Food Sovereignty: A Vision of Inclusion

Christina Schiavoni, International Coordinator of World Hunger Year reports from Nyéléni 2007

Greetings from Sélingué, Mali, where the Forum on Food Sovereignty, Nyéléni 2007, is going strong. As I write, djembe music is pulsing through the air, and I catch fragments of conversations interspersed with French, English, Spanish, and the local Bambara, among other languages unfamiliar to my ears. The energy here is palpable, and well it should be. Today has been intense yet energizing, as each of the 500+ participants worked by thematic group (seven in total--mine was "Trade and Local Markets") on the drafting of an action agenda for achieving food sovereignty.

The idea is to leave this forum as a more coordinated movement equipped with a framework for actions from the local to global levels, and I believe that we will accomplish this. We must accomplish this, for the stakes are too high. Despite the many different perspectives here, there seems to a common sense of urgency and a common understanding of what we're up against--in short, the control of life-sustaining resources--and the marginalization of those who have traditionally safeguarded these resources--by oppressive, profit-making forces that threaten the Earth and humankind.

Luckily, there are many signs of hope and possibility here. The very fact that more than 500 people from nearly 100 countries have gathered together in the countryside of Mali for the sole purpose of reclaiming food sovereignty is a feat in and of itself. And the stories that many participants bring--stories of resistance and survival against all odds--are humbling and inspiring to say the least.

There are the stories from the Palestinian farmers who are organizing their communities and running a fair trade olive oil project even as a wall is cutting through their farms and cutting off their already limited water sources. There are the stories from the farmers of India, a country with overwhelming numbers of farmer suicides, who are leading a campaign for a 'GM Free India' and who had recent success in the state of Tamil Nadu, where the government banned Bt cotton and is now making Monsanto pay farmers back.

These are only snapshots of very rich exchanges taking place here. There are many more stories which I have tried to capture and plan to bring back to the U.S. to share with the domestic movements for community food security and food system change there. Indeed, these movements back home are very much part of this global movement for food sovereignty, and I have been doing my best to represent them as such.

However, much work still remains to be done in building solidarity between movements and in fostering further awareness of the concept of food sovereignty in the US. In doing so, the connections between local and global movements will become much more apparent--for instance, those working on local initiatives will see it in their best interest to actively support campaigns against unfair trade rules, and those working on international trade justice issues will likewise see the importance of investing in their local food systems.

Before ending this initial report, I'd like to share an observation I've made here at Nyéléni. Soaking in the amazing diversity of people represented here--indigenous fisherfolk from Thailand; women pastoralists from Niger; youth activists from Hungary; farmers from Iran, Korea, Lebanon, Norway, Japan, Mali, Mexico, US, and just about everywhere in between--it is clear that central to the concept of food sovereignty is the principle of inclusion.

Not just inclusion in a symbolic sense, but in recognition of the critical roles that women, indigenous, and other marginalized groups play in producing food, maintaining biodiversity, and ensuring the survival of future generations. Perhaps this principle of inclusion as a critical component of food sovereignty is best captured by the words of a banner hanging in the main meeting area:

  • For an agriculture with peasants
  • For fishing with fisherfolk
  • For livestock with pastoralists
  • For territories with indigenous people
  • For wholesome food for all consumers
  • For labor with workers' rights
  • For a future with youth in the countryside
  • For food sovereignty with women
  • For a healthy environment for all

These words capture the very essence of food sovereignty, and this is what we are struggling for. And though the struggles represented here may be immense, so too is the capacity for change.

Christina Schiavoni, International Coordinator of World Hunger Year