Food (In)Security – Food Security and Food Sovereignty

The challenges of institutionalizing food sovereignty.

Hannah Wittman, Philip McMichael, and Rachel Bezner Kerr discuss gaps between the framework of food security as defined by international organizations and the more challenging  grass-roots notion of food sovereignty.   Food sovereignty, as articulated by groups such as La Via Campesina, is the right of people to define agricultural and food policy, including prioritizing local agricultural production, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit. Wendell Barry once wrote, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.” As advocates of food sovereignty emphasize, agriculture and food are inextricably linked.

Hannah Wittman
“Peasant Rights or Food Riots? The challenges of institutionalizing food sovereignty”

Although the human right to food has been enshrined as an international human right since the 1970s as part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it has lacked implementation and strategic focus by states, and has been actively challenged by global capital through institutions such as the World Trade Organization.  In response, global social movements have increasingly mobilized around the right to food, particularly in the face of the global food crisis in force since 2007, and language protecting the right to food has been a subject of constitutional amendment and national legislation in countries including Ecuador, Brazil, Nepal, Venezuela and Bolivia.  With particular attention given to recent Brazilian civil society and government initiatives related to food sovereignty, Hannah Wittman examines the strategies and tactics of members of the international peasant movement La Via Campesina around the right to food, as related to their proposal for a food sovereignty regime supported by an International Convention on Peasant Rights.

120509-wittmanHannah Wittman is Assistant Professor of Sociology and a member of the Latin American Studies Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. She conducts collaborative research on local food systems, food sovereignty and agrarian citizenship with the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and La Vía Campesina in Brazil and with community farming networks in British Columbia. She is co-editor of Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community (2010), Food Sovereignty in Canada: Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems (2012) and Environment and Citizenship in Latin America: Natures, Subjects, Struggles (2012).

Philip McMichael
“Food Sovereignty versus Food Security? A Global Conundrum”
Food sovereignty is a call for a paradigm change in food provisioning. As an intervention, and a global social movement, it seeks to politicize ‘food security’ — associated as it is now with reliance on global ‘breadbasket’ regions. While food sovereignty also seeks food security,
it views this from a right to food perspective rather than the right to trade perspective institutionalized in the WTO regime. The difference here represents a global conundrum – intensified by the evident failure of the food trade to realize food security, and the turn to land grabbing and enclosure of smallholders in value chains. This may well perpetuate the crisis, underscoring the incap
acity to find modern solutions to modern problems, and the need to embrace paradigmatic alternatives.

120509-mcmichaelPhilip McMichael is an International Professor in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University. Trained as a historical sociologist, his research examines capitalist modernity through the lens of agrarian questions, food regimes, agrarian/food sovereignty movements, and most recently the implications for food systems of agrofuels and land grabbing. This work centers the role of agri-food systems in the making of the modern world, including an examination of the politics of globalization via the structuring of agri-food relations. His research includes consulting with the FAO, UNRISD, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, the international peasant coalition, La Vía Campesina, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), and the Eco-Agriculture Partners project: Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative.

Rachel Bezner-Kerr
“Agroecology and food sovereignty in Malawi”

What does food sovereignty mean in practice, in a place where rural people experience persistent and high food insecurity? Dr. Bezner-Kerr discussed the findings from a 12 year applied, interdisciplinary and participatory research project in Malawi that uses sustainable agricultural approaches to improve food security and nutrition. This research has resulted in strong evidence that agroecological and collaborative farmer-led research can have positive effects leading to improved levels of child nutrition, more equitable social dynamics and more sustainable agricultural practices. Dr. Bezner Kerr linked these findings to the historical, political and economic dimensions of key agricultural practices and policies in southern Africa, including debates about food sovereignty, climate change and the future of agriculture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARachel Bezner-Kerr is Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario and the research coordinator of the “Soils, Food and Healthy Communities” project in Northern Malawi.  She conducts community-based research on the linkages between social and environmental inequalities and agriculture, health and nutrition.

© 2015 Center for International Studies