Food sovereignty

800 million people continue to suffer globally from hunger, even though enough food is being produced. In particular, it is unfair that two thirds of them live in rural areas – namely, where our food is produced. One of their main problems is a lack of co-determination rights. Therefore, SWISSAID is campaigning for food sovereignty – the right of everyone to determine their own agricultural and food policy and to produce food ecologically, socially and locally.

Population growth, climate change, limited natural resources, demand for biofuels and growing meat consumption are major challenges for global food production. In addition, the situation is made more difficult due to structural problems such as neglected investments in agricultural research and consultancy as well as speculation with agricultural land and food. Prices for basic foodstuffs are rising and food crises are increasingly frequent. This has disastrous consequences for families in developing countries that have to spend up to three quarters of their income on food. But it is also clear that farmers must obtain proper prices for their products to escape the vicious circle of poverty and hunger.

Food sovereignty: each country controls its own agriculture

Parliaments, citizens and farmers can determine less and less what food is produced for whom and under what conditions. The question arises as to how food security can be released from the dangerous dependence on the world market, the influence of big investors and speculators as well as a one-sided, export-based economy. How can the human right to food be implemented?
La Via Campesina, the world’s largest association of small farmers, has developed the concept of food sovereignty in response to these questions. This involves a clear paradigm change and is based on the following principles:

  • The most important task for agriculture is permanent supply for a country’s own population, in other words, local and regional production.
  • Import duties are justifiable as instruments of control, if they offer targeted protection of domestic, sustainably produced food from imported cheap products – these were produced at cost to humans and the environment.
  • Export subsidies must be abolished, because: price dumping of export products often leads to a destruction of local production because locally produced food cannot compete in terms of price. This is the case with rice imports in Ghana or European chicken in Cameroon.
  • Agroecology. Is an instrument to achieve food sovereignty.
  • The conditions are guaranteed access to natural resources such as land, water, forest and seed, respect for farmers’ rights and social justice
  • Food sovereignty is more than self-sufficiency. International trade on fair terms is indispensible in some cases. However, it may neither be enforced as a first priority of agricultural policy nor at the expense of food production for the local population.

Food sovereignty is a country’s and a population’s right to self-determination of trade and agricultural policy that corresponds to the respective ecological, economic and cultural conditions. In real terms this means strengthening local production, processing and marketing systems for small farmers.
Thinking globally and acting locally still applies – in the southern and northern hemispheres. So remember: buying local, seasonal, organic and fair trade products makes a contribution to a fairer world.