The concept of Food Sovereignty was first discussed and defined at La Via Campesina ́s 2nd International Conference held in Tlaxcala, Mexico in April 1996, as an international reaction of social movements to the policies imposed by neoliberalism and the subsequent loss of associated rights to land and territories, oceans and small-scale food production.
It was developed as an alternative to the “food security” food system model imposed by national and international governing bodies. According to LVC, “Food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption. It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector.” Since then, food sovereignty has emerged and launched a major global movement, comprised of food producers, women, youth and consumers as well as activists, policymakers, practitioners, academics, scientists and citizens for changing the dominant global food and agricultural system for the better.
In 1996, prior to the 1st World Food Summit, an international committee was brought together, in order to organize the Forum of Non Governmental/Civil Society organizations in advance of that summit. This space was named the International Steering Committee (ISC). A series of debates were held before and during the Forum, in the context of which the outcry for Food Sovereignty was raised, marking the first time La Via Campesina International engaged in such spaces.
From that moment on, the ISC began making strides hand in hand with the advancement of Food Sovereignty, which, in turn, played a key role in the criticism and mobilization against neoliberal policies and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, Cancun and Hong Kong, as well as in actions against Free Trade Agreements, transnational corporations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
After the 2nd World Food Summit in 2002 in Rome, the ISC officially became the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) in 2003, made up of 11 global and 8 regional organisations; more than 6000 organizations of peasants, artisanal fisherfolk, family farmers, agricultural workers, Indigenous Peoples, consumers, environmental networks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The IPC serves as a space of articulation, to spread information and build capacities around issues regarding Food Sovereignty. It opens spaces for dialogue, creating alliance and synergy between NGOs, civil society organizations (CSOs) and social movements, and facilitates the dialogue of civil society with different institutions and governments.
Following the IPC’s formation over the course of a decade, civil society continued in a process of mobilization and broadening of alliances around Food Sovereignty, and held the first worldwide Nyéléni Food Sovereignty Forum between February 23rd-27th, 2007, in Selingue, Mali. The Forum was named Nyéléni as a tribute to a legendary peasant woman from Mali, Nyéléni, who grew crops and fed her people well. She embodied food sovereignty through hard work, innovation and caring for her people. In this event, 500 representatives from over 80 countries from all social sectors reaffirmed that every country, nation and people require Food Sovereignty policies whereby food is enshrined as a basic human right, with governments and civil society held responsible for achieving it. Together they defined the 6 principles of Food Sovereignty:
- Focuses on food for people
- Values food providers
- Localises food systems
- Puts control locally
- Builds knowledge and skills
- Works with nature
This event sparked other national and international food sovereignty forums. At this event, the first international Declaration of Food Sovereignty was written.
In Europe, four years later in 2011, the First Nyéléni Europe Forum for Food Sovereignty was held in Krems, Austria. This forum brought together existing European food sovereignty initiatives and aimed to regionalise and strengthen the dynamics of the International Forum for Food Sovereignty. It brought together over 400 people from 35 countries and over 250 organizations were represented. A European Food Sovereignty Declaration was one important outcome of the Forum and was approved consensually by the participants. The declaration has been translated into 16 languages and has served as the framework of the Nyéléni Europe Food Sovereignty Movement for years. You can find it here: https://nyelenieurope.net/publications/nyeleni-europe-declaration-2011
Five years later, the 2nd Nyéléni Europe Forum for Food Sovereignty took place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania between 26th -30th October 2016. The Forum gathered over 500 delegates from 43 countries, from the Urals and Caucasus, and from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, representing 290 civil society organizations of peasants, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous people, consumers, trade unions, environmental justice, solidarity, and human rights organizations, communitybased food movements, journalists, and researchers working for food sovereignty in Europe and Central Asia at different levels. The aim of the forum was to share experiences, build on our common understanding of food sovereignty, share ideas for powerful joint actions, discuss strategies to relocalize Europe’s food systems, and explore how to influence key policies in Europe. The gathering was an important stepping stone for building a strong food sovereignty movement in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, as well as in several other European countries where no food sovereignty platforms previously existed. The forum was also a first step towards structuring the European movement and giving it visibility through the planning of shared actions.
In between these historic events and since then, food sovereignty has played an increasingly important role in debates about the social and environmental impacts of the industrial food system and alternatives to neoliberal policies. Food sovereignty puts agricultural producers and consumers at the center of the debate, and supports all peoples in their right to produce their own food, despite international market conditions, to consume local food and to sustain traditional and culturally appropriate food.