From peasant farmer movements worldwide, an approach to the food system has emerged that puts power in the hands of producers and consumers instead of banks, traders and corporations. It rejects inappropriate, corporate-controlled solutions to hunger such as GM technology and cash crop monocultures, and advocates the rights of the many to define and control their own sustainable food systems. It’s an approach that shapes Kindling’s work around food and farming and sets out very clearly the kind of things we're trying to achieve. It is called Food Sovereignty and we believe its time has come.
The concept of food sovereignty has been born out of a mobilisation of small-scale farmers across the globe, particularly in the Global South. The movement grew from the realisation that they were no longer able to make a living from farming within a global food system dominated by corporate interests and neoliberal ideology. The movement has since grown into one of the largest and most vibrant social movements in the world, and occupies a central place in the discourse of food activists today.
Food sovereignty stands as a clear alternative to the concept of food security, in that it considers not only the immediate availability of food, but how it is produced, distributed and consumed. Food sovereignty addresses the environmental impact and sustainability of all the processes involved in food production, as well as the underlying inequalities within the structure of the current system. The movement represents a desire for decisions about the way the food systems work to be taken away from powerful corporations driven by profit, and placed back in the hands of the people. It has provided an outlet through which small-scale farmers in all corners of the globe have articulated a shared response to the neoliberal onslaught that has devastated their livelihoods.
The most comprehensive attempt to define these ideas was made at the first International Food Sovereignty Forum in Mali in 2007. Over 500 representatives from more than 80 countries gathered together under the banner of ‘Nyéléni’ with the aim of strengthening the movement for food sovereignty. Reports and further information from Nyéléni can be found here.
The Nyéléni forum collated a set of six 'Pillars of Food Sovereignty' which now form the accepted definition of Food Sovereignty:
1. Focuses on food for people - values the right to sufficient, healthy, culturally appropriate food, rejecting the proposition that food is just another commodity.
2. Values food providers - values and supports contributions from all food providers, and rejects policies, actions and programmes that undervalue them.
3. Localises food systems - brings food providers and consumers closer together
4. Puts control locally - places control over natural resources in the hands of local food providers and respects their rights
5. Builds knowledge and skills - supports the passing of wisdom to future generations, rejecting technologies that undermine, threaten or contaminate this (e.g. genetic engineering)
6. Works with nature - values the contributions of nature, and rejects methods that harm beneficial ecosystem functions, damage the environment & contribute to global warming
Since Nyéléni 2007, the movement has seen significant developments in Europe, culminating in the Nyéléni European Forum in 2011. Helen Woodcock, co-founder of Kindling, was one of 400 people from 34 European countries who came together to share experiences and to discuss ways to work towards achieving Food Sovereignty. For more on Nyéléni 2011, check out Helen’s blog at www.kindling.org.uk/blogs/helen.
Kindling was conceived before the 6 Food Sovereignty pillars were first defined, but for us, like so many others around the globe, they sum up exactly what we are trying to achieve. They bring together all the things that are important to us - justice, equity, democracy and ecological sustainability, and call for the genuine deep-rooted change in our food system that we think we need. We are now actively involved in the UK's own Food Sovereignty movement and consciously utilise the Food Sovereignty approach in our work.
For further information on food sovereignty check out the links listed below.