By Jack Kittredge
Excerpted by Jack Kittredge from research by Jane Mt. Pleasant on Native American agriculture, Enacting Food Sovereignty in Aotearoa New Zealand and Peru by Mariaelena Huambachano, The Real Seed Producers, Food Sovereignty: Turning the Global Food System Upside Down by Grain, and Transformative Agroecology Learning in Europe by Colin R. Anderson, Chris Maughan & Michel P. Pimbert
The concept of Food Sovereignty was first launched by the international peasant organization Via Campesina at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome. Since then it has been discussed and developed further at many subsequent gatherings. In 2001 the ‘World Forum on Food Sovereignty’ was held in Cuba and a year later, at the NGO/CSO Forum on Food Sovereignty held alongside the second World Food Summit in Rome, the concept was further discussed and elaborated.
Food Sovereignty, according to the definition adopted at that 2002 Rome Forum
“is the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, pastoral, labor, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.”
That is quite a mouthful. The reader who has not been paying attention to this growing movement might be surprised at the breadth of rights it asserts.
By Jack Kittredge
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?
By Andrianna Natsoulas
In February 2007, Nyéléni 2007: A Forum on Food Sovereignty took place in the countryside of Mali outside a small village called Selengue. The actual conference village of Nyéléni was built brick by brick, hand by hand by local builders, using local materials. The food was harvested, caught, killed and prepared by a group of women from Selengue. For the first time, Nyéléni 2007 brought together farmers, fishermen, environmentalist, consumers, farm workers, nomads, indigenous peoples, youth, women from every continent, save Antarctica, to answer the questions What are we fighting for? and What are we fighting against? to achieve food sovereignty.
Nyéléni was named for a woman well known in Malian rural communities. She is the symbol of food sovereignty for thousands of farmers and she represents the dedication required to actualize its principles. Osmane Outtara oversaw the Nyéléni village in Selengue and describes her: (more…)
By Elizabeth Henderson and Andrianna Natsoulas Who posed the questions and Henderson translated the answers into English
- In the US, we heard a lot about you when you dismantled a McDonalds that was under construction, but we have not heard much since then. Please bring us up to date on your story.
Bové : Since 1999, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Until 2003, I was spokesperson for the Peasant Confederation (Confederation Paysanne, which represents 20 percent of the farmers in France), and until 2005 for Via Campesina on food sovereignty. We launched a movement against GMOs in France which prevailed since there are no GMOs grown in France or in all of Europe, except for Spain. Starting in 2007, I believed that we should bring our ideas to the field of politics. That year I was a candidate for President of the Republic. In 2009, I participated along with Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the founding of Europe Ecologie, a new political party, and I was elected as a Member of the European Union and reelected in 2014. I almost forgot, my non-violent actions dismantling a MacDonald’s and tearing up GMO plantings earned me two summers in a row in prison. Then I was forbidden to visit the USA when I tried to travel there in 2007 since I had fought against Monsanto, an American company, and tarnished its reputation. It’s hard to sum up twenty years of my life in a few lines.
By George Naylor
Major concerns about the direction of “organic” must be on the minds of organic farmers day by day. Success as an organic farmer is not guaranteed in the best of times, but what kind of decisions by USDA and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will make success more or less likely? Recent decisions regarding hydroponic production and livestock welfare standards clearly threaten the chances for family farmers to pursue one of the few remaining opportunities for success as family farmers. Without rules preventing fake organic or vertical integration—or whatever destructive market forces result from “free markets”—the vision and fulfillment of that vision are at risk. How can we create a movement to motivate our society and government to respect farmers, not only for producing healthy food, but also caring for the land and caring for the consumer?
Let me say right off the bat, we need a historical and philosophical background offered by Wendell Berry’s foundational book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. I’m no historian or philosopher and thus very limited in historic detail of relevance. Nevertheless, I believe Berry’s deep analysis is accessible, though also very sobering. I believe his message is that, no matter how powerless we feel in this globalized corporate conveyor belt to hell, we have no choice but to be grounded in reality, in the truth, and we have no choice but to make every effort possible to establish new rules and values for an international caring society.
By Jack Kittredge
(editor’s note – As a matter of full disclosure Julie and I need to say that Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff are our good friends. They worked at our farm in Massachusetts for several years when they were young, as did Jonah’s brother David and Leah’s sister Naima. We were present when Leah home-birthed their daughter Neshima, and know both sets of her grandparents.)
Immediately west of Williamstown, the Massachusetts town in the northwestern corner of the Bay State, is a north-south spur of the Taconic range in New York. Heading west out of Massachusetts on Route 2 one climbs via switchbacks to Petersburg Pass, then descends to Grafton, NY, site of Soul Fire Farm. The farm itself is 72 acres located largely on a long south-sloping hillside from which years of bad farming practices had allowed the soil to erode. In 2006, Jonah Vitale Wolff and Leah Penniman, then living in the South End of Albany, bought this land in a quest to grow healthy food for their family and community. It took them five more years to save enough to build a livable farmstead and move onto the land.
From crops grown there the couple built their CSA, serving families in Albany’s South End, and in 2016 decided to expand their work to include trying to uproot racism in the food system. Since then they have brought thousands of mostly young people to their on-farm educational programs such as the Black Latinx Farmers Immersion, a weeklong program “designed as a rigorous introduction to small-scale sustainable farming that balances the nerdy explication of concepts like ‘soil cation exchange capacity’ with the cultural and historical teachings necessary for our people to heal our relationships to land.”
By Maria Buteux Reade
“Kwon do day, kwon do day, kwon do day…”
On November 13, 2018, a group of people gathered in Montpelier’s Vermont Historical Society chanting these words, accompanied by the rhythmic beat of hide-covered drum. “Congratulations – you just sang your first Abenaki tune, a welcome song that we use to greet guests when they arrive,” said Chief Don Stevens. Stevens presides over the Nulhegan Abenaki, one of the four native tribes that received official recognition from the state of Vermont in 2011 and 2012.
Chief Stevens, Dr. Fred Wiseman, Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Melody Walker Brook were invited to share song and stories of their Abenaki history as part of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s eighth annual Agricultural Literacy Week. Jointly sponsored by NOFA-VT, the Vermont Department of Libraries, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, this annual weeklong celebration enlightens people about the economic and cultural importance of agriculture in Vermont communities.
2018’s Agricultural Literacy Week, entitled “Celebrating Our Ancestral Roots,” focused on native agriculture in Vermont. Events at libraries around the state featured renowned Abenaki storytellers sharing aspects of their ancestral agricultural heritage and current practices.
By Jack Kittredge excerpted from an article in The Journal of Peasant Studies
“In late December 2015, amidst plummeting oil prices, highly politicized food shortages, and an all-around tense political climate in Venezuela, an unexpected event took place in the country’s National Assembly just days before a major shift in its political leadership. A new seed law was passed, with provisions including bans on genetically modified (GM) seeds and the patenting of life forms, recognition of both formal and informal seed systems, and protections for the seeds of the country’s peasant, Indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities.”
Thus begins an article in The Journal of Peasant Studies describing in great detail the social and political forces behind a striking new legal framework for agriculture in Venezuela. I will excerpt below parts of this article that might help US farmer-readers understand how this happened. It is a unique example of passing food sovereignty into law.
By Eric Holt-Giménez, Food First.org
Over eight decades ago, the Dust Bowl devastated over 100,000,000 acres of agricultural land and the Great Depression threw 15 million Americans out of work. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted The New Deal with sweeping national programs for work, agriculture, food, and land conservation.
Today, the plan for a Green New Deal recently announced by congressional representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders is facing down even greater crises.
Forty years of bipartisan consensus on neoliberal economic policies has produced unsustainable levels of global warming. It has also polluted our water, destroyed our soils, contaminated our air, and poisoned our bodies. This destruction has gone hand in hand with the rise of unprecedented economic inequality.
By John Ikerd, excerpted from a longer essay.
I didn’t become fully aware of the importance of agroecology as a social movement until 2017. That year I was commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to write the regional report on Family Farms of North America in recognition of the International Year of Family Farming. At the international conference in Rome, where I presented my report, advocates of the global Food Sovereignty movement were well represented. They were clearly committed to promoting farming systems rooted in the science of agroecology as a sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture. At a recent conference in California, a U.S. representative of the FAO told a group that the U.S. has been one of very few dissenting voices at recent FAO-sponsored international conference exploring the potentials of agroecology.
Perhaps the U.S. government, or agri-corporate lobbyists, see agroecology as a threat to their continued industrialization of global agriculture. Regardless, I believe U.S. farmers need to become more familiar with the concepts and principles of agroecology. Agroecology is not only a means of protecting or restoring food sovereignty to rural communities but is also a means of protecting the individual sovereignty of independent farmers. The agricultural economy of the U.S. is increasingly dominated and controlled by large multinational agribusiness corporations that have no compelling interest other than maximizing profits and economic growth.
By Louis Battalen
The Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) and NOFA—one of AJP’s four founding members—are launching a two-year ‘Fair From Farm to Retail’ Project to support the organic farming community here in the Northeast in addressing our shared social justice values while striving for dignified careers for farmers, our families, and workers on our farms.
We are following up on the NOFA Domestic Fair Trade Committee’s 2013 survey of 280 farmers in which organic farmers identified several social justice values as important aspects to their operations and expressed a desire to create a just, equitable working environment. The survey also identified some of the challenges and pressures—wages, benefits, fair prices, a steady market— keeping these values from being achieved.
By Elizabeth Henderson
The 4th National Assembly of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) took place against a backdrop of intense labor struggle as Community 2 Community, the hosts for the gathering, supported a strike by berry farm workers led by the independent union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Attendees also took part in the 88th week of the “Dignity Vigils” that C2C conducts outside the Bellingham Washington City Council meeting. Led by C2C director Rosalinda Guillen, the vigils demand that the councilors make Bellingham a sanctuary city to protect undocumented local residents from deportation. I attended the Assembly as a representative of NOFA, which joined the US Food Sovereignty Alliance in 2017 as part of a deliberate effort to broaden our connections to efforts involving people from diverse sectors of the food system. The declaration from the Assembly lists the range of participants – farm-workers, food chain workers, fishers, family farmers, urban agriculturalists, food providers, and social justice advocates.
Jamie Pottern of Agrarian Trust, has a concise description of the USFSA: “the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), is a “US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups” that “works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system.” With roots in the global small farmers and farm workers movement, La Via Campesina and the International Planning Committee of Food Sovereignty (IPC), USFSA is a network of organizations and individuals in the U.S. working to build solidarity, strengthen the political power of farmers and food organizations, and connect “local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.” As described by the event’s organizers, it is “a global process inside of the United States.”
By Betsy Garrold, Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food RULES
In 2009 the inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture, which had suddenly and internally changed their definition of milk distributors, walked down the wrong farm driveway. Two wrong driveways actually but that is the other part of the story. The Retbergs, Heather and Phil, had just built their farm business up enough that Phil could quit his off-farm job as a carpenter and they thought, with their dairy and their meat bird production, that they could make a go of it on their farm income, supporting themselves and their three children while feeding their friends and neighbors good wholesome food. What they were told was that they could no longer share their farmer neighbor’s poultry slaughter facility and they would be classified as a milk distributor because they had a sign at the end of their driveway saying they sold raw milk.