Food is not a commodity

Food is not a commodity

Although for decades, in international instances, governments have made commitments to achieve a planet that guarantees a decent diet for all, hunger persists as a critical unresolved issue. In 1974, the United Nations World Conference on Food, precisely, established as an objective: "within a decade no child will go to sleep hungry ... no human being will be affected by malnutrition."

Today, around 795 million people suffer from hunger in the world. More than 34 million are from Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that produces and exports the most food on the planet, but also where there is greater inequality and unfair distribution of wealth. According to statements by José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, at the 34th Regional Conference of this organization, held in Mexico from February 29 to March 3, 2016, it was agreed to “end hunger and malnutrition in less than ten years ”.

Good resolutions, meager results. Why? For insisting on wrong solutions, but which greatly benefit the great interests that move in this field on the basis, among others, of two myths: scarcity and increased production and efficiency. The reality is that there is no shortage of food, since the peasant sector is capable of producing food for everyone, but there are abundant commercial interests in food, which translates into an inequitable distribution.

In the 1960s, as a “solution” the so-called green revolution in agriculture was promoted, which over time ended up establishing an increasingly unfair distribution, the loss of biological diversity and fertile soils, and a growing food dependency subject to agribusiness. And, today, as a replacement, it is intended to continue the same from a new technological revolution: biotechnology associated with genetic engineering, promoted by a handful of corporations that seek monopoly control of the global food system.

In fact, since the 1990s we have witnessed a new phase of capitalism, hegemonized by finance capital and transnational corporations [1], which now control the production and world trade of the main commodities. Situation that affects structural changes in agricultural production, due to the deployment of a new mode of production based on monoculture, with extensive use of the land and the search for the largest possible scale, the intensive use of pesticides and mechanization , and the imposition of proprietary and transgenic seeds.

In this new phase, the distinction between banking and commodity trading companies is being diluted, while common goods - such as land, water, energy, minerals, etc. - become mere merchandise. And it is thus that the presence of financial actors in the global food system has fueled the speculative manipulation of the food market, because now they are traded on international stock exchanges. Remember the food crisis that exploded in 2008?

A political-strategic alternative

Claiming the principle that food is a human right and not just another commodity, the international movement Via Campesina proposes the notion of food sovereignty as a political-strategic alternative to agribusiness and its socially unjust matrix; economically unviable; subordinate to large corporations (whose purpose is to increase their profits), unsustainable for the environment; and with food production with serious consequences for health [2].

This proposal addresses structural issues to promote an alternative production model, such as the use of land and territory, appropriation and management of resources, agroecology, local and international trade, sustainable development, participatory action, right to feeding, etc.

Specifically, for La Via Campesina, food sovereignty is the right of the population to produce and consume healthy and culturally appropriate food, obtained with ecologically sustainable methods; This is only possible if peasant agriculture and its production systems are strengthened. In this sense, it encompasses and exceeds the concept of food security proposed by FAO - which refers only to the availability and access to food to combat hunger - and the right to food.

In other words, it is not only a matter of producing an amount of food that allows the population as a whole to be fed, as food security is defined, but also of considering the quality of that production, that is, defining what, where, how and how much it is produced, which are the questions to be answered through the construction of food sovereignty.

For this reason, food sovereignty incorporates the right of the peoples to define their own policies and sustainable strategies for the production, distribution and consumption of food that guarantee the right to food for the entire population, based on small and medium production, respecting their own cultures and the diversity of peasant, fishing and indigenous ways of agricultural production, marketing and management of rural areas, in which women play a fundamental role.

It also integrates multi-ethnic and cultural components, land management, priority to feed the local population and the most vulnerable sectors, agrarian reform, agroecology, healthy food, protection of native seeds, distribution policies. of food not subject to market demands, rescue of traditional knowledge, training, and much more.

Key principles

Food sovereignty, in synthesis [3], is expressed in the following principles:

• Food is not merchandise; they must be sufficient, nutritious and culturally appropriate for peoples and communities.

• Food producers, women, men, small farmers, indigenous peoples, artisanal fishermen, forest dwellers and agricultural workers, must be revalued for being key actors and actresses for its construction; They should not be underestimated by policies or programs that place them only as recipients of welfare policies.

• Those who produce and consume food must be at the center of decision-making on food issues, rejecting agreements and practices that empower transnational corporations to decide on our food.

• Food production must be localized to avoid enormous displacements to reach consumers and control of the food system must be local. The producers and the community itself have to have control over the territory, seeds and other common goods, in order to avoid their privatization and preserve biodiversity.

• Food sovereignty recovers the skills and traditional knowledge of the peasantry and indigenous communities, favoring their transmission to future generations.

• The food system must interact with nature, respecting its cycles, for which agroecological production methods are necessary that maximize the beneficial functions of ecosystems. This characteristic implies a clear rejection of monocultures, factory cattle farms and large-scale industrialization.

At the same time, organizations in the field identify various factors that limit progress in the practice of this alternative model. These include, among others, the distances between production and consumption, in cities, together with the consumer culture centered on shopping malls and supermarkets. Furthermore, low-income urban social sectors are not always able to allow themselves to think about a good diet, when the main thing is to fill the stomach, and at the lowest cost.

While the experiences of building food sovereignty have advanced mainly in local communities or social organizations, in most cases enough specific strategies, legal instruments or infrastructure have not yet been developed to allow it to be considered at broader geographic, provincial or national levels.

Therefore, food sovereignty implies considering food not as a personal issue and dependent on purchasing power, but as a food system that involves a complex process that encompasses production, transportation, marketing, consumption, economic policies, scientific and social movements and the actions of social and consumer movements, which make food a right.

For more than two decades, La Via Campesina and other allied entities have been developing this concept from theory and practice, worldwide, a process that has resulted in a series of approaches and consensus positions that have been refining and which is reflected in the successive agreements of a series of international events.

An important achievement on the international stage is that the issue of food sovereignty has been placed in the United Nations and even in the constitutions and public policies of some countries. However, as is often the case in such cases, the very meaning of the term “food sovereignty” is in dispute, as the institutions that adopt it may later try to empty the political content, as is happening in FAO, when It is intended to equate it with the concept of family farming.

- Introductory text of the April 2016 edition of the magazine América Latina en Movimiento (No. 512) of ALAI, entitled “Along the paths of food sovereignty”.

[1] João Pedro Stedile and Osvaldo León, Popular Agrarian Reform: “An alternative to the capital model”, In the year of family farming: Policies and alternatives in agriculture, Latin America in Movement Magazine No. 496, ALAI, June 2014 .
[2] It is enough to verify the figures of the population affected by malnutrition, on the one hand, and those referring to those who increasingly suffer from obesity, on the other; and those that account for food waste can also be added. According to the FAO, the food that is lost in the region could feed 37% of those who suffer from hunger.
[3] Patricia Agosto and Marielle Palau Towards the construction of Food Sovereignty. Challenges and experiences of Paraguay and Argentina, Asunción, BASE-IS, Popular Education Team Scarves in Rebellion, CIFMSL, December 2015.


Video: How do we shift the industrial commodity system toward a food system that serves the common good (September 2021).