Global Food Politics

Food presents us a direct pathway to sustainability. With sustainable production and socially responsible markets human needs can be balanced with those of the ecosystems upon which these depend.

Food sovereignty

Food sovereignty addresses poverty in both the rural and urban areas through locally integrated sustainable food systems. At its centre are artisanal family farming, peasant agriculture and small-scale fishing. Such systems not only produce healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, but put the aspirations and needs of those directly involved with that food at the heart of the supply chain, rather than the demands of corporations.

Right now there are two grassroots movements, ‘food sovereignty’ and ‘social sovereignty’, quietly emerging from the Third World. Both are intent on changing the direction of the neoliberal global agenda. What differentiates these movements from other global phenomena such Band-Aid or Zapatista* is the extent of verticality they have so rapidly achieved. Yet the similarities between them may provide insights into pathways towards which an alternative, truly sustainable globalising governance is yet to develop.

Worldwide Integration

Offering the world a ‘cooler’ planet the ‘food sovereignty’ solution is socially, environmentally and economically sound with potential for sustainably feeding the human collective. However the pathways to this meeting of merits are not clear, and deserve urgent articulation. A major re-branding or a crisis is needed to convince the ordinary people of the First World.

Since at least the early 1990s, alongside a growing awareness and interest in environmental and food politics, we are rather witnessing a growing and very dynamic resistance from small-scale farmers and peasant movements all over the world. Peasants are organizing and fighting back.” (Massicotte, 2008)

Food sovereignty is defined in the Declaration of Nyéléni (2007) which argues that the logic of the markets and international trade should not undermine democratic control of local food systems. The social case has recently been strengthened by the environmental case.
In a study for La Via Campesina, 2 agro-industry’s EROI (energy return on energy input) ratio was highlighted as a leading cause of global warming, emphasising the necessity for agroecological peasant-style farming to ‘cool the planet’. 3
Indeed worldwide, farmers are reasserting the right to farm as a social act of land stewardship. And increasingly First World re-peasantisation movements such as the U.S. (NFFC) 4 are actively engaging the food sovereignty movement in America with the efforts of La Via Campesina.

Farmer autonomy, expressed in resistance to entrepreneurial farming, agro-industrial inputs and its prescriptions, is one key identifier for linking First and Third World peasant movements. This trend, for example …

involves a majority of European farmers, represents a sturdy, strong and promising, albeit contested and somewhat hidden process of re-peasantisation. It is a process through which autonomy is again created, an autonomy that is simultaneously converted into new forms of development’. (Ploeg, 2005)

Sustainable Development

Within the slow but broadening politicisation of food, western consumer markets which identify themselves with ‘local’, ‘slow’ or ‘organic’ have gained recognition as ‘good’ food by fostering patronage in the expanding ‘moral economy’. Noteworthy are the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movements in France, Switzerland, Japan and U.S. – delivering produce direct from the farm (Horrigan, Lawrence, & Walker, 2002). Currently in U.S. (localharvest.org) lists over 4000 CSAs, adding 1200 annually.

Missing from this global picture are the growing millions of Chinese peasants and rural dispossessed, though more recently the peasants’ rights topic appear to have become an ‘acceptable’ issue in China (Walker, 2008). Undoubtedly the ‘food sovereignty/cool the planet’ issues will emerge with equivalent significance on the back of the continuing rise of pollution, repression and landlessness there.

To be able to implement the systems that nourish the ordinary people and sustain the planet, institutional reform in the shape of ‘social sovereignty‘ is needed, perhaps akin to that were instituted in the Venezuelan consitution. This new pathway required for sustainable development will entail the empowerment of these rural sectors to produce and harvest – regardless of gender, marital status, religious or ethnic origins – and will mean rights to equitable access to land tenure, productive resources, including seeds, inputs, trade and markets.


References …

    • Massicotte, M.-J. (2008). Agri-business, Family Farms and Agricultural Workers: Who’s Shaping Agricultural Trade Policies in the Americas? Paper presented at the International Studies Association 2008 Annual Congress, California.
    • Vandermeer, J., et al. (2009). Effects of industrial agriculture on global warming and the potential of small-scale agroecological techniques to reverse those effects. Retrieved from viacampesina.net/downloads/DOC/ViaNWAEG-10-20-09.doc
    • Martinez-Alier, J. (2011). The EROI of agriculture and its use by the Via Campesina. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(1), 145-160.
    • NFFC. National Family Farm Coalition Retrieved 12/1/2012, from http://www.nffc.net/
    • Ploeg, J. D. v. d. (2005). The Peasant Mode of Production Revisited Retrieved 26/04/2011, from http://www.jandouwevanderploeg.com/EN/publications/articles/the-peasant-mode-of-production-revisited/
    • Connell, D., Smithers, J., & Joseph, A. (2008). Farmers’ Markets and the “Good Food” Value Chain: a Preliminary Study. Local Environment, 13(3), 169–185.

* Zapatista was an indigenous Mexican movement confronting U.S. imperialism. Starting in 1997 it stirred the Left around the world – mostly in those parts where we seldom get to. See their original documentary on Google Videos here. Their Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism in 1996 triggering the formation of The World Social Forum in 2001. See (WSF).