The term ‘food sovereignty’ is spreading, and embodies a transformation of our current food system. The concept resonates with our instinctive desire for autonomy over what we consume, but what exactly does it mean and how can it address the crucial challenges we face today?
To build a picture, let us first look at the evolution of modern agriculture. Humanity’s transition from hunter gathering to the establishment of towns and cities is attributed to agriculture, and for most of human history we lived this way – in proximity to nature, eating organic, local produce. It was only in the 1960s with the so-called Green Revolution that multinational corporations began to play a role in the food system, arguing that the globalized free market of food exportation would eliminate food shortages and create wealth. Although the Green Revolution is credited for an exponential growth in food production in the second half of the twentieth century, the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture – with its dependence on mechanization, chemical inputs, and genetically modified seeds – began to be questioned by ecologists and agronomists for its impact on soil fertility and biodiversity.
However, the Green Revolution impacted far more than soil health. From the displacement of indigenous people for the expansion of monoculture, to the extinction of heirloom seeds due to genetic modification, industrial agriculture is left with few supporting arguments. Observing the range of impacts of modern agriculture on society and culture, the Via Campesina – a global movement of farmers advocating for a fairer future of food since 1993 – coined the term ‘food sovereignty’ in 1996 as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” Food sovereignty is a call-to-action and a framework of values to guide a holistic reconceptualization of our food system.