNCs violate human rights or attempt to monopolize the market for foodstuffs.
For these objectives all the popular rural movements of the continent are working together.

Voice 7 - Advancing Food Sovereignty in Nepal

Balram Banskota, All Nepal Peasants Federation

Food sovereignty has become the banner of All Nepal Peasants’ Federation (ANPFa), the largest peasant organization in Nepal. Nepal’s peasant movement joined hands with its national and international counterparts to bring the discussion of food sovereignty into the mainstream as a new development model for agrarian and rural development, opposing the neo-liberal paradigm of development and advancing towards socialism. It was during the Peoples’ movement-II [1] when the message of the peasant movement and concept of food sovereignty reached down to the local level. People had food sovereignty in one hand and the political agenda of a federal democratic republic in the other. That is why it was possible to incorporate food sovereignty as a fundamental right of the people. The new constitution of Nepal (2015) has ensured that people have the right to food sovereignty as guided by the law (article 36 under food related rights, sub-article 3). Though these historic achievements are worthy of mention, legislative acts to implement these rights have still to be drafted.

The political instability in Nepal as a direct impact of regional hegemony and global capitalism still continues. Thus the present government, backed by neo-liberal forces and with technical support from FAO, is drafting the food security and right to food bill against the mandate of the constitution. We understand the conspiracy of anti-people forces against food sovereignty and other progressive rights of people that ensure Nepal’s advancement towards socialism. We are well prepared for the massive political awareness and demonstration needed to support food sovereignty. ANPFa is also leading the process of drafting the food sovereignty bill necessary to implement peoples’ constitutional rights. We hope that we will soon implement food sovereignty in Nepal despite those challenges.

Voice 8 - Food Sovereignty expresses the richness of our struggle

Nettie Wiebe, National Farmers’ Union (Canada)

The term “food sovereignty” has become so familiar and widely used (as well as mis-used) that it’s hard to remember a time before it was part of our lexicon.

We are not entirely sure who first coined the term “food sovereignty,” but there is no doubt about how and where it became a signature concept in La Via Campesina (LVC) and beyond. It is a defining theme of our struggles, our analysis and our movement.

The founding meeting of LVC in Mons, Belgium in 1993, took place in a context where the neo-liberal agenda was rapidly gaining legitimacy and power through regional and global trade agreements, particularly the GATT/WTO. By April, 1996, when the first major, delegated conference was held in Tlaxcala, Mexico, the hundreds of peasant, indigenous and rural organization representatives who participated were unanimous in their opposition to these policies and powers that threatened peasants, small-scale farmers and rural and indigenous communities everywhere.

It was not difficult to name what we were fighting against – the destruction of communities, environments, cultures, livelihoods and local markets by corporate agribusiness and the governments that colluded with this destruction.

But it was harder to name the alternatives succinctly. I recall long, profound, sometimes contentious, discussions going late into the nights as we struggled to find a term that would capture what we were fighting for. The conventional term of “food security” was inadequate. This was about more than producing more food or distributing it more efficiently. We were grappling with fundamental questions of power and democracy : Who controls food producing resources such as land, water, seeds and genetics and for what purposes ? Who gets to decide what is grown, how and where it is grown and for whom ? We needed to have language that expressed the political dimensions of our struggle.

Food Sovereignty is such a term. It provokes the necessary discourse about power, freedom, democracy, equality, justice, sustainability and culture. Food is taken out of the realm of being primarily a market commodity and re-embedded in the social, ecological, cultural and local contexts as a source of nutrition, livelihood, meaning and relationships.

A few months later, at the World Food Summit in Rome, LVC publicly presented some of the basic principles of food sovereignty. And in the decades since then, it has become a powerful, transformative, widely used concept that frames a multitude of diverse struggles to protect life, cultivate hope and reap justice.

Voice 9 - Food Sovereignty in Small-Scale Fisheries

World Forum of Fisher Peoples “We, the El Molo people, co-exist with nature. Our livelihoods and traditions are connected with nature and the lake [Turkana] where we fish. In El Molo, we have a saying : ‘conserve, protect and sustain the lake so it can serve your family and your community.’ It is the source of your life ; it is a two-way relationship. There is no commercial aspect, it’s about surviving.” Christiana Louwa, El Molo Forum, Northern Kenya

The importance of Food Sovereignty has long been recognized by the leadership of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) : Food Sovereignty is a political agenda of small-scale food producers in the defense of our rivers, lakes, oceans and land. It is at the centre of our struggle against the neoliberal food system dominated by multinational corporations who, in the context of fisheries, seek to privatize and consolidate fishing rights in the hands of the few.

Food Sovereignty gives us a new language to describe what already makes up the heart and soul of the defense of our territories, our heritage and our capacities to produce healthy, good and abundant food. It provides a framework for sharing indigenous, traditional and new knowledge and wisdom, and to cultivate the study and debate about Food Sovereignty among youth, women and men in all of WFFP’s constituencies. Our vision builds on the ‘six pillars’ for Food Sovereignty :

1. Focuses on Food for People :
Inland and marine small-scale fishers are at the centre of fisheries and related policies, and ensure that food production is not harming future generations.
2. Values Food Providers :
The human rights of all small-scale fisher peoples involved in the entire value chain of small-scale fisheries, including youth, women, men and Indigenous fishers, must be respected and protected.
3. Localizes Food Systems :
Fishing communities decide independently on their own food system. They are at the center of decision making in terms of processing of fish products (salting, drying, smoking, fresh products, freezing, canning, etc.).
4. Puts Control Locally :
Fishing communities must have control over the land and water territories in both inland and marine fisheries. Access to fishing grounds - including lakes, rivers, salt marches, mangrove forests, coral reefs, and coastal waters – is a fundamental right of fishing communities.
5. Builds Knowledge and Skills :
Small-scale fishers have built their traditional, customary and/or Indigenous knowledge and skills over many generations (passed on from parents to children).
6. Works with Nature :
Small-scale fishing communities have a long history of working with and respecting nature. The inter-connectedness between fisher peoples and nature is deeply rooted in traditions and customary practices, especially for Indigenous Peoples, and expressed through our commitment to agroecology.

It is on the basis of Food Sovereignty that we will be able to take our struggle into the next decade. With emphasis on youth, women and Indigenous Peoples, we will strengthen solidarity between fisher movements and other social movements from all over the world.

Voices 10 - Food Sovereignty and AFSA

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) [2] understands food sovereignty as the ultimate struggle to protect Africa from the assault of the industrial food system.

Never before has there been a more coordinated and better-funded attempt to transform Africa’s peasant based agriculture into a commercial enterprise. Agricultural and food policies are geared to corporate interests. Through agreements and shady dealings, our governments are handing over the responsibility of feeding Africa to corporations. The kind of food production envisioned by corporations is strongly biased towards the industrialization of agriculture, relying on hybrid seeds, GMOs, and increased use of fertilizer and pesticides – as well as on mechanized, large-scale farming. Rather than being supported, food producers are being eliminated from their food production system. Rather than incorporating the available knowledge and experience of food producers, they are giving the impression that the majority of food producers are no longer needed.

This process is also allowing Africa’s genetic heritage to be privatized by a handful of multinational corporations, while undermining the contribution and role of local seed diversity and exchange networks. Agriculture is being used to tear our cultural and social fabric apart, destroy our environment and make us subservient to the forces of global capitalism. The bright side is that we are making food sovereignty and agroecology our story, our solution, and our future.

AFSA has provided a continent-wide political platform on food sovereignty in many venues, contributed to policy discussion on food sovereignty and agroecology, broadened the food sovereignty agendas to include the impact of Food System on nutrition and health and successfully challenged the Regional Economic Commission on laws related to seed and biosafety.

AFSA has doubled its membership to reach 30 networks. It now covers 50 African Countries out of 56. Today AFSA is recognized as one of the biggest, loudest grass-roots voice in Africa. It is a broad-based alliance of African regional farmers, fisher folk, consumers, youth, women, and faith-based and African non-governmental organisation networks, along with various other allies. The aim is to bring greater continental cohesion to an already developing food sovereignty movement in Africa.

[1] The 2006 Democracy Movement is a name given to the political agitations against the direct and undemocratic rule of King Gyanendra of Nepal. The movement is also referred to as Jana Andolan-II ("People’s Movement-II")

[2] Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is member of the Nyéléni newsletter’s Editorial Board since June 2017.