The history of food sovereignty as a movement is relatively young, however, there are a number of key movements and countries that have made significant steps towards making an alternative food system a reality.
Movements for food sovereignty
La Via Campesina
La Via Campesina is an international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. One of the first proponents of food sovereignty, it defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.
This movement was formed by a meeting between several rural leaders at a time when agricultural policies and agribusiness were becoming increasingly globalised. It was born out of a need for small and medium-scale farmers to develop and struggle for a common vision in order to have their voices heard.
La Via Campesina launched the idea of food sovereignty at the World Food Summit in 1996. Food sovereignty and agrarian reform are an important part of La Via Campesina’s aims and values. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying people’s livelihoods and the environment. Women’s rights: La Via Campesina is noticeable for its focus on women’s rights. The movements is a strong defender of gender equality and fights against violence against women
Movimento Sem Terra
In Brazil, the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) (in english Landless Workers’ Movement) are helping families to take control over food production by supporting the occupation of unused land and teaching farmers about sustainable farming methods.
Land distribution in Brazil is concentrated in the hands of wealthy landowners; 1.6 per cent of the landowners control roughly half (46.8 percent) of the land on which crops could be grown. Additionally, powerful multinationals such as Monsanto are gaining increasing control over the seed market.
Redistribution of land: In response to this injustice, families have been occupying unused land, and, thanks to the MST, over 350,000 families have won land titles.
Becoming part of government policy
In September 2008, Ecuador became the first country to enshrine food sovereignty in its constitution. As of late 2008, a law is in the draft stages that is expected to expand upon this constitutional provision by banning genetically modified organisms, protecting many areas of the country from extraction of non-renewable resources, and to discourage monoculture. The law as drafted will also protect biodiversity as collective intellectual property and recognize the Rights of Nature.
Since then another five countries have integrated food sovereignty into their national constitutions or law. These countries are Venezula, Mali, Bolivia, Nepal and Senegal.
In Venezuela, the human right to food and the country’s ability to feed itself have been at the heart of Venezuelan government policy since 1998. For over a century, farming in Venezuela had been neglected because of a reliance on the profits from the oil industry to pay for the large-scale import of staple foods. This had led to a desertion of rural areas, with only 12 per cent of the Venezuelan population living in the countryside making it the most urbanised country in Latin America. In 1998 however, the importance of developing local, sustainable agriculture as a means to ensuring a secure supply of food for the population became enshrined in the constitution. Since then, food sovereignty policy and practice in Venezuela have been developing rapidly. Government support for developing sustainable agriculture has included: land reform that has allowed millions of acres of land owned by large landowners to be reclaimed for agriculture; laws requiring banks to provide credit to farmers at reasonable rates; supplying farmers with equipment such as tractors and seeds; and giving farmers access to training in organic agricultural techniques. Farmers are also able to sell their crops to a government agricultural corporation rather than relying on intermediaries, which has ensured a fairer price for their products.
Overall food production in Venezuela has increased by one quarter since 1998. The country has become self-sufficient in its two most important grains: maize and rice.
Encouraging alternative systems of trade and food distribution in Latin American countries has led to a move away from dependence on multinational corporations for the production and distribution of food. This has allowed a food system based on the principles of food sovereignty to thrive.
Food sovereignty in Europe
In 2011 more than 400 people from 34 European countries from the Atlantic to the Urals and Caucasus, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, as well as international representatives from diverse social movements and civil society organisations, met from the 16th to 21 August in Krems, Austria to plan the development of a European movement for food sovereignty.
By coming together they aimed to build on the foundations of the Mali forum in 2007. The objectives were to strengthen local actors, build a sense of common purpose and understanding, as well as a joint agenda for action, celebrate the struggle for food sovereignty already underway in Europe and inspire and motivate people and organistions to work together.
The forum, which was organised on the principles of participation and consensus decision making, used a variety of methods to avoid various institionalised prejudices that are inherent in society (such as gender, age, language, occupation). It did this by making a concerted effort to allow for all sections of society to be included in the discussion.
The forum allowed producers and activists from projects across Europe to share skills, coordinate actions and discuss perspectives. The forum culminated in the Nyeleni declaration.
Since 2011 there have been numerous Europe wide gatherings and actions, such as the Good Food March. This is where citizens, young people and farmers came together to call for a greener and fairer agricultural policy in Europe, as well as more democratic reform of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy.