Yale Food Sovereignty Conference Papers #59-64
Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue - An international conference at Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, September 14-15, 2013
Conference Paper # 59: Bolivia’s Food Sovereignty & Agrobiodiversity: Undermining the Local to Strengthen the State?, by Jenny Cockburn
In Bolivia the notion of Food Sovereignty has been incorporated into the new Constitution. However, one complication relates to how food sovereignty is conceptualized -- and for what end -- by State and NGO actors in agricultural development. Bolivia is home to substantial biodiversity. Like elsewhere, modern agricultural practices, and the prioritizing of a limited variety of ‘cash’ crops over others to meet market demands, have had a deleterious effect. The arrival of the ‘Green Revolution’ to Bolivia, which transformed farming systems to necessitate the use of agro-chemicals and monocropping practices, resulted in the loss of agrobiodiversity. Local NGOs and the current government have been concerned with ameliorating agrobiodiversity. This orientation includes two anticipated ends: adaptation to climate changes and food sovereignty. The logic underpinning food sovereignty involves the right to produce, distribute and consume nutritious, culturally appropriate food in a way that is ecologically sustainable. Agrobiodiversity conservation is recognized as an important way to achieve this right. Both the NGO and the state have focused attention on organic agriculture and strengthening Bolivia’s internal markets as key to food sovereignty. However they differ in focus. The State’s need to maintain the stability and profitability of the current agribusiness for exportation leads to emphasizing independence and ownership, an emphasis that, at times, takes precedence over sustainability in food sovereignty. What the State wants, from the perspective of the agronomists in the governmental organizations in this study, is to strengthen sovereignty. A key role of these organizations is to realize greater Bolivian autonomy through ecological agriculture and food sovereignty. However, to the extent that this is tied to a backlash against neoliberalism, it is constrained by neoliberal policy reforms, so that indigenous rights and environmental protection are undermined by immediate political and economic gains (Haargard and Andersson 2009; Kennemore and Weeks 2011). That food sovereignty from the government’s perspective is also possible through conventional agricultural schemes is one of many examples that illustrate the double narratives and policies of Morales’ administration. The broadened definition applied by the State raises questions over whether food sovereignty will function more as a buzzword than as something that can truly protect agrobiodiversity. This paper is based on findings from my ethnographic research with Quechua farmers in two communities in the Bolivian Andes. In both communities, farm households have been participating in ecological agriculture practices with a local NGO and have more recently joined a State research pilot project into organic agriculture with a national certification scheme. Despite the shared concerns for increasing agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and organic farming, between the farmers, the NGO and the State, tensions are evident in the power imbalances embedded in these relationships.
Conference Paper # 60: ‘We Didn’t Want to Hear About Calories’: Rethinking Food Security, Food Power and Food Sovereignty - Lessons from the Gaza Closure, by Aeyal Gross & Tamar Feldman
The notion of food sovereignty was developed based on the notion that if the population of a country must depend for their next meal on global economy, on the goodwill of a superpower not to use food as a weapon, or the unpredictability of shipping, then that country is not secure in the sense of food security. It has thus been argued that food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security. But while the emphasis in the development of the concept of food sovereignty was on the idea that people, rather that corporate monopolies, make the decisions regarding food, our paper, through the case study of the Gaza closure by Israel illustrates the need to expand this notion, to guarantee that people will have the sovereignty to make the decisions regarding food. The Gaza case also illustrates that the right to produce its own food in its own territory, may not always be the only means to exercise food sovereignty: it may be more important to put the emphasis on the right to exercise sovereignty regarding both the growing and the importing of food. So to the extent that food sovereignty proposes not just guaranteed access to food, but democratic control over the food system and is about self-determination including nutrition self-determination, the term may help realize how the exercise of food power by Israel, negates this sovereignty from the residents of Gaza. Since 2007, Israel has been imposing a closure over the Gaza Strip, which restricts the passage of goods into and out of the Strip and limits the movement of people in both directions to the “humanitarian minimum”. By maintaining a level of “just above minimum”, which was sustainable largely due to the massive involvement of international aid organizations, Israel managed to relax the international demand to lift or ease the restrictions. The Turkel Committee, appointed to investigate the events of the flotilla of May 2010 determined that since the closure was never intended to starve the civilian population and given Israel’s monitoring and protection mechanisms designed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, the closure cannot be said to be unlawful and that the proportionality requirement is met. While doing so, the committee largely downplayed the data presented before it by human rights organizations attesting to extremely high levels of food insecurity in the Gaza Strip. Our paper explores the blind spots in Israel’s stance, which alludes to the minimum standard. These, we will argue, ignore power relations, and overlook the larger context . We will propose instead that food power can be exercised not only through direct control over food supply and food availability, but also by effecting people’s ability to access adequate food. Arbitrary restrictions on entry of foodstuff undoubtedly played an important role in Israel’s demonstration of power. But also by successfully crippling Gaza Strip’s economy, Israel’s closure policy has impoverished the civilian population, considerably decreased food security in the Gaza Strip and respectfully increased dependency on international aid. Using this analysis, we will examine how food power mechanisms work and are sustained over time and explore the relations between “food security”, “food power” and “food sovereignty.”
Conference Paper # 61: King of the Sea: Seafood Sovereignty and the Blue Revolution, by Craig K. Harris
The paper discusses nine of the ways in which food sovereignty issues affect both the production and consumption of food from marine and freshwater aquatic food systems. Seafood sovereignty is threatened and challenged by the introduction of exotic species, inshore aquaculture, inshore harvesting by non-traditional technologies, allocation of access to offshore fisheries to foreign interests with non-traditional technologies, the tendency for foreign interests to deplete and depart, the creation of marine protected areas, the introduction of frankenfish and supersalmon, habitat destruction, and exploitation for exportation. In the face of these threats and challenges to seafood sovereignty, rights based approaches and activism and advocacy offer some countervailing pressures. The paper concludes with a discussion of likely future directions.
Conference Paper # 62: Do Purchases Motivated by Symbolic and Social Needs Undermine Food Sovereignty?, by Jill Richardson
Food sovereignty is defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Declaration of Nyéléni). While physical and economic needs such as secure land tenure and access to seeds must be met to achieve food sovereignty, there are also psychological needs at play. This paper examines the extent to which feelings that ones’ traditional foods and farming itself are “backwards,” “primitive,” or “low class” undermine food sovereignty by driving people to adopt purchased (often nutritionally inferior) foods.
Conference Paper # 63: The Complexity of Food Sovereignty Policymaking: The Case of Nicaragua’s Law 693, by Wendy Godek
Increasingly scholars are examining factors that may serve to constrain or advance food sovereignty policy initiatives. This paper examines the case of Nicaragua’s Law 693, the Law of Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security, which was passed in 2009. The purpose of this paper is twofold: First, it examines the origins and development of the proposal for a food sovereignty law, its introduction and initial deliberation by the National Assembly, and the breakdown in the approval process due to conflict over the law’s content. Second, it identifies some key factors that both advanced the inclusion of food sovereignty in the law as well as those that posed challenges. It finds that complex interactions between actors, their discourses, and the context in which they take place are important factors in understanding the challenges and opportunities for the inclusion of food sovereignty in national policies.
Conference Paper # 64: Toward Genetic Democracy? Seed Sovereignty, Neoliberal Food Regime, and Transgenic Crops in India, by Devparna Roy
Biotechnology has become the central form of technology in global agriculture since the neoliberal reformulation of global capitalism in the 1980s. Powerful transnational corporations have emerged as the major promoters of transgenic technology (a form of advanced biotechnology) in the global South. The Indian democratic developmental state (which has invested in biotechnology research since the mid-1980s) has its own interests regarding transgenic technology. Has the Indian state succeeded or failed in creating a genetic democracy even as it interacts with biotech transnational corporations and the civil society? A ‘genetic democracy’ is defined as an ideal-type of society and polity where all citizens participate democratically in the shaping of the nation’s biotech agenda and policies; where the state has complete regulatory control over transgenic crops, and where the public sector plays a decisive role in researching and commercializing transgenic crops. I argue that the Indian democratic developmental state (in existence since January 1950) has failed in the creation of a genetic democracy partly because of three major cases of state failure with reference to the development and regulation of transgenic crops. I discuss these cases of state failure: first, the introduction of Bt cotton through unauthorized seeds resulted in a regulatory nightmare for the Indian state which it is still unable to end; second, the failure of the Indian public sector to successfully commercialize Bt cotton undermined the developmental efforts of the Indian state to deliver low-cost, savable seeds to agriculturists; and third, the bitter and unresolved debates in Indian civil society over attempts to introduce Bt brinjal (through a public-private partnership) have led to a situation where the apex governmental institution that clears transgenic crops recommended the commercialization of Bt brinjal in 2009, but the Indian state later backed out and imposed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal’s commercialization in February 2010. Cumulatively, these three major cases of state failure (together with the resistance of anti-GM activists) have not allowed a genetic democracy to flourish in India. If the national goal is the construction of a genetic democracy, then the Indian state and the food/seed sovereignty movement have to co-operate with each other in this creative task. I offer some suggestions as to how the Indian state and the food/seed sovereignty movement can develop trust in biotechnology among Indian citizens and co-create a genetic democracy.
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.