Leipzig Appeal for Women's Food Security
As a preparation to the World Food Summit, a FAO conference on Plant Genetic Resources took place in Leipzig, Germany in June 1996. An independent NGO meeting preceded it, entitled "In Safe Hands: Communities Safeguard Biodiversity and Food Security". At this conference, several women from the South and North observed that the whole discussion on Food Security did not take into account the fact that it is women worldwide who provide most food, both as producers and as consumers, to their families and their communities.
They decided to formulate a statement rejecting the trend to remove food security from the hand of communities, farmers and to criticise the neoliberal policy of global food trade and the genetic manipulation of food for the sake of profit. They felt the need to present a critique from a women's perspective on the proposed policy of globalisation, liberalisation and industrialisation of food production, trade and consumption. Therefore, an appeal was formulated and signed by Prof. Maria Mies and Dr. Vandana Shiva called The Leipzig Appeal for Women's Food Security' which was first distributed in Leipzig Conference and later on circulated around the world. It received hundreds of signatures in support of this position.
Food Security in Women's Hands:
Food Sovereignty for All, No to Novel Food and No to Patents on Life
For thousands of years, women have produced their own food and guaranteed food security for their children and communities. Even today, 80% of the work in local food production in Africa is done by women. In Asia, 50 - 60% and in Latin America, 30 to 40%. And everywhere in the world, women are responsible for food security at the household level. In partriarchal society, however, this work has been devalued.
All societies have survived historically because they provide food security of their people. This policy, however, has been subverted by the globalisation, trade liberalisation, industrialisation and commercialisation of all agricultural products under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank/IMF.
In November 1996, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation will hold a World Food Summit Rome. Its goal is to achieve 'universal food security' by the year 2020, eradicating hunger and malnutrition. However, the technical preparatory papers show that this objective is to be met through a continuation and extension of industrialisation and the world-wide trade of food. Food will be produced where labour is cheapest and environmental protections weakest. Poor communities will be forced to produce luxury products for export to rich countries and classes. These trends are already in effect, with devastating results; large scale disappearance of small farmers, the end of food self-sufficiency, reliance on monoculture, genetic manipulation of food, loss of biodiversity and ecological sustainability. The impoverished rural people who are displaced through this world agriculture policy end up as marginal members of society in over-crowded, mega-cities without work, hope or food. Although it is known that this policy is the cause of poverty and malnutrition, it is still proposed as a remedy for these very ills. The most vulnerable groups affected by these policies are poor rural women and children.
This policy also threatens food and safety in the North, where the family farm has been rapidly replaced by chemical-intensive agribusiness. Consumers have become virtual hostages to a handful of transnational food processing, and trading corporations. At the consumption end of the globalised food chain, women as housewives can no longer guarantee that they can give their families wholesome and healthy food.
In Peru, Chile and other countries of the South, women are fighting against this monopolistic policy, building their own communal food and health systems. Women in indigenous societies fight against land alienation; women in export-oriented agriculture oppose hazardous chemicals. They are supported by women in the North who call for boycotts of these export products; flowers, vegetables, shrimps. Many groups in the North and South reject genetic manipulation of food. We are told that this bio-technology is necessary to feed a growing world population. However, 60% of cereals are fed to animals in industrial farming systems. More and more land in the South is not used for nourishing local people, but for the production of luxury items for exports.
The commercial interests connected with this technology are particularly apparent in the promotion of patenting of life forms – plants, animals and humans – under the protection of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). In the South, the patenting of life-forms is opposed because it is in many cases based on simple piracy; theft of indigenous biodiversity and local knowledge. In the North, many people oppose patents on life forms for ethical reasons.
On the consumer side, a majority of Europeans oppose genetically manipulated foods. Yet the European Union promotes such "novel food", even refusing to label it, thus denying consumers their human and civil right to determine what they eat. Consumption in this so-called "free market" becomes a matter of coercion.
World-wide, women are resisting the policies which destroy the basis of their livelihood and food sovereignty. They also create alternatives to guarantee food security for their communities based on different principles and methods than those governing the dominant, profit-oriented global economy. They are:
Food security for all is not possible within a global market system based on the dogma of free trade, permanent growth, comparative advantage, competition and profit maximisation.
On the other hand, Food Security can be achieved if people within their local and regional economies feel responsible, both as producers and as consumers for the ecological conditions of food production, distribution and consumption, and for the preservation of cultural and biological diversity where self-sufficiency is the main economic goal.
Our Food Security is too vital an issue to be left in the hands of a few transnational corporations with their profit motives, or up to national governments that increasingly lose control over food security decisions, or to a few – mostly male – national delegates at UN conferences who take decisions affecting all our lives.
Food Security must remain in women's hands everywhere! And men must share the necessary work, be it paid or unpaid. We have a right to know what we eat! No to Novel Food and No to Patents on Life We will resist those who force us to produce and consume in ways That destroy nature and ourselves!
Leipzig, 20th June 1996
Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva