Food Sovereignty (FSo) is the right of each nation to maintain and develop its own capacity to produce its basic foods respecting cultural and productive diversity. (Via Campesina 1996). Food sovereignty can be also seen more generally as the right of local peoples to control their own food systems, including markets, ecological resources, food cultures, and production mode (https://doi.org/10.3167/ares.2011.020106).
The concept of food sovereignty has been coined and developed by Via Campesina, international farmers organisation, in 1996. As presented in 1996 Rome Food Sovereignty Declaration (https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/11/1996-Rom-en.pdf) food sovereignty redefines the fundamentals food systems transformation. Built on food security concept FSo advocates for the shift from consumer to a food citizen perspective. According to the FSo approach food crisis cannot be defined only as a deficit of food consumption, but rather as a general flawed condition of the system, especially with regard to farmers and food production. FSo is therefore a political programme of social critics aimed at unjust, exploitive and neo-colonial order of global food market. This market has been hegemonized by international trade rules of World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, imposing neoliberal credit conditions. Under these rules and conditions, small-scale family farmers are marginalised and deprived of any power. With FSo concept, Via Campesina, as a peasants’ movement, asserts the rights of farmers and other disadvantaged groups in food system. FSo is focusing on decision-making concerning food production, land management, diversity and local foodways. It has strong political agenda, as it considers food system to be the domain of food rights, food justice and democracy rather than the result of market factors.
In 2007 during World Forum for Food Sovereignty in Mali over 500 representants of different sectors of society have signed the Declaration of Nyéléni as an act of spreading recognition of FSo and giving it a policy priority. The declaration emphasises a wide spectrum of social agents taking part in FSo movement (peasants/family farmers, artisanal fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, landless peoples, rural workers, migrants, pastoralists, forest communities, women, youth, consumers and environmental and urban movements). It refers to diverse and rich, however usually neglected, cultural heritage, social-cultural values, and local people’s agricultural knowledge resources and they key role in maintaining healthy, sustainable, and fair food system. It urges to put local and national people’s needs and interest in the very heart of food policies, rather than corporate and global trade interests. It also calls for resisting neoliberal, global market-based regime by setting up organizations, cooperatives, and other democratic, bottom-up collective bodies to regain autonomy and power with food system (https://nyeleni.org/spip.php?article290). Nyeleni Declaration widens its aims and programme into critics of other kinds of domination in food system: patriarchy, imperialism, neo-colonialism etc.
The Six Pillars of FSo, by Nyeleni:
- Focuses on food for the people by: a) placing people’s need for food at the centre of policies; and b) insisting that food is more than just a commodity.
- Values food providers by: a) supporting sustainable livelihoods; and b) respecting the work of all food providers.
- Localizes food systems by: a) reducing the distance between suppliers and consumers; b) rejecting dumping and inappropriate food aid; and c) resisting dependence on remote and unaccountable corporations.
- Places control at a local level by: a) placing control in the hands of local food suppliers; b) recognizing the need to inhabit and share territories; and c) rejecting the privatization of natural resources.
- Promotes knowledge and skills by: a) building on traditional knowledge; b) using research to support and pass on this knowledge to future generations; and c) rejecting technologies that undermine local food systems.
- Works with nature by: a) maximizing the contributions of ecosystems; b) improving resilience; and c) rejecting energy intensive, monocultural, industrialized and destructive production methods
In following years FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and many other international agencies has incorporated FSo concept within its food system policy strategy, adding it to Food Security frame as a complementing, more general, right-to-food approach. Via Campesina and FAO have agreed on developing a common institutional platform of collaboration for FSo (https://www.fao.org/partnerships/civil-society/news/news-article/en/c/201834/). However, Nyeleni is still very critical to those actions and considers them to be the continuation of hegemonic food system management and corporate co-optation undermining food democracy (Northern states governments, EU, international NGOs, pro-corporate scientific bodies etc.) (https://nyeleni.org/DOWNLOADS/newsletters/Nyeleni_Newsletter_Num_45_EN.pdf).