A Brief Overview of Food Sovereignty, How it Differs from Food Security, and Why it Matters

The term “food sovereignty” was first coined by the Via Compesina movement (which is an international organization that coordinates rural workers, agricultural workers, and indigenous groups to help them further their demands for rights relating to their land and food) which differs from food security. Food security refers to the availability of food, and that all people have the right to have access to food, while food sovereignty means not only having access to food, but having the ability to control the land where the food is produced so that food (other than what is provided through aid organizations or produced corporately or internationally) and also the right to decide what food will be grown and harvested on that land.

The concepts of food sovereignty are based on seven principles: 1) Food is a basic human right, 2) There is a need for an agrarian reform which gives land ownership and control back to farming people, 3) Promote sustainable care and use of natural resources, 4) National agricultural policies must make domestic food production a priority to have food self-sufficiency, 5) End multinational corporations’ control over food to end the globalization of hunger, 6) Promote social peace by preventing the use of food as a weapon of war, and, 7) Small farm owners must be involved in creating and formulating agricultural policies at all levels, allowing a democratic control of the land (ViaCampesina.Org).

There are several reasons why there is a need for the food sovereignty movement. First, there are several policies and international laws that promote the importation of food and discourage the production of food domestically. Second, due to the fear that there may not be enough land to produce the quantity of food that is needed to feed 7 billion people, there has been mass land-grabbing movements in Africa by multinational corporations, which forces indigenous populations off their land. Third, because of the second reason and also due to civil and international war, there has been a rise in the number of displaced persons which creates even more of a need for land and food sovereignty.

The very basis for the need of a food sovereignty movement is, to me, both appalling and incredible. We (the human race) have been devised a system that will allow us to control others with the thing that is the most basic need of all humans. We have used to it to gain financially, economically, physically, militarily, and politically knowing full well the outcomes that policies, treaties, and laws would have on other societies, nations, and livelihoods. What is more amazing is that this happens on a daily basis without much attention given to the subject in the media. Moreover, people all over the world are supporting food inequality and food dependence without knowing it (or if they do know, they do not care enough to change their habits). Buying food from corporations that do not use ethical or respectful methods for producing that food instead of buying from local farmers not only promotes food inequality, it supports and furthers their agenda of maintain control of both the land and the food supply.

Businesses are not the only ones restructuring the countryside to ensure their needs are met. The World Bank has developed and implemented structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that target “third world” nations and creates more poverty and hunger while ensuring that the nation stays buried under a mountain of debt. Essentially, the World Bank offers financial assistance to (developing) countries but the countries must agree to terms of how that money will be spent in their country. These terms include cutbacks of the economy and resources, privatization is encouraged while the role of the state is minimized, interest rates are increased, food subsidies are eliminated, and various standards and regulations are removed in order to become more attractive to foreign investors (Shah, 2010).

The impact these SAPs have on already struggling nations is devastating. Countries are now forced to export more goods (raw resources which are cheaper than finished products) in order to be able to pay debts on time which also forces them into the global market before they are structurally or economically ready to do so. Resources from these nations become even cheaper, creating more of a demand from Western countries, which forces governments of the poor nations to increase their exports again. The value of labor decreases which creates social unrest, ensuring that these nations will never progress from their current status and will remain dependent on other nations, corporations, or international organizations. In other words, the poor get poorer while the rich get richer (Shah, 2010).

In 2001, there was a World Trade Organization conference in Doha and this quote was used to sum up the effects of SAPs: “A fertilizer bomb that kills hundreds in Oklahoma. Fuel-laden civil jets that kill 4000 in New York. A sanctions policy that kills one and a half million in Iraq. A trade policy that immiserates continents. You can make a bomb out of anything. The ones on paper hurt the most" (Patel, 2001). The effects of structural adjustment programs have been known to cause devastation and promote inequality and further divided the global north and south for centuries.

According to the United Nations (UN World Food Program Stats, 2010):
•Hunger is the world’s number one health risk, killing more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined
•925 million people do not have enough to eat, 98 percent of them living in developing countries
•There are more hungry people in the world than the populations of the USA, Canada, and the EU combined
•60 percent of the world’s hungry are women
•10.9 million children under five years of age die every year in developing countries. 60 percent of these deaths is from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases

It’s clear that there is a need to reform the way food is viewed, used, and distributed, and grown. With staggering statistics like those listed above, it is ludicrous to think that the very organizations that claim to be helping end hunger are actually perpetuating the cycle. El Salvador, for example, took part in the Bank’s SAPs and was forced to privatize grain storage, import staples such as corn and rice, and export cocoa, coffee and palm oil. When El Salvador was brought into the global market, grain prices had soared, leaving a huge population unable to afford the prices and farmers unable to sell their crops. When a nation is brought in the global market, local farmers of that country must also compete with the international market (BIC.org, 2008).

The structural design of the World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) is systematically flawed. The amount of power members of these organizations have is directly related to the amount of money they contribute in subscription fees. (In other words, one dollar one vote.) Therefore, their policies are shaped by the principal shareholders. In order to get funding from either organization, a country has to be determined to be credit worthy by the IMF. Without their approval, a country will not be able to qualify for financial assistance. Once they are approved, the country has to accept all terms and conditions of the SAP in order to receive the money (Jauch, 2009).

SAPs are constructed on the condition that the debtor country repays in hard currency. This leads to the policy of exporting at all costs since that is the only way for developing countries to obtain hard currency. SAPs have four fundamental objectives: 1) Liberalization- Promoting the free movement of capital and opening of national markets to international competition; 2) Privitization of public services and companies; 3) De-regulating of labor relations and cutting social safety nets, and; 4) Improving competitiveness (Jauch, 2009).

The way food was (is) viewed and how the problem of hunger has grown has evolved with industry and technology. The "non-modern view of hunger required the restoration of cosmic balance (i.e., re-establishment of harmony on metaphysical, political, and social planes). Conversely, the modern view of hunger required increased centralization and hierarchical organization. It recreates the problem it wishes to solve because its solutions are part of the problem" (Uzondu, 2010, p. 85). Rather than view food inequality and hunger as a social and political problem, it has become a puzzle for modern science to solve. It is for this reason that I intentionally choose to use the term “food sovereignty” over “food security." Food security implies that the hunger problem our world faces is due to lack of food, therefore the solution is to produce more (that is all genetically engineered). Food sovereignty is about bringing back the respect that food, land, and people deserve and that none of these should be exploited for financial, economical, or other gain. The relationship people have with food is very different from culture to culture. It is important to realize that for many Asian and African countries, food is not just fuel for the body, it is a communal event, it feeds their souls, it provides them an income, it balances their socio-economic statuses, etc.

For more information on food sovereignty, please visit: www.ViaCampesina.Org


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Comment by Angel J Avila on May 30, 2012 at 1:39pm

Great Point, Matthew. The lack of respect shown towards food, particularly by US corporations and the US government (and its entities, such as the FDA) is nauseating. In the 1980s and 1990s a number of southern African countries experiences devastating droughts. These droughts combined with the World Bank’s SAPs developed into a serious food crisis which led to a shortage in maize, which is the basic staple. The US shipped yellow maize as a food aid. Countries in the region asked the US to provide them with white corn, since in that cultural context yellow corn was used as cattle feed. The US refused. An official from USAID stated, “We are creating a market for yellow maize.” The US understood hunger to only be a biological problem and sought to penetrate Southern African markets without taking into consideration the cultural context of food. It was assumed (by the US) that hunger would simply compel the acceptance of yellow corn....It did not (Uzandu, 2010, p. 88).

Comment by jone kamut on May 30, 2012 at 10:00am

"Hunger is the world’s number one health risk, killing more people every year"...Gadhi was right when he said "the deadliest form of violence is poverty.

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