Reclaiming land and food in the UK

We need to look to grassroots communities for the future of our food system, says Graciela Romero

There is a revolution taking place on former fallow lands in the UK. Seeds of social change are being planted by community groups, schools, youth and women’s movements, and small-scale producers.

These groups, together with campaigning organisations in the UK, met with local communities throughout October to celebrate food sovereignty. Taking place in Scotland, Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Somerset and London, the events were a demonstration of initiatives happening across the country – led by people, for the people – to produce and distribute food based on principles of social and economic justice.

At these gatherings, people discussed the need to support small-scale producers and local markets, the importance of reclaiming rural and urban land for the younger generation, and the necessary public funding for research on sustainable and appropriate technologies to produce and process food for growing populations.

There were also discussions about the political and economic changes that food sovereignty campaigners believe need to happen in the UK and internationally in order to regulate supermarket retailers as well as to outlaw financial speculators and companies that promote the use of genetically modified seeds and agro-chemicals.

The food sovereignty events in the UK were enriched by the presence of leaders from the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform in Sri Lanka and the National Union of Peasants in Mozambique.

This was a unique opportunity for peasant workers from these countries to familiarise themselves with the growing grassroots movement in the UK that is taking action to change the current global food system. The international visitors had the chance to see communities producing food in the Grow Heathrow occupation and the Organiclea Project in Chingford, north London.

The exchange of experiences between peasants from the global south and small-scale rural and urban food producers in the UK, has provided further evidence that at least 70% of the world’s food is produced by peasants, pastoralists, urban food growers and fisherfolk.

Many of these small food producers, with only 1 or 2 hectares of land, are feeding the poor using a minimum of natural resources, producing food in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. They use simple and accessible techniques such as alley cropping (growing agricultural crops in between rows of trees in order to make best use of land), mixing or rotating crops, producing natural fertilisers, planting fruit trees and plants that can live for two or more years and keeping some animals, contributing to building agro-biodiversity.

Despite the evidence, corporations, international institutions and governments continue to promote the myth that we need to produce more food using genetically modified seeds and large corporate agriculture techniques regardless of the impact upon people’s health and environmental repercussions.

On World Food Day in October, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon stated: “There is more than enough food on the planet to feed everyone, yet today nearly one billion people will go hungry.”

The problem is rooted in the undemocratic and unequal policies that regulate production and distribution of food, which deny people the means to access food or the means to produce it.

A representative from Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil commented: “Production of food is not the only issue that we are working on within our movement. Community organising is vital for the shaping of new social relations that promote solidarity and encourage sharing of knowledge, sustainable techniques, seeds and plants.”

These words were echoed by a participant at the food sovereignty day organised by Transition Town Glastonbury, who said: “We need to learn how to organise among ourselves so that everybody can share the work as well as the benefits.” Community organising is a crucial element if we want to make our voices heard and to push for laws and policies that are appropriate for people.