From food security to food sovereignty

Ivonne Yánez

Director of International Cooperation of the Prefecture of Azuay, Ecuador

Coordinator of the Core Group of Food Safety

(There is a proposal on the ORU Fogar Bureau Table to change its name to Food Sovereignty)

Food security and food sovereignty are very different categories, in their origins, in their objectives and in their achievement. Food security focuses primarily on addressing issues of nutrition or access to food. As long as food sovereignty considers the right to food in an integral way, which cannot be dissociated from the rights of farmers, the rights to land and territories, cultural rights, the human right to water, the care of one’s own seeds, permaculture or urban or rural agroecology, cultivation without transgenic or agrotoxic crops, family and community farming.

The concept of food security was established in the late 1940s, among other things, to design the management of food production surpluses. Its implementation has been linked, from the beginning, to the imposition of industrial food regimes and corporate and commercial control.  With neoliberal policies from the 1980s onwards, hunger and malnutrition have not ceased growing, and not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of exercise of the right to food. In the face of this, food sovereignty emerges as a socio-cultural and collective proposal. And more recently incorporating the rights of nature.

The concept of food sovereignty was developed by Via Campesina and was discussed at the World Food Summit in 1996. Since then, food sovereignty has become one of the main topics of the global agrarian debate, including within United Nations bodies. For example, it was the focus of the civil society forum on the margins of the FAO World Food Summit in June 2002.

So when we talk about food sovereignty, we are talking about the ability of people to produce the food they need and to depend less and less on the consumption of food products, which come from distant lands, or that they are imposed, with the standardization of diets and food consumption. In other words, food sovereignty is the right of peoples to nutritious and culturally appropriate, accessible food. But also, to be produced in a sustainable and ecological way, and their right to decide their own food and productive system.

Food sovereignty should not be restricted to the peoples and nations of the global South, but also in the countries of the North. Work must be done in this direction since the North is increasingly dependent on food from other parts of the world. In turn, in many parts of the global South, people’s food sovereignty is sacrificed to occupy the land with crops exported to countries of the North. The concept of food sovereignty wants to break with this premise, imposed by neoliberal globalization. One premise is to reduce export-oriented crops and rather favour local and national markets. An evident reality at the time of the new COVID-19 coronavirus.

Within the construction of food sovereignty, agroecology is fundamental. Not only for the millennial knowledge developed by peasant societies for the cultivation, harvest and exchange of food, but also because agroecology does not require agrotoxics-many of which are imported- but also because it contributes to tackling climate change by reducing the use of agricultural machinery.

In Azuay, food sovereignty through agroecology makes it possible to recreate hundreds of varieties of seeds and products, such as potatoes, corn, quinoa, amaranth, mashua, goose, in the Andean areas, or pumpkins, cocoa, or cassava in tropical areas.

One of the policies being implemented by Azuay Prefecture is to transform the province into an agro-ecological power through a collective and participatory effort to recreate community knowledge, recover ancestral seeds, the encouragement of the increased use of proprietary technologies, free of Gmos and agrotoxics.

To guarantee this right, it is mandatory that small and medium-sized farmers, peasants, have access to land, seeds and water for the production and marketing of the food they produce.

Food sovereignty is guaranteed in the Constitution of Ecuador, among the objectives of the Sumak Kawsay. Therefore, the State, at all levels of government, must guarantee agrarian policies in favour of this right and, in turn, exercise control over industrial or business threats that seek to monopolize water and agricultural production, as well as stop the danger of export monocultures, transgenics and the extractive threat.


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