By Eric Holt Gimenez
Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.
For the first time in recorded history the next generation is expected to die younger than their parents due to malnutrition and diet-related disease. This is because some will not get enough food to eat. Others will have no choice but to eat cheap, processed food. Both are victims of a global food system that serves monopoly profit rather than people.
Even though we produce 1 ½ times enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet, nearly a billion people go hungry while over a billion are malnourished. Ironically, most of the hungry in the Global South are the very people producing half the world’s food: peasant women. Similarly, most of the food insecure people in the developed world are food and farm workers — as are many of those suffering from obesity and diet-related disease. Hunger and malnutrition are not by-products, but an integral part of the global food system. We desperately need a new food system.
Ensuring environmental sustainability, food security and good nutrition around the world — as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) asserts — will require a radical transformation in how we grow, process and distribute our food. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reached a similar conclusion in their 2013 report, “Wake Up Before it’s Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable now for Food Security.”
Luckily, we have many examples of good food systems in the making. Agroecologically-managed smallholder farms like those in Latin America’s Campesino a Campesino Movement increase yields; conserve soil, water and biodiversity; and capture carbon to cool the planet. Urban farms from Havana to Bangkok are steadily increasing food production and improving livelihoods. Community-supported Agriculture groups around the world provide fresh, healthy food for members and a living income for local family farmers. Hundreds of municipal Food Policy Councils and Food Hubs are implementing citizen-driven initiatives to keep the food dollar in the community where it can recycle up to five times, thereby creating jobs and kick-starting local economic development. What do all these efforts have in common? They are grounded in sustainable, equitable and dignified livelihoods. Food security is ensured by citizens’ democratic control over their food system, what many food activists are calling: food sovereignty.
We know what practices make a food system sustainable; why don’t we enact enabling policies to prioritize them? The simple answer is that the institutions that produce the agreements, laws and regulations shaping our food systems don’t yet have the political will to make sustainable food systems a priority, and they are still a long way from addressing the structural changes needed for food system transformation. Historically, the political will for systemic change is a response to the power of strong social movements.
The movements for food sovereignty, food justice, agroecology, climate justice, women’s rights and labor rights are spreading, and their influence on our food system is growing. As the food, fuel and climate crises worsen, these movements are steadily converging — in all their diversity — into a force to be reckoned with. Their impact is felt in the United Nation’sCommittee on World Food Security (CFS) — the “most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together in a coordinated way to ensure food security and nutrition for all.”
In 1996 La Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement that defends two million small-scale food producers, started this trend by putting out the call for food sovereignty and it has been spreading ever since, democratizing the world’s food systems in favor of women and the poor. In the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin America, Food Sovereignty Alliances have formed, bringing together producers, environmentalists, consumers and indigenous organizations to forge new policies and institutions that transform our food systems. The power of its social movements led Kerala, India to implement a statewide transition to organic agriculture to protect the environment, ensure food security and provide viable livelihoods to its farmers. These developments and many others indicate that the catalyst for transforming food systems — political action — is already in the making, and that the global food movement is on the move.