Food Sovereignty and Land Rights in North Africa

Since the 19th century, people in North African countries have been dispossessed by colonialism, their rich natural resources stolen and exported to the centres of the colonial powers.

After independence, this economic model of primary resources exportation has not changed. Water-intensive agribusiness farming (among other heavy extractive activities) exports the countries’ agricultural commodities.

The commodification of food in North Africa has had devastating consequences for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk who are not able to consume the basic food they have produced.

This system of exploitation has also had a dramatic environmental impact, stressing the water supply in some desert areas that were already water scarce. North African countries are amongst the largest food importers in the world, in some cases relying on world markets for more than 50% of their food.

Economic and agricultural policies in North Africa have for a long time been shaped by political elites, both nationally and abroad, as well as transnational corporations. This has further marginalised smallholder farmers, and intensified conflicts over land, water and other resources; the agricultural model means that virtually all the water is exported – in the form of water-intensive produce such as of tomatoes, watermelons, strawberries, etc. – in a region that faces growing aridity and water poverty.

But communities have organised to resist the plundering of their natural resources, the seizure of their lands, the severe exploitation of their workforce and the loss of their livelihoods.

Watch the short video with our partners testimonies about their struggles and the movements.

The industrial food system in North Africa

A neo-colonial model that works for the few, not the many

The current industrial food system only produces about 30% of the world's food; 75% of the global agricultural land is currently exploited by agribusiness companies that produce export-oriented commodities (like soy and maize) as feed in industrial animal farming, as biofuels/biomass, and as food additives that contribute to the ultra-processed food industry. This industrial system makes it so that many people only have access to food that has low nutritional value, and this is a key cause of the current pandemic malnutrition, both in the global north and the global south.

For decades, farmers’ organisations have been denouncing of this model as unsustainable, saying it would not only lead to regular crises of hunger and poverty, but also new zoonotic epidemics and pandemics, which has been proven in the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been obvious for decades that this model is not working and is dramatically unsustainable in the long term, from a social, economic and environmental point of view.

North African countries are deeply affected by the failing industrial food system. The food crises and uprisings beginning in the early 2000s in countries such as Tunisia and Morocco shed light onto these failures, both in the region and globally.

Resistance in North Africa: fighting for Food Sovereignty

For the last two years, we have worked with partners in North Africa who are equipping grassroots activists and smallholder farmers in Tunisia and Morocco with the knowledge, skills and networks to fight against agribusiness.

In 2018, our partners in North Africa started to organise themselves into the North African Network for Food Sovereignty. Organisations with different backgrounds from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco united in their struggles against land grabbing and the commoditisation of food, and began together to raise international awareness and promote alternative agricultural models based on food sovereignty and social justice. They are trade unions, cooperatives and associations working for food sovereignty and land rights in North Africa. The network unifies and raises the voices of peasants, fisherfolk, agricultural workers and brings together the struggles in the region for action at national, continental and intercontinental action.

Our partners also wrote two research reports that document the disastrous effects of decades of agricultural liberalisation policies, and propose alternative models and policies that could ensure food sovereignty and social justice in North Africa.  

Download and read our partner’s research summary (in English)

Watch the full-length documentary from our Tunisian partners – Al Warcha and Working Group on Food Sovereignty.

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