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towards democracy in localized food systems

Michael Windfuhr and Jennie Jonsén, FIAN
ITDG Publishing, 2005

BUY ONLINE: Food Sovereignty: towards democracy in localized food systems. Michael Windfuhr and Jennie Jonsen, FIAN

"FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: towards democracy in localized food systems" by Michael Windfuhr and Jennie Jonsén, FIAN. ITDG Publishing - working paper. 64pp. 2005.

This paper provides a comprehensive history, overview and analysis of the Food Sovereignty Policy Framework. Links to many key statements and documents produced over the past decade.


Food Sovereignty: towards democracy in localized food systems

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ITDG commissioned this paper by FIAN as a contribution to the discourse on Food Sovereignty, the rapidly developing food and agriculture policy framework. In a world plagued simultaneously and perversely by hunger and obesity, rational policies are overdue for governing the way food is grown, processed and traded, and how the benefits of the world's food systems are shared.

Most food in the world is grown, collected and harvested by more than a billion small-scale farmers, pastoralists and artisanal fisherfolk. This food is mainly sold, processed, resold and consumed locally, thereby providing the foundation of peoples' nutrition, incomes and economies across the world. At a time when halving world poverty and eradicating hunger are at the forefront of the international development agenda, reinforcing the diversity and vibrancy of local food systems should also be at the forefront of the international policy agenda. Yet, the rules that govern food and agriculture at all levels - local, national and international - are designed a priori to facilitate not local, but international trade. This reduces diversity and concentrates the wealth of the world's food economies in the hands of ever fewer multinational corporations, while the majority of the world's small-scale food producers, processors, local traders and consumers including, crucially, the poor and malnourished, are marginalised.

In this paper, Michael Windfuhr shows how the Food Sovereignty policy framework addresses this dilemma. The policy framework starts by placing the perspective and needs of the majority at the heart of the global food policy agenda and embraces not only the control of production and markets, but also the Right to Food, peoples' access to and control over land, water and genetic resources, and the use of environmentally-sustainable approaches to production. What emerges is a persuasive and highly political argument for refocusing the control of food production and consumption within democratic processes rooted in localised food systems.

Now, when there is intense debate about how the world will halve poverty and eradicate hunger, the policies that govern the way food is produced, consumed and distributed, how it is processed and traded, and who controls the food chain, need to be looked at comprehensively. This timely paper points a way forward and invites a more focused consideration of the principles behind what is fast becoming recognised as the most important food and agriculture policy consensus for the 21st century.

Patrick Mulvany

Senior Policy Adviser


March 2005

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Food Sovereignty: towards democracy in localized food systems

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The development of ideas for the new Food Sovereignty policy framework is pro-
gressing rapidly. It has become a focus of interest not only for farmers' organiza-
tions, but also for fisherfolk, pastoralists and indigenous peoples' organizations as
well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations
(CSOs). Behind the development of the concept of Food Sovereignty lies a global
social network of NGOs, CSOs and social movements and many conferences,
forums and declarations. Via Campesina, the global farmers' movement, developed
the concept in the early 1990s, with the objective of encouraging NGOs and CSOs
to discuss and promote alternatives to neo-liberal policies for achieving food secu-
rity. Since the concept was launched to the general public at the World Food
Summit in 1996 an ever-growing number of NGOs, CSOs and social movements
have made policy statements on Food Sovereignty directed at a broad array of insti-
tutions. (For a summary of the development of the concept of Food Sovereignty see
the appendix.)

The current problems of hunger and malnutrition, as well as rural poverty,
have become a priority challenge for international policy. Even though the
problems have received some attention at the international level, for example
with the adoption of the Rome Declaration of the World Food Summit in 1996
calling for the number of the hungry to be halved by 2015, the incorporation
of this in the first Millennium Development Goal, and the overall orientation of
some bi- and multilateral aid policies intended to achieve this goal, traditional
approaches have failed to address the problems adequately. The latest FAO fig-
ures show that the positive trends in the reduction of the number of the hun-
gry and malnourished people that were reported for the first half of the 1990s
have reversed: between 1995 and 2005 the number of chronically hungry in
developing countries increased at a rate of almost 5 million per year ­ from 800
million to 852 million.

Food Sovereignty focuses attention on the international `framework' (World
Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, etc.) and the inter-
national causes of hunger and malnutrition. It focuses too on national policies that
can be oriented towards reducing rural poverty and eliminating hunger and mal-
nutrition. The right to adequate food is a legal reference instrument and provides
legal standards for all measures and policies undertaken by each state to secure
access to adequate food for everybody. It requires that the framework operates
properly and that states implement their obligations under the right to adequate
food and other human rights.

Current mainstream answers to the problems causing malnutrition are failing
and adherence to a set of central ideas or principles, based around an ever-greater
concentration on trade-based food security, is inadequate to tackle the problems.
Additional analysis and a search for new, innovative solutions are needed. The
World Food Summit Plan of Action contained commitments for nation states,
but follow-up has been weak and does not tackle the contradictions between different
elements of its action plan.

Strategies to reduce hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty require a new focus
on rural development and rural areas. For the next four decades, it is estimated that
the majority of the world's poor population will continue to live in rural areas.
Food Sovereignty policies are a necessary and important contribution to current
debate by concentrating attention on the perspectives of those who face hunger
and malnutrition.

This principle is common to all the different interpretations of Food Sovereignty:
they start their analyses from the perspective of those facing hunger and rural
poverty. The debate on the different instruments and their potential has only rela-
tively recently started among the different civil society actors. It is a dynamic
debate that needs further support and enrichment from civil society and scientific
contributions, because giving credible and effective answers to the overall problem
is not an easy task. The further development of the Food Sovereignty framework
would probably be enhanced if it were possible to implement several of the ideas
in parallel. Some initiatives have already started, for example some co-ordination
of views is being achieved through the IPC for Food Sovereignty in Rome. For the
time being, though, the most important outcome could be to enrich the debate
and discuss the relevance of different potential policy changes. Each NGO, CSO or
social movement should then decide which strategic element it can support.

At present, one cannot distil a fully-fledged `Food Sovereignty model' in the
sense of a ready-made set of policies already available for national and global gov-
ernance of rural and agricultural policies. Even though many key elements of such
a new policy proposal have already been identified and formulated, the overall
concept and strategy needs further improvement and clarification, as this paper
shows. The use of terminology and definitions, particularly the rights-based lan-
guage, also needs to be more precise. Several issues have not been addressed prop-
erly, such as the situation of the urban poor and their access to food. These are
areas in which further debate is needed. The framework has not yet been finalized:
it is still being formed.

The purpose of this paper is to show how the Food Sovereignty policy framework
has developed and what the basic assumptions and underlying analyses are. It analy-
ses how the framework relates to the current problems in rural and agricultural poli-
cies and discusses possible policy constraints to adoption of the Food Sovereignty
policy framework. It ends with an encouragement to take the approach seriously
and an invitation to join the discussion on the further development of the Food
Sovereignty policy framework.
Food Sovereignty is the new policy framework being proposed by social move-
ments all over the world for the governance of food and agriculture, because it
addresses the core problems of hunger and poverty in a new and innovative way.
It deserves serious consideration.

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