Food Sovereignty

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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Food Sovereignty is defined as:[1]

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production."
- Statement on People’s Food Sovereignty” by Via Campesina et. al.
Photo:LA Protesters/Associated Press

Seven Principles

Via Campesina’s Seven Principles Of Food Sovereignty are:

1. Food: 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. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
March for food sovereignty, Rome, 2002
2. Agrarian Reform
A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people — especially women — ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
3. Protecting Natural Resources
Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
4. Reorganizing Food Trade
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.
5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger
Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs [Trans-National Corporations] is therefore needed.
Photo:Friends of the Earth International
6. Social Peace
Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
7. Democratic control
Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues.[2]

Challenges to Food Sovereignty

Carbon Trading

Food As Commodity ~ Occupy Chicago hosts Family Farm Defenders

On December 5, 2011, 25-30 climate justice and food sovereignty activists from Family Farm Defenders, Occupy Chicago, Rising Tide North America and other groups gathered outside the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to protest against carbon trading. John Peck of the Family Farm Defenders spoke to John Sheehan of Dogstar7 YouTube channel about the problems with carbon trading and food as commodity (video at left), in particular why carbon trading is such a challenge to food sovereignty.[3]

Challenge to Local Food Sovereignty Ordinances

Dan Brown Speaks! (Blue Hill Rally 11/18/11)

On November 9th, 2011, "Dan Brown, owner of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Maine, was served notice that he is being sued by the State of Maine and Walter Whitcomb, Maine Agricultural Commissioner, for selling food and milk without state licenses. Blue Hill is one of five Maine towns to have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, a local law upholding food sovereignty in the community and permitting the types of sales Brown was engaged in. By filing the lawsuit, the State of Maine and Whitcomb are disregarding the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance passed nearly unanimously by the citizens of Blue Hill at their town meeting on April 4."[4]

A rally and press conference took place on the steps of Town Hall in Blue Hill, Maine, on November 18th, 2011. Speakers included Farmer Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Farmer Heather Redburg of Quill's End Farm in Penobscot and Jeff Beyea, who was Walter Whitcomb's herdsman for over a year. Beyea said that Whitcomb had sold raw milk from his herd from his farm before becoming Agriculture Commissioner.[5]

Videos of Jeff Beyea's speech and Heather Retberg's speech are also available from the "Local Food Local Rules" website.

Articles and resources

Image:Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace

Related SourceWatch articles

External resources

External articles

JSA, S. G. (2010). Cultural Memory and Agroecology in Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 34(8), 819–820.

  • Kamal, A. G., Linklater, R., Thompson, S., Dipple, J., & Committee, I. M. (2015). A Recipe for Change: Reclamation of Indigenous Food Sovereignty in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation for Decolonization, Resource Sharing, and Cultural Restoration. Globalizations, 12(4), 559–575.
  • KARAT. (2011). Rice Land Grabs Undermine Food Sovereignty in Africa. Development, 54(1), 31–34.
  • Kerr, R. B. (2013). Seed struggles and food sovereignty in northern Malawi. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(5), 867–897.
  • Kloppenburg, J. (2010). Impeding Dispossession, Enabling Repossession: Biological Open Source and the Recovery of Seed Sovereignty. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10(3), 367–388.
  • Kloppenburg, J. (2014). Re-purposing the master’s tools: the open source seed initiative and the struggle for seed sovereignty. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(6), 1225–1246.

Lee, R. (2007, March). Food Security and Food Sovereignty. Centre for Rural Economy Discussion Paper Series No. 11.

McMichael, P. (2015b). Food security governance. Empowering communities, regulating corporations. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 42(5), 1051–1052.


  1. An Alternative Framework, Food and Water Watch, Accessed March 16, 2011.
  2. Via Campesina, Food Sovereignty, Family Farm Defenders website, accessed September 20, 2011
  3. John Sheehan, Food As Commodity ~ Occupy Chicago hosts Family Farm Defenders, Dogstar7 YouTube channel, December 5, 2011
  4. Local Food Local Rules, Blue Hill Maine Farmer Being Sued by State of Maine, media advisory, November 14, 2011
  5. Local Food Local Rules, Jeff Beyea Ripes Walt Whitcomb a New One, speech recorded at rally in support of Farmer Dan Brown in Blue Hill, Maine, November 18, 2011