Speaking first was Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La Via Campesina who said just because we don’t have a high formal education doesn’t mean we can’t think for ourselves or organise a global movement. Hell yeah. Scholars can critically analyse and explore what our movements are doing, but we ultimately, as organisers and growers, are creating that movement.
Elizabeth said also that we are not just resisting, but trying to build something new with our ideas & our actions. This resist and create feeling is what I adore about the food sovereignty movement. She also said “Without agroecology we cannot build food sovereignty”, which again strengthened my desire to continue exploring agroecology as the focus of my MSc with Gaia University (not an academic institution – the most radical model of higher education in the world, something re-emphasised to me yesterday more than ever).
Susan George, Chairperson of the Transnational Institute, then spoke of the debt and structural adjustment model of corporate globalisation which triggered the movement two decades ago. She narrowed the learning down to two points:
- If you don’t have land or the means of access to land to produce food & if you don’t have money to buy it you’re going to go hungry
- There is no level of human suffering that will allow policy to change. This only happens when you change the balance of power.
This ‘no level of human suffering’ resonated with me a lot, its like with the prison system, reformists could make points over and over to governments about bad conditions or the harmed caused, but they will never change or reform anything in power unless they are forced to, unless there is energy applied to forcing that change.
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, then spoke about ‘Second-generation food sovereignty and democracy’. He made six key points. He said the interests of peasants are not in the awareness of consumers, but this is changing, and that the places of where battle is taking place is also changing, giving the examples of Seattle (and the summit focused resistance of the 1990s/2000s) to things like food policy councils now which could be quite geographically focused.
He said food sovereignty is developing increasingly in relation to how we are and how we will achieve it. He said about our role to block ‘inert’ food systems (e.g. Industrial agricultural models). He talked briefly about ‘food democracy’ and described how food sovereignty has allowed us to build social links, which is important as our society creates a culture where we are less and less socialised and more and more individualised. He also commented on how food initiatives prioritise resilience over efficiency, with reduced dependency on inputs and greater diversity. Finally, he remarked about the strong links to agroecology and how food sovereignty and agroecology are ‘deeply aligned’, in that agroecology transforms the role of farmers, is empowering and involves horizontal transfers of knowledge.
Next up was Teodor Shanin, President of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Finally a cheer for some good old fashioned class analysis, which is still as ever relevant today. Interestingly, he talked about the family farm as unit of production, something we have been critiquing with Reclaim the Fields, to challenge the reproduction of inequalities through the family model.
It was refreshing to hear some actual critique of the state and centring this movement in social struggle, when Teodor asked “What are you actually facing in terms of enemies?”. He said we need to learn from history about those that have taken on financial capitalism and the state.
Tania Li from the University of Toronto, the talked about her paper ‘No Food Sovereignty Here’, which looked at sites where the food sovereignty principles cohere and where they don’t. He case study was about Indigenous highlanders in Indonesia when in the 1990s they switched from producing their own food to mono-cropping coco. She described how crops left them (the highlanders) feeling very vulnerable e.g. Weather, pests & diseases, catastrophic doubts and that by engaging in markets they felt safer.
She also highlighted an important point – that we can’t assume that traditional systems can withstand changes, especially in relation to climate change, which is why continuous agroecological research is necessary.