Skip to main content

Food sovereignty: the debate, the deadlock, and a suggested detour

Abstract

Whereas hundreds of social movements and NGOs all over the world have embraced the concept of food sovereignty, not many public authorities at the national and international level have adopted the food sovereignty paradigm as a normative basis for alternative agriculture and food policy. A common explanation of the limited role of food sovereignty in food and agriculture policy is that existing power structures are biased towards maintaining the corporatist food regime and neo-liberal thinking about food security. This article sets out to provide an alternative explanation for this limited role by critically reflecting on the debate about food sovereignty itself. The main argument is that this debate is characterized by deadlock. Two mechanisms underlying the deadlock are analyzed: confusion about the concept of sovereignty and the failure of the epistemic community to debate how to reconcile conflicting values, discourses, and institutions regarding food. To overcome this deadlock and organize meaningful debate with public authorities, it is proposed that the food sovereignty movement uses insights from legal pluralism and debates on governance and adopts the ending of “food violence” as a new objective and common frame.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Epistemic communities consist of academics and professionals with shared beliefs on cause-and-effect relationships of normative problems and a shared set of normative and principled beliefs (Haas 1992). On the basis of these shared beliefs, they “frame collective debates, propose specific policies, or identify salient points for negotiation for politicians” (Dobusch and Quack 2008, p. 8). Haas (1992, p. 20) explains that, “The solidarity between the members of an epistemic community derives not only from their shared interests, which are based on cosmopolitan beliefs of promoting collective betterment, but also from their shared aversions, which are based on their reluctance to deal with policy agendas outside their common policy enterprise or to invoke policies based on explanations that they do not accept.”

  2. 2.

    Admittedly, human rights doctrine also includes the contentious concept of collective or group rights, such as the rights of indigenous people or ethnic minorities. Collective rights and food sovereignty are both rights of each community or nation, but indigenous or minority rights are specific to a particular group. Another difference is that rights of indigenous people or ethnic minorities comprise single rights to something, for instance to be educated, or to have access to healthcare, whereas food sovereignty is about the right of a community or nation to develop its own food and agriculture policies.

  3. 3.

    Violence includes both direct (physical) forms but also “structural violence” (Galtung 1969): “chronic economic marginalization, social exclusion, disempowerment, and other forms of indirect violence to which vulnerable people are exposed” (Eakin et al. 2010, p. 246).

  4. 4.

    According to Holt-Giménez and Shattuck (2011), the progressive trend of the food movement is primarily composed of the middle and working classes of the global North. It employs a food justice discourse and focuses on local “foodsheds,” family farming, and good, clean, and fair food. The radical trend is primarily framed by the concept of food sovereignty, and seeks to bring about deep, structural changes to food and agriculture that may adversely affect the middle and working classes of the global North.

References

  1. Altieri, M., and C. Nicholls. 2008. Scaling up agroecological approaches for food sovereignty in Latin America. Development 51(4): 472–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, M., and A. Bellows. 2012. Introduction to symposium on food sovereignty: expanding the analysis and application. Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 177–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Beauregard, S. 2009. Food policy for people: incorporating food sovereignty principles into state governance. Case studies of Venezuela, Mali, Ecuador, and Bolivia. http://www.ieham.org/html/docs/Incorporating%20food%20sovereignty%20principles%20into%20State%20governance.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  4. Berman, P. 2009. The new legal pluralism. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 5: 225–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Beuchelt, T., and D. Virchow. 2012. Food sovereignty or the human right to adequate food: Which concept serves better as international development policy for global hunger and poverty reduction? Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 259–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bolwig, S., Ponte, S., du Toit, A., Riisgaard, L., and Halberg, N. 2008. Integrating poverty, gender, and environmental concerns into value chain analysis: a conceptual framework and lessons for action research. DIIS Working Papers 16. Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies.

  7. Boyer, J. 2010. Food security, food sovereignty, and local challenges for transnational agrarian movements: The honduran case. The Journal of Peasant Studies 37(2): 319–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Burmeister, L., and Y. Choi. 2012. Food sovereignty movement activism in South Korea: National policy impacts? Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 247–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Charlier, S., and Warnotte G., eds. 2007. La souveraineté alimentaire: Regards croisés. UCL Presses Universitaires de Louvain.

  10. Comaroff, J., and J. Comaroff. 2009. Reflections on the anthropology of law, governance, and sovereignty. In Rules of law and laws of ruling: on the governance of law, ed. F. von Benda-Beckmann, K. von Benda-Beckmann, and J. Eckert, 31–59. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dobusch, L., and Quack, S. 2008. Epistemic communities and social movements: transnational dynamics in the case of creative commons. Discussion Paper 08/8. Max Planck institute for the study of societies.

  12. Duncan, J., and D. Barling. 2012. Renewal through participation in global food security governance: implementing the international food security and nutrition civil society mechanism to the committee on world food security. International Journal of the Sociology of Agriculture and Food 19: 143–161.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eakin, H., H.-G. Bohle, A.-M. Izac, A. Reenberg, P. Gregory, and L. Pereira. 2010. Food, violence, and human rights. In Food security and global environmental change, ed. J. Ingram, P. Ericksen, and D. Liverman, 245–271. London: Earthscan.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Fairbairn, M. 2012. Framing transformation: The counter-hegemonic potential of food sovereignty in the US context. Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 217–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fairbairn, M. 2010. Framing resistance: International food regimes and the roots of food sovereignty. In Food sovereignty: Reconnecting food, nature, and community, ed. H. Wittman, A. Desmarais, and N. Wiebe, 15–32. Oxford: Pambazuka Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2007. FAO: The challenge of renewal. Report of the independent external evaluation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). ftp://fao.org/docrep/fao/meeting/012/k0827erev1.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  17. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2009. Committee on Food Security (CFS). Reform of the committee on world food security. Final version. ftp://fao.org/docrep/fao/meeting/017/k3023e3.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  18. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2008. Committee on Food Security (CFS). Participation of civil society/non-governmental organizations (CSOs/NGOs). Rome 14–17 October 2008. ftp://fao.org/docrep/fao/meeting/014/k3028e.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  19. Fowler, M., and J. Bunck. 1995. Law, power, and the sovereign state: the evolution and application of the concept of sovereignty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Galtung, J. 1969. Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research 6(3): 167–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Haas, P. 1992. Introduction: Epistemic communities and international policy coordination. International Organization 46: 1–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Haugen, H. 2009. Food sovereignty: An appropriate approach to ensure the right to food? Nordic Journal of International Law 78: 263–292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Holt-Giménez, E., and A. Shattuck. 2011. Food crisis, food regimes, and food movements: Rumblings of reform or tides of transformation? The Journal of Peasant Studies 38(1): 109–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hospes, O., and J. Clancy. 2011. Unpacking the discourse on social inclusion. In Value chains, inclusion, and endogenous development: Contrasting theories and realities, ed. B. Helmsing, and S. Vellema, 17–31. London: Routledge Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. ICPS (International Centre for Participation Studies). 2010. The reformed committee on world food security: A briefing paper for civil society. Department of peace studies, University of Bradford, United Kingdom. http://www.foodsovereignty.org/Portals/0/documenti%20sito/Home/News/reformed%20CFS_english.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  26. IPC (International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). 2006. Agrarian reform in the context of food sovereignty, the right to food, and cultural diversity. Via Campesina Issue Paper no. 5.

  27. IPC (International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). 2009a. What is the IPC? http://www.foodsovereignty.org/Aboutus/WhatisIPC.aspx. Accessed August 2012.

  28. IPC (International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). 2009b. IPC comments on draft proposal for CFS reform. http://www.mstbrazil.org/http%3A/%252Fwww.icarrd.org/en/icard_doc_down/Issue_Paper5sum.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  29. Jackson, R. 1999. Introduction: Sovereignty at the millennium. Political Studies 47: 423–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Jackson, J. 2003. Sovereignty - Modern: A new approach to an outdated concept. Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 110. http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/110. Accessed August 2012.

  31. James, A. 1999. The practice of sovereign statehood in contemporary international society. Political Studies 47(3): 457–473.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Kooiman, J. 2003. Governing as governance. London: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kostakopoulou, D. 2002. Floating sovereignty: A pathology or a necessary means of state evolution? Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 22(1): 135–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Menezes, F. 2001. Food sovereignty: A vital requirement for food security in the context of globalization. Development 44(4): 29–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Mowbray, J. 2007. The right to food and the international economic system: An assessment of the rights-based approach to the problem of world hunger. Leiden Journal of International Law 20: 545–569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Nuijten, M. 2004. Governance in action: Some theoretical and practical reflections on a key concept. In Globalization and development: Themes and concepts in current research, ed. D. Kalb, W. Pantsers, and H. Siebers, 103–130. Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  37. Patel, Ray. 2010. What does food sovereignty look like? In Food sovereignty: Reconnecting food, nature, and community, ed. H. Wittman, A.A. Desmarais, and N. Wiebe, 186–196. Oxford: Pambazuka Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Pimbert, M. 2008. Towards food sovereignty: Reclaiming autonomous food systems. London: IIED.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Randeria, S. 2003. Glocalization of law: Environmental justice, world bank, NGOs, and the cunning state in India. Current Sociology 51(3/4): 305–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Rhodes, R. 1996. The new governance: governing without government. Political Studies XLIV: 652–667.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Robinson, P. 2008. Fair trade, food sovereignty, and the food crisis. http://smallfarmersbigchange.coop/2008/12/31/fair-trade-food-sovereignty-and-the-food-crisis/. Accessed August 2012.

  42. Rosset, P. 2003. Food sovereignty: Global rallying cry of farmer movements. Food first: Institute for food and development policy. Backgrounder 9(4): 1–4. http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/47. Accessed August 2012.

  43. Rosset, P. 2006. Food is different: Why we must get the WTO out of agriculture. London: Zed Books.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Rosset, P. 2008. Food sovereignty and the contemporary food crisis. Development 51(4): 460–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Rosset, P. 2011. Food sovereignty and alternative paradigms to confront land grabbing and the food and climate crisis. Development 54(1): 21–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Schanbacher, W. 2010. The politics of food: The global conflict between food security and food sovereignty. Oxford: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Souza-Santos, B. 1987. Law: A map of misreading—toward a postmodern conception of law. Journal of Law and Society 14(3): 279–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2010. Sovereignty. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sovereignty/. Accessed August 2012.

  49. Stoker, G. 1998. Governance as theory: Five propositions. International Social Science Journal 155: 17–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. van Kersbergen, K., and F. van Waarden. 2004. “Governance” as a bridge between disciplines: Cross-disciplinary inspiration regarding shifts in governance and problems of governability, accountability, and legitimacy. European Journal of Political Research 43: 143–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Via Campesina. 1996. Food sovereignty: a future without hunger. Statement by the NGO Forum to the World food summit, NGO Forum to the world food summit. http://www.voiceoftheturtle.org/library/1996 Declaration of Food Sovereignty.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  52. Via Campesina. 2007. Declaration of Nyéléni. http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/main-issues-mainmenu-27/food-sovereignty-and-trade-mainmenu-38/262-declaration-of-nyi. Accessed August 2012.

  53. Via Campesina. 2009. La Via Campesina policy documents. http://viacampesina.org/downloads/pdf/policydocuments/POLICYDOCUMENTS-EN-FINAL.pdf. Accessed August 2012.

  54. Via Campesina. 2011. World food sovereignty day: big business has failed—we small farmers can feed the world. http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/main-issues-mainmenu-27/food-sovereignty-and-trade-mainmenu-38/1100-world-food-sovereignty-day-big-business-has-failed-we-small-farmers-can-feed-the-world. Accessed August 2012.

  55. von Benda-Beckman, F. 2002. Who is afraid of legal pluralism? Journal of Legal Pluralism 47: 37–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Windfuhr, M., and J. Jonsén. 2005. Food sovereignty: Towards democracy in localized food systems. FIAN-International: ITDG Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Wittman, H., A. Desmarais, and N. Wiebe (eds.). 2010. Food sovereignty: Reconnecting food, nature, and community. Oxford: Pambazuka Press.

    Google Scholar 

  58. World Trade Organization. 2012. UN rapporteur and WTO head debate the impact of trade on hunger. http://www.wto.org/english/forums_e/debates_e/debate14_summary_e.htm. Accessed August 2012.

Download references

Acknowledgments

The author is grateful for the inspiring debates on food law, food values and food sovereignty with Professor Francois Collart Dutilleul, head of the LASCAUX programme at Nantes University. The author also wishes to thank the LASCAUX programme and Nantes University for funding and facilitating his stay as a visiting professor at Nantes University in March and June 2011. The author is also grateful for advice of Joy Burrough on the English.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Otto Hospes.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hospes, O. Food sovereignty: the debate, the deadlock, and a suggested detour. Agric Hum Values 31, 119–130 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9449-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Food sovereignty
  • Sovereignty
  • Food values
  • Food violence
  • Food governance
  • Reconciling conflicting values on food