Food Sovereignty: An idea worth fighting for
The concept of ‘Food Sovereignty’, was developed by La Via Campesina as the best way to promote social justice and human dignity. La Via Campesina is an independent, non-partisan body of local and international organizations from 70 countries, including Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, representing 200 million small and medium sized farmers, farm workers, landless people, fisher folk and others. The increasing call for Food Sovereignty has become a very powerful response to food, poverty and climate crises we are witnessing around the world today.
The core of Food Sovereignty is “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”
Of course this clashes with the current economic world order of globalization and the concept of continuous growth where goods and capital move freely between countries without any consideration for fair distribution, sustainability or food sovereignty.
There are seven principles of food sovereignty defined by La Via Campesina: Food as a basic human right cemented in constitution, agrarian reform and indigenous rights to land, protecting natural resources (especially land, water, seeds and livestock breeds), reorganizing food trade (food imports must not displace local production or depress prices), ending the globalization of hunger (regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for multinational corporations), social peace (food must not be used as a weapon to marginalize smallholder farmers) and democratic control (United Nations and other related organizations (ie: WTO, World Bank, and IMF) must undergo a process of democratization so that smallholder farmers have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels).
In what can only viewed as a scurrilous attack against Canada’s food sovereignty, the Conservative government recently dismantled the Canadian Wheat Board despite huge opposition from the majority of western farmers. Our supply managed system for dairy, chicken and eggs is on the table at the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations and it remains to be seen whether Canadian farmers will be sacrificed to get the deal signed. Also under discussion in the CETA deal is the ability of municipalities and the provinces to give preference to local procurements as way to stimulate local economies or support local farmers. In this year’s budget, as part of broader cuts to Agriculture Canada, the federal government severely cut funding to the Canadian Cooperative Association, a low-cost program ($4 million a year) which has made a difference in hundreds of communities across the country. This government also refuses to consider tightening the rules around genetically modified food, one of the most serious threats to Canadian food sovereignty.
There may have been a time when Canada could be called a sovereign country. Unfortunately, the Conservative government under Stephen Harper is eroding that at a furious and unabated pace. One of the weapons we have to push back against such ill conceived policies is to support local farmers any way we possibly can.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.