"When you think about food sovereignty...you're more aware about everything around you. I know that as a farmer, for example, when you depend on the weather, you pay a whole lot more attention to it. I can't stand listening to the radio, because all I hear when I haven't seen a drop of rain in a month is, 'And another fantastic weekend!' You get everyone else thinking rain equals bad, sun equals good. Food sovereignty would be a real wake-up call. I yearn for it, because I think after being connected to the world around them a little more, people would be a little more connected to themselves." -Hillary Moore, young Ontario farmer

CURRENT FOOD, economic and environmental crises are marked by volatile food prices, urban food riots and the continued displacement of the rural poor – a clear indication that the dominant model of agricultural development has not succeeded in eradicating poverty or world hunger. La Vía Campesina, an international agrarian movement that promotes peasant and family-farm sustainable agriculture, argues that these linked crises result directly from an industrial, capital-intensive and corporate-led model of agriculture and that the time for “food sovereignty” has come.

Food sovereignty, as a framework, evolved from the experience of farmers who were most immediately affected by changes in national and international agricultural policy introduced throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Structural-adjustment programs, regional trade agreements and World Trade Organization negotiations resulted in communities losing control over food markets, environments, land and rural cultures. The current version of “food security,” which emphasizes maximizing food production and enhancing food-access opportunities, exacerbates the situation by failing to pay particular attention to how, where and by whom food is produced.

In 1996, La Vía Campesina proposed food sovereignty as a radical alternative to mainstream, corporate and export-oriented agriculture. It is based on democracy and social justice, putting control of land, water, seeds and natural resources in the hands of those who produce food. Food sovereignty is broadly defined as the right of nations and peoples to control their own food systems, including their own markets, production modes, food cultures and environments.....

This article is adapted from the introductory chapter of Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community (2010) co-published by Fernwood Publishing, FoodFirst Books and Pambazuka Press.

Food Secure Canada, a not-for-profit organization with members across the country, is committed to a sustainable and healthy food system for all Canadians. Get involved by joining a working group based in your community. foodsecurecanada.org

Annette Aurelie Desmarais was a grain farmer for 14 years before becoming an associate professor of international studies at the University of Regina. 

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