Food sovereignty

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Around the world, tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets asking for a better reason to get out of bed in the morning. People are finding their voice because so many things need to change. It’s hard to know where to start, but for me it starts with hunger. When I know that money-hungry traders, having a field day on investment markets, are causing millions to starve, I have to speak up.

“The boom in new speculative opportunities in global grain, edible oil and livestock markets has created a vicious cycle,” Frederick Kaufman wrote in his article, The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It, published in Harper’s magazine in July. “The more the price of food commodities increases, the more money pours into the sector and the higher prices rise,” Kaufman noted.

As the World Bank indicated, an increase of only 10 percent in world food prices results in another 10 million people slipping below the poverty line. And according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) Food Price Index, overall food costs have risen 39 percent within one year. In Canada, the use of food banks rose 28 percent to the highest ever level recorded; food banks now support 867,948 people in a typical month. Despite the fact Canada’s rural communities are located in prime agricultural areas, half the food banks participating in HungerCount 2010 are located in rural communities (

La Via Campesina (, a coalition of more than 148 organizations advocating family farm-based sustainable agriculture, has formed in response to the growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies, facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. La Via Campesina’s principles of food sovereignty include the following:

  • Food is a basic human right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.
  • Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights.
  • Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
  • Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced code of conduct for transnational corporations is needed.
  • The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, oppression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.

Over the course of two years, 3,500 Canadians participated in a groundbreaking grassroots project to define paths towards a food system that provides accessible food for all. Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada is based on 10 detailed policy discussion papers, which include both government policy recommendations and concrete guidelines for action. (

The project advocates for a National Food Policy that connects food, health, agriculture, the environment and social justice. People getting actively involved in decision making creates positive solutions that will benefit the 99 percent of the people now asking for the chance to have a better future.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path, a 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide and The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing).

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