Author: Bina Agarwal
Year: 2014

In recent years, the concept of ‘food sovereignty’ has gained increasing ground among grassroots groups, taking the form of a global movement. But there is no uniform conceptualization of what food sovereignty constitutes. Indeed, the definition has been expanding over time. It has moved from its initial focus on national self-sufficiency in food production (‘the right of nations’) to local self-sufficiency (‘the rights of peoples’). There is also a growing emphasis on the rights of women and other disadvantaged groups, and on consensus building and democratic choice. This paper provides a critique of some of the major tenets of the food sovereignty movement. It recognizes that many developing countries may wish to pursue the goal of self-sufficiency in the context of the global food crises, and that it is important to promote social equality and democratic choice. Taken together, however, there can be serious contradictions between the key features of the food sovereignty vision, such as between the goals of national and local food self-sufficiency; between promoting food crops and a farmer’s freedom to choose to what extent to farm, which crops to grow, and how to grow them; between strengthening family farming and achieving gender equality; and between collective and individual rights, especially over land ownership. The paper also reflects on the ways in which some of the food sovereignty goals could be better achieved through innovative institutional change, without sacrificing an individual’s freedom to choose.