Talking About Food Sovereignty and Political Opportunities at the World Social Forum 2016

By Susan Alexander

How to understand food sovereignty? According to Mamadou Goita from Mali it’s a challenge to the wish of the powerful that we should all just “Eat and shut up”. More than one hundred people joined him in refusing to shut up at a Food Secure Canada (FSC) event in Montreal during the World Social Forum 2016. With Quebecois, Canadian and global activists gathered in the city for the Forum, FSC and partners put achieving food sovereignty firmly on the agenda during an afternoon workshop at the McGill University campus.

Diana Bronson, FSC Executive Director, opened the session with a succinct definition of food sovereignty, explaining how it includes but goes beyond food security: “Food sovereignty is 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.” She invited five speakers to spend just five minutes each on remarks, leaving most of the time for participants to join lively “kitchen-table” discussions loosely themed around the pillars of food sovereignty.

Mamadou Goita (IRPAD) emphasised that seed sovereignty and diversity are fundamental. Deo Nivonkuru from ADISCO in Burundi reinforced this message explaining that African solidarity is built on exchange and gifting, including of seeds, and that to destroy this is to destroy the African way of life. Canadian Eric Darier of Greenpeace International came back to seed sovereignty in his summary, citing the ETC group statistic that 75% of all commercial seeds in the world are controlled by six companies, with the imminent risk of mergers creating a monopoly of just three. Opposing these mega-mergers nationally, and at two events in October 2016 - the Committee on World Food Security in Rome and people’s Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague - are upcoming political opportunities.

Lorette Picciano from La Via Campesina took the discussion from control of seeds to control of land asserting that here in North America “the primal right of private property in an individualistic way is one of the things that most defeats food sovereignty”. All the speakers talked in different ways about the fundamental importance of small, local and community agriculture. Francois Delvaux of CIDSE concluded that “food sovereignty and agroecology are different sides of the same coin”. Eric reminded everyone that currently “many peasants are actually feeding most people” and that we have enormous strength in numbers, especially combined “with all the eaters” in the burgeoning food movement.

Resistance to trade agreements that undermine food sovereignty was widely identified as another crucial current political opportunity. Francois working in Brussels noted how local efforts could be stymied by global agreements dominated by corporate interests in closed fora. Both speakers from Africa celebrated farmers' ongoing resistance to monoculture, “dumping” and the promotion or imposition of the agri-business model. Deo Nivonkuru added that charitable aid and cooperation were part of the same system.

Enthused by the panel’s emphasis on taking back control, shifting power and fomenting systemic change, six discussion groups formed around the pillars of food sovereignty.

The groups were so eager to keep talking in English, French and Spanish that time overran and the rapporteurs exerted themselves to report back in one minute or less. See the written summary displays here:

In addition to this workshop, Food Secure Canada staff, volunteers, members and Board participated in many other events about issues including food, agriculture, climate change, basic income and the Leap Manifesto throughout the World Social Forum. See more about this involvement and follow-up on FSC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Food Secure Canada warmly thanks its partners and its speakers, as well as all participants, for contributing to the success of the event:

Susan Alexander is a communications specialist, currently putting down roots in the Montreal food movement.