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Grassroots Through the Years: Food Sovereignty

US Food Sovereignty Alliance, October 13, 2018. Photo by David Meek

August 2023


In the leadup to our 40th anniversary, we’re surveying the history of the struggles and movements we support.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

— Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007

Among the many struggles Grassroots International has accompanied through the years, few have shaped the trajectory of our work as much as the global movement for food sovereignty.

In the early 1990s, peasant movements from across the global South and North united under the banner of La Via Campesina to form what would eventually become one of the world’s largest and best-known social movements. Their impetus was that peasants and other small-scale food providers contributed the majority of the world’s food while bearing the brunt of an oppressive global food system increasingly controlled by multinational corporations. Gathering in Rome outside the World Food Summit of 1996, they demanded food sovereignty, or the right of people, not corporations or financial institutions, to shape their own food and agriculture policies.


In the years since, food sovereignty and the movements promoting it have grown in power and influence, inspiring policies from the local to global levels; spurring alternative food systems; serving as a counterweight to corporate agriculture and its false solutions; and shifting development discourse once narrowly centered on “feeding the world” through food security. Food sovereignty has also served as a powerful framework for convergence, uniting diverse movements across the globe. A key part of that work has been the articulation of agroecology, bridging the worlds of food sovereignty and climate justice.

Grassroots International is proud to have accompanied this movement from the start, with our first grant to La Via Campesina the same year that it launched food sovereignty on the world stage in 1996. This budding movement was a natural fit for us. From our early work on famine response in East Africa involving getting seeds, livestock, and tools directly into people’s hands, to support for national liberation movements in which struggles over land and territory were central, the basic principles of food sovereignty resonated with us.

Over the years, our partnership with La Via Campesina has deepened and blossomed on multiple fronts, from support of its operations at the global, regional, and national levels; to partnership with many of its member organizations; to accompaniment in communications, advocacy, and the expansion of its donor base. We have also nurtured long-term relationships with Indigenous movements whose rich cosmologies and histories of resistance have profoundly shaped understandings of food sovereignty. Through these groups and others, the food sovereignty movement has steadily expanded beyond its original peasant base to become the incredibly vibrant movement it is today, encompassing other small-scale food providers (fishers, pastoralists, etc.) as well as urban, labor, feminist, youth, Indigenous, and environmental struggles.


A key moment of convergence was the Nyéléni 2007 Global Forum for Food Sovereignty in Mali, where diverse movements converged from across the world to articulate a shared definition, framework, and action agenda for food sovereignty a decade into its evolution. Grassroots International accompanied this process with financial, technical, and political support – with an active presence on the ground at Nyéléni and in multiple processes flowing out of it.

Among these processes was follow-up to Nyéléni in the North American region in the form of supporting a still-nascent and gradually coalescing food sovereignty movement in the US. Grassroots was poised to play a key facilitating and support role in these efforts, building upon work in the years prior with allies like National Family Farm Coalition and Border Agricultural Workers Project (US members of La Via Campesina) to raise awareness of food sovereignty in the US. This involved infusing global movement perspectives into domestic food movement spaces like the Community Food Security Coalition, at times facilitating the direct participation of international partners.

These efforts got a boost during the food crisis of 2007-08, when the problems of the food system were laid bare. Through a series of movement-building events, various strands of food sovereignty organizing in the US came together with the 2010 formation of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), of which Grassroots International is a founding member. Also around this time was the founding of the Food Sovereignty Prize in 2009, as an alternative to the corporate-backed World Food Prize. This annual award continues into the present through the leadership of the USFSA.


More than two decades into the global struggle for food sovereignty, it remains as relevant as ever. As the food system and our planet as a whole face heightened threats, our social movement partners and allies have initiated a new Nyéléni process to strengthen their collective capacity to confront the challenges at hand. Grassroots International is once again honored to accompany this process each step of the way.

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