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World Food Day: The Right to Food IS Food Sovereignty

October 2007

More and more people around the world are taking up the call by peasant and small farmers, indigenous peoples and pastoralists for food sovereignty as an expression of, and a way to realize the right to food. Earlier this year members of the Via Campesina and other organizations met in Mali to put in motion an action plan for achieving food sovereignty. On October 16th, World Food Day, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) endorsed food sovereignty as the right to food. As IFOAM notes, food sovereignty as the right to food means the right to feed oneself as opposed to the right to be fed.

On this World Food Day 2007, with the theme of the Right to Food, which was recognized as a universal human right in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, over 850 million people around the world, particularly in least developed countries, suffer from hunger and malnutrition. For IFOAM, the Right to Food is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. It is the right to feed oneself in dignity and to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food through ecologically, socially and economically sound methods, defining one’s own food systems, rather than the right to be fed. This counts for each and every individual, as well as for communities and regions.

Currently global trade relations and rules, international and national policies, structural adjustments and trade concentration affect food security in a number of ways. The inequitable competition between producers in industrial countries and those in developing countries severely constrain production in developing countries. The most direct effects are caused by developed countries dumping their agricultural surpluses in developing countries and creating unfair competition resulting from perverse subsidies. When sold on the world market at less than the cost of production, these surpluses depress local prices, thereby lowering production and peoples’ direct access to food, although they may officially have a ‘Right to Food’ in their own countries.

From IFOAM’s perspective, the Right to Food also means that life cannot be patented. Patents on life support the monopoly control of genetic resources by few, thereby extensively undermining peoples’ right and access to food. IFOAM believes that the Earth’s gene pool cannot be claimed as commercially negotiable genetic information or intellectual property by governments, commercial enterprises, other institutions or individuals. The intentional use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which is banned in organic production, epitomizes abhorrence of the Right to Food.  GMO’s and patents on life substantially contribute to the current deplorable world food situation.

Organic farming systems prioritize local and national economies and markets and empower peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, food production, distribution and consumption based on the Principles of Organic Agriculture, which ensure environmental, social and economic sustainability. Through its traceable systems, whether through third-party organic certification or through Participatory Guarantee Systems and the involvement of the community, organic production guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of citizens to choose their food and nutrition patterns. Organic production is the systematic approach that helps ensure the rights of people to control their destiny, and as a result, to beat hunger and malnutrition. Organic farming offers the tools and techniques necessary to ensure the Right to Food for subsistence farmers and local communities, and offers sustainable models for regional development and international trade.

The reality of what Organic Agriculture can and is doing for food security and in securing the Right to Food is being proven by intergovernmental agencies and independent universities. At the conference Organic Agriculture and Food Security in May 2007 at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the findings were that Organic Agriculture empowers social systems to control their own food supply and organic labels enforce the right to choose food, and that in sub-Saharan Africa, a conversion of up to 50 percent would likely increase food availability and decrease food import dependency.  


Reputable studies by major universities are finding organic agriculture can feed the world as well. A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, and that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms.  A 22- year study by Cornell University concluded that organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides.

IFOAM is the international umbrella organization of organic agriculture movements worldwide.

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