Food sovereignty proposes an alternative food system that creates practical, sustainable and democratic solutions to the failed industrialised food model. It is an approach developed by smallscale food producers in the global South that has become a global movement.
Food sovereignty insists on the basic view that the main purpose of the food system is to feed the population in a way that is fair and sustainable. Food is not a commodity like any other because it is fundamentally necessary for life, and our food system needs to enable everyone to live free from hunger. One country or one part of the population of a country cannot achieve food sovereignty on their own if their food system marginalises and starves other people. Our food system therefore needs to be controlled democratically by the people, not by elites or corporates. Who produces food, how and for whom, and who benefits is crucial.
Part of this is ensuring that food producers themselves are able to earn a decent living. In many countries in the global South, smallscale food producers are among the most vulnerable to hunger. In the UK and other countries with industrialised agricultural systems, many smallscale farmers have been forced out of farming or make only a marginal living, with the profits going to the big food processing companies and supermarkets. Often their livelihood is dependent on subsidies which then has a profoundly damaging effect in the global South; if our food system could be remade so that UK farmers could make a living without the need for subsidies, then this damage would be reduced.
Food sovereignty happens by building local food systems – bringing producers and consumers closer together, with fewer ‘food miles’, growing local varieties, in a system that suits the local environment, culture and traditions. Local food systems also need to be locally controlled by the people who produce food and the people who consume it – who need to be able to decide on and shape the food system they want. Local policies can support local production and help it replace the food products of the industrial system, provide incentives for people to grow food in towns and cities and help people to resist corporate control of food.
It is essential for food sovereignty that food systems should work with nature, respecting the integrity of ecosystems. In practice, food sovereignty is often linked with agroecological farming, such as organic farming.
Food sovereignty is, though, intensive and high input in one area: knowledge. It values traditional, indigenous and local knowledge, and the skills and knowledge that farmers and other food producers develop over years of working the land.
Find out more about the origins of food sovereignty and the some of the groups that are part of the international movement.