Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Food Sovereignty is a Human Right

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 12: Community Food Security > Food Sovereignty is a Human Right


All people have the right to food that is safe, healthy, and culturally acceptable to them. Food sovereignty is the right to determine our own food systems, and make sure every community has food security.

Vía Campesina promotes people’s control of food

Many smallholder farmers do not earn fair prices for their crops. One reason for this is that the rules of international trade benefit rich nations and large landholders. Often, farmers cannot get fair prices, even in local markets, because imported foods are cheaper. This forces farmers to sell at lower prices and drives them deeper into debt, poverty, and hunger.

In response to this problem, farmers in many countries joined together to form a movement called Vía Campesina (‘The Peasant Way’ in Spanish). Vía Campesina brings many farmer organizations together to strengthen farmers’ ability to earn fair prices, to preserve land and water resources, and to have control over how food is produced and distributed. For Vía Campesina, food security can be achieved only through food sovereignty — when farmers and peasants have the right to decide what foods they produce and how much to sell them for, and when consumers have the right to decide what they consume and who they buy it from.

In some places, Vía Campesina pressures politicians and corporations to respond to the demands of local farmers’ unions. In other places they support landless farmers working to reclaim unused farmlands. They also help build local institutions that distribute food fairly to those most in need.

When a huge earthquake and tsunami (a massive tidal wave) struck Indonesia in 2005, most of the people affected by the disaster were farmers and fishers. Vía Campesina provided aid, but rather than simply bringing food and other materials from outside the area, they worked with local organizations to buy food, tools, and other materials from local small producers. They raised important issues such as the origin of food aid (whether it was local or imported), the way farm reconstruction would happen (whether it promoted family based production or large food corporations), and how to strengthen local organizations (not make them dependent on aid).

Most of the money Vía Campesina raised was used for long-term reconstruction, such as rebuilding houses and fishing boats, making new tools for farmers and fishers, and restoring farm lands to production. By focusing on the self-reliance of the people affected by the disaster, Vía Campesina promoted not just short-term recovery, but long-term food sovereignty.



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