By Juan Nicastro
Social movements are celebrating what they consider a “historic achievement”: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or FAO, agreed to begin discussions about food “sovereignty,” rather than food “security,” the latter of which currently dominates the organization’s agenda.
The change came as a result of the participation of social movements in the FAO’s Thirty-Second Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Buenos Aires in March 26-30.
Movements from around the world presented a consensus declaration days before the FAO meeting, claiming food sovereignty as a real solution to food, climate and fundamental human rights crises that affect the region and the world. According to its statutes, the FAO is a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy.
The declaration submitted by the movements was the result of work in Buenos Aires from March 22-25 during the Third Special Conference for Food Sovereignty.
The organizations had proposed the need to expand and boost the campaign for the discussion and implementation of food sovereignty, which they made known in a special motion before the official representatives of the FAO meeting, and were accepted as representing civil society in the sessions.
The movements demanded a “guarantee of the inclusion of civil society’s position in multisectoral consultations, especially within a global strategic framework that includes food sovereignty as the most important demand of social movements and as a guiding principle of this framework.”
Until now, the FAO referred to the pursuit of “food security,” where actions are to generate enough food for the entire planet, but not touching on the issue of who produces food and how food is produced. For the movements, this definition is inadequate and clears the way for the agro-export business. Already in 1996, the international movement Via Campesina stated that “Food sovereignty is a necessary precondition of genuine food security.”
“Food sovereignty is the right of people to control their own seeds, land, water and food production, ensuring through local, autonomous (participatory, community and shared) and culturally appropriate production, consistent and complementary with Mother Earth, the peoples’ access to sufficient, varied and nutritious food, deepening the production of each nation and people,” said social movements and other groups and networks in the Third Conference’s declaration.
“Food sovereignty is a principle, a vision and a legacy built by indigenous peoples, campesinos, family farmers, artisanal fisherman, women, Afro-descendents, youth, and rural workers that has become an umbrella platform of our struggles and a proposal for society as a whole.”
Grounds for debate is established
Given the FAO’s decision, organizations across the continent expressed their satisfaction at having achieved “entry through tough conceptual doors” at the FAO, pitting the concept of sovereignty against the hegemony of food security.
Carlos Vicente, representative of Grain, an international organization that supports farmers and social movements, noted that “the spaces that civil society has gained at the hands of Via Campesina in the struggle for food sovereignty during this regional conference have reached what could be considered a turning point.”
“However, we must not forget that the construction of food sovereignty should remain in the hands of the people in their everyday struggles and processes.”
He also added that “it is important to note that the dominant discourse is still food security at the FAO as well as in the governments it represents. For a profound debate to begin and for this to become policy, there is a long road ahead that cannot be isolated from a necessary rethinking of the capitalist model of production and the removal of our food from the hands of agribusiness.”
The debate — simplified by the words security versus sovereignty, but of profound political and social implications — had been going on in regional meetings, inside movements and in the media, but is now entering international venues, with an official place at the table for the movements.
In the framework of the FAO regional meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s National Indigenous Campesino Movement representative Angel Strapazzón addressed the representatives of the states on behalf of the social movements, noting that he did so “without fear, or dogma, or authoritarianism, or rigidity.”
“As the indigenous people of Mexico’s Sonora desert say: with open eyes and humility, on behalf of the organizations of indigenous peoples, campesinos, artisanal fisherman, and nomadic shepherds around the world, let us discuss food sovereignty,” said Strapazzón.
Argentina and soy
It is no coincidence that these proposals have come to the FAO in Argentina, where soybean crops reach 20 million hectares (50 million acres) — 20 percent of the world total — and where there are increasingly strong reactions to production of this legume. According to Argentina’s Agri-Food and Agribusiness Strategic Plan, that will grow to 22 million hectares (55 million acres) by 2020, exceeding 70 million tons of harvested soybeans. China currently requires about 60 million tons, and its demand is increasing.
According to Alejandro Yaniello, of the Patagonian Piuke Ecological Association and representative of the National Ecological Action Network, “at the government level, Argentina speaks about food safety to avoid talking about sovereignty. Our country is ground zero for the decisions of international markets. Monocultures are to meet that demand. We are not deciding about the use of our land, the markets are deciding [for us].”
Yaniello said that participating in a space such as the FAO conference “in practice creates a significant learning experience, and movements can grow because they have much more clarity about the big picture, they get more information to continue the battle. And this is part of a larger strategy, to be present in more spaces.”