In the current context in which we see local food economies being encroached by a few corporations, food sovereignty is an ultimate goal for not only farmers, but consumers as well. This battle for the right to decide food and agriculture policies requires different tactics and strategies from the organization of community-led seminars, planting of every inch of vacant space to global actions. One of these local-global actions has been to design of new policy frameworks such as the Right to Food mechanism.
But what does the Right to Food mechanism mean to our goal to protect human rights and food sovereignty?
The Right to Food mechanism is one of the steps towards a basic human right that has yet to be realized for over a billion people. The Right to Food is a legal mechanism to protect local communities’ access to food.
As a law, the Right to Food enables communities as well as nations to demand their food rights. Hard-pressed by free trade agreements and WTO regulations, many developing nations have limited powers to make decisions on supporting the right to food and food sovereignty. As US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) mentioned, free trade agreements are a set of regulations (from intellectual property to the dismantling of land tenure regimes) that only favor international investors and other special interests. Free trade agreements like CAFTA, NAFTA and the emerging TransPacific Partnership (TPP) curtail governments’ capacity to invest in rural development programs to small scale farmers and advance food sovereignty. They force governments to divert more and more resources to large private enterprises, instead of rebuilding basic infrastructure to small scale agriculture and rural communities.
The Right to Food mechanism is a result of years of tireless work of grassroots advocates. In 1996, during the World Food Conference, grassroots advocates highlighted the Right to Food, as a priority to policy change. Lawmakers, supported by the analysis of grassroots organizers, saw that the right to food could help to advance the implementation of the goals expressed in the UN Human Rights Declaration of 1946. Also, in the same conference, the Via Campesina introduced the concept of food sovereignty in the UN meeting. At that time, the Via Campesina, as the newest expression of the peasant movement for land, water, seeds and food rights, advocated for the rights of peasants to produce their own food, and the rights of communities around the world to control their food production and consumption:
Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It develops a model of small scale sustainable production benefiting communities and their environment. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.
Food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption. It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector. Therefore the implementation of genuine agrarian reform is one of the top priorities of the farmer's movement.
Right to Food and Food Sovereignty in the American Continent
The concept of food sovereignty has evolved over the years, as has the peasant movement worldwide. Today a global movement of food sovereignty has bridged urban and rural communities from different countries and their perspectives have translated in different strategies to accomplish food sovereignty. In the United States, new food sovereignty laws, based on the experience of Sedgwick, Maine, have been approved in eight towns across the country. These new laws try to protect the right of farmers and consumers engaged in consented, marketing practices. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others government agencies have challenged those laws through lawsuits on the basis of public health and safety. Despite the legal challenges against those legislations, it is all but certain the idea of food sovereignty is here to stay.
In Latin America, the concepts of both the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty are used interchangeably because the largest social segment affected by hunger is mostly rural families, disposed of their land and water rights. Indigenous peoples and peasants remain an influential social segment in some countries.
The rise of food sovereignty in the region is a result of the great organizing work of the Via Campesina that helped increase opposition to neoliberal policies sponsored by the U.S. and European Union through free trade agreements. So, it is not a surprise that 11 nations in Latin America have approved constitutional amendments that include the Right to Food. Mexico, Brazil and Guatemala, for instance, approved new laws based on the Right to Food mechanism. Others like Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have gone even further to include food sovereignty in the constitutions. Food sovereignty policies, such as the support to small-scale farmers and the production and dissemination of creole seeds over genetically modified ones, have emerged in the many countries that adopted constitutional changes based on Right to Food and Food Sovereignty frameworks.
It is valid to say that the work of the Via Campesina to disseminate food sovereignty has been critical to create the conditions to the implementation of the Right to Food mechanism. The alliances with friendly governments and the critical mass and political influence of organized peasant groups in policy making spaces have guaranteed the political move towards Right to Food legislation. And hopefully, this favorable environment to democracy and peasants’ participation will contribute to the enforceability of the new laws.
Photo: Participants in a Right to Food workshop in India. Photo courtesy of FIAN