What is Food Sovereignty?
The concept of food sovereignty was made popular in the 1990s by the rural social movement La Via Campesina in response to the Green Revolution and the introduction of global free trade policies. La Via Campesina was made up of many small peasant organisations coming together to draw attention to the struggles of small-scale farmers, and the ecological impacts of industrial farming.
In the last 25 years, the concept of food sovereignty and its associated political framework have united a wide range of actors, including farm and food workers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, consumers, academics and urban food justice organisations.
Over time, the food sovereignty movement has grown, and the definitions of food sovereignty have evolved. It is now most commonly defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate foods, produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods” … “and their right to define their own food and agriculture system”. The food sovereignty movement seeks to challenge inequalities of power in the food system and clearly stands against the dominance of industrial agricultural practices, the growing power of corporations, and the undemocratic governance of food and agricultural trade. The food sovereignty movement generally promotes agroecology, peasant and family farming, and local or regional food systems, with shorter distances between where food is produced and consumed. However, the definitions of food sovereignty remain relatively open, as the food sovereignty movement prioritises democratic and inclusive decision making and context specific solutions.
Food Security vs Food Sovereignty
For many years definitions of food security used by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation focused on the availability of, and access to food. Food sovereignty was promoted as an alternative concept rejecting the understandings of food as a commodity and source of profit and framing hunger and malnutrition as a political problem rather than a technical challenge. Over time definitions of food security have expanded to acknowledge the social, economic, and political mechanisms governing food distributions and the importance of agency and equity. While the two concepts are becoming more closely aligned, food sovereignty is generally associated with grassroots political actions, and policymakers and intergovernmental organisations use food security more widely. La Via Campesina, believes food security cannot exist without food sovereignty:
Long-term food security depends on those who produce food and care for the natural environment. As the stewards of food-producing resources, we hold the following principles as the necessary foundation for achieving food security...
Food is a basic human right. This right can only be realized in a system where food sovereignty is guaranteed. Food sovereignty is the right of each nation to maintain and develop its own capacity to produce its basic foods, respecting cultural and productive diversity. We have the right to produce our own food in our own territory. Food sovereignty is a precondition to genuine food security.
(Via Campesina 1996)