Food sovereignty movement goes global

Campaigns to create sustainable and just food systems are reaching Europe and the UK

An increasing number of grassroots groups across the planet are promoting a new framework to radically alter the way we produce and distribute food.

Uniting behind the banner of ‘food sovereignty’, people are working not just for access to food – as described by the concept of food security – but for communities to have the right to democratically define their own food and agricultural systems without harming other people or the environment.

A declaration laying out the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food, has been signed by more than 500 representatives from more than 80 countries, including umbrella groups such as La Via Campesina who represent 200 million small-scale farmers and peasants internationally.

Born out of the first Food Sovereignty Forum in Mali, Africa in 2007, the Declaration of Nyéléni states that it is farmers and citizens who need to be at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of the markets or corporations.

What food sovereignty looks like on the ground is unique to each place, as cultural and ecological diversity are celebrated.

“Whether we try to grow our own food, run a local food scheme, campaign against genetic engineering or for access to land or better conditions for farm labourers, people around the globe are working on food sovereignty in a million different ways,” says Tomas Remiarz, a trustee of the Permaculture Association in the UK, who recently encouraged members to vote for the association to sign the Nyéléni Declaration.

Tomas attended the first European Forum for Food Sovereignty, which took place in Krems, Austria this summer. There he joined more than 400 people from 34 countries – from Turkish trade unionists to Swiss land activists.

“The question that brought us together was: How can we, the people of Europe, feed ourselves without destroying other people’s opportunities to feed themselves?” says Tomas.

The seeds for establishing a working understanding of what food sovereignty means in the UK are still being sown and many look to peasant organisations in the global south who have paved the way in taking action.

War on Want, an NGO fighting poverty in developing countries, together with the All Parliamentary Group on Agro-ecology, organised a Food Sovereignty Day at the House of Commons this October. Speakers were invited from Brazil, Nigeria, Cuba, Mozambique and Sri Lanka to inspire those in the UK to build a movement to reclaim our food system.

Luis Machanga, from the National Peasants’ Union of Mozambique described the current food system as being “like a straitjacket” whereas food sovereignty “is a liberation.”

This liberating framework has often been used in international development contexts but now land and food activists in the UK are recognising the power of the principles. With such a vibrant community food movement and an ever rising interest in ‘growing your own’, food sovereignty adds a positive political edge that encourages anyone concerned with their food to consider the context of how it was produced.

Young people are also at the forefront of developing food sovereignty, with groups such as Reclaim the Fields challenging inequalities in land distribution in the UK. Their desire for a food system no longer dominated by multinational corporations or a handful of retailers is escalating, while people across Europe are working to access land and grow food for their communities.

Groups ranging from development charities to Transition Town organisations are now planning a UK food sovereignty forum for 2012, which will create a space to explore how we can determine our own food systems that can make local, ethically and ecologically produced food the default way we nourish our communities at home.