Swiss citizens intiate campaign to write Food Sovereignty into nation’s constitution

Arising from the call for action on food sovereignty and reshaping domestic laws on agriculture and food policy at the 5th International Peasants Conference (Maputo, 2009) a campaign to incorporate food sovereignty into the Swiss Constitution is taking shape under Uniterre, a member of European Coordination Via Campesina.

A lengthy undertaking

The Swiss system of direct democracy povides for changes to the constitution by popular initiative. First, proponents of change must produce a draft of the new constitutional article. After its approval by the Federal Chancellery, the draft’s creators are given 18 months to collect 100,000 signatures from eligible Swiss voters. The text is then reviewed by the Swiss Federal Council (the executive branch) and Parliament (the legislative) and an assessment made. These bodies, which have roughly three years to submit the text to popular vote, can issue a favourable or unfavourable review and even prepare a counter draft which will additionally be put to vote.

An ambitious text

The choice for Uniterre was between a broader form of food sovereignty, or a detailed delineation of their vision for the constitution that would narrow opportunities for re-interpreting the text in other ways. Uniterre chose the latter, addressing in ten parts, the questions of production, access to land and seeds, income, wages, production management, international trade and free access to information.

A popular push to collect signatures

In September 2014 Uniterre got the green light to pursue signature collections. Without any significant funding the project moved ahead thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers, braving the weather to assure a presence on the streets. Every opportunity to reach out to potential sympathisers was seized: parties, street protests, marches, outreach stands, national votes, conferences, mailings, and inserts – a truly colossal undertaking. The required numbers were reached just weeks before the deadline

Moving it forward in parliament

In June 2016, the Swiss Federal Council issued a communiqué in which it both declared the initiative unfavourable to the Swiss economy and announced it would not put forward a counter draft. The council has until March 2017 to issue an explanation of its position.

It is worth noting in passing that there are currently other popular initiatives in agriculture and food being debated in Swiss parliament. Namely, an initiative was launched by Union Suisse des Paysans, the umbrella organisation of Swiss farming groups,  which acts to safeguard existing policies and steer the industry. An additional initiative proposed by the Green Party “for food equity” aims to hold food imported into Switzerland to the same social and environmental standards as those that govern Swiss farmers. Pricked by this welter of initiatives, the parliament has no choice but to take note of the unrest laid bare by the more than 400,000 signatures.

Returning to the “food security” initiative, as soon as the federal council’s announcement is made the parliament must begin preparation of its own position. There is every indication that parliament will oppose the text and urge the Swiss people to do the same.  Thee public vote is expected to be called between autumn 2018 and winter 2019.

Towards a popular vote

Uniterre has taken steps aimed at broadening their support base. The task includes convincing a wider cross-section of the population on the issues of food sovereignty. The challenge is significant given the diverse activist and political agendas at play,  all the more so in an environment where many are hesitant to support ambitious and visionary initiatives. The real mobilisation for the vote will begin the second half of 2018.

Source: La Via Campesina: – Towards a popular vote on food sovereignty in Switzerland