We may not see it in the mainstream news, but we surely see the costs to our communities—corporate spending in food and farm politics has detrimental effects on our health, environment, our farmers and local economies. We know that many of the efforts in the food and farm justice movement run head on into barriers in a political system that has been bought out by big agribusiness and food companies for their own benefit. This brings us to a hard truth - we won’t change the food and farm system until we change our political system.
The good news is that a growing number of different movements are joining together to demand change. More than 120 groups have agreed that pushing for reform policies reflected in a set of Unity Principles will make our democracy (and, as a result, all the organizations’ work) more effective. The priorities outlined in the Principles are seeing some success in practice. And since polls show that a striking majority of Americans think there is too much corporate money and influence in politics, these reform strategies are making headway.
Here are some of the efforts to reform our political system that fair and sustainable food and farm advocates should get behind:
Overturning Citizens United
The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate spending in elections. To challenge Citizens United:
Twenty three years ago, in 1993, the first annual World Water Day was an occasion to draw attention to water related challenges around the globe. It will be observed again tomorrow, with a focus on sustainable water governance. We join with others to celebrate the many successes in the intervening two decades.
The number of people with access to drinking water and sanitation has increased manifold. In many communities people have met their water needs through successful watershed development and rainwater harvesting efforts. At the same time, around the world communities are asserting that water is a fundamental human right. They are pushing back attempts to privatize their water supply and sanitation services.
In countries such as France, where privatization has been the norm in the past, and elsewhere around the world, we see an increasing trend towards the re-municipalization of water supply and sanitation services. At times change has come through directly engaging in a participatory democracy, including taking to the street and to the ballot, as we have seen both in New Delhi and in Greece. The newly elected government in the state of New Delhi had free water as part of their campaign platform. In Greece, likely in response to the promise of social policies that Syriza has made to people, the public water company Thessaloniki has introduced social tariffs that allow poor people to receive about 12.5 cubic meter of free water per month.
Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.
Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)
What does it mean to participate in a democracy? Does the answer change when it comes to the food system? After all, as IATP’s latest report, Deepening Food Democracy, illustrates, for every corporate lobbyist exercising control in Washington, there is a food movement participant changing the food landscape in their local community.
This past November was in many ways a typical one for American politics—although the turnout rate of just 36 percent of eligible voters was a low not reached since 1942, it was only five points lower than the 2010 midterm elections, and totally in line with the fact that the last time at least half of eligible Americans went to the polls outside of a presidential election year was literally 100 years ago: 50.4 percent in 1914. Happy 100th b-day, minimally adequate participation in American democracy!
This year’s World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue, held from October 17–19, 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa once again brought together the big gun stakeholders in industrial agriculture, and provided many insights to the current framing on the global food security challenge.
Given the parallel celebration of the Borlaug Centennial marking 100 years since the birth of Norman Borlaug, it should come as no surprise that Sanjaya Rajaram was named this year’s World Food Prize Laureate. As Borlaug’s protege in terms of sustaining his legacy of wheat breeding, this award for Rajaram appears to reinforce the importance of remembering what Borlaug was said to have achieved, while also ensuring that current research efforts at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, where Rajaram is based, continue to be perceived to play an important role in meeting global agricultural research needs. It is also noteworthy to acknowledge that Rajaram was born in India but has become a naturalized Mexican citizen given that Borlaug pioneered many Green Revolution ideas and technologies in Mexico in the mid 20th century before subsequently institutionalizing them in India’s post-independence agricultural sector. Indian agriculture continues to be geared towards a commitment to use “modern” and “improved” crop varieties and inputs even as many small farmers face a variety of severe social, environmental and economic challenges that fundamentally threaten production levels and livelihood security of a significant proportion of its population.
IATP, as a member of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, is excited to join our partners and allies in congratulating the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine and Community to Community/Comunidad a Comunidad, as co-winners of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize. Food sovereignty, which demands that the shape of food and agricultural systems must be designed by and responsive to the needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food, rather than by the demands of markets and corporations, is very much part of the values and objectives of IATP. It calls for a democratization and decentralization of food systems—two vital principles that UAWC and C2C are both striving for in their own work.
As the USFSA states in their press release announcing the winners:
Their stories of continuous struggle to defend the rights of their communities – farmers and fishers in the occupied Palestinian territories and migrant Mexican farm workers in Washington State, both seeking to produce their own food, on their own land, in their home communities – stand in stark contrast to the storylines coming from agribusiness: that technological changes to crops can meet human needs and resolve hunger.
Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.
In a new paper led by collaborators at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany) and just released in print in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, my colleagues and I question one of the buzzwords in international conversations about hunger and conserving the environment: sustainable intensification (SI). Explained briefly, sustainable intensification seeks to produce the most food, on the least land, with the lowest environmental impact.
SI has been the subject of a recent European Union report, proposals by prominent scholars, and is a major theme area of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. SI is often seen by some experts as “key” to agriculture’s future, particularly in Africa, and has been the subject of a number of high-profile publications in some of the world’s top scientific journals. It is, in short, an idea on the rise.
Today, Missouri goes to the polls to decide—among other things—if they want to amend the state’s constitution to include what is being referred to as the “right to farm.” This debate has been a fiercely pitched and costly battle to enshrine a right that many farmers rightly assume they already have.
The National Agricultural Law Center notes on their website that “All fifty states have enacted right-to-farm laws that seek to protect qualifying farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.” In short, farmers and ranchers everywhere, including Missouri, are protected from those who complain about their daily operations on the basis of comfort.
So why such an adamant fight for something redundant? The simple truth is that the proposed Amendment 1—which would ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices without infringement—has nothing to do with the protection of Missouri citizens at all. Despite the seemingly local origins of a measure to protect local farmers from “unreasonable regulations” and outside groups, the effort is nothing more than a national corporate wolf in a local sheep’s clothing. While the fate of Missouri will be known later today, it is important to understand the national context of fights like these.
Food democracy must start from the bottom-up, at the level of villages, regions, cities, and municipalities. – UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter in March 2014
Olivier De Schutter recently finished his widely acclaimed term as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During his 6-year tenure, he called for a "radically and democratically-redesigned" food system. In his closing address, he highlighted the significant changes he has witnessed: the small-scale food producers having a more visible voice in decision-making; the growing number of local initiatives that create a ‘transition from below’ for a more sustainable food system; and ‘agroecology’ becoming a part of mainstream discussions about solutions to current modes of food production and consumption. De Schutter stated, “Much work remains to be done, of course. But there are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction.”
Innovation is the key to solving so many of the problems facing us: widespread malnutrition, environmental damage, and a warming and increasingly unpredictable climate. Our need for innovation is an uncontroversial statement; something we’ve heard a million times over, from politicians, agronomists, environmentalists, and agricultural corporations alike.
They keep using this word, but we do not think innovation means what they think it means. Or at least, it shouldn’t.