Food Sovereignty, Inside or Outside the Global Market?

Food Sovereignty, Inside or Outside the Global Market?

By Pilar Galindo

Strategies in defense of food safety from within the logic of the global market, end up being part of the problem. Fighting food insecurity is also opposing ecological pollution and destruction and the loss of autonomy of peoples to protect their natural resources.

Food Sovereignty, Inside or Outside the Global Market?

In defense of food security and sovereignty, FAO fights against hunger. Solution or problem?

Food: fundamental right or merchandise?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers the right to food and nutritional well-being as a fundamental right. But the modern economy does not produce the goods and services that the population needs, but the goods that generate profits. Basic human needs, including food, are subordinated to these benefits. Thus the logic of life is subordinated to the industrial production of food for the world market.

To push individuals to go "freely" to the labor market and the food market, before producing wealth, capitalism needs to produce hunger and social deprivation. The production of social wealth in capitalism also requires converting jobs into wage labor, the only commodity capable of producing surplus value. Once people have lost their means of production and their reciprocal social networks, they are impelled to look for a salaried job (employment), which provides them with monetary resources to acquire in the market the goods that will satisfy their needs. The ruin of the small farmers is the basis for "liberating" millions of people from rural backwardness. This modernization uproots them from their territory, their means of production, their networks of social belonging and their culture, exposing them "free" and vulnerable to the labor and consumer market in the hands of large companies.

The commodification of food worldwide has demonstrated its inability to protect the fundamental right to food. Their deployment increases food insecurity. This food model ignores both social and ecological needs and its current and future consequences. In open opposition to the rights of the population (peasant or consumer) to a sufficient, healthy and nutritious food, to a dignified life on their own land and to their traditional culture, this food business is only concerned with not interrupting the production cycle and circulation of goods, so that the production of surplus value does not cease, subordinating the times of nature, the biogenetic common heritage, ecological processes, the precautionary principle, human rights (right to life), and in particular, the food security and sovereignty.

Food safety

Human beings need nutritious and healthy food in an adequate quantity to ensure their development as a living organism and the conditions of reproduction as a species. Individual and collective health, present and future, depends on food. A well-nourished living being is less exposed to diseases or have minor consequences. Having nutritious food in sufficient quantity and quality (food security) is a necessity for the integral development of the person but also a priority human right. Food insecurity is the cause of the worst of exclusions: hunger and death from preventable diseases. A society that considers itself civilized should guarantee food security. However, the enormous creation of wealth is conditioned by the increase in hunger, poverty and exclusion. The necessary food is not produced to adequately feed the people close to them, but for large companies to make a profit on the world market. Food insecurity is the lack of food security and has two main manifestations: the scarcity and low quality of food and the unhealthy food with its risks on health and reproduction. It is increasingly common to find unsafe foods from a nutritional point of view.

Hunger and junk food are the two poles of global food insecurity, a consequence of the increase in material wealth, but also of poverty. In its quantitative dimension, food insecurity is a deficit in access to the amount of essential food resources. This deficit means hunger, malnutrition, deficiency diseases and death in impoverished countries. There are 842 million hungry people and 20% of the world population is chronically undernourished (they do not receive daily or during prolonged or critical periods of their development, sufficient and nutritious food, endangering their life, health and physical and intellectual development). In its qualitative dimension, food insecurity is the quality and safety deficit of food. Its main manifestation is obesity, malnutrition and diseases derived from inadequate eating habits, both due to excess fat, salt and refined sugar, as well as due to a deficit of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. After analyzing the triggers, it is the second leading cause of death in rich countries. This type of insecurity spreads like an epidemic in rich countries: 1 billion overweight people and twice as many obese people in the last decade. Qualitative food insecurity is mainly due to an excess of diet and an imbalance (excess or deficiency) of nutrients. But it also comes from the contamination of food by salmonella, pesticides used in crops, toxic products or poor preservation, produced by the industrialization of agriculture and food processing industries. To know the causes of food insecurity, it is necessary to evaluate the model of production, distribution and consumption on a planetary scale.

Causes of food insecurity

Food insecurity, a product of food globalization, takes many forms: a) malnutrition, obesity and diseases attributable to food; b) medicalization due to lack of food or due to excess; c) depopulation in the countryside and overcrowding in the cities; d) uprooting, emigration, exclusion and new labor slavery in countries of the center and the periphery; e) ecological destruction, loss of fertile soil and agricultural biodiversity, recurrent “natural” disasters, contamination of water, soil and atmosphere; f) intoxication and poisoning of species, diseases and hormonal disorders derived from the use of pesticides; g) risk of human epidemics triggered by genetic transfer of animal diseases (chicken flu); h) risks of difficult future evaluation due to the unstoppable use of GMOs (1).

In the context of industrial production for the global market, the following are relevant factors of food insecurity: 1) The new “ingredients”: dioxins in chickens, influenza viruses in birds, crazy prions in cows, antibiotics for fattening, transgenic. 2) The conditions of production in the field and in the processing industries: nature is forced, through the intensification of crops and livestock, and the people who work are forced, through the conditions of slavery in many farms and precariousness in the processing industries. 3) The forms of distribution and consumption: concentration of transnational companies that control the entire production-distribution-consumption cycle; competitiveness among farmers and constant reduction of production costs; the predominance of large supermarkets that offer a great variety of imported food at low cost and that employ young people through junk contracts; proliferation of fast food restaurants, shops of everything to 100; generalization of eating habits based on an excess of meat, salt and sugar and a deficit of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The form of food production-distribution-consumption, organized on the basis of competitiveness and profit-making and its extension through global trade, is the cause of food insecurity. Trade liberalization does not provide food security or rural development for poor countries, and it does not provide food security for consumers in industrialized countries.

The World Forum on Food Sovereignty in Havana, in which peasant, indigenous, fishermen's organizations, NGOs, social groups, academics and researchers from 60 countries met, blamed the neoliberal policies of the last two decades and economic policies , agricultural, fishing and commercial policies imposed by the World Bank to "deepen the gap between rich and poor countries and within each of them, and worsen the conditions of access to healthy and sufficient nutrition."

In its final declaration, the ideas on which the current food model is legitimized were indicated:

1. The belief that "the sustainability of food systems is a purely technical and not a political issue", compared to the evidence that it is the "logic of profit that generates the unsustainability of food systems, by exceeding limits to production allowed by nature ”.

2. The neoliberal conception of “comparative advantages” caused by the dismantling of domestic production and local commerce.

3. Considering that "peasant and indigenous agriculture and artisanal fishing are inefficient and incapable of responding to growing food needs" is the technical argument for "imposing large-scale, intensive industrial agriculture and fishing."

4. Affirming that “the rural population is excessive compared to its contribution to the gross domestic product” is the argument to “expel said population from their lands and privatize natural resources” despite the unsustainable nature of the urban model.

5. The only food pattern defended as "viable, appropriate and correct in a global world", supposes a true "food imperialism that threatens the diversity of food traditions and their cultural and ethnic identities"

The political consequences pointed out by the Havana Forum point to food insecurity. The result is “the increase in the external debt of the impoverished countries, the forced and genocidal deruralization, in the case of some peasant and indigenous cultures and the increase in poverty, misery and exclusion of the popular sectors of the south, but also of the north ”(2).

How to promote food security?

In the search for food security there are also many dimensions: 1) putting the means to guarantee access to sufficient and nutritious food for the entire population of a territory; 2) take into account their needs, but also their culture; 3) promote autonomy and self-regulation; 4) do so without prejudice to the food security of another territory or people; 5) be prepared to promote solidarity strategies among peoples, in case of catastrophes, wars or unforeseen events; 6) do so in a way that guarantees the maintenance and access to natural and cultural resources, protecting them in such a way that future generations can enjoy food security.

It is not enough to denounce the responsibility of governments and multinationals in the production, distribution and global consumption of food. One dimension of food globalization is large-scale production, but the other is distribution and consumption. The first is decided by the boards of directors and their daily politicians, but the second, beyond a decent subsistence level, depends on the wishes and habits of the population.

Strategies in defense of food safety from within the logic of the global market, end up being part of the problem. As consumers we have a clear responsibility because, if one dimension of food globalization is large-scale production, the other is distribution and consumption. Fighting food insecurity is also opposing ecological pollution and destruction and the loss of autonomy of peoples to protect their natural resources.

Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty is the condition for food security in its double condition of sufficient quantity and quality of food, maintaining control of agrogenetic resources, associated with appropriate knowledge of their management. Food sovereignty as a citizen right is the self-determination of peoples to exercise their right to food from their own ecological, social, cultural and economic means.

For the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization-World Food Organization), food sovereignty has disappeared as a prerequisite for food security. FAO understands food security in global and merely quantitative terms (total amount of food), homogenizing cultures and production criteria and based on a market on a planetary scale. On the contrary, for peasant communities, food sovereignty is the right of each nation and each cultural identity, to maintain and develop its own capacity to produce the basic foods of its peoples, respecting productive and cultural diversity.

La Via Campesina (world organization of peasant unions created in 1993), coined the term of food sovereignty, as a strategy against the degraded concept of food security promoted by FAO. Before the 1996 World Food Summit, he defends the unity between food security and sovereignty and bases it on the need to develop alliances with the consuming population, reveal the violence of food globalization on the peasant population and break the fragmentation of people : We are not only farmers and consumers, we are citizens.

Global market and food dependency

The WTO (World Trade Organization) considers trade liberalization as the way for the development of poor countries, the food security of their populations and to reach the average consumption level of developed countries. On the contrary, global trade generates an increasing dependence on the market and an increase in the pre-existing inequality between rich and poor countries, leading to the latter not being able to feed their population with their own resources.

When industrial agriculture spreads, it needs to compete in the world market. In the mid-1970s, FAO promoted its introduction in impoverished countries. The so-called “green revolution” (3) was presented as the best way to supply food to a growing population. The UN gave its support to the green revolution at the First World Food Summit (1974) “to end hunger in the world in a decade”. The result was the opposite. In addition to increasing hunger, industrial agriculture devastated the different agricultural and existing ecologies on the planet, produced a greater economic, technological and food dependency of the poor countries with respect to the rich ones and led to the increase in the external debt. In order to pay the interest on the debt, these countries were forced to produce export crops for the international market and to import basic and cheaper food for their population. The green revolution achieved the development of the world food market, at the cost of food sovereignty and security for billions of people in the world.

The food dependency of less developed countries is due not so much to the subsidies received by farmers in rich countries as to a model of industrialized and productivist agriculture and food oriented towards export. By asking for the elimination of these subsidies, poor countries do not question their participation in the same food model. This model is the cause in rich countries of food insecurity due to “junk food”. But, in poor countries, it is the cause of monocultures for export, responsible for hunger, underdevelopment and dependency. What poor countries, and especially the so-called “emerging” countries with greater market penetration, will be able to achieve is only that their own capital can compete in international markets from a more favorable position, even at the cost of food security for its own population, from the expulsion of its own farmers from agriculture, and from hunger and the death of its own children, as occurs in Argentina with the “miracle” of transgenic soy. The participation of the weakest countries in international markets is at the cost of their traditional production, their local trade, their natural resources and their food sovereignty.

Sovereignty against food insecurity and dependency

The "food sovereignty in the global market" is an irrational proposition of the "alterglobalizers". Food sovereignty requires specific conditions: A) food production and distribution oriented towards local consumption and not towards international markets. B) an agriculture based on the “precautionary principle” (4), the foundation of food security. C) food policies that guarantee the fundamental right to a healthy, sufficient, affordable diet for all and respectful of nature, the biogenetic heritage and a dignified life in the countryside.

The competitiveness and industrialization factors that govern food production require political and cultural counterweights. The social rejection of food production policies for the global market and the politicians who promote them require information and awareness from broad social sectors.

Those of us, from the countryside and the city, who want to create the conditions to regain the autonomy of the peoples and their right to food must assume our responsibility in the current form of food and promote a strategic alliance between farmers and consumers. @s of the cities. Food security is not only based on the need to eat healthy food and on the ability to organize its production, distribution and consumption, but above all, on dialogue with the needs of everyone in multiple directions: country-city; peasant @ s-consumer @ s; autochthonous-immigrants; South North; nature-human species, etc. (5)


(1) GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms.

(2) Final Declaration of the World Forum on Food Sovereignty, Havana, Cuba, September 7, 2001.

(3) The Green Revolution defends the industrialization of agriculture both in the application of its techniques and methods and in the implementation of profit logic in food production.

(4) Precautionary principle: it supposes that the use of any technology or the authorization of any food product, duly accredits that they do not constitute any present or future risk.

(5) Galindo, P. et al. 2006. Agroecology and responsible consumption. Theory and practice. Ed. Kehaceres. Madrid. Page 17-2

Video: Henry Bernstein: Food sovereignty A critical dialogue (June 2021).