Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue: An international conference, Abstracts 23-29
Conference Paper # 23: Beyond the Minimally Adequate Diet: Food Stamps and Food Sovereignty in the U.S., by Maggie Dickinson
Re-framing food sovereignty in the urban U.S. means grappling with the messy politics of consumption in ways that put poor consumers and urban poverty at the center of our analysis. I argue that focusing on the state, and food subsidies in particular, can help us ask more coherent questions around how principles of food sovereignty might be realized in an urban context in ways that build intra-class alliances between small-scale, sustainable producers, food justice activists and poor urban consumers. This paper draws on 18 months of ethnographic research in a North Brooklyn food pantry and food stamp outreach program.
Conference Paper # 24: From Food Sovereignty to Peasants’ Rights: an Overview of La Via Campesina’s Rights-Based Claims over the Last 20 Years, by Priscilla Claeys
The transnational agrarian movement La Via Campesina is known for having successfully mobilized a human rights discourse in its struggle against capitalism and neoliberalism in agriculture. As La Via Campesina celebrates its 20th anniversary, this paper describes the various ways in which the movement has used human rights to frame its demands. It explores the advantages and limitations of the human rights framework, and discusses how the movement has tried to overcome the constraints attached to human rights. It suggests that La Via Campesina has not limited itself to claiming existing and codified rights, but has created new human rights, such as the right of peoples to food sovereignty and the rights of peasants. This contribution assesses current and past efforts to achieve the international recognition of new human rights for peasants at the international level.
Conference Paper # 25: The politics of the emerging agro-industrial complex in Asia’s ‘final frontier’: The war on food sovereignty in Burma, by Kevin Woods
Burma's dramatic turn-around from 'axis of evil' to western darling in the past year has been imagined as Asia's 'final frontier' for global finance institutions, markets and capital. Burma's agrarian landscape is home to three-fourths of the country's total population which is now being constructed as a potential prime investment sink for domestic and international agribusiness. The Global North's development aid industry and IFIs operating in Burma has consequently repositioned itself to proactively shape a pro-business legal environment to decrease political and economic risks to enable global finance capital to more securely enter Burma's markets, especially in agribusiness. But global capitalisms are made in localized places - places that make and are made from embedded social relations. This paper uncovers how regional political histories that are defined by very particular racial and geographical undertones give shape to Burma's emerging agro-industrial complex. The country's still smoldering ethnic civil war and fragile untested liberal democracy is additionally being overlain with an emerging war on food sovereignty. A discursive and material struggle over land is taking shape to convert subsistence agricultural landscapes and localized food production into modern, mechanized industrial agro-food regimes. This second agrarian transformation is being fought over between a growing alliance among the western development aid and IFI industries, global finance capital, and a solidifying Burmese military-private capitalist class against smallholder farmers who work and live on the country's now most valuable asset - land. Grassroots resistances increasingly confront the elite capitalist class' attempts to corporatize food production through the state's rule of law and police force. Farmers, meanwhile, are actively developing their own shared vision of food sovereignty and pro-poor land reform that desires greater attention.
Conference Paper # 26: The ‘non-economy’ and the Radical Dreams of Food Sovereignty, by Jim Handy
This article discusses the radical nature of ideas of food sovereignty through an exploration of the history of peasant dispossession under capitalism. It uses as a starting point Fernand Braudel’s discussion of the antagonism between the ‘non-economy’ of peasant production and the ‘anti-market’ of capitalism. Apologists for dispossession and enclosure asserted the naturalness of a world dominated by capital despite its obvious failings. The article explores such arguments and peasant resistance in Britain, Ireland, India and Guatemala and argues that food sovereignty’s radical nature lies in its promise to curtail the power of capital to continue dispossession.
Conference Paper # 27: Capitalism in Green Disguise: The Political Economy of Organic Farming in the European Union, by Charalampos Konstantinidis
Organic farming is often presented as the success story of Rural Development policies in the European Union, having grown from a marginal activity to covering more than 5% of European agricultural land. Even though organic farming is often thought of as small-scale farming, I show that organic farms in Europe display characteristics associated with capitalist agriculture. Organic farms are larger and more mechanized than conventional farms. Furthermore, organic farms are associated with wage-labor and use less labor per hectare than their conventional counterparts, casting doubt on the efficacy of organic farming in increasing labor demand in marginalized communities and acting as an effective tool for keeping rural residents in the countryside. These results present us with evidence of the “conventionalization” of organic farming, and with another instance of “green-washing” of capitalist structures of production.
Conference Paper # 28: Food Security in a Sovereign State and “Quiet Food Sovereignty” of an Insecure Population: The Case of Post-Soviet Russia, by Max Spoor, Natalia Mamonova, Oane Visser and Alexander Nikulin
In this paper we argue that Russian discourses on and practices of food sovereignty strongly diverge from the global understanding of this concept. We distinguish two approaches to food and agriculture that are crucial for understanding food sovereignty à la Russe. The first one is what we term ‘food security in a sovereign state’. This approach is close to the traditional food security concept and refers to the conceived necessity to produce sufficient food for the population domestically, instead of being dependent on food imports. This type of food sovereignty is to be realized by large-scale industrial agriculture, which further development is actively supported by the Russian government. It has the additional function of a potential political weapon in international relations, via growing grain exports and grain market power. The second type of food sovereignty we term ‘quiet food sovereignty’ of an insecure population. It is enacted by the population’s self-provisioning of food through production on household plots, as a coping mechanism. We show that these small-holdings are quite productive, and in general have similar yields as individual private farms (which make up a relative small sector) and large-scale farm enterprise. However, household plot production, which still has a symbiotic and sometimes adverse relation with large farm enterprises (and agroholdings), is grossly overlooked and even downplayed not only by the Russian government, but also by the small-scale producers themselves. We conclude that an emergent food sovereignty movement will be most likely a ‘Via Kremlina’, rather than a ‘Via Campesina–type. The dominance of large scale enterprises, the minimal government support for small-holders, and the existence of a large number of scattered, fragmented and still ignored household producers, do not yet provide much prospect for a ‘food sovereignty movement from below’ in Russia, in spite of emerging eco-villages and some indigenous movements that struggle to keep their traditional food systems intact.
Conference Paper # 29: Cultivating Food Sovereignty Where There are Few Choices, by Teresa Mares, Ph.D., Naomi Wolcott-MacCausland, and Jessie Mazar
Huertas did not begin as a research project, but rather as a grassroots effort to build gardens with Latino/a migrant farm workers on rural dairies in Vermont using donated materials and time. Over four summers it has grown into a larger, more organized food access project. In 2013, 23 gardens across northern Vermont were planted, filled with herbs and vegetables that remind these workers of home. In providing access to culturally familiar, fresh produce to a highly vulnerable population, it remains contextualized within the larger intersection of the commercial dairy industry and transnational migration. In this way, it offers a compelling lens to problematize questions of food sovereignty. The farmworkers participating in the project are geographically isolated and most do not have reliable access to transportation, while living thousands of miles away from family and friends. In no way are these workers experiencing the full benefits of food sovereignty. However, by connecting farmworkers with volunteers, materials, and the permission to plant these gardens at employee housing units, Huertas aims to address the disparities in access to nutritious food while simultaneously bridging the barriers of isolation and social inequities. Often characterized as a “nontraditional” destination for Latino/a migration, Vermont has seen a steady increase in the number of migrant farmworkers from Mexico and Latin American countries since the late 1990s. Despite the newness of this trend, the Latino/a population in Vermont has grown 24 times faster than the overall population in the first decade of the new millennium (Baker and Chappelle 2012). As the second whitest state in the nation (trailing only Maine), these demographic changes have not gone unnoticed, and the presence of these workers reveals the hidden dynamics behind Vermont’s iconic working landscape. Currently, there are an estimated 1200 Latino/a migrant dairy workers in the state. However, these numbers are merely estimates, given that the vast majority -- roughly 90% -- of these workers are undocumented (Radel et.al. 2010). For many, migrating to the United States became the best, or indeed, the only option as rural livelihoods and smallholder agriculture have been devastated in the wake of neoliberal policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now in Vermont, these workers experience a great deal of fear, isolation, and anxiety connected to their presence as “invisible workers” laboring in what has been characterized as a “carceral landscape” (McCandless 2009). This paper examines the development and future of Huertas, an applied food security project co-coordinated by authors of this paper. Together, we question the ways the project and its aims engage with the concept of food sovereignty. The goal of this paper is to present our applied work in progress and seek feedback on a broader ethnographic research project that is emerging simultaneously. Through discussing the ways that our work complicates the notion of food sovereignty, we aim to develop an approach to activist scholarship that contributes to the autonomy and justice of all involved.
The Food Sovereignty Conference:
A fundamentally contested concept, food sovereignty has — as a political project and campaign, an alternative, a social movement, and an analytical framework — barged into global agrarian discourse over the last two decades. Since then, it has inspired and mobilized diverse publics: workers, scholars and public intellectuals, farmers and peasant movements, NGOs and human rights activists in the North and global South. The term has become a challenging subject for social science research, and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of ways by various groups and individuals. Indeed, it is a concept that is broadly defined as the right of peoples to democratically control or determine the shape of their food
system, and to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways in and near their territory. As such it spans issues such as food politics, agroecology, land reform, biofuels, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), urban gardening, the patenting of life forms, labor migration, the feeding of volatile cities, ecological sustainability, and subsistence rights.
Sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University and the Journal of Peasant Studies, and co-organized by Food First, Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), the conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” will be held at Yale University on September 14–15, 2013. The event will bring together leading scholars and political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The purpose of the meeting is to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use, commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, such a dialogue aims at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an “intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what terms.