Origins of food sovereignty

The concept of food sovereignty was developed in the early 1990s, born out of a mobilisation of groups of smallscale farmers all around the globe who were finding they could no longer make a living from farming. The concept was presented by an alliance of smallscale farmers and other food producers, La Vía Campesina, at the 1996 World Food Summit. Much of the initial impetus came from farmers networks in Latin America, and ‘food sovereignty’ is a direct translation of the Spanish ‘soberanía alimentaría’ which emphasises the decision making power of the people.

The concept of food sovereignty has evolved and grown since then as it has been embraced by people all around the world. In 2007 more than 500 representatives of farmers’ networks, unions, social movements and other civil society groups gathered in Mali for the Nyéléni World Forum for Food Sovereignty. The outcome of the forum was a call for a radical restructuring of the global food and agriculture system to replace the current system which is largely dominated by the powerful interests of transnational corporations (TNCs). They instead advocated for local and national food systems that empower peasants and small scale farmers. The forum also defined six pillars of food sovereignty, providing a framework for future work.

In Mali, European groups committed to a similar forum to build food sovereignty in Europe. This happened in Austria in 2011, with the Nyéléni Europe forum, which led to a call to us all to transform our food systems in Europe and realise food sovereignty here. Groups from the UK who went to Nyéléni Europe are part of the initiative to build a movement in the UK.