Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice

Please cite the paper as:
David Barkin, (2016), Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice, World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 2 2016, Food and Justice, 5th November to 15th December 2016


Dominant approaches to rural development have proven unable to confront the structural challenges posed by a system where progress itself generates hunger and increasing environmental damage. This article places its accent on the direct action of communities to organize themselves to satisfy their food and other basic needs and those of their regions with self-help strategies that could be applied in both rural and urban areas. While generally applicable, this focus draws its inspiration from the experience of La Via Campesina, the largest social organization in the world, with chapters in more than 80 countries and 200 million members.The food sovereignty approach offers a forward-looking strategy to social mobilization, confronting the scourge of rural disintegration while also addressing the pressing issue of environmental balance. It proposes to direct political and social actions to the collective organization of communities to promote local mobilization and cooperation within and among communities, on a regional as well as on a much broader geographic scale. It functions by integrating experts into a well-proven farmer-to-farmer approach for the exchange of information and materials conducive to improving productivity and promoting diversity in accordance with local customs while also creating possibilities for improving the quality of foods being produced and their nutritional impact. Most organizations promoting food sovereignty consider agroecology to be the most effective approach to organizing production, emphasizing the use of locally available inputs and technologies as well as a diversity of cropping system adapted to local conditions.

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5 comment

  • Pedro Abel Vieira says:

    Dear Barkin
    I agree that food sovereignty is different from food security. I also agree that food sovereignty is a good strategy for environmental justice, but does agroecology have consistent empirical results that can feed the world?

  • David Barkin says:

    There are important discussions that allow us to think that agroecology can make substantial inraods into problems of adequate nutrition — because of its decentralized nature that can be highly productive and substantially reduces wastes in the harvest and distrbution systems. The article cited in my contribution by Reganold, J.P. and Wachter, J.M. 2016 suggests that organic agriculture can do it — and agroecology has much broader and wider appicabilty.

  • Armando Fornazier says:

    Dear Professor David Barkin
    Many countries (eg some of the African continent, Paraguay, etc) have increased their food production, however, food insecurity rates still remain high. One reason is that people do not have income to buy food and thus, food is exported. In this scenario with liberalized markets, the financialization of agriculture, and large corporations, the distributive question becomes of great importance and not only the Malthusian discussion of production. Regarding this, what could be done to reduce food insecurity?

  • David Barkin says:

    You are exactly right — the problem under the present organziation of antipoverty and official food policies still places many people in the category of “food indigency” — the emphasis on food sovereignty changes the focus to empowering communities to produce their own foods on a regional basis with markets structured to keep food in the area to satisfy local needs through different market AND non-market structures… This is why so much importance should be accorded the experiences of La Via Campesina as well as the peasant-to-peasant training programs that have proved so valuable. AN important part of this strategy requires planning to facilitate cooperation with non-food producers (mostly in urban areas) with cooperative exchanges — I will be exploring this for a book I am currently drafting on “food sovereignty as a strategy for poverty reduction and environmental balance” I would welcome people with suggestions/case studies to contact me!

  • David Barkin says:

    One last comment — if people are still paying attention! FS has become an important “card” in local political struggles to obtain more public resources to support peasant demands for greater autonomy in the policy arena and on the international fora. I think the accession by the FAO to the “year of family farming” reflects the growing influence of La Via Campesina globally (even though their push for the “year of peasant farming” was pushed back). The fundamental question faccing us right now is reinforcing the strategies for alternatives to market-based forms of confronting inequality and injustice, problems that in the ultimate analysis emanate from the market itself.