Food Sovereignty

The IAASTD with its 58 signatory states was the first intergovernmental, UN-led process to introduce the term of food sovereignty into the debate and to define it."Food sovereignty is defined as the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies." (Global, p. 10)The concept was developed by the international peasants’ movement La Via Campesina. At the World Food Summit 1996 in Rome, the organisation presented food sovereignty as an anti-colonial critique of the foreign domination of states by the international trade rules of the World Trade Organisation WTO as well as the neoliberal credit conditions imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The foundation of this kind of sovereignty is self-determined food production. Food sovereignty is therefore about focusing in the first place on food producers, then on consumers.

Food security, as defined by the World Food Summit, on the other hand, is a passive state of care, which exists “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.“"Assumptions that national average food production figures can indicate food security are belied by internal distribution constraints, political limitations on access, inabilities to purchase available food, overconsumption in segments of a population, policies which encourage farmers to shift from family food production to cash crops, crop failure, storage losses, and a range of other factors.” (Global, p. 10)
The right to food, which was enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is defined as “the fundamental right to freedom from hunger.” The 164 States parties are obliged to ensure the access of their populations to adequate food.

Liberalisation of international trade threatens food sovereignty

Food sovereignty does not describe a universal silver bullet solution. It is a concept for the democratisation of food production, which can be further developed and adapted to different conditions. Important principles of food sovereignty are the right to food, democratic food production systems, the strengthening of local markets, fair trade relations and the formation of fair prices, decent living wages, the freedom of association, education, and the debt relief for states. Other basic principles are access to fertile land, pastures, fishing grounds, forests, water and seeds. This access has to be ensured where necessary through agrarian and land reforms, as well as through the agroecological management and the common conservation of natural resources. >>more

Facts & Figures

"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. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations."

We work towards the decentralisation of food chains, promoting diversified markets based on solidarity and fair prices, and short supply chains and intensified relations between producers and consumers in local food webs to counter the expansion and power of supermarkets. We want to provide the building blocks for people to develop their own food distribution systems and allow farmers to produce and process food for their communities. This requires supportive food safety rules and local food infrastructure for smallholder farmers.

La Via Campesina is the international movement which coined the concept of food sovereignty. It brings together peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. As of 2013, La Via Campesina comprises about 164 local and national organisations in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas representing around 200 million farmers.

On average, 15% of EU farms sell more than half of their production directly to consumers. This enables them to retain a greater share of the products' market value, through the elimination of intermediaries, which can potentially increase their income." (...) Local food systems and short food supply chains (...) "constitute an alternative to conventional longer food supply chains, with large retailers such as supermarkets, where consumers purchase anonymous food products without any indication of the price actually paid to the producer. They are a way to reconnect producers and consumers and to re-localise agricultural production."

Food Sovereignty rejects corporate control. It "requires that women and men who provide food have control of land and resources such as water and seeds, to be used and shared in socially and environmentally sustainable ways. Privatisation of such resources, for example through intellectual property rights regimes or commercial contracts, is explicitly rejected."

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources."

Civil Society

  • La Via Campesina International peasant movement that launched the idea of food sovereignty
  • European Coordination Via Campesina
  • USFSA US Food Sovereignty Alliance explains what food sovereignty is
  • GRAIN supports small-scale farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled food systems
  • EuropAfrica Towards Food Sovereignty
  • The Gaia Foundation is working with local communities to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty
  • Friends of the Earth Interna- tional supports food sovereignty
  • Grassroots International helps smallholders and indigenous peoples to exercise the human rights to land, water and food
  • AFSA The Alliance For Food Sovereignty in Africa is a Pan-African platform comprising networks and farmer organisations working in Africa
  • Nyeleni European Food Sovereignty Movement is the biggest international network working to realise food sovereignty in Europe.
  • NFFC National Family Farm Coalition fights for food sovereignty
  • Food First support communities and movements fighting for food justice and food sovereignty
  • AFSA Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance has a blog on food sovereignty


Videos: Food Sovereignty

Click on the image to watch the playlist

Clip: The EU Common Agricultural Policy and Food Sovereignty

Watch the film Seeds of Sovereignty


  • UNEP Land per CapitaUNEP Land per Capita
  • UNEP Agricultural land leasesUNEP Agricultural land leases
  • UNEP Population Income LevelUNEP Population Income Level
  • UNEP Population GrowthUNEP Population Growth
  • UNEP - Changes in food supplyUNEP - Changes in food supply
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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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