Coined by La Via Campesina in 1996, food sovereignty is defined as "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."
In a nutshell, food sovereignty puts producers and democracy at the centre of our food systems.
The concept was further defined the First Forum for Food Sovereignty held in Sélingué, Mali in 2007. The resulting Nyéléni Declaration established six pillars for food sovereignty:
- Focuses on Food for People
- Values Food Providers
- Localizes Food Systems
- Puts Control Locally
- Builds Knowledge and Skills
- Works with Nature
In Canada, a large consultation process has resulted in the addition of a seventh pillar: Food is Sacred, which recognizes that Indigenous people have long identified food, water, soil and air as sources of life, and not as resources.
Food Sovereignty or Food Security?
The term food sovereignty was born as a result of dissatisfaction with the assumptions behind the term food security. Though widely used, food security does little to challenge ‘business as usual’ thinking in our global food systems. As a concept, it means that people can access adequate amounts of food and nutrition regardless of procurement or production methods. That is to say, food security makes no distiction between local production or international trade and global imports.
Louisa Gomez, a Honduran farmer and FIPAH leader in Honduras
For Louisa Gomez, a Honduran farmer and leader with the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH), USC Canada’s partner organization in Honduras, “food security is the government making sure there’s enough food in the stores, whether or not people have enough money to buy it. Food sovereignty is people with the ability to grow their own food and feed themselves.”
If food security is about the consumer, food sovereignty puts the focus on the importance of producers and insists on their democratic rights in decision making. Small-holder farmers produce 70 per cent of the food consumed worldwide on only 25 per cent of the arable land, a number continuously decreasing as large-scale land grabs intensify.
Food sovereignty also recognizes food as a right and a public good, not as a commodity, and food production as about relationships between community and with nature, not trade and commerce.
The concept also understands hunger not as a result of insufficient food production, but as a problem of food governance, unequal distribution and injustice. Studies also show that food produced through traditional farming techniques and agroecology provide enough nutrients and calories to feed our growing populations. Food waste, unsustainable models of food production and unequal terms of trade that disadvantage the small food producer are also part of the world’s chronic hunger problems.
As a transformative concept, food sovereignty challenges the notion of food as commodity, focusing on producers. At its core, food sovereignty aims to reclaim decision-making power for citizens, producers and consumers and to localize food systems.
To date, eight countries have embedded food sovereignty in their constitution: Ecuador, Venezuela, Mali, Bolivia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Senegal.
- In 2005, enough food was produced to provide 2,772 calories for every person in the world
- In sub-Saharan Africa where 27.6 per cent of people suffer from hunger, there was enough to provide everyone with 2,238 calories a day
- In South Asia, where 21.8 per cent of people are hungry, there was enough for all to enjoy 2,293 calories a day (Roberts, 2013, 13)