Abstracts of Papers
September 14–15, 2013
Available abstracts and titles (to date) of the accepted/invited papers that will be presented at the conference
Food security, Food Sovereignty and Democratic Choice: Addressing Potential Contradictions
Bina Agarwal, Manchester University, UK
This paper outlines potential contradictions between efforts to achieve food security, some key elements of the concept of food sovereignty and the exercise of democratic choice by farmers, drawing especially on examples from South Asia. It also reflects on the extent to which and the conditions under which these contradictions can partially be resolved.
To elaborate, much of the developing world depends on food imports from the developed world for fulfilling its aggregate food needs. Given the uncertainties underlying such dependencies, rising and volatile food prices, and the growing shadow of climate change, efforts at national and local food sufficiency and low chemical, environmentally sustainable agriculture (both important cornerstones of the food sovereignty argument), clearly appear desirable. But would farmers seeking to make democratic choices necessarily move in that direction? An increasing proportion of farmers (men more than women) are leaving farming; many others (of both genders) would like to do so, or enable their children to do so. And many of those who choose to stay (including small farmers) opt for commercially viable crops rather than largely subsistence crops; the use of some chemicals rather than none; and to connect with national or global value chains which offer them assured markets, or use a range of outlets depending on crops grown, prices obtained and transaction costs, rather than depend solely on community markets.
It can of course legitimately be argued that the choices farmers make are subject to the constraints they face and the alternatives before them. It is important to identify those constraints — economic, institutional, technical, informational and political — and reflect on alternatives, in particular little discussed alternatives based on small-farmer cooperation. But it is equally important to recognize that the valuable rights of voice and choice, exercised by the disadvantaged in local contexts, cannot always fall in line with preconceived trajectories defined by global movements on behalf of the disadvantaged. Therein lies the contradiction and the paradox.
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Structural Transformation and Gender Rights in African Agriculture: What Pathways to Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Food Security?
Bola O Akanji, Research Professor, Economic Policy Research Department, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research
This paper brings up for policy discussion, some of the threats to Africa’s food sovereignty, gender rights and food security, in the process of agrarian transformation. The key questions are: What threats does structural transformation pose to the sovereign rights of countries as well as to gender rights and inclusive growth in Africa’s agriculture? What are the likely outcomes of recent policy changes with respect to agricultural growth and transformation on small farmers especially with focus on land rights and corporatization of land (land-grabbing)? How can these threats be turned into opportunities for rural women such that sustainable agrarian growth as well as food security is achieved? We raise and discuss pertinent issues to seek answers to these questions in the body of the paper. The implicit hypotheses of this discussion paper is that current pathways to structural transformation (ST) may appear to pose more threats than opportunities for food security and the rights of small women farmers and inter alia, for sustainable food security in agrarian African countries.
The reviews and analyses have tried to demonstrate that the dominant policy and conceptual frameworks driving envisaged changes in agricultural productivity and food security are contradicted by the actual strategies driving structural transformation and global competitiveness. Food security frameworks are either weak and inadequate or poorly understood, while food sovereignty principles are blatantly absent within these policy frameworks, especially the extent that these strategies put the necessary attention on women farmers as food producers. Development policies and compacts that address poverty are not viewed as determinants of food security and pathways to future economic possibilities,, rather as separate social and political contracts. Therefore, positive trends in the former have no significant effect on the latter. We suggest a number of conceptual and policy fusions that could ensure concomitant achievement of the core goals.
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How to Build Food Sovereignty
A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Agrarian political economy at Trent University, Peterborough, Canada; Fellow, Food First; Associated Research Professor, Academic Unit in Development Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Zacatecas, Mexico; Adjunct Professor of Economics, Master’s in Development Practice program, James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Around the world, rural social movements and urban food activist-citizens have proposed that food sovereignty has the potential to be the foundation of an alternative food system that can transcend the deep-seated social, economic and ecological contradictions of the global food economy. However, food sovereignty advocates rarely discuss the kinds of concrete changes to global and local food systems that would be necessary in the messy reality of the present if food sovereignty is to be built. As an entry point into this important discussion, and drawing in part on the author's recent book, Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question, this work-in-progress will present a series of ideas that, it will be suggested, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the realization of food sovereignty.
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Food Justice, Food Sovereignty and the Challenge of Neoliberalism
Alison Hope Alkon, Assistant Professor and Chair, Sociology Department, University of the Pacific, Stockton California
Alternative food systems have been criticized as neoliberal because they locate social change potential in consumer market behavior, assume functions that were formerly provided by the state, and produce subjectivities consistent with market logics. Food sovereignty, on the other hand, directly challenges neoliberalism by pairing local and regional ecological agriculture with direct challenges to the corporate food regime. This paper will discuss three increasingly common strategies among US food justice movements that also challenge neoliberalism. These include the creation of worker-owned food businesses, campaigns to improve workers’ wages and conditions and policy campaigns to restrict harmful agribusiness practices. It will then consider how these efforts can contribute to the struggle for food sovereignty.
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The Role of US Consumers and Producers in Food Sovereignty
Molly D. Anderson, Partridge Chair in Food & Sustainable Agriculture Systems, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine
Given food sovereignty’s origin as a movement by farmers in developing countries, its expansion to other actors in the food system and to other geographic regions is not straightforward. This paper explores how the concept of food sovereignty has been applied to date in the United States. A case study describes how several towns in the state of Maine have passed “food sovereignty” ordinances that aim to enable small-scale farmers to sell their products directly to consumers, exempt from new food safety regulations. To date, 10 Maine towns have approved these food sovereignty ordinances; but state officials have contested them in at least one town. The ability to sell directly to one’s customers seems to be only a small portion of legitimate food sovereignty claims in the U.S. The paper presents seven additional claims that could gain wider public support for food sovereignty by promoting farmers’ and consumers’ rights and linking with other social movements or interest groups. In addition, food sovereignty entails particular responsibilities for US consumers, to become achieved worldwide. These responsibilities include solidarity with developing country producers and consumers, political participation to increase food justice and sustainable consumption to ensure that resources are shared equitably. Consumer support for food sovereignty is critical in the US to gain sufficient political leverage to enact food sovereignty laws and overturn regulations that act to its detriment, in international as well as domestic policy.
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Food sovereignty: A skeptical view
Henry Bernstein, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
This paper attempts to identify and assess some of the key elements that ‘frame’ Food Sovereignty (FS): (i) a comprehensive attack on corporate industrialised agriculture, and its ecological consequences, in the current moment of globalisation; (ii) advocacy of a (the) ‘peasant way’ as the basis of a sustainable and socially just food system; and (iii) a programme to realise that world-historical goal. While sympathetic to the first of these elements, I am much more sceptical about the second because of how FS conceives ‘peasants’, and its claim that small producers who practice agroecological farming - understood as low-(external) input and labour intensive - can feed the world. This connects with an argument that FS is incapable of constructing a feasible programme (the third element) to connect the activities of small farmers with the food needs of non-farmers, whose numbers are growing both absolutely and as a proportion of the world’s population.
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Exploring the Dialectic of Labor Rights and Food Sovereignty in Everyday Work Conflicts of Argentina ́s Yerba mate Country
Jennifer S. Bowles, PhD candidate in Anthropology, University of Michigan
This paper speaks to broad but urgent questions: Should the principles of food sovereignty be folded into the construction and enforcement of labor and employment laws? How can workers ́ rights as envisioned by the ILO be coupled with fundamental precepts of food sovereignty in everyday working life at the site of food production? With these questions in mind, I examine every day Argentine politics of yerba mate (a green tea) where it is grown in the poor, Northeastern province of Misiones. Yerba mate is consumed in nearly 100% of Argentine households. It is considered a staple food, and is relied especially on by poor Argentines when food is scarce. But few consumers of the tea are aware of the working conditions under which smallholders and wage laborers work in Misiones. In what was once a vibrant landscape of small farms, neoliberal reforms from the 1990s still wreak havoc in the countryside. More and more small producers of yerba are selling their farms or have converted them to monocultural non-food crops such as the American pine used in regional paper mills. Land consolidation continues to intensify as does rural exodus. As farms are threatened, so too are models of family agriculture that have functioned for generations. In the past, both smallholders and wage laborers managed to produce food for themselves with little state intervention.
At the heart of contemporary labor conflicts in the countryside is the state ́s effort to decrease the amount of trabajo en negro, or work under the table, in which workers and employers do not pay taxes and workers receive no benefits. By most estimates, 70% of rural workers still work under the table and unfair labor practices abound. In addressing the relationship between food sovereignty and workers’ rights, I examine two movements. First, I explore the agrarian organizing that has joined together landless workers and small farmers who promote the principles of food sovereignty in the spirit of movements such as La Vía Campesina, with much focus on agroecology, per Altieri and company. Second, I analyze the more recent organizing on the part of yerba harvesters that has pushed for improved labor rights even as small producers press back. Drawing on fieldwork conducted since 2008 as well as cross training in law and social work, I argue that Argentina ́s supposedly worker friendly labor laws actually have a pernicious effect on the livelihood of low income workers and smallholders in the countryside. Caught in a symbiotic relationship, rural workers and smallholders cannot live without one another, yet their cohabitation in the work day is replete with tensions, intimidations, fear of lawsuits, and fallings out. Labor laws that were designed for industrial sector production assume abundant capital on the part of employers, ignoring the dearth and unpredictability of small farm income. Principles of food sovereignty are ignored for the most part. As a result, small yerba farmers often cannot afford to hire harvesters of yerba because of limited capital, state taxes and potential fines. Low wage harvesters in turn struggle with unemployment and are forced to rely on state welfare even as they flee the countryside. In doing so, they often abandon family agriculture. Finally, I argue that the rights of both producers and workers have to be considered together if the Argentine state is serious about curbing the continuing stream of rural exodus, resolving long-term unemployment and welfare reliance, and ensuring food security in the countryside.
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Farmland Preservation, Agricultural Easements, and Land Access in California
Zoe Brent, Food First Fellow
California is a land of contradictions. It is known as the breadbasket of the nation, but farmland is disappearing with alarming speed. Crop and ranch lands are falling out of production at a rate of one square mile every four days between 1984 and 2008.1 Urbanization and real estate development are a key factor in this conversion process, eating up an average of 38,000 acres a year between 1990 and 2004.2 However, in the scramble for what crop and ranch land stays in production, large-scale agribusiness is also strong and well established throughout the state’s warm valleys. The result: farmland prices have steadily risen (by 100% between 2002 and 2012 for irrigated land in California3) and in many cases surpassed the productive value of the land. In the nation’s top agricultural producing state where over half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables in the country are produced, farmland is disappearing. Small-scale, new and low-income farmers, especially, are facing serious challenges with regards to accessing land in the face of competition from large-scale agribusiness and real estate development. Under the banner of farmland protection, agricultural easements have become one of the most common tools for combatting this loss of farmland. According to the American Farmland Trust’s 2012 national survey, agricultural easements managed by state and local governments as well as private land trusts, have facilitated the protection of 5 million acres of land. A number of studies4 explore how these deals are made possible through donations, consumer funded purchases and leveraging public and private funds, but what is less clear is: who is benefitting from these easement schemes? And why? This paper begins by situating agricultural easements within the farmland preservation movement and explores the three main ideological undercurrents that fuel this effort: economic utilitarianism, progressive agrarianism, and resource conservationism. The key actors driving the use of conservation easements to protect farmland are local land trusts, therefore multiple motivations for farmland preservation co-exist within the movement, depending on the different character of each trust. Then I take up the question of what type of farmer this easement strategy benefits in hopes of shedding some light on the future generation of farmers this farmland preservation model protects. One of the main conclusions of this research is that agricultural conservation easements benefit a limited sector of farmers, predominantly those who already have family land wealth and farm near an affluent land trust donor base. And few land trusts address the serious vulnerability of small farmers (even those with land) and farmworkers in the context of California’s highly industrialized agriculture system.
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Gold for Export? … or Water & Food for Life? The Case of Gold Mining in El Salvador
Robin Broad, Professor of International Development, School of International Service, American University, and John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Washington
With the rapid expansion of gold mining, social movements in many countries have gathered force to oppose the mining. Environmental concerns have been central to this opposition. But the opposition has grown into a larger critique of “what is development?” posing corporate-led export growth against peasant-led local agriculture. Based on the authors’ field-research in 2011, 2012 and 2013, this paper analyzes the case study of El Salvador where a strong peasant- based social movement has built a national-level coalition to the extent that the national government banned gold mining starting in 2009. The analysis then moves to the global level where two global mining companies have filed investor-rights suits against the Salvadoran government in the World Bank investors-rights tribunal (ICSID) claiming that the national government does not have the right to privilege the local, non-extractive economy. This case study of the struggle against mining in El Salvador reveals a great deal about the dynamics of “food sovereignty” struggles at a local, national, and global level, and provides a dynamic study to compare and contrast with other case studies of land-grabbing that pit local small-scale farmers and food and water needs against the transnational “grabbing” of land and mineral rights.
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What Place for International Trade in Food Sovereignty?
Kim Burnett, SSHRC-funded doctoral student, University of Waterloo’s Global Governance program, and Sophia Murphy, Widely published policy analyst, 2013 Trudeau Foundation Scholar, incoming PhD student, University of British Columbia
International agricultural commodity trade is central to the livelihoods of millions of farmers across the globe, and to most countries’ food security strategies. Yet global trade policies are contributing to food insecurity and are undermining livelihoods. Food Sovereignty emerged in part as a mobilization in resistance to the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture and its imposition of multilateral disciplines on domestic agriculture policy. While not explicitly rejecting trade, there is a strong, albeit understated, resistance to international commodity trade that risks marginalizing broader trade concerns in the visioning of what food sovereignty comprises. Our paper argues that trade is important to the realization of food security and to the livelihoods of small-scale producers, including peasants active in the Food Sovereignty movement, yet it remains underexplored in food sovereignty discourse and that further developing of its position on trade is strategically important.
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The Politics of Property in Industrial Fisheries
Liam Campling, School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London, and Elizabeth Havice, Assistant Professor of International Development and Globalization, Geography Department, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Fisheries systems are widely considered to be ‘in crisis’ in both economic and ecological terms, a considerable concern given their significance to food security, international trade and employment the world over. The most common explanation for the crisis suggests that it is caused by weak and illiberal property regimes. It follows that correcting the crisis involves the creation of private property relations that will restore equilibrium between the profitable productive function of fishing firms and fish stocks in order to maximize ‘rent’. In this approach, coastal states are seen as passive, weak, failed and corrupted observers and facilitators of the fisheries crisis, unless they institute private property relations. This paper offers an alternative analysis by re-examining longstanding debates over the politics of property and of rent relations in industrial fisheries from the perspective of historical materialism. It identifies coastal states as modern landed property which allows an exploration of the existence of, and struggles over, the extraction of ground-rent from the surplus value created in capitalist fisheries. As on land, property in the sea is a site of social struggle and will always remain so under capitalism, no matter which juridical actor/ interest holds those property rights.
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From Food Sovereignty to Peasants’ Rights: an Overview of La Via Campesina’s Rights-Based Claims over the Last 20 Years
Priscilla Claeys, Researcher in Social and Political Sciences, University of Louvain (UCL), Belgium.
The transnational agrarian movement La Via Campesina is known for having successfully mobilized a human rights discourse in its struggle against capitalism and neoliberalism in agriculture. As La Via Campesina celebrates its 20th anniversary, this paper describes the various ways in which the movement has used human rights to frame its demands. It explores the advantages and limitations of the human rights framework, and discusses how the movement has tried to overcome the constraints attached to human rights. It suggests that La Via Campesina has not limited itself to claiming existing and codified rights, but has created new human rights, such as the right of peoples to food sovereignty and the rights of peasants. This contribution assesses current and past efforts to achieve the international recognition of new human rights for peasants at the international level.
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The Financialization of Food: Distancing and the Externalization of Costs
Jennifer Clapp, University of Waterloo
This paper provides a new perspective on the political implications of intensified financialization in the global food system. There has been a growing recognition of the role of finance in the global food system, in particular the way in which financial markets have become a mode of accumulation for large transnational agribusiness players within the current food regime. This paper highlights a further political implication of agrifood system financialization, namely how it fosters ‘distancing’ in the food system and how that distance shapes the broader context of global food politics. Specifically, the paper advances two interrelated arguments. First, a new kind of distancing has emerged within the global food system as a result of financialization that has a) increased the number of the number and type of actors involved in global agrifood commodity chains and b) abstracted food from its physical form into highly complex agricultural commodity derivatives. Second, this distancing has obscured the links between financial actors and food system outcomes in ways that make the political context for opposition to financialization especially challenging.
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Food Sovereignty, Post-Neoliberalism, Campesino Organizations, and the State in Ecuador
Patrick Clark, Associated Researcher, Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSOEcuador), Quito, Ecuador, and PhD candidate in political science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
In Latin America the failure of neoliberal policies, and the popular mobilization of social movements against neoliberalism, led to the election of anti or post-neoliberal governments. This has opened up new political space for rural social movements to push for the institutionalization of food sovereignty in state policy. This paper analyzes the theoretical and practical challenges underlying the institutionalization of food sovereignty by examining the case of Ecuador under the government of President Rafael Correa. I present a theoretical framework by which to analyze the potential of the state to scale-up food sovereignty principles, which includes elements such as state-society relations, the question of the developmental state and state-society synergy. I then apply this framework to the case of Ecuador, ultimately concluding that the current policies of the government do not largely reflect food sovereignty principles. I conclude with some reflections on the question of food sovereignty and the state in Ecuador and beyond.
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Between empty lots and open pots: understanding the rise of urban food movements in the USA
Jessica Clendenning, Independent Researcher, and Wolfram Dressler, Associate Professor, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands
As world food prices threaten expanding urban populations, there is a greater need for poor people to have access to and claims over how and where food is produced and distributed in cities. This is especially the case in marginalised urban settings. The global movement for food sovereignty has been one attempt to reclaim rights and participation in the food system and challenge corporate food regimes. However, food sovereignty is often considered a rural issue for developing countries when, increasingly, its demands for fair food systems and rights are intensely urban in form and function.Through interviews with scholars, activists, nongovernmental and grassroots organizations in Oakland and New Orleans, we examine the extent to which food sovereignty has progressed in a US urban context as a concept, strategy and practice. We contrast and compare food sovereignty to other dominant US social movements such as food justice, and find that while many organisations do not draw on food sovereignty explicitly, the understandings and motives behind urban food activism are similar across movements as local actors draw on elements of each movement in practice. Overall, however, because of the different histories, geographic contexts, and relations to state and capital, food justice and food sovereignty differ as strategies and approaches. We conclude that the substance of food sovereignty in the US urban context is largely limited by neoliberal framing and political dampening, mainstreaming the approach and lessening its radical framework.
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Bolivia’s Food Sovereignty & Agrobiodiversity: Undermining the Local to Strengthen the State?
Jenny Cockburn, Post-doctoral socialogist
In Bolivia the notion of Food Sovereignty has been incorporated into the new Constitution. However, one complication relates to how food sovereignty is conceptualized — and for what end — by State and NGO actors in agricultural development. Bolivia is home to substantial biodiversity. Like elsewhere, modern agricultural practices, and the prioritizing of a limited variety of ‘cash’ crops over others to meet market demands, have had a deleterious effect. The arrival of the ‘Green Revolution’ to Bolivia, which transformed farming systems to necessitate the use of agro-chemicals and monocropping practices, resulted in the loss of agrobiodiversity. Local NGOs and the current government have been concerned with ameliorating agrobiodiversity. This orientation includes two anticipated ends: adaptation to climate changes and food sovereignty. The logic underpinning food sovereignty involves the right to produce, distribute and consume nutritious, culturally appropriate food in a way that is ecologically sustainable. Agrobiodiversity conservation is recognized as an important way to achieve this right. Both the NGO and the state have focused attention on organic agriculture and strengthening Bolivia’s internal markets as key to food sovereignty. However they differ in focus. The State’s need to maintain the stability and profitability of the current agribusiness for exportation leads to emphasizing independence and ownership, an emphasis that, at times, takes precedence over sustainability in food sovereignty. What the State wants, from the perspective of the agronomists in the governmental organizations in this study, is to strengthen sovereignty. A key role of these organizations is to realize greater Bolivian autonomy through ecological agriculture and food sovereignty. However, to the extent that this is tied to a backlash against neoliberalism, it is constrained by neoliberal policy reforms, so that indigenous rights and environmental protection are undermined by immediate political and economic gains (Haargard and Andersson 2009; Kennemore and Weeks 2011). That food sovereignty from the government’s perspective is also possible through conventional agricultural schemes is one of many examples that illustrate the double narratives and policies of Morales’ administration. The broadened definition applied by the State raises questions over whether food sovereignty will function more as a buzzword than as something that can truly protect agrobiodiversity. This paper is based on findings from my ethnographic research with Quechua farmers in two communities in the Bolivian Andes. In both communities, farm households have been participating in ecological agriculture practices with a local NGO and have more recently joined a State research pilot project into organic agriculture with a national certification scheme. Despite the shared concerns for increasing agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and organic farming, between the farmers, the NGO and the State, tensions are evident in the power imbalances embedded in these relationships.
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With flowers and capsicum in the driver’s seat, food sovereignty is impossible: A comparison of the politics of agricultural policy in two Indian states, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh
Sejuti Dasgupta, Third year PhD scholar, Development Studies Department, School of Oriental and African Studies
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute's Global Hunger Index, 2011, India ranks 67th among the 81 countries of the world with poorest food security; and this is when some states in the country have registered very high rates of growth in agriculture. The objective here is to understand how these contradictory facts coexist. To build such an understanding, the drivers of agricultural growth has been identified in this paper which includes two primary factors classes of farmers whose interests dominate policy-making and examine how tenets of new policy are furthering class interests of ruling classes. It explored the industrial bourgeoisie alongside rural big farmer and landlord interest to see what character they have assumed in post-liberalisation era. This explained why there has been a shift from land reforms to input-centricity as the core of India’s post-liberalisation agricultural policy. The two states compared are Gujarat and Chhattisgarh based on empirical evidence gathered through fieldwork.
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Farmers, Foodies, & First Nations: Getting to Food Sovereignty in Canada
Annette Desmarais, University of Regina, and Hannah Wittman, University of British Columbia
This article explores the various meanings of food sovereignty developed by distinct actors in Canada to better understand existing challenges, tensions, convergences and divergences in developing a national movement for food sovereignty. It begins with some theoretical reflections on food sovereignty that have informed our analysis of food sovereignty movements in Canada. It then focuses on how food sovereignty is manifested in Canada by exploring how three distinct sectors of society — farmers, foodies, and First Nations — use food sovereignty discourse. It then critically assesses how the “unity in diversity” principle of food sovereignty functions in the Canadian context, paying particular attention to the policy implications of debates about the meaning of food sovereignty.
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Beyond the Minimally Adequate Diet: Food Stamps and Food Sovereignty in the U.S.
Maggie Dickinson, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center
Re-framing food sovereignty in the urban U.S. means grappling with the messy politics of consumption in ways that put poor consumers and urban poverty at the center of our analysis. I argue that focusing on the state, and food subsidies in particular, can help us ask more coherent questions around how principles of food sovereignty might be realized in an urban context in ways that build intra-class alliances between small-scale, sustainable producers, food justice activists and poor urban consumers. This paper draws on 18 months of ethnographic research in a North Brooklyn food pantry and food stamp outreach program.
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Food sovereignty: an appreciation and critique
Marc Edelman, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)
“Like gold with yield”: Evolving intersections between farmland and finance
Madeleine Fairbairn, University of Winsconsin
Since 2007, capital markets have acquired a newfound interest in agricultural land as a portfolio investment. This phenomenon is examined through the theoretical lens of financialization. On the surface the trend resembles a sort of financialization in reverse — many new investments involve agricultural production in addition to land ownership. Farmland also fits well into current financial discourses, which emphasize getting the right kind of exposure to long-term trends and “value investing” in genuinely productive companies. However, capital markets’ current affinity for farmland also represents significant continuity with the financialization era, particularly in their treatment of land as a financial or quasi-financial asset. Capital gains are central to current farmland investments, both as a source of inflation hedging growth and of potentially large speculative profits. New types of farmland investment management organizations (“FIMOs”) are emerging, including from among large farmland operators which formerly valued land primarily as a productive asset and source of use value. Finally, the first tentative steps toward the securitization of farmland demonstrate the potential for a much more complete financialization of farmland in the future.
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Seasonal hunger in coffee communities: Integrated analysis of livelihoods, agroecology, and food sovereignty with smallholders of Mexico and Nicaragua
Margarita Fernandez, PhD candidate in Agroecology, University of Vermont, V. Ernesto Méndez, Associate Professor of Agroecology, University of Vermont, and Christopher Bacon, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University
Food sovereignty has recently gained momentum in social movements, farmer cooperatives and NGOs, as a framework that places farmer’s and nature’s rights as central to food and agricultural policy. Food sovereignty’s strength is that it outlines an alternative policy to the contemporary global agro-industrial food system. However, it is only more recently that the concept of food sovereignty is being translated into unique policies, practices, and research approaches at different levels (i.e. international, national and local), and amongst different stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, research and development institutions and farmer cooperatives. In this paper we will present a participatory action research project undertaken with two coffee farmer cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico and northern Nicaragua, which are implementing food security and food sovereignty projects through agroecological practices. In doing so, we will discuss how the integration of a diverse set of concepts including agroecology, sustainable livelihoods, political ecology, and food sovereignty, guided the exploration of these complex and dynamic issues at an empirical level. We also present an analysis of how NGOs, cooperatives and farmers perceive and translate the principles of food sovereignty and agroecology into practice. As smallholder farmers who are linked to both the global commodity market and to diverse subsistence production systems, they represent interesting examples of how the concept of food sovereignty is molded and framed to fit the realities of livelihoods in two different contexts.
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Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential
Antonio Turrent Fernández, Senior Researcher, Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP), Timothy A. Wise, Director of Policy Research, Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, and Elise Garvey, Researcher, Policy Research, Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute
Once the poster child for free trade, Mexico is now better known for its failures, among them the loss of the country’s food sovereignty. Rising agricultural prices, combined with growing import dependence, have driven Mexico’s food import bill over $20 billion per year and increased its agricultural trade deficit. Mexico imports one-third of its maize, overwhelmingly from the United States, but three million producers grow most of the country’s white maize, which is used primarily for tortillas and many other pluricultural products for human consumption. Yield gaps are large among the country’s small to medium-scale maize farmers, with productivity estimated at just 57% of potential on rain-fed lands. To what extent could Mexico close this yield gap, using proven technologies currently employed in the country, to regain its lost self-sufficiency in maize? A comprehensive review of the literature highlights the potential for achieving that goal. The authors examine policy options open to Mexico’s new government, identifying those most likely to increase both maize productivity and sustainable resource use while reducing import dependence. With climate change likely to constrain input-intensive agricultural productivity growth, these involve an emphasis on farmer-led extension services, the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, and improved water management, including expanded irrigation. They also involve a change in the Mexican government's approach to agricultural trade. Mexico's profound loss of its food sovereignty in recent decades offers rich lessons for developing country policy-makers.
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Food Sovereignty in Everyday Life: A People-Centered Approach to Food Systems
Meleiza Figueroa, Ph.D. student in Geography, University of California, Berkeley
This paper presents outlines of a theoretical approach to food systems that attempts to decenter “food” in food-related research, placing social life as the central point of departure for a critical analysis of food systems and the search for revolutionary alternatives. “Food,” in this framework, is conceived relationally, as a “nodal point of interconnection” (Massey 1994) through which multiple historical, spatial, and social processes intersect and articulate with one another. If “race...is the modality by which class is lived” (Hall 1980), then food is a modality by which capitalism is lived, and made tangible in everyday practice. Revisiting the concepts of primitive accumulation (Perelman 2000), articulation (Hall 1980), and everyday life (Lefebvre 1991), this approach examines the ways in which proletarianization is continually reproduced, increasingly partial or incomplete, and contested at multiple conjunctures. In these moments of contestation, and the spaces that partial primitive accumulation leaves behind, new articulations — visible in the everyday social experience of food — can contain certain potentialities for real alternatives to life under capitalism.
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Maize as sovereignty: anti-GM activism in Mexico and Colombia
Liz Fitting, Anthropologist and Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
The paper considers some of the strengths and weaknesses of the food sovereignty (FS) approach based on my research among anti-GM activists in Colombia and Mexico. Food sovereignty is taken up by anti-GM activists and rural producers in a way that is shaped by the particularities of place. Despite reproducing some of the problems of FS, I argue that these activists draw our attention to the specific issues and contexts of their region – particularly through their focus on maize — and illustrate the usefulness of a food sovereignty approach. Their campaigns focus on maize as a symbol of sovereignty (at various scales) and campesino and indigenous ways of life, which activists believe are undermined by transgenic varieties of corn. In doing so, these campaigns situate the issue of GM corn imports, testing, and commercial cultivation within a broader critique of neoliberal globalization.
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Beyond the Price Paradox: Towards Deepening the Ecological/Material Foundations of Alliances Across the Food System
Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emerita, University of Toronto
As a diverse set of ideals and practices, food sovereignty faces a central/intractable dilemma (among others) of forging alliances between farmers who need good livelihoods and eaters who need affordable food. This price paradox, which is naturalized by the role of markets in capitalism, leads to a number of tensions that food sovereignty must come to grips with. Among these is mutual distrust between farmers and those who buy food: one version is consumers who “only want cheap food” versus “farmers who expect “unreasonable prices.” Another is the rising class association of local and organic food (‘yuppie chow’, as Guthman puts it), where only privileged consumers are able to eat the most healthy and “sustainably produced” food and the implicit claim that everyone has the right to choose bad food (in all senses). The common phrase “food is not (or not only) a commodity” ignores the present reality of the price paradox and misses an opportunity to grapple with a crucial practical and conceptual challenge: how can the many products of farmers become good commodities in markets that function as part of just and sustainable food systems?
To get past this particular obstacle to common purpose, it is crucial to understand that all relative prices are determined by institutions; that is, by human-made rules that have taken shape over long historical periods. Although hidden from present view, these institutions result from historical legacies of power and accumulation, and of struggles over both. They are fundamentally about not only labour, but also land. Farmland, as opposed to mines and forests, has been cyclically appropriated by capital and then shed in favour of controlling farmers through other mechanisms. Land is now again appropriated in ways familiar from the colonial era and at the same time quite novel.
Food sovereignty may have the potential to reframe the political economy question of land, and expand it into a bigger political ecology question of how people govern themselves in relation to ecosystems. In this conception, food sovereignty would mean finding ways to improve the exchanges — or metabolism — between human societies and their habitats; or in plainer terms, to find ways of supporting sustainable interrelationships between growing and eating in mutually beneficial ways. I take several steps to take to consider how this might happen.
The first step, following Cronon (Nature’s Metropolis), is to rethink markets and money, bringing to the foreground natural cycles which are disrupted,replaced and hidden by new material flows. The new material flows then provide expanding opportunities for accumulation and thus finance, which further disrupts and more deeply hides what remains of self-organizing natural systems. Capital subordinates functioning ecosystem metabolisms to abstract monetary relations. So capital finances first railways and then all subsequent means of transport and storage that create great physical distances/separations among ever more specialized edible commodities. These allow capital to expand from all the profit opportunities created by successive disruptions. (I will offer some examples.) This challenges us to think at once critically and constructively about real relationships, and perhaps aim towards something resembling a “land theory of value”. To this end, ecologists of various disciplines offer several material rather than monetary measures.
For instance, following Bayliss-Smith (The Ecology of Agriculture), energy flows allow different measures of efficiency in comparing farming systems and the human nourishment they provide (along with fuel, fodder, fibre, etc.). But sustainable metabolism, where ‘wastes’ are simply part of healthy natural cycles, does not mean abolishing markets — which would limit the sphere of social life to direct relationships — but instead it means embedding markets within ecosystems.
The second major step is to recognize that embedded markets imply different types of institutions/rules, including those governing money, quality regimes, land use, and of course, livelihoods. Democratic institutions, if they are to effectively govern a healthy metabolism between societies and ecosystems, must emerge/be designed appropriately first and foremost to foodgetting, following Duncan (The Centrality of Agriculture). Here, following Kloppenburg et.al., it is useful to think of foodsheds, a concept that offers a dual approach to territory: defining both what exists and what is possible, a chart to guide social ships sailing across fluid territories from the crisis-ridden present to a sustainable future.
My final step here is to wrestle with the inescapably urban nature of present foodsheds. Following Steel (Hungry City) as well as Cronon again, I consider how the increasing concentration of humans in cities compounds the disguise (by price relationships) of the dependence of most people upon ever more distant farming . We cannot know with certainty what population biologies and what concentrations of humans are sustainable. But history can guide us not only in understanding how present unsustainable foodsheds came to be as they are, but also how to find ways to tack with winds and waves, to wait out doldrums and storms , in sailing towards sustainable foodsheds. These include revaluing the practical knowledge of specific ecosystems by peoples who have sustained foodgetting for much longer than the experiment in industrial agriculture has so far lasted (Davis). It means, following Ostrom, learning how to regulate commons (at every scale and across scales to the biosphere) for foodgetting and all other social relations with natural processes.
Food sovereignty in Ecuador: The gap between the constitutionalization of the principles and their materialization in the official agri-food strategies
Isabella Giunta, PhD candidate, School of Doctorate in Knowledge and Innovation for Development-A G. Frank, Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Calabria (Italy)
The paper critically assesses the impact of collective actions for the institutionalization of the principles of food sovereignty in Ecuador, including an analysis of the gap between the formal and material constitution of the official strategies. The Ecuadorian Constitution (2008) declares food sovereignty as a strategic goal and governmental obligation, institutionalizing — although partially — the proposal put forward since 1996 by the international peasant movement La Vía Campesina. It would have been impossible to achieve this goal without the anti-neoliberal struggles and alternative practices carried out by social organizations in the last decades. Specifically, it's conceivable a central role played by the federations “FENOCIN”, “CONFEUNASSC”, “CNC-Eloy Alfaro” and, then, “FENACLE” (all affiliated to La Vía Campesina), that since the end of the 90s began to articulate themselves and to place food sovereignty as a priority of their individual and common political agendas. As other social actors, these federations participated actively in the constituent process. At the conclusion, the balance is positive: the new Constitution includes much of the proposals claimed, and the issue of food sovereignty expands from the circumscribed battlefields of some social organizations to become a ground of dispute for the whole Ecuadorian society. The paper, based on preliminary results of a field research conducted between 2012 and beginning of 2013, describes this process and reflects upon why, five years later, the "Agrarian Revolution" is evaluated as weak, also by the governmental sector, although it's a component of the Revolución Ciudadana promoted by the "progressive" government of Rafael Correa.
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The Complexity of Food Sovereignty Policymaking: The Case of Nicaragua’s Law 693
Wendy Godek, PhD Candidate, Division of Global Affairs, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ
Increasingly scholars are examining factors that may serve to constrain or advance food sovereignty policy initiatives. This paper examines the case of Nicaragua’s Law 693, the Law of Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security, which was passed in 2009. The purpose of this paper is twofold: First, it examines the origins and development of the proposal for a food sovereignty law, its introduction and initial deliberation by the National Assembly, and the breakdown in the approval process due to conflict over the law’s content. Second, it identifies some key factors that both advanced the inclusion of food sovereignty in the law as well as those that posed challenges. It finds that complex interactions between actors, their discourses, and the context in which they take place are important factors in understanding the challenges and opportunities for the inclusion of food sovereignty in national policies.
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‘We Didn’t Want to Hear About Calories’: Rethinking Food Security, Food Power and Food Sovereignty — Lessons from the Gaza Closure
Aeyal Gross, Professor, Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, and visiting Reader, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and Tamar Feldman
The notion of food sovereignty was developed based on the notion that if the population of a country must depend for their next meal on global economy, on the goodwill of a superpower not to use food as a weapon, or the unpredictability of shipping, then that country is not secure in the sense of food security. It has thus been argued that food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security. But while the emphasis in the development of the concept of food sovereignty was on the idea that people, rather that corporate monopolies, make the decisions regarding food, our paper, through the case study of the Gaza closure by Israel illustrates the need to expand this notion, to guarantee that people will have the sovereignty to make the decisions regarding food. The Gaza case also illustrates that the right to produce its own food in its own territory, may not always be the only means to exercise food sovereignty: it may be more important to put the emphasis on the right to exercise sovereignty regarding both the growing and the importing of food. So to the extent that food sovereignty proposes not just guaranteed access to food, but democratic control over the food system and is about selfdetermination including nutrition self-determination, the term may help realize how the exercise of food power by Israel, negates this sovereignty from the residents of Gaza.
Since 2007, Israel has been imposing a closure over the Gaza Strip, which restricts the passage of goods into and out of the Strip and limits the movement of people in both directions to the “humanitarian minimum”. By maintaining a level of “just above minimum”, which was sustainable largely due to the massive involvement of international aid organizations, Israel managed to relax the international demand to lift or ease the restrictions.
The Turkel Committee, appointed to investigate the events of the flotilla of May 2010 determined that since the closure was never intended to starve the civilian population and given Israel’s monitoring and protection mechanisms designed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, the closure cannot be said to be unlawful and that the proportionality requirement is met. While doing so, the committee largely downplayed the data presented before it by human rights organizations attesting to extremely high levels of food insecurity in the Gaza Strip.
Our paper explores the blind spots in Israel’s stance, which alludes to the minimum standard. These, we will argue, ignore power relations, and overlook the larger context . We will propose instead that food power can be exercised not only through direct control over food supply and food availability, but also by effecting people’s ability to access adequate food. Arbitrary restrictions on entry of foodstuff undoubtedly played an important role in Israel’s demonstration of power. But also by successfully crippling Gaza Strip’s economy, Israel’s closure policy has impoverished the civilian population, considerably decreased food security in the Gaza Strip and respectfully increased dependency on international aid. Using this analysis, we will examine how food power mechanisms work and are sustained over time and explore the relations between “food security”, “food power” and “food sovereignty.”
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The ‘non-economy’ and the Radical Dreams of Food Sovereignty
Jim Handy, Professor of History and Chair, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan
This article discusses the radical nature of ideas of food sovereignty through an exploration of the history of peasant dispossession under capitalism. It uses as a starting point Fernand Braudel’s discussion of the antagonism between the ‘non-economy’ of peasant production and the ‘anti-market’ of capitalism. Apologists for dispossession and enclosure asserted the naturalness of a world dominated by capital despite its obvious failings. The article explores such arguments and peasant resistance in Britain, Ireland, India and Guatemala and argues that food sovereignty’s radical nature lies in its promise to curtail the power of capital to continue dispossession.
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King of the Sea: Seafood Sovereignty and the Blue Revolution
Craig K. Harris, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, with appointments in Michigan AbBio Research and the Center for Regional Food Systems
The paper discusses nine of the ways in which food sovereignty issues affect both the production and consumption of food from marine and freshwater aquatic food systems. Seafood sovereignty is threatened and challenged by the introduction of exotic species, inshore aquaculture, inshore harvesting by non-traditional technologies, allocation of access to offshore fisheries to foreign interests with non-traditional technologies, the tendency for foreign interests to deplete and depart, the creation of marine protected areas, the introduction of frankenfish and supersalmon, habitat destruction, and exploitation for exportation. In the face of these threats and challenges to seafood sovereignty, rights based approaches and activism and advocacy offer some countervailing pressures. The paper concludes with a discussion of likely future directions.
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Financialization and the Transformation of Agro-food Supply Chains: A Political Economy
S. Ryan Isakson, Assistant Professor of International Development Studies and Geography, University of Toronto
The essay documents the rise of finance in food provisioning. It queries the role of financialization in the contemporary food crisis and analyzes its impacts upon power structures and the distribution of wealth within and along the agro-food supply chain. A systematic treatment of key links in the supply chain – namely, farmland, agricultural inputs, agricultural risk, grain trading, food manufacturing, and food retailing – reveals four key insights: (1) the financialization of food and agriculture has blurred the line between finance and food provisioning; (2) financialization has reinforced the position of food retailers as the dominant actors within the agro-food system, though they are largely subject to the dictates of finance capital; (3) financialization has intensified the exploitation of food workers, increasing their workload while pushing down their real wages and heightening the precarity of their positions; and (4) small-scale farmers have been especially hard hit by financialization, as their livelihoods have become even more uncertain due to increasing volatility in agricultural markets, they have become weaker vis-à-vis other actors in the agro-food supply chain, and they face growing competition for their farmland. Given the regressive impacts of contemporary financialization, readers are asked to envision an alternative approach to finance food provisioning.
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The political ecology of market-oriented seed system development and emergent alternatives
Kristal Jones, Ph.D. candidate in Rural Sociology, Pennsylvania State University
This paper critically analyzes farmers’ experiences with newly established seed markets for improved varieties in Sahelian West Africa. Market-oriented development approaches frame agricultural systems in dichotomous terms of modern or traditional, efficient or inefficient, and do not account for ongoing learning and adaptation by farmers. Two years of interviews with farmers who use improved variety seeds are analyzed here using a conceptual framework that combines the type of exchange, the type of seed and the value of the seed as three aspects of seed access decision making. The results show that as farmers gain skills about the benefits and trade-offs of each type of seed system, they make decisions that reflect both new experience and elements of the existing social and natural context. Based on the range of seed access priorities and decisions described in the data, suggestions are made for alternative seed diffusion projects that can meet the needs of specific individuals and communities. The analysis also provides the foundation for future work analyzing if seed system choice differs across groups of individuals.
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Recipe for decolonization and resurgence: Story of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation’s indigenous food sovereignty movement
Asfia Gulrukh Kamal, PhD candidate, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, and Shirley Thompson, Associate Professor, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba
Colonization and postcolonial state development has had many negative impacts in the lives of indigenous population in Canada, which blocked the subsistence economy and sustainable food system of First Nations. O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN),a community located in remote northern Manitoba, carries a strong culture of hunting, fishing, trapping and sustainable care for nature since its inception. People lived well and had sufficient resources but then OPCN was victimized when Manitoba Hydro teamed up with Manitoba provincial government to develop a hydro electric dam establishment project in northern Manitoba called Churchill River Diversion (CRD) in 1960 (Waldram, 1984; Hoffman, 2008; Lienafa and Martin, 2010). Like many other development projects in Canada, this project did not consider the significant and long lasting environmental, cultural and economic repercussions to the indigenous communities living in and around the “target” area. In order to bring back their heritage and health, community elders and food champions started to organize different traditional food harvesting activities and training for the youth. In year 2012 they have created their own year round land base food harvesting training program called Ithinto Mechisowin (Food from the Land). This article depicts the story of OPCN’s perspective of decolonization, resurgence and food sovereignty.
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The Perils of Peasant Populism: Why Redistributive Land Reform and “Food Sovereignty” Can’t Feed Venezuela
Aaron Kappeler, University of Toronto
Since 2001 the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chavez has embarked on an ambitious agrarian reform program aimed at establishing food sovereignty and reducing overwhelming import dependency. This project has centered mainly on the reconstitution of the national agriculture system, which was destroyed over the course of the twentieth century by resource extraction, the petroleum economy and waves of neoliberal trade policy. Paying for food imports with revenue derived from the petroleum industry, at one point, Venezuela imported more than eighty-five percent of its food from foreign sources. Venezuela was effectively held hostage to price fluctuations on international energy markets and left in a precarious position. Realizing the tremendous vulnerability this created, the Venezuelan government wrote the concept of food sovereignty into its constitution in 1999 and began to take drastic steps to reduce imports.
The food sovereignty concept has received considerable attention from activists and scholars associated with the international NGO La Vía Campesina. Supporters of the concept argue that nationally-based food systems founded on local markets and peasant agriculture represent the best means of combatting hunger and poverty in the global south and that food sovereignty is an “anticolonial” project. Its defenders argue the concept is applicable to all contexts and have tried to explain away the failures associated with the concept as the fault of unresponsive governments. The Bolivarian government of Venezuela is arguably the most materially supportive and ideologically pro-peasant government in Latin America and agrarian populists have lauded its efforts, but Venezuela has still faced significant difficulties to achieving this vision.
This article examines the inherent contradictions in the transition from a food system based largely on imports to a model of agriculture grounded in the principle of food sovereignty. It takes as its case study the recent efforts of the Bolivarian government of Venezuela to shift to endogenous food production and build an agriculture sector oriented toward satisfying the food requirements of its majority-urban population. This article underscores the many challenges faced by the populist government after decades of economic policies designed to integrate Venezuela into global markets and the difficulties involved in enacting redistributive land reform in this peripheral capitalist context. The failure of the Venezuelan government to recruit a labor force to reestablish peasant agriculture in the interior suggests that food sovereignty cannot be applied to every national context and that Venezuela lacked the basic preconditions for a model of agriculture based predominantly on smallholders. This basic incompatibility accounts for the current turn toward a state-run food system incorporating aspects of the factory-in-the-field model and industrial enterprises and populist food distribution programs, accounting for the bulk of the domestic food.
The Venezuelan government has reinvented food sovereignty to better suit its own conditions and conceives of the entire population, not just the peasantry, as the guarantor of food sovereignty. In theorizing agrarian change and reform in the global south, we should move to a paradigm of food sovereignties, which recognizes these contextual differences and avoids the pitfalls of the “one-size-fits-all” approach implied by food sovereignty.
Re-Purposing the Master’s Tools: The Open Source Seed Initiative and the Struggle for Seed Sovereignty
Jack Kloppenburg, Director, GreenHouse Residential Learning Community, Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, and affiliated with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Agroecology Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Any reasonable vision of food sovereignty must necessarily encompass what might be called “seed sovereignty,” a condition which farmers have enjoyed for most of human history but of which they have been recently dispossessed. Corporate appropriation of plant genetic resources, development of transgenic crops, and the global imposition of intellectual property rights are now widely recognized as serious constraints on the free exchange of seeds and the development of new cultivars by farmers, public breeders, and small seed companies. In response, legal and operational mechanisms drawn from the open source software movement have been proposed for deployment in plant breeding. Open source licenses mandate freedom of derivative use (“free as in speech”) but do not prohibit market sale (“not as in beer”). In the United States, an Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) has been organized by a working group of plant breeders, farmers, non-governmental organizations and sustainable food system advocates. OSSI promotes innovative plant breeding that produces resilient and productive cultivars adapted to a multiplicity of sustainable agroecosystems. It works to encourage and reward the sharing rather than the restriction of germplasm, to revitalize public plant breeding, and to integrate the skills and capacities of farmers with those of plant scientists. A key tool for achieving these goals is development of open source licenses that preserve the right to use material for breeding and the right of farmers to save and replant seed. Implementation of open source arrangements could plausibly undergird the creation of a “protected commons” populated by farmers and plant breeders whose materials would be freely available and widely exchanged but would be protected from appropriation by those who would monopolize them. However, the open source route to recovery of seed sovereignty looks different, and is differentially appealing, depending upon location in the geo-social landscape. While achievement of “seed sovereignty” is explicitly understood as a component of food sovereignty by many actors and organizations in the Global South (e.g., Via Campesina, Navdanya), OSSI’s approach has been criticized by some as one more expression of “positive” law which is regarded as inappropriate for life forms and ultimately destructive of customary arrangements. Opponents of GMOs, and indigenous groups, may find the stipulation of freedom of derivative use too liberal in its lack of prohibitions on genetic engineering. Other Global South actors and organizations find considerable promise in an open source strategy, and welcome a proactive approach that would strengthen participatory plant breeding and provide a space for small scale and cooperative seed companies. OSSI is actively engaging these issues, while proceeding with implementation of open source licenses in the US. Negotiating these tensions is an inevitable and necessary part of the process of developing what we mean by, and how we enact, “food sovereignty.”
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Capitalism in Green Disguise: The Political Economy of Organic Farming in the European Union
Charalampos (Harry) Konstantinidis, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Organic farming is often presented as the success story of Rural Development policies in the European Union, having grown from a marginal activity to covering more than 5% of European agricultural land. Even though organic farming is often thought of as small-scale farming, I show that organic farms in Europe display characteristics associated with capitalist agriculture. Organic farms are larger and more mechanized than conventional farms. Furthermore, organic farms are associated with wage-labor and use less labor per hectare than their conventional counterparts, casting doubt on the efficacy of organic farming in increasing labor demand in marginalized communities and acting as an effective tool for keeping rural residents in the countryside. These results present us with evidence of the “conventionalization” of organic farming, and with another instance of “green-washing” of capitalist structures of production.
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Community Autonomy and Local Food: Seeking Food Sovereignty in Maine
Hilda E. Kurtz, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia (US), in collaboration with Heather Retberg and Bonnie Preston, founding members of Local Food Rules
In 2011, a group of food and farmer activists in Maine set off a maelstrom of political activity in and around the food sovereignty movement when they drafted and placed on town meeting warrants a Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. Intended to maintain the viability of small farms in a struggling rural economy, these ordinances exempt direct transactions of farm food from licensure and inspection. Their goal is to maintain control of food at the local level by asserting the right to remain autonomous from the corporate industrial food system. Conceptually, they draw on a populist ethos and the town meeting tradition to invite broad democratic participation in pressing claims for food sovereignty. This paper traces the ordinance strategy and its effects through activist networks and into the halls of the state capitol, where the governing and the governed have wrestled over the last two years with fundamental and difficult issues facing food systems. Recognizing the play of multiple food sovereignties in different settings, we suggest that this work offers insight into possible trajectories of food sovereignty as a movement for radical change in the food system by reasserting the right to define a local food system and drawing a protective boundary around traditional foodways. The concept of food sovereignty — democratic control of the food system, and the right of all people to define their own agrifood systems (US Social Forum 2010) – implies a re-scaling of food production and trade regimes, away from industrial scale production for international trade to food systems organized at local and regional scales. Beyond such a re-scaling, however, food sovereignty discourse is ambiguous if not ambivalent about the geographic scales at which food sovereignty can and should be achieved. Maine ordinance advocates engage with the scale problem directly by arguing for the need for scale appropriate regulations for small scale production for direct sale; in addition, they draw on Maine’s tradition of Home Rule to frame perhaps the first legible spatial expression of food sovereignty in the United States. This paper examines the ordinance strategy and its ripple effects as a politics of scale, in which different expressions of geographic scale shape both the form and the content of political debate. The stakes in this struggle are high, concerning intersections of life and livelihood, autonomy and its absence, and bases for knowing and for evaluating risk. We view these stakes as biopolitics, or struggle over the exercise of biopower. In the exertion of biopower, states (and other actors) manage population health through the use of vital statistics and other technologies. Foucault demonstrates that as new forms of knowledge and regimes of truth made population health knowable, biological experiences shaping individual and collective life, like dietary practices, became linked to the exercise of state power. The paper traces how the food sovereigntists of Maine use politics of scale to face off against biopower as exercised through corporate influence over food and farm regulations.
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Food sovereignty and safeguarding food security for everyone: Issues for scientific investigation
Hugh Lacey, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Swarthmore College; Visiting Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, and Research Fellow in the ‘Thematic Project,’ “The origins and meaning of technoscience: Science, technology, values and society,” University of São Paulo, Brazil
The paper considers food sovereignty [FS] as an aspiration, or value, held by various social movements (first and most notably La Vía Campesina [LVC]) and food producing communities, (i) to control or determine the shape of all aspects of their food system; (ii) to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways, normally in and near their locales; (iii) to utilize and develop agroecological approaches to production; (iv) to protect farmers’ right to seed, land, water and fair markets, and their communities, livelihoods and social and environmental sustainability; and (v) for the development of regional, national and international policies that would democratize the administration of food systems and further the realization of (i)–(iv).
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Water Access, Food Sovereignty and Peru’s Water Regime
Barbara Deutsch Lynch, Visiting Associate Professor of International Affairs and City and Regional Planning, Georgia Institute of Technology
Peru’s water regime is the product of 20 years of negotiations involving the state and non-state actors, the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank. The 2009 water law and the institutions which have been designed to implement it are informed by IWRM discourse. While on the surface, it appears to be a rejection of the neoliberal water privatization project, its principal beneficiaries are the agro-export and energy sectors. Using case materials from the conflictive Rio Santa and Rio Ica watersheds, this paper asks what the new water regime means for food sovereignty, in particular for the power of highland campesinos, smallto mid-scale coastal farmers, and artisanal fishers to supply domestic markets.
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The ‘State’ of Food Sovereignty in Latin America: Political Projects and Alternative Pathways in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia
Ben McKay, PhD candidate, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, Netherlands, and Ryan Nehring, PhD student, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University
The concept of food sovereignty has been enshrined in a number of countries’ Constitutions around the world without any clear consensus around what state-sponsored ‘food sovereignty’ initiatives might entail given the complexity and interconnectedness of the global food system. In the vanguard of this movement at the national level has been the so-called ‘pink tide’ of Latin America – namely Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. As a constitutional right, food sovereignty presents a significant opening to promote a citizen’s revolution of the food system, but is such a proposal possible or desirable as a top-down initiative? The concept itself is inherently peopleled as it implies constructing (or deconstructing) a food system that is defined, led, controlled, and accessed in a culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable way by local people in a given territory. At the same time, state intervention is a necessary function to confront the global food system, dismantle unequal agrarian structures, and recognize the autonomy of people and communities in defining and controlling their food and agricultural systems. In different geographies and societies of food sovereignty, it is necessary to evaluate how state and social actors interact in the pursuit of a national food sovereignty strategy, with particular attention to the relations of control and access to decision-making and physical resources.
To date, pushes for food sovereignty have been led and carried out at the local and transnational levels by social movements – largely circumventing the involvement of state actors. So how does food sovereignty manifest itself through a state-led process constitutionally in the national economy? Is it likely that even the most progressive regimes today will consist of pro-reform state actors with the autonomy and capacity to transform agrarian structures and cede political and economic power to communities on the basis of selfdetermination? Food sovereignty ultimately requires a structural transformation of the economy and society as a whole. It requires a synergetic relationship between state and societal actors able to dismantle power structures through transforming the relations of access and control over resources and decision-making processes. This paper critically analyzes the role of the state in constructing and pursuing a pathway towards food sovereignty using three country case studies. We argue that the most favourable conditions for pursuing a food sovereignty strategy exist when pro-reformist state and societal actors interact in a mutually reinforcing way to restructure relations of control and access over resources and political spaces.
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Historicizing Food Sovereignty: a Food Regime Perspective
Philip McMichael, Professor of Development Sociology, Cornell University
To historicize food sovereignty is to situate it: first, as a strategic countermovement in/of the food regime; and second, by historicizing the food regime itself to identify the shifting terrain of food sovereignty politics. While the global agrarian crisis of the late-twentieth century precipitated the movement, it was part of a continuing crisis accompanying the long-twentieth century food regime and its competitive assault on farming systems across the world. This assault, in the name of free trade, development, and food security, has imposed a model of ‘agriculture without farmers’ in a world equating industrial efficiency with human progress. Food sovereignty is a culminating protective movement against the deceit of ‘feeding the world’ by undermining farming with the false economy of value relations of the food regime.
At the same time, transformation of the current food regime poses new challenges with schemes to capitalize lands in the global South. Whereas in 2000 Vía Campesina claimed “the massive movement of food around the world is forcing the increased movement of people,” now the massive movement of capital around the world increases the movement of people, and food. Beyond deepening this unsustainable scenario, the capitalization project aims to feed the world a new deceit by converting smallholders into value-chain ‘outgrowers’ for world markets. Such appropriation of food sovereignty claims for smallholder recognition nonetheless confronts smallholders with extractive market relations including a form of land grab. Fallout from the recent ‘food crisis’ indicates that neoliberal re-colonization has the potential to consolidate food sovereignty alliances around the politics of food grabbing.
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Cultivating Food Sovereignty Where There are Few Choices
Teresa Mares, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Vermont and affiliated with the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative in Food Systems; Naomi Wolcott-MacCausland, Migrant Health Coordinator for Bridges to Health, a Program of University of Vermont Extension; and Jessie Mazar, Research Assistant and Program Assistant for Huertas.
Huertas did not begin as a research project, but rather as a grassroots effort to build gardens with Latino/a migrant farm workers on rural dairies in Vermont using donated materials and time. Over four summers it has grown into a larger, more organized food access project. In 2013, 23 gardens across northern Vermont were planted, filled with herbs and vegetables that remind these workers of home. In providing access to culturally familiar, fresh produce to a highly vulnerable population, it remains contextualized within the larger intersection of the commercial dairy industry and transnational migration. In this way, it offers a compelling lens to problematize questions of food sovereignty. The farmworkers participating in the project are geographically isolated and most do not have reliable access to transportation, while living thousands of miles away from family and friends. In no way are these workers experiencing the full benefits of food sovereignty. However, by connecting farmworkers with volunteers, materials, and the permission to plant these gardens at employee housing units, Huertas aims to address the disparities in access to nutritious food while simultaneously bridging the barriers of isolation and social inequities. Often characterized as a “nontraditional” destination for Latino/a migration, Vermont has seen a steady increase in the number of migrant farmworkers from Mexico and Latin American countries since the late 1990s. Despite the newness of this trend, the Latino/a population in Vermont has grown 24 times faster than the overall population in the first decade of the new millennium (Baker and Chappelle 2012). As the second whitest state in the nation (trailing only Maine), these demographic changes have not gone unnoticed, and the presence of these workers reveals the hidden dynamics behind Vermont’s iconic working landscape. Currently, there are an estimated 1200 Latino/a migrant dairy workers in the state. However, these numbers are merely estimates, given that the vast majority — roughly 90% — of these workers are undocumented (Radel et.al. 2010). For many, migrating to the United States became the best, or indeed, the only option as rural livelihoods and smallholder agriculture have been devastated in the wake of neoliberal policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now in Vermont, these workers experience a great deal of fear, isolation, and anxiety connected to their presence as “invisible workers” laboring in what has been characterized as a “carceral landscape” (McCandless 2009). This paper examines the development and future of Huertas, an applied food security project co-coordinated by authors of this paper. Together, we question the ways the project and its aims engage with the concept of food sovereignty. The goal of this paper is to present our applied work in progress and seek feedback on a broader ethnographic research project that is emerging simultaneously. Through discussing the ways tat our work complicates the notion of food sovereignty, we aim to develop an approach to activist scholarship that contributes to the autonomy and justice of all involved.
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Food Sovereignty as a Weapon of the Weak? Rethinking the Food Question in Uganda
Giuliano Martiniello, Research Fellow in Political Economy, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University
The new paradigm of food sovereignty offers a series of alternatives to the neoliberal development mode. It also offers some answers to the emerging food question by proposing solutions to reduce dependency on purchased food or aid, focusing on territory, community, autonomy, sustainability, ecology and nutrition. The food crisis, which is widely connected to both the ecological and energy crises and exposes the contradictions of the corporate food regime, was manifested in both the deficiency of supply and exponential increase of prices of staple food. Global food crises bring to the fore a number of responses offering inter-linkages between questions of access to food, poverty and power, as well as issues of productivity and the contested debate around technological solutions. The food question in Uganda has been merely interpreted via the modernization paradigm in purely quantitative terms and codified through the notion of food security: the idea that the issue is just one of securing certain availability of food at national and international level through internal production or external aid. The aim of the paper is to debunk the debate from this productivist paradigm, which in Uganda agricultural policies coincides with an emphasis on increasing commercialization of peasant food production. The notion of food sovereignty however cannot be simply read in epiphenomenal terms or merely the lens of contemporary social movements. Indeed it has profound historical, ecological and political articulations with the long-term strategies of peasant households to maintain their relative autonomy, expand their resource base and ensure social reproduction. The paper explores these dynamics through the case of northern Ugandan peasants and their struggles to maintain access to land and food production as crucial instruments to their internal social organization, political authority and economic reproduction. These social struggles are also to maintain their relative autonomy vis a vis states (pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial) and national and international markets. These dynamics acquire particular relevance in the light of the increasingly unjust, unequal and politically repressive character of the nation state. They are also important because of the overtly central political and economic role played by food in geo-political interstate relations and relations between classes (farmers, peasants and workers) evidenced by amongst other things the current wave of large-scale land acquisitions, which is altering the patterns of food production at global level.
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The Developmental State and Food Sovereignty in Tanzania
Richard Mbunda, Lecturer and PhD student, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Tanzania has been experiencing different periods of food shortages mainly because of insufficient food production. While the country has an undisputable potential for food production, the state and its development partners such the World Bank, believe that the unsustainable peasant food production is the main cause of the food crisis. As a panacea to the food crisis, a call for de-peasantization in favor of commercial large scale farming is advocated. This paper is against de-peasantization, in light of the fact that for a country that is largely agrarian, achieving food self-sufficiency should began with the peasants. The principles of food sovereignty must be adopted and the orientation of the state must be developmental. The state must play the ‘activist’ role in investing heavily in agricultural related projects as well as a ‘de-activist’ role by reducing the budget of sectors that do not add direct value to the national project.
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Food Sovereignty: How it turns the growing corporate global food system upside down
Joan P. Mencher, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, City University of New York’s Graduate Center, and Lehman College of the City University of New York
This article first documents the forces that made necessary the development of the concept of Food Sovereignty and why it remains essential in the present world political economy. Food Sovereignty as an ideology is a tool used by people (peasants, small and even medium size family farmers, small organic farmers, all kinds of local farmers (especially but not only in the US and EU) to fight a very wealthy organized attempt to take over the entire world food supply by the MNCs. I then discuss the “green revolution” approach, including a brief discussion of how it was introduced into India and the reactions of the South Indian farmers I knew at the time, and how it temporarily did lead to significant increases in crop yields in some areas (at the same time that the pesticides used were destroying the soil biota.) Successful alternatives to industrial agriculture are then discussed, especially SRI/SCI which do not need any artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and use one-tenth the amount of seeds used by conventional farming in India. SRI/SCI is hardly known about in the US and EU. Methods for organizing grassroots farmers, both women and men in places like Andhra Pradesh, are also discussed. (India is now an exporter of rice, with world record yields from states previously considered backward, such as Bihar.) I conclude by noting the looming confrontation between the MNCs working to increase the profits of their investors, and the movements from the bottom up by people the world over. Control over food is control over people. And at no time in history have the wealthy voluntarily given up this or other powers.
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The New American Farmer: The Agrarian Question, Food Sovereignty and Immigrant Mexican Growers in the United States
Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Environmental Studies, Goucher College
The paper draws on ethnographic research conducted in the Central Coast of California and the Northern Neck of Virginia, where a significant number of Mexican farmworkers are in the process of transitioning to small-scale family-run farm owner/operators, despite race and ethnicity based discrimination. Although they attempt to succeed as small-scale, family-run and biodiverse farmers, they face market pressures to scale up and grow less diverse crops, exemplifying the contradictions inherent in the food sovereignty movement. As dispossessed agricultural laborers turned farm owners, they challenge common notions of immigrants’ role in modern agriculture, pushing the racial and ethnic boundaries of U.S. farming. This study points to new agrarian questions related to food sovereignty, labor, race, and migration.
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The Temptation of Nitrogen: FAO Guidance for Food Sovereignty in Nicaragua
Birgit Müller, Senior Researcher, LAIOS, CNRS/EHESS, Paris
In this paper I want to look at the type of governance without sovereign authority that the FAO is exercising on the ground in a poor agricultural country like Nicaragua, and how this governance relates to claims for food sovereignty on the national and local level. Although as a global development goal, feeding the world’s hungry is relatively non contentious, this has not prevented the FAO from becoming deeply enmeshed in the complex web of politics, interests and passions linked with agricultural practice. The paper examines how the FAO became a controversial actor in national food politics bringing in the UN agenda and UN criteria when it drew up for the Nicaraguan parliament a draft law on national food security that contradicted the work on national food sovereignty that Nicaraguan civil society and policy-makers had accomplished over several years.
On the local level, it looks at two FAO programmes, the Food Facility Programme financed by the European Union in the South of Nicaragua, and the Special Programme for Food Security in the North. The first distributed large amounts of chemical fertilisers, along with seed varieties that only grow well with external inputs, the second attempted through the method of ‘participatory diagnosing’ to systematise alternative approaches to agriculture and fit them into the global programme for food security. Normative systems and diagnostic tools become, in this process, not only part of a system of constraints but are also treated and circulated as resources, which legitimise institutional interventions and impact on local farming practices and political structures of local self governance.
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Feast and Famine: The Growth of Corporate Wealth and Food Insecurity in Neoliberal Mexico
Enrique C. Ochoa, Professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles
This paper explores how recent Mexican food policies have spurred the growth of three large transnational food corporations while at the same time leaving more than 20 million Mexicans in nutritional poverty with little access to their traditional staples and ways of life. The paper sets this seemingly paradoxical situation within the broader context of Mexican food policies and neoliberal restructuring over the past few decades to underscore the contradictory nature of neoliberal capitalist development, the widening inequality that it encourages, and the efforts to erase the historic cultures of México Profundo. In the struggles for food sovereignty and food justice, the growth of corporate power and inequality must be underscored and workers all along the food chain need to be brought into the discussion.
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Life in a Shrimp Zone: Aqua and Other Cultures in Bangladesh’s Coastal Landscape
Kasia Paprocki, PhD student in Development Sociology, Cornell University, and Jason Cons, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Bucknell University
This paper questions the possibilities of food sovereignty for producing a radical egalitarian politics. Specifically, it explores the class-differentiated implications of food sovereignty in a zone of ecological crisis—Bangladesh’s coastal Khulna district. Much land in this deltaic zone that had previously been employed for various forms of peasant production has been overrun and transformed by the introduction of brackish-water shrimp aquaculture. This has, in turn, caused massive depeasantization and ecological crisis throughout the region. Drawing on participatory research conducted in the summer of 2013, we explore the human impacts of this transformation. Through an examination of two markedly different Polders (embanked islands)—one which has been overrun by shrimp production and one that has resisted it—we ask how coastal communities have variously negotiated their rapidly changing ecologies and food systems based on their relative class position and access to land. Comparing these distinct cases, we highlight the multiple meanings that peasants from different classes ascribe not just to shrimp, but also to broader questions of adaptation, community, and life in uncertain terrains. We show that while food sovereignty in non-shrimp areas has averted the depeasantization affecting shrimp areas, it does not necessarily yield greater equality in agrarian class relations. To achieve such ends, we suggest, the dynamics of land sovereignty provide a critical and necessary corollary to self-determination in agricultural production.
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We Are Not All the Same: Taking Gender Seriously in Food Sovereignty Discourse
Clara Mi Young Park, PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague and a gender and social equity consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Ben White, Emeritus Professor of Rural Sociology, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague; and Julia, Presidium member of the Kalimantan Women Alliance for Peace and Gender Justice (AlPeKaJe) based in West Kalimantan, Indonesia
The vision of food sovereignty calls for radical changes in “agricultural, political and social systems related to food”. These changes also entail addressing inequalities and asymmetries of power in gender relations. While women’s rights are seen as central to food sovereignty given the key role women play in food production and procurement, food preparation, family food security and food culture, few attempts have been made to systematically integrate gender in food sovereignty analysis. This paper uses case study evidence from countries where corporate agricultural expansion is on-going to highlight the different ways and wants of incorporation and struggle that take place on the ground depending on women and men’s different position, class and endowments. These, in turn, are contributing to processes of social differentiation and class formation thus to creating rural communities and societies that are much more complex and antagonistic than those sketched in food sovereignty discourse and neopopulist claims of egalitarianism, cooperation and solidarity. We argue that proponents of food sovereignty need to systematically address gender as a strategic element of its construct and not only as a mobilising ideology. We also maintain that if food sovereignty is to have an intellectual future within critical agrarian studies, it will have to reconcile the inherent contradictions of the “we are all the same” discourse taking the analysis of social differences, such as class, gender and ethnicity, as a starting point to challenge existing inequalities of power.
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Institutionalizing Food Sovereignty in Ecuador
Karla Peña, Researcher, Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
As one of the first nations to incorporate food sovereignty as a constitutional right, Ecuador is an interesting case study to further our understanding of the food sovereignty conceptual framework. Social movements were influential in incorporating food sovereignty into the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution that later developed into a food sovereignty legal framework with the approval of the Food Sovereignty Law (LORSA) in 2009. To further develop this legal framework, the Conferencia Plurinacional e Intercultural de Soberania Alimentaria (COPISA) was created in 2010 as a participatory organization responsible for drafting nine-supplementary laws that support the LORSA. In this paper I look at how and why food sovereignty was incorporated into the 2008 Constitution followed by an analysis of the relationship that has developed between social movements and the state since then. Based on quantitative and qualitative data collected in Ecuador in 2012 through in-depth key informant interviews and participatory observations, I also explore the food sovereignty policy-making workshops fostered by COPISA. This research demonstrates social movements in Ecuador are negotiating with the state in ways that differ from previous attempts and that this relationship is developing a food sovereignty legal framework that is pushing the state to rethink and reshape the politics that govern food. What remains uncertain is how this relationship evolves beyond the process of policy formation to implementation.
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Food Regimes, Race and The Coloniality of Power: Linking histories in the food sovereignty movement
Shoshana Devra Perrey, NSF Fellow
This paper centers the food regime as a critical tool for understanding state hegemony, and invokes the introduction of racial categorization to further extend the powerful role of states’ formations historically. To do this I present the food regimes analytical tool and characterize the coloniality of power thesis, to argue that a better understanding of state formation in modern times is achieved by unifying both race and food regimes together, rather than thinking of them as two detached concepts. First I characterize Aníbal Quijano’s Coloniality of Power thesis, which explains how the categorization of people by racial identities was a novel process of the conquest of the Americas, used to exert power and develop a capitalist hierarchy over labor based on categories of race. Then, I define and problematize Friedmann and McMichael’s food regime analytic, discussing a few criticisms brought forth from other scholars. The food regime analytical tool explains how the state hegemony controls food systems through industrial agriculture marketing and policy-making. The result of this paper shows how the integration of Coloniality of Power alongside a food regimes analysis have combined to support the genesis of the food sovereignty countermovement. Food sovereignty, which arguably is an ideology more than a process in it self, supports the political, social and economic rights of people to control their own food systems. It counters the hegemony of food regimes by integrating equality of race, gender, religion and class into the agency afforded to people to resist corporate and state hegemony of food systems. It follows that those people and groups whose rights and agrarian livelihoods have been most direly challenged have organized together to define food sovereignty. Thus, this paper characterizes the changing frame of reference that the food sovereignty movement advances to counter state hegemony, racial categories and labor relations in food regimes.
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Farmers’ Rights & Food Sovereignty: Critical Insights from India
Karine Peschard, Postdoctoral Fellow, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Farmers’ access to and rights over seeds are the very pillars of agriculture, and thus represent an essential component of food sovereignty. Three decades after the term farmers’ rights was first coined, there now exists a broad consensus that this new category of rights is historically grounded and imperative in the current context of the expansion of intellectual property rights (IPRs) over plant varieties. However, the issue of their realization has proven so thorny that even researchers and activists who are sympathetic to farmers’ rights now express growing skepticism regarding their usefulness. In this article, I explore this debate through a case study of India’s unique Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act. Based on an analysis of advances and setbacks in implementing the PPV&FR Act and a discussion of other relevant pieces of legislation, I argue that the politics of biodiversity and IPRs in India in recent years has been characteristic of the cunning state, and that this has seriously compromised the meaningful implementation of farmers’ rights.
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Risk and Blame in the Anthropocene: Multi-scale Climate Change Analysis
Jesse Ribot, University of Illinois
Climate change and climate-change policies affect food security. Vulnerabilities, however, do not just fall from the sky. Vulnerability is not an attribute of changing hazards. It is produced and reproduced through social and political-economic relations on the ground. Risk of hunger is linked to local hierarchies, government relations, national and global markets, international laws and practices, and highly unequal and interlinked local, national and global political economies that give some access to needed resources, others access to social protections, yet others voice in political and economic decisions. These relations shape how people use, depend on, and are affected by nature. This article frames an analysis of vulnerability — risk of food insecurity, hunger, famine, displacement, economic loss — as it now must be analyzed in the new era of human-nature, the anthropocene. Risk in the anthropocene is now bifurcated with some social causality operating through climate. The focus on climate should, however, not take attention away from causes of vulnerability that remain on the ground.
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Do Purchases Motivated by Symbolic and Social Needs Undermine Food Sovereignty?
Jill Richardson, Freelance writer, based in San Diego
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” (Declaration of Nyéléni). While physical and economic needs such as secure land tenure and access to seeds must be met to achieve food sovereignty, there are also psychological needs at play. This paper examines the extent to which feelings that ones’ traditional foods and farming itself are “backwards,” “primitive,” or “low class” undermine food sovereignty by driving people to adopt purchased (often nutritionally inferior) foods.
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The Debate Over Food Sovereignty in Mexico
Guadalupe Rodríguez-Gómez, Full-time Professor-researcher, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS), Guadalajara, Mexico, and level III researcher, Sistema Nacional de Investigadores
In 2007 a popular movement called Sin maíz no hay país y sin frijol tampoco emerged in Mexico, in response to the domestic food crisis. This was conceived as the leading edge of the 2007 and 2008 global food crises. The movement advocated for the protection of domestic staple agriculture and food sovereignty. It sought to create fair competition between US and Mexican farmers by encouraging the re-negotiation of the Agricultural Chapter of NAFTA; and to defend native varieties of corn against their replacement with GM. This presentation examines responses by both Mexican society and state to this food crisis. It focuses on meanings, ideas, actions, relationships, and processes that dominant and popular groups set in motion. It identifies the ways in which the Mexican neoliberal state has manipulated the market according to the principles of “competitive and comparative advantages,” to redistribute public resources unequally among producers and to open Mexican food market to imports. It argues that the Mexican state’s food market interventions are contradictory since (1) it legitimizes neoliberalism by claiming that the market should be the only force shaping internal production; and (2) Mexican agriculture is more exposed than ever to the negative impacts of global trade. Accordingly, Sin maíz no hay país is an illustration of less-privileged farmers and urban groups’ struggle against Mexico´s neoliberal food and agriculture policies and global food market instability, while promoting small-scale staple farming.
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Rural Social Movements and Agroecology: Food Sovereignty, Diálogo de Saberes, Peasant Territories and Re-peasantization
Peter M. Rosset, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) and el Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, and María Elena Martínez-Torres, Environment and Society Program of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology-Southeast Campus (CIESAS-Sureste)
While many contemporary rural social movements once argued for increased industrial farming inputs and machinery for their members, the past few years have seen an accelerating shift toward the promotion of agroecology as an alternative to the so-called Green Revolution. In this paper we both describe this phenomenon in its historically specific context, and provide some theoretical tools for understanding it. From the construction of the food sovereignty paradigm by the transnational social movement La Via Campesina, which was critically shaped by the encounter and diálogo de saberes (dialog among different knowledges and ways of knowing) between different rural cultures (East, West, North and South; Peasant, Farmer and Rural Proletarian; etc.), and by the increasingly politicized confrontation with neoliberal reality and agribusiness in its most recent phase of expansion. We borrow the concepts of material and immaterial territories from Brazilian critical geography to understand both agroecology-as-practice and agroecology-as-farming in the growing territorial dispute between rural social movements and agribusiness, and the role played in these disputes by both as elements in the (re)construction of peasant territories. The paper provides examples of the construction of peasant territories and partial re-peasantization through agroecology, as part of the search by peasants for relative autonomy from input, credit and output markets around the world.
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Toward Genetic Democracy? Seed Sovereignty, Neoliberal Food Regime, and Transgenic Crops in India
Devparna Roy, Visiting Fellow, Polson Institute for Global Development, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University
Biotechnology has become the central form of technology in global agriculture since the neoliberal reformulation of global capitalism in the 1980s. Powerful transnational corporations ha ve e me rg e d a s the ma j or promote rs of tra ns g e ni c te c hnol og y ( a f orm of a dva nc e d biotechnology) in the global South. The Indian democratic developmental state (which has invested in biotechnology research since the mid-1980s) has its own interests regarding transgenic technology. Has the Indian state succeeded or failed in creating a genetic democracy even as it interacts with biotech transnational corporations and the civil society? A ‘genetic democracy’ is defined as an ideal-type of society and polity where all citizens participate democratically in the shaping of the nation’s biotech agenda and policies; where the state has complete regulatory control over transgenic crops, and where the public sector plays a decisive role in researching and commercializing transgenic crops. I argue that the Indian democratic developmental state (in existence since January 1950) has failed in the creation of a genetic democracy partly becaus e of three major cas es of s tate failure with reference to the development and regulation of transgenic crops. I discuss these cases of state failure: first, the introduction of Bt cotton through unauthorized seeds resulted in a regulatory nightmare for the Indian state which it is still unable to end; second, the failure of the Indian public sector to successfully commercialize Bt cotton undermined the developmental efforts of the Indian state to deliver low-cost, savable seeds to agriculturists; and third, the bitter and unresolved debates in Indian civil s ociety over attempts to introduce Bt brinjal (through a public-private partnership) have led to a situation where the apex governmental institution that clears transgenic crops recommended the commercialization of Bt brinjal in 2009, but the Indian state later backed out and imposed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal’s commercialization in February 2010. Cumulatively, these three major cases of state failure (together with the resistance of anti-GM activists) have not allowed a genetic democracy to flourish in India. If the national goal is the construction of a genetic democracy, then the Indian state and the food/seed sovereignty movement have to co-operate with each other in this creative task. I offer some suggestions as to how the Indian state and the food/seed sovereignty movement can develop trust in biotechnology among Indian citizens and co-create a genetic democracy.
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Feminist Food Sovereignty: Crafting a New Vision
Carolyn Sachs, Professor, Rural Sociology and Women’s Studies, and Department Head, Women’s Studies, Penn State University
Debates around food security and food sovereignty center on questions of social justice. This paper provides a feminist analysis of global and local food security and sovereignty through utilizing feminist theoretical interventions. Feminist theoretical interventions include feminist analysis of neoliberalism, social reproduction and care, intersectionality, feminist political ecology, and “another world feminism.” I discuss and analyze three feminist approaches to food security and food sovereignty: the dominant gender and food security model, feminist food sovereignty, and a reframing of feminist food justice. First, I present an analysis of how gender and food security issues are approached by the UN, as well as other development institutions. Second, I analyze how gender issues are approached in the food sovereignty movement, and finally I suggest a new framework for feminist food justice.
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Culturally appropriate food: Researching cultural aspects of food sovereignty
Devon Sampson, PhD candidate, Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz, and Chelsea Wills, a social practice artist
One way that food sovereignty challenges conventional notions of food security is by insisting that culture is and should be part of food systems. Many definitions of food sovereignty assert a right to “culturally appropriate” food, but who decides what is culturally appropriate? We argue that food and farming “culture” is too often assumed to be static and settled by a default consensus within farming communities, when in fact it is dynamically changing and the subject of significant disagreements. We present findings from two years of participatory action research in rural Yucatan, Mexico that offers glimpses into the process by which cultural values of food and farming are agreed upon, contested, and disseminated. We involved a group of recent high school graduates from a rural municipality in participatory photography work as part of a research project on agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty that we collaboratively presented in the municipality and later at national and international venues. Their work captured moments of agreement and dissent in what constitutes culturally appropriate food. At the same time, the youth researchers used the photography as a means to a stronger voice in defining the kinds of food and agriculture they want for themselves and their community. What is “culturally appropriate” is dynamically worked, never reaching a static consensus, but still affecting food sovereignty in tangible, material ways.
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Conceptualizing the Human Right to Food in the Food Sovereignty Framework
Will Schanbacher, Instructor of Religious Studies, University of South Florida
In this paper, I draw from the theory of human rights articulated by Tomas Pogge. Theorizing in the larger context of global poverty and inequality, Pogge makes an important distinction between positive and negative rights, and the duties that arise from them. More specifically, Pogge argues we should consider human rights in a way that transcends the conventional debate between positive and negative rights and duties. Rather than contextualizing access to food as a failure on the part of affluent countries to provide a framework for securing the right to food, affluent countries (and their citizens) should recognize how we are actively exacerbating global hunger and malnutrition. Accepting this premise, implicates all of us who are complicit in creating and perpetuating any institutional order that denies global farmers the freedom from poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Perhaps more importantly this framework avoids some of the ethical conundrums associated with positive rights, namely, from whom (governments, charities, multilaterals, etc.) do the global poor, hungry, and malnourished demand the right to food. This paper argues for a more minimal sense of duty on the part of affluent countries. Instead we focus on our negative duty to not impose upon global farmers institutions and social structures that deny them the freedom to chose how they wish to organize their own local communities’ efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency.
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The agrarian transition and the ‘feminization’ of agriculture
Olivier de Schutter, UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food
This article discusses the significance of the so-called “feminization of agriculture” both to policymakers and to feminist theory. It first highlights the various meanings that, depending on the context, such “feminization” refers to. It then examines the situation of women as independent food producers. Though women play a greater role than ever as food producers, they face obstacles such that they are often relegated to a form of agricultural production that is characterized by its low productivity and that is geared towards own consumption. Such homestead-based production can represent an important contribution to food security and deserves support. But it also presents the risk of confirming existing gender roles and it does not favor the economic independence of women ; nor does it truly expand women's choices. The article also reviews the situation of women as farmworkers, which represents another manifestation of this “feminization of agriculture”.
Feminist theory has always been divided between the recognition of the specific position of women and their assimilation into existing institutional structures. We confront a similar dilemma in the agrarian transition. The position of this article is that we should not have choose between supporting women's roles as food producers by taking into account the existing gender roles and the time and mobility constraints that women are imposed, or instead challenging those roles and ignoring those constraints, to make women more like men and ensure that they have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The constraints are real, and they will take time to be removed. As long as they subsist, we must ensure at least that the choices of women within the food systems can expand. Whether they decide to act within the existing gender roles or whether they seek to escape the constraints these roles currently impose on them, the choices they make in the various contexts in which they operate should not be choices by default: only by removing the constraints they face, and by shaping pathways towards alternatives to the current situation in which they face multiple barriers, can this be ensured.
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Food Security in a Sovereign State and “Quiet Food Sovereignty” of an Insecure Population: The Case of Post-Soviet Russia
Max Spoor, Professor of Development Studies, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University, Visiting Professor, Barcelona (IBEI), and Guest Professor, Nanjing (NJAU); Natalia Mamonova, PhD candidate, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University, The Netherlands; Oane Visser, Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University; and Alexander Nikulin, Professor and Director, Center for Agricultural Studies of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Moscow, Russia.
In this paper we argue that Russian discourses on and practices of food sovereignty strongly diverge from the global understanding of this concept. We distinguish two approaches to food and agriculture that are crucial for understanding food sovereignty à la Russe. The first one is what we term ‘food security in a sovereign state’. This approach is close to the traditional food security concept and refers to the conceived necessity to produce sufficient food for the population domestically, instead of being dependent on food imports. This type of food sovereignty is to be realized by large-scale industrial agriculture, which further development is actively supported by the Russian government. It has the additional function of a potential political weapon in international relations, via growing grain exports and grain market power. The second type of food sovereignty we term ‘quiet food sovereignty’ of an insecure population. It is enacted by the population’s self-provisioning of food through production on household plots, as a coping mechanism. We show that these small-holdings are quite productive, and in general have similar yields as individual private farms (which make up a relative small sector) and large-scale farm enterprise. However, household plot production, which still has a symbiotic and sometimes adverse relation with large farm enterprises (and agroholdings), is grossly overlooked and even downplayed not only by the Russian government, but also by the small-scale producers themselves. We conclude that an emergent food sovereignty movement will be most likely a ‘Via Kremlina’, rather than a ‘Via Campesina–type. The dominance of large scale enterprises, the minimal government support for small-holders, and the existence of a large number of scattered, fragmented and still ignored household producers, do not yet provide much prospect for a ‘food sovereignty movement from below’ in Russia, in spite of emerging eco-villages and some indigenous movements that struggle to keep their traditional food systems intact.
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Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Social Conflict in Africa
Kai Thaler, Doctoral student, Department of Government, Harvard University, and affiliated researcher, Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS)
As foreign governments and corporations lease and purchase large tracts of arable land across the globe, in Africa, such large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) or ‘land grabs’ have allegedly provided the grievance behind protests, riots, coups, and other conflict from Mali to Madagascar. These land acquisitions not only displace smallholder farmers and pastoralists, often from allegedly marginal lands, but the land is subsequently used for food or biofuel export crops that are sent to wealthier countries, or forested for carbon mitigation. This dynamic deprives the local market of food production, often in countries that already experience high levels of food insecurity, and forces peasant farmers and pastoralists into the wage economy, where they have less control over their food sources and their subsistence is subject to the fluctuations of the global corporate food regime. LSLA target countries may also tend already to have poor land tenure security, and are frequently characterized by weak, corrupt, or authoritarian governments. It is unclear, however, whether land grabbing itself is a mechanism that has led to a significant increase in subnational social conflict, or whether land grabs have simply provided a focal point of organization for underlying unrest related to other factors. Using data on LSLAs from Land Matrix and data on conflict from the Social Conflict in Africa Dataset, this paper finds no significant correlation between LSLAs and the incidence of social conflict. The reliability of data on LSLAs leaves much to be desired, however, and so future research should focus on improving this data and also on untangling the social and political effects of LSLA deals through rigorous qualitative research.
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Towards a geographic theory of food sovereignty in the United States
Amy Trauger, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Georgia, Athens
Food sovereignty identifies the state and capital as complicit in the inequities and injustices in the corporate food regime, including and especially the alienation between producers from consumers. Among food sovereignty’s many demands, is a call to a return power and control in the food system to producers and consumers through decentering the power of transnational capital. The literature on food sovereignty lacks engagement with theories of sovereignty as an explanatory resource, and thus strategies to achieve its aims may lack key insights into political power. I draw on the insights of post-structuralist social theorists, political geography and anthropologists on political sovereignty to engage the practitioners, theoreticians and supporters of food sovereignty in a discussion of the implications of their political practices. I position food sovereignty within a framework of geographic thought as a partial, temporary and contested territorial claim as an insurgent assertion of autonomy in space. The paper concludes by positing a theoretical frame for future research on food sovereignty in geography.
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The politics of the emerging agro-industrial complex in Asia’s ‘final frontier’: The war on food sovereignty in Burma
Kevin Woods, Ph.D. candidate, Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department. (ESPM), UC-Berkeley, as a political ecologist and geographer; research analyst for Transnational Institute (TNI), Amsterdam, and for Forest Trends, Washington, D.C.
Burma's dramatic turn-around from 'axis of evil' to western darling in the past year has been imagined as Asia's 'final frontier' for global finance institutions, markets and capital. Burma's agrarian landscape is home to three-fourths of the country's total population which is now being constructed as a potential prime investment sink for domestic and international agribusiness. The Global North's development aid industry and IFIs operating in Burma has consequently repositioned itself to proactively shape a pro-business legal environment to decrease political and economic risks to enable global finance capital to more securely enter Burma's markets, especially in agribusiness. But global capitalisms are made in localized places — places that make and are made from embedded social relations. This paper uncovers how regional political histories that are defined by very particular racial and geographical undertones give shape to Burma's emerging agro-industrial complex. The country's still smoldering ethnic civil war and fragile untested liberal democracy is additionally being overlain with an emerging war on food sovereignty. A discursive and material struggle over land is taking shape to convert subsistence agricultural landscapes and localized food production into modern, mechanized industrial agro-food regimes. This second agrarian transformation is being fought over between a growing alliance among the western development aid and IFI industries, global finance capital, and a solidifying Burmese military-private capitalist class against smallholder farmers who work and live on the country's now most valuable asset — land. Grassroots resistances increasingly confront the elite capitalist class' attempts to corporatize food production through the state's rule of law and police force. Farmers, meanwhile, are actively developing their own shared vision of food sovereignty and pro-poor land reform that desires greater attention.
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Peasant-Driven Agricultural Growth and Food Sovereignty
Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor of Transition Studies at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and Adjunct Professor in Rural Sociology at China Agricultural University, Beijing
The concept of food sovereignty represents an important theoretical and practical challenge. The political economy of agriculture can only take this gauntlet by developing a better understanding of the processes of agricultural growth. Without such an understanding it is difficult to address the issue of food sovereignty. Developing such an understanding involves a (re-) combination of the political economy of agriculture with the Chayanovian approach. This paper gives several explanations (all individually valid but stronger in combination) as to why peasant agriculture results in sturdy and sustainable growth – it also identifies the factors that undermine this capacity. The paper also argues that peasant agriculture is far from being a remnant of the past. The different peasantries of the world are shaped and reproduced by today’s capital (and more specifically by current food empires), and equally, they help to shape and contribute to the further unfolding of forms of capital related to food and agriculture. It is important to understand this two-way interaction between capital and peasant agriculture as this helps to ground the concept of food sovereignty. This article is underpinned by three assumptions. First, the debate about enlarging total agricultural production is very real. Although this debate is currently used to assess the hegemony of food empires and imperial science, we cannot throw away the baby with the bathwater. Secondly, the capacity to produce enough (at different levels, distinguishing different needs, etc.) needs to be an integral part of food sovereignty discourse. Thirdly, I am convinced that peasant agriculture has the best credentials for meeting food sovereignty and has the capacity to produce (more than) sufficient good food in a way that can satisfy the (many) objectives of producers themselves as well as for society at large.
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