- Mieke van HemertMieke van HemertIndependent Researcher
Food sovereignty is a paradigm on food system transformation advanced by peasant organizations worldwide in response to the commoditization of food through free trade agreements, deteriorating environmental and livelihood conditions in rural areas, and marginalization of the peasantry. Food sovereignty is an alternative to the current global, industrial corporate food regime and involves changes at all levels of the food system with relocalization, regaining control over territories, and agroecological production as key strivings. Food is viewed as a basic human right, as opposed to a commodity. Domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency have priority over long-distance trade. Food is regarded as a part of culture, heritage, and cosmovision. Agroecological practices that restore agrobiodiversity and lessen dependence and indebtedness of farmers are to replace monocultures, which are highly dependent on external inputs and harmful to the environment. There is a central role for smallholders and rural peoples in food production, who should (re)gain control over land and territories, individually and collectively, especially women. This is to be realized through forms of agrarian reform that go beyond land redistribution. Societal change toward peaceful coexistence, equality, and care for the earth is an ultimate goal.
Food sovereignty is a research topic in a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, geography, law, philosophy, history, agronomy, and ecology, alongside transdisciplinary research on food systems. While first advanced as a mobilizing concept by the transnational agrarian movement La Vía Campesina in 1996, food sovereignty has become a policy framework adopted by various governments and international organizations. The movement has successfully lobbied the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization to adopt new rights and guidelines that bring obligations for governments to protect rural peoples against transnational corporations undermining their access to land, water, forests, and seeds. The movement itself has diversified, and its definition of food sovereignty has evolved and become more inclusive.
The food sovereignty paradigm has been criticized for being too expansive, complex, and unclear. Analyses of the competing discourses of food sovereignty and food security reveal contrasts and complementarities. Scholarly debate has also focused on the position of both peasants and farm workers in the capitalist economy and on processes of de- and repeasantization.
Societal and scholarly debate on the various dimensions of food sovereignty is ongoing. Academic research foregrounds fundamental questions, including what role the state is expected to play, what forms of trade are envisaged, how the rights approach functions, the interplay of different transformative processes, changing economic and ecological contexts, tensions between different social groups, and power-related challenges. The number of case studies on the struggle for food sovereignty is growing and exhibits wide geographical diversity.
- Agriculture and the Environment