Food Sovereignty

Michel Pimbert, Priscilla Claeys

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


‘Food sovereignty’ is an alternative paradigm for food and agriculture which aims to guarantee and protect people’s space, ability, and right to define their own models of production, distribution, and consumption. It is a response to the deep social, economic, and environmental crisis generated by the dominant model of food and agriculture in capitalist, communist, and socialist States. Confronted with hunger, food insecurity, massive depeasantization and the commodification of food through the neoliberal transformation of food systems, the food sovereignty movement seeks to reverse inequitable and ecologically destructive industrial farming, fisheries, forestry and livestock management, and to rebuild the social, economic, cultural, political and spiritual foundations of our agri-food systems. Deeply transformative in its vision and practice, the food sovereignty movement affirms that food is a basic human right, - as opposed to a commodity -, and should be regarded as an integral part of culture, heritage and cosmovisions. This implies that food providers and consumers should be directly and meaningfully involved in framing policies for food and agriculture.

The notion of ‘food sovereignty’ is perhaps best understood as a transformative process that seeks to recreate the democratic realm and regenerate a diversity of re-localised and autonomous agri-food systems. Food system transformation is grounded in agroecological practices based on diversity, decentralisation, democracy, and local adaptation within and between territories, with a view to build ecological sustainability and keep life within safe planetary limits. Food sovereignty cannot be achieved without gender and intersectional justice, equity and economies of care, as it ultimately seeks to achieve peaceful co-existence among peoples and care for the earth.

Over the last three decades, the concept of food sovereignty has rapidly moved from the margins to more centre stage in international discussions on food, environment, development, and well-being. Since it was first proposed by the transnational agrarian movement La Vía Campesina in 1996, food sovereignty has become a policy framework adopted by some governments and international organizations. In response to advocacy campaigns by peasant organisations and social movements, the United Nations has recently adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other people working in rural areas (UNDROP) which recognizes new human rights to land, water, forests, seeds and natural resources, and outlines states obligations with regards to human-rights based natural resources governance. The UNDROP itself recognizes food sovereignty as a collective right.

As the food sovereignty paradigm is gaining traction, the global food sovereignty movement, best described as a movement of movements, is diversifying. Peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, agricultural workers, NGOs and scholar-activists working on food sovereignty are engaging in dialogues with other social actors. Today, the global food sovereignty movement is calling for the convergence of all anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movements, including climate and labour justice movements, feminist movements, black movements, degrowth economics, and anti-war movements. Food sovereignty as a concept, as a right, and as a paradigm for food systems transformation is a valuable starting point for the formulation of joint proposals and actions for systemic change in this emerging confluence of movements.
Food sovereignty is also an increasingly popular research topic for a wide range of academic disciplines including anthropology, geography, history, law, philosophy, agronomy and ecology as well as transdisciplinary research on agri-food systems. Historical, decolonial, feminist, cross-cultural, transdisciplinary, and critical perspectives are all needed to further understand the origins, development, and politics of food sovereignty in different contexts. Place-based and nuanced explorations of the multilevel processes that enable and constrain systemic change for food sovereignty can help inform policy and practice in different settings. These are important future directions for research on food sovereignty.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopaedia of Anthropology
EditorsMark Aldenderfer
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Nov 2023

Publication series

NameOxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology


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