Food: La Via Campesina and Food Sovereignty

The year 1993 marked the beginning of a transnational agrarian movement, called La Via Campesina. By 1996 they had coined the term Food Sovereignty, declaring it their right to grow food as they had been doing for centuries.

  Last October, 2008, its Fifth International Conference was held in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The attendees came from 86 countries and 5 continents, and numbered almost 650, to work towards a radical transformation of food production and to resist its globalization. 

  There they declared that “the global corporate regime is NOT capable of feeding the great majority of people on this planet, while food sovereignty based on peasant agriculture is more needed than ever”.

  This call for food sovereignty means bringing back decision-making to the farmers who produce the food and to those who eat the food. We can understand how peasant and indigenous farmers must have felt being told by people who know little or nothing about the actual production of food – the World Bank, World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund – how to grow food, how much to grow, where to grow and what foods to grow!

  That is why Food Sovereignty has become a rallying cry. For at its heart, it’s about feeding ourselves. 

  The truth is that growing food to feed themselves has been denied many farmers world-wide.  They are forced to grow cash crops for export to wealthy countries because of trade agreements and this leaves them dependent on imports of food. 

   La Via Campesina realizes that the primary use of land must be for growing food. They are promoting sustainable, small-scale farming as the key to end world hunger. Although labour-intensive, it requires little energy use and locals eating local food simply makes sense all around.

  As well, the small-scale farming solution respects the indigenous knowledge of peasant farmers.  They know the land…they love the land…they are sensitive to the land.

  La Via Campesina is alarmed at the potential of GE (genetically modified) crops to cross-pollinate with their own seed (saved over centuries), as well as with the loss of nutrients to the soil caused by planting GE seed. And an even more alarming scenario:  large bio-tech companies, such as Monsanto, are pressuring governments to pass laws which would prohibit farmers to save their own seed!

  One does not have to be a farmer to understand the insanity of such a plan!

  Also, at a time of global hunger, is it really appropriate energy policy to be taking so much land out of food production to grow agrofuel instead? La Via Campesina wants the land returned to production of food.

  How did growing food become so politicized? We all have to eat, but only a few people at this time are actually growing food for all of us. So why do some governments and individuals treat the worlds’ farmers so poorly?

  The answer comes back to the usual answer for so many of our woes of today: the political/economic philosophy of Capitalism, which basically states that everyone has the right to be as greedy as they can. This philosophy negates the real value in the world – the land and all the other natural resources that humans use. Centuries ago, when wealthy landowners divided land into “enclosures”, they took rights over goods produced away from the actual producers. That is when food began to be treated as a commodity, and its production became determined by the marketplace.

  In today’s money world, this has led to financial speculation in food, and La Via Campesina is committed to ending this activity. While hundreds of millions suffer hunger and deprivation, these speculators are reaping profits, believing they are actually “earning” money while not producing anything of real value, while stripping the dignity of those who feed them.

  On a social level, la Via Campesina is working to establish a new balance of power between men and women, having realized that long-standing patriarchal traditions have favoured men over women, who often do most of the hard work in the fields. 

  Overall, this agrarian movement is declaring that the world’s farmers have the right to dignity and well-being. 


P.S. Food Sovereignty is mentioned in Gabriola’s Food Charter.

Extra P.S.. In the last issue, I wrote about the Campaign to stop GE Alfalfa.  Here is an address to mail money to:  SOD, Box 32066, RPO Victoria Square, Regina, SK, S4N 7L2


Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 35 years and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.