Food Sovereignty

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= "Food sovereignty" is a term coined by members of Via Campesina, the international farmers' movement, to refer to the right of communities and nations to implement their own food policies and promote local food systems respecting people's livelihoods, cultures and the environment. It is a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations around the world. [1]


See also: Food Sovereignty Movement ; Land Sovereignty


Andrianna Natsoulas:

"Food Sovereignty is the right of people to determine their own food and agriculture systems. It calls for a governance and distribution system imbedded in communities and environmental sustainability. It ensures the health, cultural, political and economic needs of a community are securely met. It does not negate trade, but rather puts the needs of the community first.

Food sovereignty promotes community-based agriculture and fishing, local control over policies, protection of biodiversity and native seeds, land reform, and access to the sea. This political and economic paradigm offers an alternative to the industrial food production and free trade models that are destroying local communities. Food sovereignty was first brought to light in 1996 by the global peasant network La Via Campesina.

Although food sovereignty is being actualized in fishing and farming communities through the United States, the term, itself, is not yet widely recognized. The concept of food sovereignty takes different forms and is described in different ways. Organic farmers may call it sustainable agriculture. Community supported fisheries may call it food justice; urban farmers may call it food security. Food Sovereignty is a food system model that combines all these approaches." (


Focus on the Global South:

"At the World Food Summit in 1996, La Via Campesina (LVC) launched a concept that both challenged the corporate dominated, market driven model of globalised food production and distribution, as well as offering a new paradigm to fight hunger and poverty by developing and strengthening local economies. Since then, food sovereignty has captured the imagination of people the world over - including many governments and multilateral institutions - and has become a global rallying cry for those committed to social, environmental, economic and political justice.

Food sovereignty is different from food security in both approach and politics. Food security does not distinguish where food comes from, or the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. National food security targets are often met by sourcing food produced under environmentally destructive and exploitative conditions, and supported by subsidies and policies that destroy local food producers but benefit agribusiness corporations. Food sovereignty emphasizes ecologically appropriate production, distribution and consumption, social-economic justice and local food systems as ways to tackle hunger and poverty and guarantee sustainable food security for all peoples. It advocates trade and investment that serve the collective aspirations of society. It promotes community control of productive resources ; agrarian reform and tenure security for small-scale producers ; agro-ecology ; biodiversity ; local knowledge ; the rights of peasants, women, indigenous peoples and workers ; social protection and climate justice.

In 2001, delegates from peasant, fisher-folk, indigenous peoples, civil society, and academic organisations met in Havana at the World Forum on Food Sovereignty to elaborate the different elements of food sovereignty. From 2000 onwards, campaigners against the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture demanded public support for sustainable, family based food production and called for Priority to Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and WTO out of Food and Agriculture. The International Forum on Food Sovereignty in 2007 in Mali was a defining milestone for food sovereignty and brought together more than 500 people from 80 countries to pool ideas, strategies and actions to strengthen the global movement for food sovereignty.

The Declaration of Nyéléni encapsulates the vision of the movement and asserts : Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation... Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal-fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability… Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.

Food sovereignty makes sense for people in both, rural and urban areas, and poor and wealthy countries. It is as much a space of resistance to neoliberalism, free market capitalism, destructive trade and investment, as a space to build democratic food and economic systems, and just and sustainable futures. Its transformative power has been acknowledged by the Special Rapporteurs to the Right to food, Jean Ziegler and Olivier de Schutter, and in key policy documents such as the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development).

The majority of the world’s food is produced by over one billion small-scale food producers, many of who, tragically, are hungry themselves. We will not find lasting solutions to catastrophic climate change, environmental deterioration and economic shocks unless we amplify their voices and capacities.

The story of food sovereignty is a story of struggle and hope. ... Now more than ever is the time for food sovereignty." (


Via Campesina's seven principles of food sovereignty include:

  • Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
  • Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
  • Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
  • Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
  • Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
  • Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
  • Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues."



"Food sovereignty is increasingly being promoted as an alternative framework to the narrower concept of Food security, which mostly focuses on the technical problem of providing adequate nutrition. For instance, a Food security agenda that simply provides surplus grain to hungry people would probably be strongly criticised by food sovereignty advocates as just another form of commodity dumping, facilitating corporate penetration of foreign markets, undermining local food production, and possibly leading to irreversible biotech contamination of indigenous crops with patented varieties. U.S. taxpayer subsidized exports of Bt corn to Mexico since the passage of NAFTA is a case in point." (

Paul Nicholson, Via Campesina:

"Food sovereignty is a perspective for changing society and an alternative to the neoliberal policies, from a social and community perspective. This means that food sovereignty is much greater than food security. It’s the political right to control polices and the public goods and define what we eat from a social perspective, not just an individual one. And within the framework of neoliberal politics this is clearly not going to happen. The theory and practice of comparative advantage has resulted in the massive destruction of the rural world because it reduces everything to the criteria of competition without any basis for social or labor rights. At the same time, it generates environmental costs that are then socialized. We have to reveal that neoliberal policies are the causes of the poverty, exclusion, and misery that exist in the world. And although we know that neoliberal policies have failed in this day in age, they continue to drive models of production that are absolutely destructive. The response we can give to such policies is Food Sovereignty that brings together all movements: rural, urban, from the North and from the South. Food sovereignty as a right of the people is an integral demand for social movements from around the world.

We think that the new pathways and the new food and agriculture policies should be based on the kind of Food Sovereignty that is not just for farmers, but a collective right of the people. It is the right of citizens to determine food and agriculture policies, to decide what and how to produce and who produces. It is the right to public goods like water, land, and seeds. We need policies based on solidarity among citizens and between consumers and producers. We need to regulate markets because it is impossible to maintain agrarian policies based on market liberalization. We need socially sustainable, ecologically produced food that provides work for people everywhere." (

Why Food Sovereignty is different from Food Security

Via Martin Pedersen:

"Keep in mind that in the usual/conventional conceptions and in accordance with their origins, food security is *very* different from food sovereignty. Only the latter is commons oriented, while the former is antithetic to commons.

Food security, embraced by FAO, nation states etc.., is a means to keep social unrest at a level that doesn't threaten the status quo of liberal, representative democracy and which is compatible with the market:

"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."

Food sovereignty, on the other hand, conceived by social movements, in part as a response to the liberal idea of food security, threatens the status quo and, if realised, undermines market mechanisms in favour of - wehay! - commons:

"Food sovereignty means the primacy of people’s and community’s rights to food and food production, over trade concerns." (

See also:


Fatou Batta interviewed by Groundswell

What does Food Sovereignty mean to the rural people in Burkina Faso?

The [people in Burkina Faso] may not know it in terms of Food Sovereignty, but to me it's a question of having a choice, to produce what we can eat—which is appropriate—and eat what we produce, and that will contribute to the local economy.

In terms of successful experiences we try to find out with at least twenty farmers at a session as representatives, and what we've found is water catchment techniques combined with organic manure and we've improved seeds. These three combined techniques just boost productivity. Also using some of the nitrogen fixing trees can … improve the soil and … the productivity. The changes may vary from fifty percent to above 120 percent. One resident was saying that in the previous year [they] couldn't fill one granary but with the three [techniques] combined I can fill three granaries and can go through the whole year without any worrying about food.

You have very successful experiences, but at a very limited scale. So … our perspective is to say "okay, what made you successful?" "Who are the leaders that are promoting it?" "To what extent [can] these leaders … expand it to the neighborhoods; communities?"

And I think it is feasible, it's just a question of will, because what we can observe, many of these NGOs are still tied to technology transfer, using a lot of …chemical fertilizer, and this is out of the reach of small-scale farmers. And among these small-scale farmers, many are women, and they … can't afford it, and the have a very bad land to crop on. So, to me, NGOs can do better if they try to promote agroecological techniques and try to support these leaders who are doing it.

It doesn't mean a lot of investment, in terms of resources, [they just need] to find out 'where are these successful experiences?' 'who are the leaders?' and to what extent and to what extent [can we] support them?

Groundswell is spearheading … sustainable agroecological techniques, and we can show evidence and we see it can be expanded. Perhaps we'll get some of those NGOs to buy in, because food is the burning issue right now. One thing is also to link it to consumers; to market because if they produce [farmers] would like to get money from [that].

I think the question of Food Sovereignty needs to be related …we need to insist on it. There is a change in food habits, trying to do something different from what we used to do, so I … feel we are becoming dependent on excellent food, so to me we need to rethink our food habits and also try to eat what we produce." (

More Information

  2. Groundswell International on how NGO's can enhance food sovereignty,
  3. Food Sovereignty Movement