Thinking Globally about Food Sovereignty

“Food Sovereignty” is becoming a familiar phrase in the food blogosphere these days. Great work being done by organizations like Oakland’s People’s Grocery and Milwaukee’s Growing Power have highlighted the importance of building a food movement that provides all communities access to healthy and sustainably produced foods. Urban farms grown in formerly empty lots are popping up around the country and revealing an important form that food justice work can take. These projects were the context in which I had become familiar with the term “food sovereignty,” and so I was surprised recently to find out that the phrase has global roots. It was coined in 1996 by La Via Campesina (The Peasants’ Way), a transnational organization that works with farmers around the world to oppose agrarian reform policies that hurt small farmers and prioritize international trade deals over domestic food security.

Much of the success of the food movement in the U.S. has been based on the power behind locally produced food, of knowing where and how your food was grown. It becomes a more challenging question to think of the ways in which meaningful change can take place from a larger, international policy standpoint. La Via Campesina works to highlight the devastating effects of free-trade and neoliberal trading policies, such as NAFTA, which has devastated the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers and as Karen Lehman at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy explains, is transforming “a nation of farmers into a nation of farmworkers.” To understand what work is being done to counter these global trends, we should keep our eyes on this month’s upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where La Via Campesina hopes to make a strong showing in unveiling their solutions to Climate Change that are grounded in a policy of food sovereignty.

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