Yale Food Sovereignty: A critical dialogue - Papers 44-56
Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue - An international conference at Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, September 14-15, 2013
Conference Paper # 44: Food Sovereignty in Everyday Life: A People-Centered Approach to Food Systems, by Meleiza Figueroa
This paper presents outlines of a theoretical approach to food systems that attempts to decenter “food” in food-related research, placing social life as the central point of departure for a critical analysis of food systems and the search for revolutionary alternatives. “Food,” in this framework, is conceived relationally, as a “nodal point of interconnection” (Massey 1994) through which multiple historical, spatial, and social processes intersect and articulate with one another. If “race…is the modality by which class is lived” (Hall 1980), then food is a modality by which capitalism is lived, and made tangible in everyday practice. Revisiting the concepts of primitive accumulation (Perelman 2000), articulation (Hall 1980), and everyday life (Lefebvre 1991), this approach examines the ways in which proletarianization is continually reproduced, increasingly partial or incomplete, and contested at multiple conjunctures. In these moments of contestation, and the spaces that partial primitive accumulation leaves behind, new articulations - visible in the everyday social experience of food - can contain certain potentialities for real alternatives to life under capitalism.
Conference Paper # 45: Structural Transformation and Gender Rights in African Agriculture: What Pathways to Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Food Security?, by Bola O Akanji
This paper brings up for policy discussion, some of the threats to Africa’s food sovereignty, gender rights and food security, in the process of agrarian transformation. The key questions are: What threats does structural transformation pose to the sovereign rights of countries as well as to gender rights and inclusive growth in Africa’s agriculture? What are the likely outcomes of recent policy changes with respect to agricultural growth and transformation on small farmers especially with focus on land rights and corporatization of land (land-grabbing)? How can these threats be turned into opportunities for rural women such that sustainable agrarian growth as well as food security is achieved? We raise and discuss pertinent issues to seek answers to these questions in the body of the paper. The implicit hypotheses of this discussion paper is that current pathways to structural transformation (ST) may appear to pose more threats than opportunities for food security and the rights of small women farmers and inter alia, for sustainable food security in agrarian African countries.
Conference Paper # 46: Recipe for decolonization and resurgence: Story of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation’s indigenous food sovereignty movement, by Asfia Gulrukh Kamal and Shirley Thompson
In the era of “contemporary colonialism,” food sovereignty for indigenous peoples is a necessary struggle for cultural survival. In a wealthy country like Canada, Indigenous populations are deprived of basic necessities needed to maintain health, living in a state that institutionalizes poverty. However, despite the state-controlled political economy, indigenous scholars argue that the path to food sovereignty, decolonization and resurgence is possible. Communities and individuals are gaining strength from ancestral language, knowledge sharing, traditional and locally available diet, spiritual enrichment and most importantly community solidarity. This paper considers how OPCN’s Ithinto Mechisown (food from the land) program is promoting sustainable traditional teaching and indigenous sovereignty through containing seeds for decolonization, First Nation resurgence and OPC peoplehood.
Conference paper # 47: Exploring the Dialectic of Labor Rights and Food Sovereignty in Everyday Work Conflicts of Argentina´s Yerba mate Country, by Jennifer S. Bowles
This paper speaks to broad but urgent questions: Should the principles of food sovereignty be folded into the construction and enforcement of labor and employment laws? How can workers´ rights as envisioned by the ILO be coupled with fundamental precepts of food sovereignty in everyday working life at the site of food production? With these questions in mind, I examine every day Argentine politics of yerba mate (a green tea) where it is grown in the poor, Northeastern province of Misiones. Yerba mate is consumed in nearly 100% of Argentine households. It is considered a staple food, and is relied especially on by poor Argentines when food is scarce. But few consumers of the tea are aware of the working conditions under which smallholders and wage laborers work in Misiones. In what was once a vibrant landscape of small farms, neoliberal reforms from the 1990s still wreak havoc in the countryside. More and more small producers of yerba are selling their farms or have converted them to monocultural non-food crops such as the American pine used in regional paper mills. Land consolidation continues to intensify as does rural exodus. As farms are threatened, so too are models of family agriculture that have functioned for generations. In the past, both smallholders and wage laborers managed to produce food for themselves with little state intervention. At the heart of contemporary labor conflicts in the countryside is the state´s effort to decrease the amount of trabajo en negro, or work under the table, in which workers and employers do not pay taxes and workers receive no benefits. By most estimates, 70% of rural workers still work under the table and unfair labor practices abound. In addressing the relationship between food sovereignty and workers’ rights, I examine two movements. First, I explore the agrarian organizing that has joined together landless workers and small farmers who promote the principles of food sovereignty in the spirit of movements such as La Vía Campesina, with much focus on agroecology, per Altieri and company. Second, I analyze the more recent organizing on the part of yerba harvesters that has pushed for improved labor rights even as small producers press back. Drawing on fieldwork conducted since 2008 as well as cross training in law and social work, I argue that Argentina´s supposedly worker friendly labor laws actually have a pernicious effect on the livelihood of low income workers and smallholders in the countryside. Caught in a symbiotic relationship, rural workers and smallholders cannot live without one another, yet their cohabitation in the work day is replete with tensions, intimidations, fear of lawsuits, and fallings out. Labor laws that were designed for industrial sector production assume abundant capital on the part of employers, ignoring the dearth and unpredictability of small farm income. Principles of food sovereignty are ignored for the most part. As a result, small yerba farmers often cannot afford to hire harvesters of yerba because of limited capital, state taxes and potential fines. Low wage harvesters in turn struggle with unemployment and are forced to rely on state welfare even as they flee the countryside. In doing so, they often abandon family agriculture. Finally, I argue that the rights of both producers and workers have to be considered together if the Argentine state is serious about curbing the continuing stream of rural exodus, resolving long-term unemployment and welfare reliance, and ensuring food security in the countryside
Conference Paper # 49: Between empty lots and open pots: understanding the rise of urban food movements in the USA, by Jessica Clendenning and Wolfram Dressler
As world food prices threaten expanding urban populations, there is a greater need for poor people to have access to and claims over how and where food is produced and distributed in cities. This is especially the case in marginalised urban settings. The global movement for food sovereignty has been one attempt to reclaim rights and participation in the food system and challenge corporate food regimes. However, food sovereignty is often considered a rural issue for developing countries when, increasingly, its demands for fair food systems and rights are intensely urban in form and function. Through interviews with scholars, activists, nongovernmental and grassroots organizations in Oakland and New Orleans, we examine the extent to which food sovereignty has progressed in a US urban context as a concept, strategy and practice. We contrast and compare food sovereignty to other dominant US social movements such as food justice, and find that while many organisations do not draw on food sovereignty explicitly, the understandings and motives behind urban food activism are similar across movements as local actors draw on elements of each movement in practice. Overall, however, because of the different histories, geographic contexts, and relations to state and capital, food justice and food sovereignty differ as strategies and approaches. We conclude that the substance of food sovereignty in the US urban context is largely limited by neoliberal framing and political dampening, mainstreaming the approach and lessening its radical framework.
Conference Paper # 50: Life in a Shrimp Zone: Aqua- and Other Cultures in Bangladesh’s Coastal Landscape, by Kasia Paprocki and Jason Cons
This paper questions the possibilities of food sovereignty for producing a radical egalitarian politics. Specifically, it explores the class-differentiated implications of food sovereignty in a zone of ecological crisis—Bangladesh’s coastal Khulna district. Much land in this deltaic zone that had previously been employed for various forms of peasant production has been overrun and transformed by the introduction of brackish-water shrimp aquaculture. This has, in turn, caused massive depeasantization and ecological crisis throughout the region. Drawing on participatory research conducted in the summer of 2013, we explore the human impacts of this transformation. Through an examination of two markedly different Polders (embanked islands)—one which has been overrun by shrimp production and one that has resisted it—we ask how coastal communities have variously negotiated their rapidly changing ecologies and food systems based on their relative class position and access to land. Comparing these distinct cases, we highlight the multiple meanings that peasants from different classes ascribe not just to shrimp, but also to broader questions of adaptation, community, and life in uncertain terrains. We show that while food sovereignty in non-shrimp areas has averted the depeasantization affecting shrimp areas, it does not necessarily yield greater equality in agrarian class relations. To achieve such ends, we suggest, the dynamics of land sovereignty provide a critical and necessary corollary to self-determination in agricultural production.
Conference Paper # 51: Food sovereignty in Ecuador: The gap between the constitutionalization of the principles and their materialization in the official agri-food strategies, by Isabella Giunta
The paper critically assesses the impact of collective actions for the institutionalization of the principles of food sovereignty in Ecuador, including an analysis of the gap between the formal and material constitution of the official strategies. The Ecuadorian Constitution (2008) declares food sovereignty as a strategic goal and governmental obligation, institutionalizing – although partially- the proposal put forward since 1996 by the international peasant movement La Vía Campesina. It would have been impossible to achieve this goal without the anti-neoliberal struggles and alternative practices carried out by social organizations in the last decades. Specifically, it's conceivable a central role played by the federations “FENOCIN”, “CONFEUNASSC”, “CNC-Eloy Alfaro” and, then, “FENACLE” (all affiliated to La Vía Campesina), that since the end of the 90s began to articulate themselves and to place food sovereignty as a priority of their individual and common political agendas. As other social actors, these federations participated actively in the constituent process. At the conclusion, the balance is positive: the new Constitution includes much of the proposals claimed, and the issue of food sovereignty expands from the circumscribed battlefields of some social organizations to become a ground of dispute for the whole Ecuadorian society. The paper, based on preliminary results of a field research conducted between 2012 and beginning of 2013, describes this process and reflects upon why, five years later, the "Agrarian Revolution" is evaluated as weak, also by the governmental sector, although it's a component of the Revolución Ciudadana promoted by the "progressive" government of Rafael Correa.
Conference Paper # 52: Institutionalizing Food Sovereignty in Ecuador, by Karla Peña
As one of the first nations to incorporate food sovereignty as a constitutional right, Ecuador is an interesting case study to further our understanding of the food sovereignty conceptual framework. Social movements were influential in incorporating food sovereignty into the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution that later developed into a food sovereignty legal framework with the approval of the Food Sovereignty Law (LORSA) in 2009. To further develop this legal framework, the Conferencia Plurinacional e Intercultural de Soberania Alimentaria (COPISA) was created in 2010 as a participatory organization responsible for drafting nine-supplementary laws that support the LORSA. In this paper I look at how and why food sovereignty was incorporated into the 2008 Constitution followed by an analysis of the relationship that has developed between social movements and the state since then. Based on quantitative and qualitative data collected in Ecuador in 2012 through in-depth key informant interviews and participatory observations, I also explore the food sovereignty policy-making workshops fostered by COPISA. This research demonstrates social movements in Ecuador are negotiating with the state in ways that differ from previous attempts and that this relationship is developing a food sovereignty legal framework that is pushing the state to rethink and reshape the politics that govern food. What remains uncertain is how this relationship evolves beyond the process of policy formation to implementation.
Conference Paper # 53: Food Regimes, Race and The Coloniality of Power: Linking histories in the food sovereignty movement, by Shoshana Devra Perrey
This paper centers the food regime as a critical tool for understanding state hegemony, and invokes the introduction of racial categorization to further extend the powerful role of states’ formations historically. To do this I present the food regimes analytical tool and characterize the coloniality of power thesis, to argue that a better understanding of state formation in modern times is achieved by unifying both race and food regimes together, rather than thinking of them as two detached concepts. First I characterize Aníbal Quijano’s Coloniality of Power thesis, which explains how the categorization of people by racial identities was a novel process of the conquest of the Americas, used to exert power and develop a capitalist hierarchy over labor based on categories of race. Then, I define and problematize Friedmann and McMichael’s food regime analytic, discussing a few criticisms brought forth from other scholars. The food regime analytical tool explains how the state hegemony controls food systems through industrial agriculture marketing and policy-making. The result of this paper shows how the integration of Coloniality of Power alongside a food regimes analysis have combined to support the genesis of the food sovereignty countermovement. Food sovereignty, which arguably is an ideology more than a process in it self, supports the political, social and economic rights of people to control their own food systems. It counters the hegemony of food regimes by integrating equality of race, gender, religion and class into the agency afforded to people to resist corporate and state hegemony of food systems. It follows that those people and groups whose rights and agrarian livelihoods have been most direly challenged have organized together to define food sovereignty. Thus, this paper characterizes the changing frame of reference that the food sovereignty movement advances to counter state hegemony, racial categories and labor relations in food regimes.
Conference Paper # 54: Conceptualizing the Human Right to Food in the Food Sovereignty Framework, by Will Schanbacher
In this paper, I draw from the theory of human rights articulated by Tomas Pogge. Theorizing in the larger context of global poverty and inequality, Pogge makes an important distinction between positive and negative rights, and the duties that arise from them. More specifically, Pogge argues we should consider human rights in a way that transcends the conventional debate between positive and negative rights and duties. Rather than contextualizing access to food as a failure on the part of affluent countries to provide a framework for securing the right to food, affluent countries (and their citizens) should recognize how we are actively exacerbating global hunger and malnutrition. Accepting this premise, implicates all of us who are complicit in creating and perpetuating any institutional order that denies global farmers the freedom from poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Perhaps more importantly this framework avoids some of the ethical conundrums associated with positive rights, namely, from whom (governments, charities, multilaterals, etc.) do the global poor, hungry, and malnourished demand the right to food. This paper argues for a more minimal sense of duty on the part of affluent countries. Instead we focus on our negative duty to not impose upon global farmers institutions and social structures that deny them the freedom to chose how they wish to organize their own local communities’ efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency.
Conference Paper # 55: The political ecology of market-oriented seed system development and emergent alternatives, by Kristal Jones
This paper critically analyzes farmers’ experiences with newly established seed markets for improved varieties in Sahelian West Africa. Market-oriented development approaches frame agricultural systems in dichotomous terms of modern or traditional, efficient or inefficient, and do not account for ongoing learning and adaptation by farmers. Two years of interviews with farmers who use improved variety seeds are analyzed here using a conceptual framework that combines the type of exchange, the type of seed and the value of the seed as three aspects of seed access decision making. The results show that as farmers gain skills about the benefits and trade-offs of each type of seed system, they make decisions that reflect both new experience and elements of the existing social and natural context. Based on the range of seed access priorities and decisions described in the data, suggestions are made for alternative seed diffusion projects that can meet the needs of specific individuals and communities. The analysis also provides the foundation for future work analyzing if seed system choice differs across groups of individuals.
Conference Paper # 56: Towards a geographic theory of food sovereignty in the United States. by Amy Trauger
Food sovereignty identifies the state and capital as complicit in the inequities and injustices in the corporate food regime, including and especially the alienation between producers from consumers. Among food sovereignty’s many demands, is a call to a return power and control in the food system to producers and consumers through decentering the power of transnational capital. The literature on food sovereignty lacks engagement with theories of sovereignty as an explanatory resource, and thus strategies to achieve its aims may lack key insights into political power. I draw on the insights of post-structuralist social theorists, political geography and anthropologists on political sovereignty to engage the practitioners, theoreticians and supporters of food sovereignty in a discussion of the implications of their political practices. I position food sovereignty within a framework of geographic thought as a partial, temporary and contested territorial claim as an insurgent assertion of autonomy in space. The paper concludes by positing a theoretical frame for future research on food sovereignty in geography.
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.