The Global Quest for Food Sovereignty

-Cam Gray

Around the globe, thousands of people affected by the devastating effects of climate change took the street today to participate and show solidarity for La Via Campesina’s Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. The action’s main theme, “peasants cool the planet,” was in conjunction with Via’s Forum on Life, Social and Environmental Justice that is taking place in Cancun during the UN Conference on Climate Change. This forum promotes the discussion of the climate crisis from an alternative perspective to the UNFCCC process; through community based solutions and resistance to falsely created market-based solutions. One solution to the climate crisis, that is often proposed by Via, and other climate justice organizations, is the use and implementation of subsistence or low-impact farming projects.

Activsits at La Via Campesina’s Day of action for climate justice – Photo Credit: Cam Gray

Small-scale food producers, both current and future, are threatened by a globally dwindling supply of affordable and arable land. Private investor and government land-grabs have increased substantially over recent years, which limits farmers access to land and the resources needed to provide for communities and livelihoods. Companies and banks often rebrand these land-grabs as community development and sustainable investment projects, when in fact they disempower local citizens and often ignore indigenous rights and traditional practices.

As a means to combat this problem, the World Bank introduced a set of Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment in January 2010. In reality, however, the principles provide little more than guidelines for investors and are framed in a way that encourage economic profit from a form of farming that is meant to promote community development over Global North investment returns. In order to properly address this distinct cleavage between landowners and peasants, agrarian reform programmes must be introduced to ensure that land is distributed to the landless and small-scale farmers. While this of course encourages community and livelihood development, it also promotes the creation of locally and nationally diverse food stocks. Solutions to the international food crisis must include civil society participation, notably those from the Global South, as they are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

Thanks to the global impacts of climate change, traditional ways of farming that have been practiced for thousands of years are being altered or are being replaced by overly industrialized destructive practices that promote a further dependency on fossil fuels. Current farming practices are noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 22% globally), however, practices exist that can in fact reduce emissions rather than increase them. Small-scale farming projects not only emit less GHG emissions than traditional farming, but they also have the ability to sequester more carbon.

Rooftop Garden – Photo Credit: Ken Gray

Food transportation accounts for approximately 4% of global emissions, which could be heavily reduced through the implementation of small-scale or subsistence food programs that do not require mass transportation. This concept promotes the reduction in ‘food miles’ that we travel (figuratively) on a daily basis. Rather than purchasing internationally sourced produce, people can actively choose to purchase locally sourced goods (potentially within 100 miles of their home) or better yet participate in some type of gardening project themselves. In addition, industrial agriculture has become energy negative; primarily through it’s dependency on fossil fuels to power heavy machinery. Certain estimates show that the industrial food system must expend 10-15 calories to produce 1 calorie food in return.

Habitat and ecosystem integrity can be substantially compromised by industrial agriculture through gas emissions, toxin and chemical leaching, as well as monoculture injection. High levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are often found in farming practices, but are much less present in small-scale projects that are not as dependent on heavy machinery. Further, monoculture projects destroy natural biodiversity and often are utilized as a form of community coercion by multinational corporations or international financial institutions, such as the World Bank. This style of crop growth is neither sustainable for the land nor economically for the communities as it limits the diversity of their markets and makes them dependent on export-led-growth.

Small-scale farming is more resilient to the impacts of climate change and it has the ability to sequester a greater amount of carbon through permaculture and agroecological farms. The need to transition away from industrialized food production is clear. We can promote our communities, our food supply, our economy and re-skill ourselves with trades and skills that our ancestors (not restricted to indigenous peoples) once had and transition to a truly sustainable future.


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