Fighting hunger with food sovereignty

One billion people suffer from hunger due to unaffordable food supplies in many localities. SWISSAID therefore supports small farmers and ecological farming methods

Behind the relatively recent causes such as speculation, political support for the production of agrofuels, rising meat consumption and erratic climate conditions, there are long-term developments propelling agriculture and global food production into a permanent crisis. In addition, deregulations in the trade of agricultural products as well as in the financial sector have also made agricultural land and foodstuffs profitable investment and commercial commodities.

Governments and national parliaments can exert less and less control over which food is produced for whom and under what conditions. In view of the climate, energy and financial crises, which are closely linked to the food crisis, the question arises as to how to solve the problem of securing global food supplies and prevent the dangerous dependence on world markets and the interrelationship of the financial and energy markets.

Foodstuffs must be affordable and feed the producers

One thing is certain: on the one hand, farmers must receive appropriate prices for their products in order to escape a cycle of poverty and hunger. On the other hand, foodstuffs also have to be affordable for the poorer sections of the community living in the cities.

Which strategies and measures can help solve this critical situation? In this case, special attention must be focused on women. They are the breadwinners worldwide and also carry out a major part of the agricultural work.

And yet 70% of those living on the brink of starvation are women and children. How can the growing global population be fed ecologically and in a socially sustainable way so that the human right for nutrition is fulfilled over the longer term?

Each country controls its own agricultural policy

DiThe solution is food sovereignty. As a reaction to a one-sided policy in relation to the international trade of agricultural products, La Via Campesina, the international peasant- farmers’ movement, put forward the idea of food sovereignty at the World Food Summit in 1996. This involved an obvious paradigm shift: supplying the local population is the primary task of agricultural production.

Food sovereignty means a country and its local population has a right to determine its own trade and agricultural policies, which conform to the respective ecological, economic and cultural conditions. The prerequisites for food sovereignty are that farmers have secure access to natural resources such as land, water, forest and seed. Additionally, a key factor is the preservation of biodiversity and ecologically sustainable farming.

Fair terms are indispensable

A food sovereignty policy places food production for local, national or regional needs at the forefront. It means more than being self-sufficient.

In some cases, fair terms of international trade are indispensable. But this should neither be elevated to a top priority of agro-policy nor be detrimental to food production for the local people or the environment.

Customs duties are legitimate control mechanisms, since they can be levied in a targeted way so as to protect the domestic market. Export subsidies, on the other hand, should be abolished immediately. This is because dumping agricultural products overseas often culminates in crippling local production. This is what happened with rice imports in Ghana and European chicken in Cameroon.

Local products for fair prices

Since the food crisis in 2008, those developing countries that have to import the majority of basic foodstuffs can scarcely afford these imports any longer. An urgent fundamental reorientation of their trade and agricultural policy is required.

Food is produced under different conditions depending on the geographical and economic situation. A world market price for agro products is a theoretical concept that, in reality, has deep-seated social and economic effects.

Strengthening small farmers and local production

In any country, for a decent life, farmers must receive fair prices for their produce. The dominance of international trade should no longer be allowed to jeopardise the stability of the food supply. And this should be possible, given that only 10% of foodstuffs are actually traded internationally.

Thus, food sovereignty centres on strengthening small farmers and their local production, processing and marketing systems. Thinking globally and acting locally still applies for farmers in developing countries just as much as for those in Europe. So remember – buy local, seasonal, organic and fairtrade products!