Last Sunday and Monday I (Helen) was lucky enough to attend the first of what will hopefully be many gatherings, of people working towards food sovereignty in many different ways. Over 100 community growers, producers, co- operative workers, researchers, campaigners and activists came together to help build the food sovereignty movement here in the UK.
It reminded me a bit of our first FeedingManchester, but on a national scale, with the bringing together of lots of like minded people. (far too much to talk about and do!), and within only hours the feeling that we were part of an exciting and growing movement.
The gathering came out of the Nyeleni international Food Sovereignty conferences, organised by Via Campesina, and used the principles which over 400 activists from across Europe signed up to at the second conference in Krems last summer (which I also got to go to as one of the UK team).
The gathering was held at Organic Lea, an amazing organic food growing co-op on the outskirts of London.
Amy Horton, Food Campaigner with the World Development Movement has done a great write up (http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-and-hunger/new-movement-born-food-sovereignty-uk) of some main points that came out of the event in her blog so I won't re-invent the wheel.
Our inspiration came from the six principles of food sovereignty, which were developed by farmers and social movements from around the world at a 2007 forum in Mali. In essence, food sovereignty is about valuing food and the work and knowledge of the people who produce it, reclaiming democratic control of our food system and natural resources, and practising sustainable methods. We also built on last year’s European gathering, which rejected policies that prioritise competing for international trade over a fair food system.
At the UK gathering, we asked the vast questions, ‘What needs to change?’ and ‘What needs to grow?’ Here are our top ten answers:
- Valuing food and farming properly – we currently pay more for a bottle of water than a pint of milk!
- Democratising the food system by making councils more powerful, holding government to account or building participatory channels
- Connecting communities and farms to help localise the food system, through local currencies, sustainable food bonds, exchanging labour for food, box schemes etc.
- Challenging GM and celebrating our seed heritage – as in the recent ‘take the flour back’ action
- Changing the unjust and untransparent distribution of land in the UK, where 1 per cent of the population owns 69 per cent of the land. This could mean land occupations, mapping unused land or offering start-up capital to new farmers
- Building networks and solidarity between producers, workers, campaigners and researchers to show that there’s a strong movement for change
- Educating children and young people so they can grow and appreciate food
- Changing how schools, hospitals and other public bodies buy food, with Brazil a good example
- Switching the research agenda from industrial methods to agroecology
- Transforming government policy in the UK, Europe and internationally to slash the influence of corporations and financial speculators
After an evening of local ale, Dorset cider and a ceilidh, we gathered early the next morning. We had just one day to translate our ideas into plans before heading back to our offices, fields or stores. Soon we’ll be able to share an action plan on the updated website, where you’ll also be able to sign up to get involved. You might, for example, want to join the international solidarity group to help organise the Good Food March on Brussels in September and respond to call-outs from groups in the global south. Or you could join future actions to protest the corporate power and risks of GM food. You could support radical land reform with Reclaim the Fields in the Forest of Dean. Could you help the newly formed group that will lobby DEFRA from a food sovereignty perspective? Or help us reach out to conventional farmers, whose demo today shows that they want a different food system?