People united for food sovereignty

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Rocío Alorda

Social movements call for public policies that strengthen food as a right.

Two years ago the Alliance for Food Sovereignty of the People of Latin America and the Caribbean was founded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The organization was born through efforts to strengthen and consolidate the forces of peasants, the indigenous, artisanal fishers, rural workers, women, the youth, environmental activists and other movements and organizations to defend food sovereignty. Participants include organizations and networks such as the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC)-La Vía Campesina, the Agroecological Movement of Latin America and the Caribbean, the World March of Women, the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, and Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean, among others.

The Alliance has become a point of convergence for the social movements and organizations that seek to create and defend food sovereignty as a key element in the creation of a new social model with identity, good living and sovereignty.

Leader of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI), Francisca Rodríguez explains that food sovereignty is a political proposal that advocates for peoples’ right to self-determination to decide what food they will produce, how they will produce it, for what markets, and under what conditions. This concept was first discussed and defined in 1996 during the Second International Conference of La Vía Campesina in Mexico in reaction to the neoliberal policies and the loss of rights related to land and territory.

The Alliance organized the Fourth Special Conference for Food Sovereignty on May 2-3 in Santiago, Chile. It united more than 60 delegates of organized movements of peasants, the indigenous, agroecologists, salaried women, fisherwomen and women to analyze what has occurred in the 10 years of “Right to Food,” established by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and its importance in facing current realities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

One of the topics that the Fourth Conference addressed was the evolution of the human right to adequate food, which was strengthened in 2004 with the approval of the voluntary guidelines on the right to food — a practical guidance for States with respect to their progressive efforts to achieve the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. To have a global outlook with respect to the 10 years of the right to food, Natalia Landívar, of FIAN International, an organization that defends the right to adequate food, pointed out that the guidelines have not been completely addressed; there are still great challenges.

In balancing the real compromise to implement the guidelines at a regional level, Landívar emphasized that the guidelines have become a “very weak [instrument] to be included as guides to contribute to the implementation of the human right to food in decision making at the national level, in the FAO and in other important regional institutions. Despite being a consensus document within the FAO, the guidelines are not taken as reference for this type of evaluations in the FAO reports on food and nutritional security; even more, they are not mentioned anywhere in the document.”

A gender focus

In the framework of the Fourth Conference, the meeting of female leaders took place in regards to the gender and food sovereignty agenda. During the meeting the representatives of the organizations that are part of the Alliance indentified the principal challenges that women face today in protecting the right to food.

Mafalda Galdames, the coordinator in Chile of the World March of Women, pointed out that in Latin America and the Caribbean, family farming is the principal producer of food and is sustained primarily by women; thus women “are responsible for the development of a sustainable and ethical economy that safeguards native seeds and biodiversity.”

Among the difficulties related to defending food sovereignty that women point out are the problems in having access to land, the privatization of natural resources and the lack of state support. That is why they pointed to the need to continue strengthening popular sovereignty strategies to broaden this discussion with the different sectors and thus reinforce the countryside-city link.

This space for discussion and presentation of proposals of social movements that are part of the Alliance occurred before the 33rd FAO Regional Conference of May 6 to 9 in the Chilean capital.

Similarly, days before the FAO Conference, on May 4 and 5, the Civil Society Consultation towards the FAO Conference was held, in which representatives of 52 organizations of 19 countries of the region reaffirmed their commitment to the fight for food sovereignty to eradicate hunger and poverty. They also reaffirmed that food is a basic right and not a commodity.

In the final declaration, the organizations called on the FAO to “make a change in the approach to the production of healthy food in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The proposals of the social movements were centered on calling “States and governments to recognize and demarcate indigenous territories, where [the indigenous] can protect natural resources,” as well as the urgent need for governments to implement an integral agrarian reform. Likewise, they called on the FAO to “prioritize the promotion and implementation of public policies that strengthen the food sovereignty of peoples as a key way to eradicate hunger.” Among other items, they also asked governments to renew their commitment to implementing the food rights guidelines upon 10 years of its approval.

“We are part of the solution. Our commitment is to contribute to the eradication of hunger and poverty, building the food sovereignty of the people,” they concluded.

Food as a right

The main concern of the peasant movement is protecting food as a right of the people and not as a business in the hands of transnational companies. That’s how Rodríguez — member of the social organizations delegation to the FAO conference — explained it. She pointed out the harsh reality that the peasant world lives in as it struggles to defend its natural resources.

Before FAO representatives, Rodríguez said that food sovereignty is a road that people seek to pave from social movements to the interior of countries and international organizations.

“We want the countries of the region and the world to take on what the social movements are discussing: there cannot be springboards for the big companies, [governments] cannot pave the way for the monopolization of lands or for food that is considered a business,” she said.

While the current situation of life conditions becoming more precarious in the countryside worry the peasant movement, there have been advances since the moment that food sovereignty was considered the right of the people to produce their food. According to Rodríguez, there cannot be food security without food sovereignty, which is why “we must be able to propel this debate in our countries and with our governments.”

With respect to their goals, the Alliance’s spokeswoman was clear: “In two more years, at the next conference, we have to be talking about the results of what is happening in the FAO and within governments and of the changes that we have been capable of producing in the interior of the countries and what we have been able to recover. It is a challenge that we have to share, but for that we need incentives, so that once we establish that, we can sit at the table, create an agenda, we can give responsibilities to our organizations in each of the countries to replicate this strategy that we will create together. At that moment, the FAO will be complying with the mandate with which it was created.”—Latinamerica Press.