Food Sovereignty

Hector and María Estaban with their organic crops. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to lower costs while improving the quality and quantity of yields. Photo: María Esteban

Hector and María Estaban with their organic crops. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to lower costs while improving the quality and quantity of yields. Photo: María Esteban

Food sovereignty is about the right of peoples to define their own food systems. It suggests that the ability of a nation or group of people to feed themselves is an issue of fundamental rights and autonomy. Advocates of food sovereignty put the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations that they believe have come to dominate the global food system.

The ability of a nation or group of people to feed themselves is an issue of fundamental rights and autonomy.

Food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security because, while both propose that every person must have the certainty of having enough to eat every day, food security as a concept is silent on the question of where food comes from or how it is produced. Food sovereignty is a rights-based approach to food and agriculture with the following key elements:

  • The right to healthy, accessible and culturally appropriate food
  • The right of each country/ people to define his or her own food policies and agrarian development model
  • Priority of local agriculture production to feed people locally
  • The mainstreaming of agroecology – an agricultural system that recognizes food production, sustainable livelihoods, living landscapes and environmental integrity as essential to rural sustainability
  • The right of small farmers to produce at fair prices (protecting local economy and promoting redistributive agrarian reforms)
  • Access to national and local markets & alternative systems for small-scale producers – establishing direct links between consumers and producers

“Food sovereignty requires change in the whole agro-food system, including challenges to property relations and decision making powers. This is not possible with the unequal land ownership we see in South Africa. Movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico and the MST in Brazil have shown how land occupations can be used to challenged capitalist property relations and hierarchical top-down decision making.” – Ricado Jacobs – Food Sovereignty Campaign activist, South Africa

The Right to Food as a Human Right

IDEX has been following the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, which was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights in April 2000 by resolution 2000/10. On March 26, 2008, the UN Human Rights Council approved the appointment of Prof. Olivier De Schutter, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

The right to food is a human right recognized under international law, which protects the right of all human beings to feed themselves in dignity, either by producing their food or by purchasing it. As authoritatively defined by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee on ESCR) in its General Comment 12:

“The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”

For the UN Special Rapporteur, the right to food is:

“The right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.”

Read more about IDEX’s work on food sovereignty on our blog.