Food sovereignty is a relatively young social movement that was defined in 2007 in Selingue, Mali. That’s when 500 delegates from more than 80 countries adopted the “Declaration of Nyeleni,” In that declaration it states that Food Sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable practices, and the right to define their own food and agricultural systems.
It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies – rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime. It gives directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. Food sovereignty prioritizes local and national economies and markets. It empowers peasant- and family-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic stability.
Mariaelena Huambachano of the University of Wisconsin-School of Human Ecology gives a hands-on definition of the term food sovereignty.
“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food,” she said.
Modern industrial agriculture has disrupted the sacred relationships indigenous communities around the globe have experienced with food and the land, she said. It’s her assertion that the increase of processing in the food industry has led to a disconnect between people and their food. She believes the cultural elements of indigenous food use such as for medicinal purposes is threatened by increased consolidation in our food industry.
Mpumelelo Ncwadi is the founder of Foregone Conclusions NPC. He promotes subsistence and smallholder-farmer-driven regenerative organic agriculture in South Africa. He said he believes that regenerative organic agriculture is the best route to end hunger, eradicate poverty and combat climate change. Founded in 2017, Foregone Conclusions NPC is a non-profit social-impact enterprise based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Monica White is the assistant professor of environmental justice at UW-Madison. Based on her research of communities of color and grassroots organizations that are involved in the development of sustainable community-food systems, she said those systems are a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility. In her recently published book, “Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement,” she describes what she has learned from years of researching the relationship between black Americans and agriculture. She highlighted the historical contributions to agriculture among notable black activists. Those individuals include Fannie Lou Hamer, who dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights while working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Also included is George Washington Carver, who promoted alternative crops to cotton as well as methods to prevent soil depletion.
“The work of black farmers has long been overlooked,” she said. “Without them the civil-rights movement could not have happened because they housed and supported the Freedom Riders.”
Sarah Lloyd of the Wisconsin Farmers Union said maintaining the producer-consumer connection is a challenge as modern agriculture becomes more consolidated. She is the special-projects coordinator for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. She also helps her husband on their family dairy farm near Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s number of dairy farms continues to shrink though large-scale dairies increase in number. She said there’s a similar trend in the seed industry.
Dan Cornelius is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, a technical-assistance specialist for the Intertribal Agriculture Council. He said he sees multiple opportunities for value-added food to be raised and marketed by native tribal communities. He said 22 percent of the revenue created by the casino industry is through a food-service industry. That points to a great deal of potential in the nation cultivating its own food and breaking into that market. Tribal communities, he said, are in a unique position to expand their production outside of the corporate influence of conventional agriculture.
Food sovereignty is a movement to promote people’s rights to healthy food produced in an ecologically sound manner. It’s also a movement to preserve the historical and cultural aspect of food production and consumption.