Organized by La Vía Campesina, the CETIM and Fian International, with the support of the Bolivian mission to the United Nations during the thirty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council, the parallel conference, “Why the Right to Food Sovereignty Is Also Crucial for European Countries”, was held in March 2017 at the United Nations.
The Bolivian ambassador, Nardi Suxo Iturre, explained the process that led to the recognition of food sovereignty in her country (in particular the social mobilizations and the election of Evo Morales Ayma in 2006). It was in this context that, in 2009, owing to a constitutional reform, food sovereignty was recognized in the Bolivian constitution. According to the ambassador, it is possible to deal with food challenges through cooperation among countries. She observed that peasants from different regions of the world are confronted with similar problems. Thus, the solution is international recognition of food sovereignty. This recognition could, on the one hand, lessen the negative effects of the policies of certain Western states and, on the other, regulate the actions of transnational corporations.
According to Ramona Dominiciou of Eco Ruralis (Romania) & European Coordination Vía Campesina and a member of the coordinating committee, the concept of food sovereignty places peasants, agricultural producers and consumers at the heart of the discussion and supports the peoples in their right to produce locally. Food sovereignty is the right of persons to define their own food, agricultural and fishing policies. Regarding the situation in Romania, Ms Dominicioiu explained that her country is primarily agricultural. The communist system had enslaved the peasants, but the capitalist system is no better, in her opinion. In fact, the entry of Romania into the capitalist market in the 1990s resulted in a land grab: 0.8% of the population now controls 45% of the land. Moreover, the market has been invaded by the major supermarket chains such as Lidl and Kaufland, which are destroying the local market. Owing to these unfavorable economic conditions, between 4 and 5 million Romanians have emigrated and are working in inhuman conditions in various European countries.
What Is the Meaning of Food Sovereignty?
Lynne Davis, a representative of the Land Workers’ Alliance in the United Kindgom raises goats. She pointed out that food sovereignty is not the same thing as the right to food: the first involves the possibility of choosing what agricultural typology to use and, accordingly, of participating in the decision-making process. On the other hand, the second concept represents only the right to benefit from the necessary number of calories. In her opinion, the post-war paradigm, wherein the primary objective was to guarantee access to enough food, is now obsolete. It is through this paradigm that today we have obtained food security, but this food is not what we need to be properly nourished. She explained that the problem derives from the reduction of the nutritive value of fruits and vegetables. In fact, over the past 60 years, nutritional values have diminished between 4% and 50% owing to the degradation of the soils and of food in general. She stated that agricultural practices are directly related to soil degradation and the consequent loss of nutritive content.
She is also of the opinion that the right to food sovereignty reflects the right to preserve traditional food and peasant culture in Europe. The peasants in Europe are aware that they must change their agricultural typology, improve biodiversity and eliminate the use of pesticides in order to build a healthy ecosystem.
Alexis Corthay, a peasant member of the peasant organization Uniterre, stated that he is watching the accelerated evolution of a society that is in the process of losing its underpinnings. In his opinion, industrial agriculture represents a major danger, for the earth has become a commodity. Thus, it is imperative to consolidate the rights of peasants. The economic laws that the WTO is trying to impose cannot be applied to the peasant sphere without causing irreversible losses. He believes that no country has been spared by the consequences of this fierce struggle that the agribusiness giants are carrying on to take control of food at the planetary level. Yet, he pointed out, food sovereignty represents an alternative to the current system of world trade.
He explained that Uniterre, with the support of numerous associations and political parties, has succeeded in putting on the ballot in Switzerland a popular initiative on food sovereignty, which will be voted on in 2018. At the local level, he noted further, several Swiss cantons have incorporated food sovereignty into their cantonal legislation. All these experiences are moving in the direction of a reappropriation by citizens of their food and must be broadly supported by the authorities in the context of their agricultural and food policies.
In a video message, Olivier De Schutter (member of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), explained the process that undergirds food sovereignty. He noted that even if most food does not cross national borders, most agricultural policy choices are subject to international trade laws that benefit the major agricultural producers. Thus, rebuilding the local market is necessary. For him, food sovereignty does not mean self-sufficiency, for trade is part of today’s reality; however, at the local level, there must be incentives for regions to produce fresh and healthy food.
The interventions were followed by several interventions by members of the public. All the speakers (including representatives from states such as Ecuador and Nicaragua) emphasized the importance of the promotion of food sovereignty and their support of the United Nations process regarding the rights of peasants.