Academics, activists, farmers, and more gathered for the conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” – held twice: on 14-15 September 2013 in Yale University, USA, and on 24 January 2014 at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Hague. It brought together the world’s leading scholars and activists, both sympathetic and supportive of the idea of food sovereignty, as well as those highly skeptical of the concept. They fostered a critical dialogue on the issue examining its various meanings, interpretations, and political implications. You will find below a selection of the presentations (30 video clips!) held during the conferences at Yale University in September 2013 and at ISS in January 2014.
James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University opens the Yale conference with a skeptical critique of the concept of “food sovereignty,” posing challenging questions about nation states, population growth, and dietary habits.
Teodor Shanin, president of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and Professor Emeritus at the University of Manchester discusses the significance of a historical perspective for understanding the global peasants’ movement La Via Campesina.
Bina Agarawal, Professor of Development Economics and the Environment at the University of Manchester and President of the International Society for Ecological Economics discusses potential contradictions between key elements of Food Sovereignty, efforts to achieve global food security, and the importance of democratic choice by farmers, using case studies to highlight ways in which farmers’ democratic choice may come into conflict with other aspects of Food Sovereignty’s vision.
Paul Nicholson, farmer from the Basque Country and founding member of La Via Campesina, discusses the transformative potential of La Via Campesina and the Food Sovereignty movement. He highlights challenges for the movement today, stressing that LVC is not a static entity or an academic concept, but a bottom-up, dynamic, diverse movement, and an evolving alternative vision of life being presented by peasants to the rest of society.
Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, discusses the twenty-year history of the Food Sovereignty movement. He argues that behind the diversity of grassroots initiatives that make up the second generation of food sovereignty activism there is a deep convergence in ideals and a shared analysis of the problems with and alternatives to the current dominant global food system.
Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor of Transition Studies at Wageningen University and Adjunct Professor at the China Agricultural University in Beijing highlights the centrality of peasant agriculture to Food Sovereignty and tackles the question of whether peasant production can feed a global population of 9-10 billion. He draws on Chayanov’s agrarian economics to illuminate strengths and possibilities of peasant agriculture.
Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Geography, and Planning at the University of Toronto and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Canadian Association of Food Studies, highlights the tension between consumer needs for affordable food and producer needs for sustainable livelihoods, and explores the re-embedding of markets in biosocial context and the transformation of institutions as ways out of this conflict.
Jack Kloppenburg, Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin Madison introduces the concept of Seed Sovereignty and the Open Source Seed Initiative, and highlights the role of participatory plant breeding in utilizing the creativity of farmers.
Academic, author, and activist Raj Patel talks about Food Sovereignty as “a signifier on the move” – a concept being continually, dialectically, reinvented.
Henry Bernstein, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and long-term former editor of Journal of Peasant Studies critiques the Food Sovereignty literature’s reliance on “emblematic instances,” interrogating the extent to which these instances actually represent a fundamentally different type of production than entrepreneurial capitalist agriculture.
Bob St Peter, farmer and seasonal farm worker from Maine, and founding member of Food For Maine, discusses the historical inequalities between the country and the city and the role that the Food Sovereignty movement can play in creating a more equitable future.
Eric Holtz-Gimenez, Director of Food First, the Institute for Development of Food Policy, elaborates the presence of multiple actors in the movement to transform the food system and asks what the future is for academics in the food sovereignty movement.
Jennifer Clapp, Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at Waterloo, discusses the financialization of food, arguing that financialization has undergone a critical increase in complexity and scale in the last two decades, which has major implications for the Food Sovereignty movement.
Kathy Ozer, of the National Family Farm Coalition, highlights key initiatives from the Coalition and other groups, and the interaction between national, local, and global movements for Food Sovereignty.
Marc Edelman, Professor of Anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY, offers some provocations, interrogating the origin stories of the term “Food Sovereignty,” questioning the orthodox reading of the relationship between Food Sovereignty and Food Security, and raising concrete questions about what a food sovereign society would look like.
Mark Bomford, Farmer, former Founding Director of Centre for Sustainable Food at the University of British Columbia, and Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, attempts to build bridges, connecting the dialogue from the conference to communities of practice, and addressing the opportunity that institutions like Yale provide for the Food Sovereignty movement to engage with global elites.
Maryam Rahmanian, manager of the Participatory Plant Breeding program at the Centre for Sustainable Development and the Environment, in Iran, discusses the significance and the challenges of international alliance-building, presenting examples from the work of the International Planning Committee on Food Security. She asks, what does it mean to build alliances well, and how can we do it?
Peter Rosset, co-coordinator of the Land Research Action Network and member of Via Campesina’s technical committee introduces the internal processes within Via Campesina, addressing how it holds together and moves forward as a movement, given the huge diversity of its membership, and emphasizing the significance of dialogue between different kinds of knowledge.
Phil McMichael, Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell, discusses the attitude towards nature, people, and production that animates many different strains of the food sovereignty movement, in opposition to the current dominant food regime.
Todd Holmes, former co-ordinator of Agrarian Studies and Yale and Post-doctoral scholar at Stanford, asks how to go forward from here, how to balance “the politics of the possible” with “the politics of the practical,” and how to historicize our understanding of the global food system and its alternatives.
Martha Jane Robbins, of the National Farmers Union, Canada offers feedback on key papers, including Kloppenberg and Bernstein’s, from the perspective of La Via Campesina, drawing attention to the deliberate political usage of terms like “Food Sovereignty” and “peasant” as framing concepts for political organizing.
Mamadou Goita, of ROPPA , the West African Farmers Alliance, highlights the need for an interdisciplinary approach to Food Sovereignty that takes seriously political and practical, as well as conceptual, aspects of the term. He also critiques current attempts at defining Food Sovereignty for neglecting the principles of Food Sovereignty elaborated at Nyeleni.
Malik Yakini, Founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, introduces the audience to the current situation in Detroit and his organization’s work building capacity, community empowerment, and democracy through a variety of food programs. He also emphasizes the centrality of issues of race both in the broader context and within the Food Sovereignty movement.
Blain Snipstal, returning generation peasant farmer and leader in La Via Campesina North America discusses the need to engage emotionally with Food Sovereignty, as part of a movement for re-peasantization and revalorizing marginalized knowledge, not merely as an abstract intellectual concept.
Sofia Monsalve, of the Foodfirst Information & Action Network (FIAN), discusses nutrition and gender, addressing the significance rights-based frameworks. At the same time she raises problems with the current international implementation of the right to adequate nutrition as it applies to girls and women and emphasizes the need to discuss issues like social policy, labour, and income.
Bridget O’Laughlin, former professor of development studies at ISS and an editor of the Journal of Development and Change, suggests that Food Sovereignty cannot be an analytical framework, and that that is not a problem. She offers a vision of the role of intellectuals within the movement: addressing ambiguities, questioning assumptions, and identifying gaps that need research.
Tania Li, of the University of Toronto, asks about communities who do not see themselves as part of the Food Sovereignty movement. She uses the case of a community in Central Sulawesi to highlight how the core elements of Food Sovereignty do not necessarily cohere together, and argues for the importance of addressing these kinds of places, that challenge embedded assumptions of the movement.
Susan George, author and Chairperson of TNI, gives a perspective on what has and has not changed in the global food movement in the last decades, drawing out universal themes while emphasizing the vital significance of new issues like the financialization of agricultural.
Phil Woodhouse, of the University of Manchester, discusses the relationship between consumers and producers of food. He highlights key tensions around the price of food, arguing that the productivity of agricultural labour is fundamentally related to the price of food and asks, “how does Food Sovereignty address the issue of the price of food and the potential conflict between producers and consumers?”.
Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, shares the perspective of global peasants. She emphasizes that peasants are an organized movement, not merely resisting but working to build a new world through the idea of Food Sovereignty and opens the floor for dialogue between the peasants of the world and academics and activists committed to solidarity with them.