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What is Food Sovereignty?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Food sovereignty is a philosophy and social policy which suggests that the power of food production should be in the hands of the people, rather than under the control of multinational corporations. By empowering farmers and regional populations to make choices about their food production, cuisine, and land use policies, food sovereignty is supposed to address a variety of social justice issues, from hunger to racism. This concept was first developed by Via Campesina, an international organization founded in 1992 to assist peasant and agrarian movements in places like South America, Asia, and Africa.

One of the fundamental tenets of food sovereignty is that food is a basic human right to which everyone is entitled, but that individual populations should be able to make their own food choices. This differentiates the concept of food sovereignty from food security; food security simply involves ensuring that everyone has enough food, while food sovereignty promotes the consumption of healthy foods with a cultural basis. This is designed to promote a preservation of traditional cultures while also addressing food scarcity issues.

Governments which commit themselves to food sovereignty as a social policy must be prepared to promote the redistribution of land, ensuring that land is under the control of the people who farm it. Food sovereignty also emphasizes a rethinking of the way people think about food, encouraging nations to turn away from viewing it as a mere tradable commodity and to promote democratic methods of food production.

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Advocates for food sovereignty are also concerned about the condition of the environment. Sustainable land use practices are of pivotal importance, to preserve the Earth for future generations, and to ensure that farming continues to be productive. Many traditional farming techniques are very sound in environmental terms, and reverting from industrialized agriculture to these methods can sometimes help the land recover.

This philosophy also recognizes that food (or lack thereof) can be used as a weapon and political tool. Via Campesina and similar organizations want to restore power to peasant communities by giving them more control over their lives, and food sovereignty is one way to accomplish this. Landlords with massive holdings of land are discouraged under policies created within the food sovereignty framework, as are outside controls on food production like dictates from the global market.

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