Sunday, 24 April 2011

Food Sovereignty

Title: Food Sovereignty: Growing Alternatives to the Global Food Crisis

Speaker: Richard Intriago (Head of Small Farmers Association of the Coast of Ecuador and elected representative of (La Conferencia Plurinacional e Intercultural de Soberanía Alimentaria) Intercultural and Plurinational Conference on Food Soverignity in Ecuador

Location: Carndonagh Library, Co.Donegal
Date: Tuesday 12th April 2011
Synopsis of Talk: Jonathan O'Gorman

Richard began by explaining the key differences between “Food Security” and “Food Sovereignity”.
Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
● Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social[23] and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.[24]
● Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). (USDA)[25]
These definitions raise some key points of debate. For example, who determines what is safe and what is nutritionally adequate? Who determines what is socially acceptable? In particular, the definition of Food Security makes no assertions as to the means of production, distribution and consumption of food. Neither does it rule out the use of potentially harmful chemicals in food production, nor the production, distribution and consumption of genetically-modified food as a means of implementing global Food Security strategy.
Food Sovereignity is different in that it refers to the “claimed right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces”.
Richard then went on to speak about his experience in Ecuador as a farmer and as a political activist in the organisation of farmers and community groups throughout Ecuador.
He spoke at length about organic farming techniques, the production of compost, the use of natural fertilizer, the distribution of food at local level through community markets.
As a political activist Richard is one of eight elected representatives of La Conferencia Plurinacional e Intercultural de Soberanía Alimentaria. This organisation is comprised of over 60 groups comprising of local farmer and consumer organisations, indigeneous tribes, universities and various other social and cultural organisations throughout Ecuador. Together these dispersed groups formed one organisation with 8 elected representatives to formulate national policy on Food Sovereignity and related issues. Through amendments to the Constitution of Ecuador this group has thus far succeded in introducing Food Sovereignity as a basic right for all Ecuadorians. This Group also has the right to present policy documents and legislation in relation to Food Sovereignity to the Ecuadorian National Assembly (equiv. Dáil). Ecuador is therefore the first country in the world to include Food Soverignity as a basic right for its citizens in its Constitution. In particular, the definition of Food Soverignity in the Constitution of Ecuador specifically sets out the right of citizens to produce, distribute and consume food that is free from chemicals, inorganic fertilizers and mechanised production techniques. It also declares the right of citizens to determine what food is culturally appropriate to them rather than this being determined by an exterior power such as a government or faceless market speculators.

The talk was well attended in the circumstances given the short notice to the public of its taking place. In attendance were Donegal County Council Sinn Fein representative Jack Murray, Teagasc representative Seamus Campbell as well as interested members of the public, local Organic Growers Groups, and a post-graduate student researching Food Security. Following the talk, a lively discussion took place in relation to the perceived threat of GM Food entering the Irish agricultural market. Richard gave great insight into the role of GM Food production in Latin America and the role of multinational GM Food producing companies in altering beyond recognition the land, customs and cultures of Central and South Latin America. In particular he spoke about how genetically altering the food we consume can have serious effects on health such as severe allergic intolerence often causing death or severe disfiguremant. He spoke about how GM crops spread, cross-fertilize and destroy native species thus forcing local growers to become totally dependent on commercial GM seed. Seamus Campbell, of Teagasc, also contributed a great deal in relation to agricutural practices in Ireland, the role of the EU in terms of regulatiion and subsidies and the role of global markets in determining the commodity price of food and the difficulty for many small farmers in Ireland to turn a profit from food production in an otherwise high-cost economy. Unfortunately there were no local members of the IFA present.

To summarize, Food Soverignity can be seen in context, as a movement of people and ideology that places the nutitional needs of citizens along with basic rights of land ownership and sustainable organic farming practices at the centre of policy and decision-making.

In this context, Food Security can be seen as taking a diametrically opposite viewpoint where the rights of citizens in relation to food production, distribution and consumption is determined by unseen and unaccoutable global market forces with no defined regard for local, sustainable farming practices and culture.

Special thanks is extended to Carndonagh Library for hosting this event.

References: Wikipedia  Thanks to Jog Ideas

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