Food sovereignty was defined at the groundbreaking Forum for Food Sovereignty held in Nyéléni, Mali, in February 2007 as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems”.
The international community echoed the definition when 58 governments meeting in Johannesburg in April 2008 approved the executive summary of the synthesis report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which defined food sovereignty as “the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies”.
In August 2011, the first ever European Forum for Food Sovereignty made explicit its connection to the Nyéléni declaration in its call to take back control of the food system and establish food sovereignty in Europe.
One of the main organisations promoting the framework of food sovereignty is La Vía Campesina, which expounded the seven principles underpinning the framework at the World Food Summit organised by the FAO in 1996. La Vía Campesina is an umbrella movement bringing together organisations of peasants, small producers, landless people, indigenous people and rural workers from many different parts of the world. With its support, peasant organisations are encouraging their members to turn their backs on chemical-intensive farming and to develop their own agroecological alternatives, generally based on their indigenous forms of farming. Given adequate support, farming based on the principles of food sovereignty can be significantly more productive than industrial agriculture.
Yet food sovereignty involves far more than producing food. It entails a radical change in the way society is organised so that power is taken away from local elites, who are so often aligned with corporate capital, and restored to the people. It means peasant communities gaining control over their land and deciding what they will grow and how they will grow it. It means pushing through changes in macroeconomic policy so that national food production can be protected from competition from cheap food imported from abroad. In this way, food sovereignty is an integral part of the process of constructing participatory democracy and demonstrating that another world is possible.