Food Sovereignty Conference Papers #37-43
Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue - An international conference at Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, September 14-15, 2013
Conference Paper # 37: The agrarian transition and the ‘feminization’ of agriculture, by Olivier de Schutter
This article discusses the significance of the so-called "feminization of agriculture" both to policymakers and to feminist theory. It first highlights the various meanings that, depending on the context, such "feminization" refers to. It then examines the situation of women as independent food producers. Though women play a greater role than ever as food producers. they face obstacles such that they are often relegated to a form of agricultural production that is characterized by its low productivity and that is geared towards own consumption. Such homestead-based production can represent an important contribution to food security and deserves support. But it also presents the risk of confirming existing gender roles and it does not favor the economic independence of women ; nor does it truly expand women's choices. The article also reviews the situation of women as farmworkers, which represents another manifestation of this "feminization of agriculture". Feminist theory has always been divided between the recognition of the specific position of women and their assimilation into existing institutional structures. We confront a similar dilemma in the agrarian transition. The position of this article is that we should not have choose between supporting women's roles as food producers by taking into account the existing gender roles and the time and mobility constraints that women are imposed, or instead challenging those roles and ignoring those constraints, to make women more like men and ensure that they have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The constraints are real, and they will take time to be removed. As long as they subsist, we must ensure at least that the choices of women within the food systems can expand. Whether they decide to act within the existing gender roles or whether they seek to escape the constraints these roles currently impose on them, the choices they make in the various contexts in which they operate should not be choices by default: only by removing the constraints they face, and by shaping pathways towards alternatives to the current situation in which they face multiple barriers, can this be ensured.
Conference Paper # 38: Food Justice, Food Sovereignty and the Challenge of Neoliberalism, by Alison Hope Alkon
Alternative food systems have been criticized as neoliberal because they locate social change potential in consumer market behavior, assume functions that were formerly provided by the state, and produce subjectivities consistent with market logics. Food sovereignty, on the other hand, directly challenges neoliberalism by pairing local and regional ecological agriculture with direct challenges to the corporate food regime. This paper will discuss three increasingly common strategies among US food justice movements that also challenge neoliberalism. These include the creation of worker-owned food businesses, campaigns to improve workers’ wages and conditions and policy campaigns to restrict harmful agribusiness practices. It will then consider how these efforts can contribute to the struggle for food sovereignty.
Conference Paper # 39: The Politics of Property in Industrial Fisheries, by Liam Campling and Elizabeth Havice
Fisheries systems are widely considered to be ‘in crisis’ in both economic and ecological terms, a considerable concern given their significance to food security, international trade and employment the world over. The most common explanation for the crisis suggests that it is caused by weak and illiberal property regimes. It follows that correcting the crisis involves the creation of private property relations that will restore equilibrium between the profitable productive function of fishing firms and fish stocks in order to maximize ‘rent’. In this approach, coastal states are seen as passive, weak, failed and corrupted observers and facilitators of the fisheries crisis, unless they institute private property relations. This paper offers an alternative analysis by re-examining longstanding debates over the politics of property and of rent relations in industrial fisheries from the perspective of historical materialism. It identifies coastal states as modern landed property which allows an exploration of the existence of, and
struggles over, the extraction of ground-rent from the surplus value created in capitalist fisheries. As on land, property in the sea is a site of social struggle and will always remain so under capitalism, no matter which juridical actor/ interest holds those property rights.
Conference Paper # 40: Community Autonomy and Local Food: Seeking Food Sovereignty in Maine, by Hilda E. Kurtz in collaboration with Heather Retberg and Bonnie Preston
In 2011, a group of food and farmer activists in Maine set off a maelstrom of political activity in and around the food sovereignty movement when they drafted and placed on town meeting warrants a Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. Intended to maintain the viability of small farms in a struggling rural economy, these ordinances exempt direct transactions of farm food from licensure and inspection. Their goal is to maintain control of food at the local level by asserting the right to remain autonomous from the corporate industrial food system. Conceptually, they draw on a populist ethos and the town meeting tradition to invite broad democratic participation in pressing claims for food sovereignty. This paper traces the ordinance strategy and its effects through activist networks and into the halls of the state capitol, where the governing and the governed have wrestled over the last two years with fundamental and difficult issues facing food systems. Recognizing the play of multiple food sovereignties in different settings, we suggest that this work offers insight into possible trajectories of food sovereignty as a movement for radical change in the food system by reasserting the right to define a local food system and drawing a protective boundary around traditional foodways. The concept of food sovereignty - democratic control of the food system, and the right of all people to define their own agrifood systems (US Social Forum 2010) – implies a re-scaling of food production and trade regimes, away from industrial scale production for international trade to food systems organized at local and regional scales. Beyond such a re-scaling, however, food sovereignty discourse is ambiguous if not ambivalent about the geographic scales at which food sovereignty can and should be achieved. Main ordinance advocates engage with the scale problem directly by arguing for the need for scale appropriate regulations for small scale production for direct sale; in addition, they draw on Maine’s tradition of Home Rule to frame perhaps the first legible spatial expression of food sovereignty in the United States. This paper examines the ordinance strategy and its ripple effects as a politics of scale, in which different expressions of geographic scale shape both the form and the content of political debate. The stakes in this struggle are high, concerning intersections of life and livelihood, autonomy and its absence, and bases for knowing and for evaluating risk. We view these stakes as biopolitics, or struggle over the exercise of biopower. In the exertion of biopower, states (and other actors) manage population health through the use of vital statistics and other technologies. Foucault demonstrates that as new forms of knowledge and regimes of truth made population health knowable, biological experience shaping individual and collective life, like dietary practices, became linked to the exercise of state power. The paper traces how the food sovereigntists of Maine use politics of scale to face off against biopower as exercised through corporate influence over food and farm regulations.
Conference Paper # 41: Food Sovereignty as a Weapon of the Weak? Rethinking the Food Question in Uganda, by Giuliano Martiniello
The new paradigm of food sovereignty offers a series of alternatives to the neoliberal development mode. It also offers some answers to the emerging food question by proposing solutions to reduce dependency on purchased food or aid, focusing on territory, community, autonomy, sustainability, ecology and nutrition. The food crisis, which is widely connected toboth the ecological and energy crises and exposes the contradictions of the corporate food regime, was manifested in both the deficiency of supply and exponential increase of prices of staple food. Global food crises bring to the fore a number of responses offering inter-linkages between questions of access to food, poverty and power, as well as issues of productivity and the contested debate around technological solutions. The food question in Uganda has been merely interpreted via the modernization paradigm in purely quantitative terms and codified through the notion of food security: the idea that the issue is just one of securing certain availability of food at national and international level through internal production or external aid. The aim of the paper is to debunk the debate from this productivist paradigm, which in Uganda agricultural policies coincides with an emphasis on increasing commercialization of peasant food production. The notion of food sovereignty however cannot be simply read in epiphenomenal terms or merely the lens of contemporary social movements. Indeed it has profound historical, ecological and political articulations with the long-term strategies of peasant households to maintain their relative autonomy, expand their resource base and ensure social reproduction. The paper explores these dynamics through the case of northern Ugandan peasants and their struggles to maintain access to land and food production as crucial instruments to their internal social organization, political authority and economic reproduction. These social struggles are also to maintain their relative autonomy vis a vis states (pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial) and national and international markets. These dynamics acquire particular relevance in the light of the increasingly unjust, unequal and politically repressive character of the nation state. They are also important because of the overtly central political and economic role played by food in geo-political interstate relations and relations between classes (farmers, peasants and workers) evidenced by amongst other things the current wave of large-scale land acquisitions, which is altering the patterns of food production at global level.
Conference Paper # 42: Seasonal hunger in coffee communities: Integrated analysis of livelihoods, agroecology, and food sovereignty with smallholders of Mexico and Nicaragua, by Margarita Fernandez, V. Ernesto Mendez, and Christopher Bacon
Food sovereignty has recently gained momentum in social movements, farmer cooperatives and NGOs, as a framework that places farmer’s and nature’s rights as central to food and agricultural policy. Food sovereignty’s strength is that it outlines an alternative policy to the contemporary global agro-industrial food system. However, it is only more recently that the concept of food sovereignty is being translated into unique policies, practices, and research approaches at different levels (i.e. international, national and local), and amongst different stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, research and development institutions and farmer cooperatives. In this paper we will present a participatory action research project undertaken with two coffee farmer cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico and northern Nicaragua, which are implementing food security and food sovereignty projects through agroecological practices. In doing so, we will discuss how the integration of a diverse set of concepts including agroecology, sustainable livelihoods, political ecology, and food sovereignty, guided the exploration of these complex and dynamic issues at an empirical level. We also present an analysis of how NGOs, cooperatives and farmers perceive and translate the principles of food sovereignty and agroecology into practice. As smallholder farmers who are linked to both the global commodity market and to diverse subsistence production systems, they represent interesting examples of how the concept of food sovereignty is molded and framed to fit the realities of livelihoods in two different contexts.
Conference Paper # 43: Food Sovereignty: How it turns the growing corporate global food system upside down, by Joan P. Mencher
This article first documents the forces that made necessary the development of the concept of Food Sovereignty and why it remains essential in the present world political economy. Food Sovereignty as an ideology is a tool used by people (peasants, small and even medium size family farmers, small organic farmers, all kinds of local farmers (especially but not only in the US and EU) to fight a very wealthy organized attempt to take over the entire world food supply by the MNCs. I then discuss the “green revolution” approach, including a brief discussion of how it was introduced into India and the reactions of the South Indian farmers I knew at the time, and how it temporarily did lead to significant increases in crop yields in some areas (at the same time that the pesticides used were destroying the soil biota.) Successful alternatives to industrial agriculture are then discussed, especially SRI/SCI which do not need any artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and use one-tenth the amount of seeds used by conventional farming in India. SRI/SCI is hardly known about in the US and EU. Methods for organizing grassroots farmers, both women and men in places like Andhra Pradesh, are also discussed. (India is now an exporter of rice, with world record yields from states previously considered backward, such as Bihar.) I conclude by noting the looming confrontation between the MNCs working to increase the profits of their investors, and the movements from the bottom up by people the world over. Control over food is control over people. And at no time in history have the wealthy voluntarily given up this or other powers.
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.