The global food system is in crisis. The root cause? Food being treated as just another commodity to be traded, not a right for communities and individuals.
Hunger on the scale we see today is the result of a global economy in which hundreds of millions of small farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists and indigenous people have faced ruin through the hijacking of the food system by large agribusiness and food retailers.
Hunger: a political problem
The idea of ‘food security’ championed by the UK government and the international community relegates the issue of hunger to a social welfare problem, one that can be resolved by simply handing out more food. It fails to recognise that hunger is essentially a political problem that can be resolved only by changes in the balance of power.
Food production should be in the hands of small-scale producers and not large-scale agribusiness. Food sovereignty is the positive alternative to this crisis. It is a model that guarantees people’s right to food, ecologically sustainable farming and an end to corporate control of the global food system
Food sovereignty provides the answer to feed the world nutritious, healthy food produced sustainably at a fair price.
Our food: the ‘low-cost’ illusion
Over the past 50 years the food system has been transformed into an illusory ‘low-cost’ food economy where large companies have positioned themselves as the feeders of the world with an army of supermarkets and long food chains.
Decisions about what is produced, consumed and who has access to food are defined by those multinational corporations that control the entire food chain. Companies such as Cargill, Unilever and supermarket chain Tesco continue to report record profits even as record numbers of people go hungry.
UK Aid: fuelling poverty in Africa
Worse still the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is using the aid budget to tighten the corporate stranglehold over the global food system. Under the banner the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition our government is signing countries up to the exploitation of their land for big business
DFID has been using hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money with the express purpose of extending the power of agribusiness over the production of food, in Africa. While this will increase the profits of corporate giants such as Monsanto, Unilever and Syngenta, it threatens to destroys mall farmer’s livelihoods and rural communities condemning them to long-term poverty.
The crisis in the global food system results from deliberate political choices that favour corporate interests while they condemn hundreds of millions to despair. That system is bankrupt, and must be changed.
Corporate exploitation of land and control over seed and agricultural inputs has created terrible and tragic outcomes – from mass suicides in India where GM cotton has been promoted amongst small farmers by big business and catastrophically failed to meet expectations, to the poverty wages and abusive exploitation of workers in supermarket supply chains.
Seven principles of Food Sovereignty
La Via Campesina represents millions of small-scale farmers around the world and offers an opportunity for them to unite and resist the exploitation multinational corporations and governments subject them to. War on Want supports La Via Campesina's struggle for a just world. The principles underpinning food sovereignty were introduced by La Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in 1996.
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 realisation of this fundamental right.
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 on 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, seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practise 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 agrochemicals.
Reorganising Food Trade
Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritise production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
Ending the Globalisation of Hunger
Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations (MNCs) over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organisations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for MNCs is therefore needed.
Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalisation in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanisation, oppression of smallholder farmers and increasing incidence of racism against them cannot be tolerated.
Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organisations will have to undergo a process of democratisation 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 decision-making on food and rural issues.