The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is set to take place in September 2021. The highly controversial summit has been boycotted by most of critical international civil society and social movements, who fear that it will adopt a one-sided focus on questionable technologies and unsustainable “Green Revolution” production methods instead of addressing structural inequalities and the climate crisis. A point of particular criticism is the summit’s lack of democratic participation and the absence of an orientation towards food as a human right.
Our food is a commodity, the ingredients of which we often have as little insight into as the social and ecological conditions under which it is produced. Biodiversity, productive soils, and water resources are growing scarce. Corporate power exerts increasing pressure on small-scale agricultural producers. In the Global South, they are deprived of their land and control over seeds. Farm workers are exploited in global supply chains and exposed to toxic pesticides on a daily basis. When we take the numerous global crises and dysfunctionality of contemporary agricultural and food systems into account, it becomes clear that a real transformation of these systems is urgently needed. They must be changed into local and people-centred food systems independent of corporate control.
This transformation will not be possible without enacting food sovereignty. By “sovereignty”, we mean, on the one hand, political co-determination: many actors within our food systems—small farmers, agricultural workers, informal traders, etc.—belong to the subaltern, politically marginalized classes, and they must be able to defend their rights and articulate their interests collectively. On the other hand, we understand “sovereignty” as control over resources such as seeds, water, and land, as well as the right of access to markets, knowledge, and capital.
Achieving food sovereignty in turn requires a radical, left-wing policy shift: instead of rigorous “free trade”, the proliferation of transnational agrochemical corporations’ technologies, and the integration of a few farms into the regulated supply chains of supermarket and food corporations, states ought to focus on broader strategies. These include fostering partnerships between research and farmer-producers, agroecological approaches, infrastructure to strengthen informal domestic markets, provisioning new technologies as common goods, and protecting the basic social rights of agricultural wage-labourers along the entire supply chain.
A particular focus of our work is strengthening social movements and the self-organization of agricultural workers, small-scale producers, and other marginalized groups in rural areas.