Why Food Sovereignty?

Some readers of The Natural Farmer may wonder why we are devoting an issue to a subject like Food Sovereignty. Traditionally, we have devoted our pages largely to topics of immediate and practical interest to growers: how-to articles on crops, equipment, markets, inputs. If we focused on more political topics it was those vital to organic farmers and consumers of organic food: The National Organic Program, genetically engineered food, food safety regulations, the farm bill, organic certification.

So, why Food Sovereignty? Not a lot of people are pushing for it, its goals seem to require overturning many well established institutions, it is hard to see an immediate benefit to organic proponents, and it is very controversial. Wouldn’t we be better off leaving it alone and focusing on something else?

Perhaps, but current events have moved us to address this topic.

The organic movement is increasingly being split on the basis of scale. As organic food becomes more mainstream, the conventional food industry is controlling more and more of it. They are buying up the organic companies, to which the larger farms sell their products, putting out their own brands, and using political clout to evade or water down production standards.

Big Food is doing what it has always done to grow the larger food system — focus on tangible consumer concerns such as convenience, consistency and price. The harder-to-ascertain questions of food quality or how it is produced are obscured by slick promotional campaigns. Smaller farms can’t even compete in this marketplace and generally sell at farm stands, farmers markets, or through CSAs. This process is very similar, on a local level, to what small farmers are encountering on a global one – corporate control of large scale agriculture, pressure to produce for export and luxury markets, and encouragement of high tech methods such as GMOs.

In addition, US organic farmers are now experiencing what has been common around the world for peasant growers – falling prices and increasing competition. The presence of organic CAFOs, acceptance of soilless production, and failure to require humane animal treatment all point to the growing power of corporate interests in the National Organic Program.

Proponents of Food Sovereignty support small farms, biological diversity, agroecological methods, and local markets. They oppose agricultural biotechnology, corporate control of marketing, and subsidies supporting international trade. Not all these ideas are popular. Many people feel population growth and world hunger require vast increases in agricultural productivity that can only be supplied by experts. Others feel capitalism, corporations, and the market economy are necessary to provide the investment and the discipline needed to feed the world.

Whatever you think, we hope you will read these articles thoughtfully. It seems to us that this topic will only become a more important discussion into the future and supporters of organic farming need to be well informed to take part.