You are here

Why we need a UK Food Sovereignty Movement

By Staff - Land Workers Alliance, June 16, 2021

“Food sovereignty” as a term and a movement has become more prominent in the last few decades, but its reception by governments and institutions in wealthier countries, including the UK, has been unenthusiastic, to say the least.

What is food sovereignty?

“Food sovereignty” is a relatively new way of describing and unifying longstanding aims and methods of the work of peasants, indigenous people, and communities as well as that of various food justice campaigns and organisations. Its six unifying principles are providing food for people; valuing food providers; localising food systems; centring local control; building knowledge and skills; and working with nature. By centring these 6 key principles, the food sovereignty movement seeks to guarantee and protect people’s space, ability and right to define their own models of food production, distribution and consumption.

Where has it grown from?

In 2007, more than 500 people gathered at the Nyéléni forum in Mali, so-called after a Malian peasant farmer who developed crops to feed her people. This forum brought together many diverse groups and individuals working on food issues, and united them under the Declaration of Nyeleni. The food sovereignty movement transformed from being disparate and lacking in visibility into being an interconnected movement, with strong underlying principles, coordination and solidarity between countries, communities and activists working together towards a common goal.

Which governments have taken food sovereignty on board?

Five countries – Nepal, Mali, Senegal, Venezuela and Bolivia – have integrated food sovereignty into government policy in ways which empower food producers and people to govern their food systems as an alternative to the expansion of capitalist agricultural production and markets. The Constitution of Nepal, for example states that every peasant has the right to have access to lands for agricultural activities as well as the right to “select and protect local seeds and agro species which have been used and pursued traditionally”. In Venezuela, as a direct response to food sovereignty policy that in affects land reform, large landholdings have been redistributed to over 200,000 farming families.

In the UK and among wealthier countries more widely, food sovereignty has not had this same uptake. Instead, food “security” – which claims the state as the responsible party for providing access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food – is the dominant framing of agriculture and food research policy.

Food system threats

“Food security” is often criticised as a policy framework that actually enables the current threats to our food system to perpetuate. These threats are two-fold: a shift towards globalised market-based food systems, and current international development policies. These foreign policies, heavily influenced by the economic ideologies of global institutions such as the World Bank are nominally seeking to “increase output”, proposing a reduction in the number of peasants and people working the land through increased mechanisation, which inevitably results in the removal of people – and their agency and power – from the land.

Globalised food systems and the associated economies of scale promote monopoly and corporate control of food systems through vertical integration. This means ownership of most or all of the supply chain: patents, land, equipment, mills, processing; land, animal, slaughterhouse, processing plant, branding, packaging. This ballooning of centralised corporate control is at the expense of the agency and self-determination that local people and institutions have a right to, especially when it comes to food.

What would a food sovereignty movement look like in the UK?

What could we expect to see if food sovereignty was the driver to agri-food policy in the UK?

Firstly, we would see greater diversity of production, rather than a reliance on cash mono-crops. Secondly, as rights to land, water, and seeds are central to the realisation of self-determination and food sovereignty, we would see these types of rights bolstered for everyone. For example, under the principles of food sovereignty there would no longer be value in a seed patent, rather the value would be socialised and access to seeds would be in the public domain.Thirdly, there would also be a greater diversity in production, rather than just a reliance on cash mono-crops.

The current and impending shocks to our food system and supply chains – from the COVID pandemic, the climate emergency as well as the ongoing degradation of productive land and ecosystems – highlight the widening cracks in the resilience of our food system. These shocks also shed light on inequalities within the food system. There is a lack of access to good affordable food in the UK, and since 2016 there has been a more than twofold increase in the number of people using food banks.

We need a food sovereignty movement in the UK to increase the visibility and understanding of food sovereignty as a concept and framework, in order to then make the changes to our food system we sorely need. Food sovereignty offers an opportunity for us to restructure our food system from one which is profit-oriented to one which is designed to help both people and the natural environment.

The Landworkers’ Alliance are practically working towards food sovereignty in a number of ways; including direct supply chain work, improving access to land for new entrants, campaigning for the Right to Food and supporting likeminded MPs; improving skills through webinars and land skill days; influencing and advising on policy – such as the shift in agricultural subsidies – in order to exemplify agro-ecology and food sovereignty as a solution to the multitude of challenges we face in our food systems.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.