Food Sovereignty

What is Food Sovereignty?

“Food sovereignty is 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. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” 1

More loosely it is defined as the right of local peoples to control their own food systems from production to market. We see this as vital and start by teaching the farming families we work with, how to even make their own chocolate recipes with their own cacao. It is shocking that most cacao farmers do not even eat their own produce, and thus the hard work they put into growth and harvest is almost abstract as they send out bags of cacao pods or fermenting beans.

The Who of Food Sovereignty

La Vía Campesina (the peasants’ way) was founded in 1993 by farmers organizations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America and Africa. It brings together over 148 organizations championing on behalf of millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. We have been watching this group for years and really fell in love with their work.

Built on a strong sense of unity, solidarity between these groups, it defends peasant agriculture for food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and dignity and strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.2

Food Regimes Framework of Food Sovereignty

Food as a regime addresses the changing role of food and agriculture in the development of global capitalism.  

In the late 1980s, Harriet Friedmann and Phil McMichael proposed the concept of a “food regime” as a constellation or cluster of class and interstate power relations, norms, and institutional rules, and socio ecological/geographical specializations that link the global relations of food production and consumption to periods of capital accumulation.3

This brings together the multiple complex facets of food as a whole:

  • Human Necessity
  • Nutrients
  • Ingredients
  • Intermediary
  • Production
  • Final Product
  • Social Relation
  • Cultural Performance

Friedmann and McMichael recognize the first food regime as in force between 1870 and the 1930s, when grains and livestock became trade as commodities from early settler colonies. These seem such basic and simple rights, yet our daily work in cacao proves that it is otherwise.

The next food regime is said to have happened from 1950s to 1970s when the United States of America sent excess food goods to help support others, expand industrialization, and reduce communism worldwide.

This second movement brought food sources to the front lines politically and as the World Trade Organization united national governments, they cave up their powers to set their own food and agricultural policies, resulting in a boost of uneven trade agreements for already struggling developing countries. That is why we spend a lot of time and work in government lobby.

This began the worldwide food regime movement, in an effort to bring to the forefront economic, environmental, and equity-related concerns around agricultural production, consumption, and trade.

The Exploration of Rights-Based Approaches to Food and Food Sovereignty

The UN-based right-to-food approach focused on the individual human right to food, rather than the structural problems of agricultural development, food production, and consumption within the world economic system. We find this a really valuable contribution to the conversation.

The 2004 FAO Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food in the Context of National Food Security for focusing on the need for legal, political, and technical reforms at the level of the nation-state, while ignoring effects of the international economic system, and the need for redistributive change.

Agrarian citizenship recognizes the various voices from farmer to distributor that play a part in the food network, but also keeps in mind the effects that climate change has on the industry. Political and ecological voices are actively reshaping food policy and practice, especially in light of the implications of climate change for agricultural systems. They do this by focusing on ecologically sustainable food production and reconnecting producers and consumers to the local food market.

Above all, food sovereignty supporters demand to participate in decisions and have a voice in establishing food system structures and particular, place-based conceptions of rights.

The Demands and Strategies of the Food Sovereignty Movement

Food security—framed as a universal ideal to prevent world hunger—emerged as a post–World War II development principle enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2010), food security exists when:

“all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Suggestions for the Future of Food Sovereignty

Hannah Wittman4 suggests these steps in moving toward food sovereignty:

  • Trade Liberalization and Alternative Trade Regimes
  • Rethinking Land and Nature: Food Production, Agrarian Reform and Indigenous Knowledge
  • Unity in Diversity: Gender, Class, and Ideology
  • Community-Driven Research and Emerging Research Directions

The community-driven nature of food sovereignty conceptualization, practice, and more recently, research, has allowed the transformation of knowledge and ways of knowing in new and important ways.  Taking into account:

  • farmer-to-farmer movements
  • local and indigenous knowledge
  • local needs, culture, and conditions
  • climate change
  • the way that food, ecology, citizenship, and social organization are connected

This is the fuel behind what we do at BLYSS, and the


1Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007
3Friedmann 1987,2009; Friedmann and McMichael 1989; McMichael 2009b
4Food Sovereignty: A New Rights Framework for Food and Nature by Hannah Wittman

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