Why The People’s Coalition On Food Sovereignty Is Organizing For The Right To Food

Sylvia Mallari, Global Co-Chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty PEOPLE’S COALITION ON FOOD SOVEREIGNTY.

By Errol Schweizer, Contributor, Forbes

Sylvia Mallari is the Global Co-Chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a growing network of grassroots food producers from dozens of countries. The coalition believes in the Right To Food and organizes small farmers, agricultural workers, Indigenous Peoples, herders, pastoralists, fisherfolks, the urban poor, women, Dalits, and youth to resist agricultural policies that extract wealth and resources from their communities. The Coalition essentially is building an agenda and voice for the folks at the heart of the global food system, i.e., the millions who are typically left out of the conversations and decision-making. The coalition is one among hundreds of organizations that have opposed the co-optation of the United Nations Food Systems Summit by the World Economic Forum, multinational corporations and philanthropic foundations.

Errol Schweizer: What is food sovereignty?

Sylvia Mallari: Well, food sovereignty is the realization of the right to food. By people I mean the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, mostly rural peoples: the farmer peasants, the fishers, the agricultural workers, rural women, to exercise the right to food, the right to produce food, and the right to control all the means and resources for consumption and distribution. That’s it.

Members of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty. PEOPLE’S COALITION ON FOOD SOVEREIGNTY.

ES: So, what is the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty? What are its goals and visions?

SM: Well the coalition was founded in November 2004. But, prior to this, groups, organizations, and movements, primarily from Asia, got together in 2001. We were part of a people’s caravan that was protesting against volatility of prices of grains, and unfair rural people’s pay, and then finally we got to discuss comprehensively on what this means on the question of land and reforms needed in food and agriculture.

People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty members rally in Uganda. PEOPLE’S COALITION ON FOOD SOVEREIGNTY.

ES: How have Green Revolution-inspired agricultural technologies affected the lives and livelihoods of peasants and farm workers in the global south?

SM: Okay, we can name a few experiences. Here in the Philippines the Institute for Rice and Research Technology was founded in the early 60’s. This was funded by the Rockefellers and then picked up by Bill Gates, who has put billions into this. So what is wrong with this if we are to use technology and innovations to improve food and agriculture for the so-called betterment of our people? But the problem is the kind, the model, of agrarian or food systems that is being propounded. These are technologies that are fossil fuel-hungry and input-intensive models of agriculture.

So here in the Philippines- what happened? The production of what is called the “high yielding” variety of rice which is dependent on fossil fuel-based technology, on pesticides, and fertilizers- these depleted the soil in less than a decade. They depleted the mineral resources in the land. Not to mention the dependence put on the farmers, the pressure put on the farmers so they could earn! So at first, for the first three years they said, “ah this is good” because they had so much they produced. So, they got dependent on these seeds, the fertilizers, the inputs, and in three years many farmers, especially the poor ones, go bankrupt. They are debt-ridden, they sell their land to the banks, they get displaced, and then no more land. But, IRRI is still here and thriving and influencing all policy and legislative decisions in government. So, where will the persons and farmers go if they get displaced? So you have hunger, you have poverty, especially with the pandemic- with COVID-19- it has exacerbated these horrendous conditions.

People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty members march in Thailand during the World Hunger Day 2020 commermoration.

ES: What is this UN Food Summit? Why did it come about and why are so many peasant-led NGO’s boycotting it?

SM: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced during the 46th session of the committee of food security that given the role of food and agriculture in attaining a sustainable development goal, it should be assessed and achieved in 2030. They said that if there is an emergency situation, if the situations of hunger and poverty have not been improved- basically the “why” for the calling for the Food Systems Summit, which was announced in late 2019- there has to be a leveraging of food and agriculture, there has to be a leveraging on the food systems. True enough. One cannot dispute that. We agree with that.

“Women, Guardians of Seed, Life and Earth, Viva!” PEOPLE’S COALITION ON FOOD SOVEREIGNTY MEMBERS MARCH.

But what is wrong? What is wrong is that just like what Michael Fakhri, the present UN Special Rapporteur On The Right To Food said, “it’s like a table has been set, but the question is: what is the menu? The menu is limited. Who will be sitting at the table? Guests? And what will be talked about at the table? Are you talking about the real things at the given table? Or are real things being talked about at another table?”. So we are saying that the people who matter, the small rural food producers, I’m referring to more than 50% of the world’s population, are not there at the table. Who is at the table? The reality is the big, big corporations own and control the means, the practices in food and agriculture. They are more powerful than all the governments and civil society and people’s movements combined. The reality is like that.

So where are the peoples’ voices in the People’s Food Summit? In reality, you see that on the five tracks of the food systems- for example track one would be access to food production- there are agencies and corporations assisting these tracks. So, these big corporations; the Rockefellers are there, Gates is there, and you have these big corporations there as being champions of science and even heading some of the scientific groups that should be brainstorming for all of these five tracks. The people’s movements, where are they? They are not there.

ES: What does your organization hope to accomplish? What is your alternative to this corporate food system paradigm? What can we do to help bring it about?

SM: The number one requirement is the realization of the right to food. We should be one in understanding and in the implementation, the realization of the right to food. No food, no life. No land, no life. It is as simple as that when we talk with the farmers, the peasants, and the rural food producers. That means that all policies- global, national, local should be anchored in that if you really want to survive climate change. So the question of for whom and for what should be very clear. For whom? It should be for the majority of the planet’s population. For what? That should be for a better future, free from monopolies, from the dominance of profit seeking corporations. So we are not talking about profit when we talk about realization of the right to food. And then secondly, we are opting for food sovereignty and agroecology. So there should be an agroecological transition. Agroecology anchors on the attainment of genuine agrarian reform. Land should be reclaimed by the peasants and farmers. Resources should be controlled by the people. We look forward to a community of cooperatives forming themselves, organizing themselves, and deciding the agrarian program, what should be produced, how do we trade this, how do we exchange this, what are the needs? It should be about the needs.

Of course science and technology should be there, but the question is how to make science and technology really serve the people. There should be people’s science and technology that also takes note of traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices. I believe that in the long term we can build a sustainable food system. It should be an agroecological transition, not the industrial model that we have now that is so heavily fossil fuel-based, has so much waste, and is so heavily inputted with fertilizers and pesticides which poison the earth. We should not be poisoning the Earth. We should let the Earth rest. Only then can we have safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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