Nyeleni 2011: ‘Food sovereignty means self reliance and self respect’

“The US model of industrialised agriculture is no longer viable, even in the global north. Yet they are still trying to introduce it.”

By Dan Iles
World Development Movement

Portrait of S. Kannaiyan, Indian activistAt Nyeleni 2011 there is such a diversity of delegates from across Europe and indeed the world. In the first of a series of interviews, I am trying to give the international perspective on food sovereignty.

I spoke to one of a few non-European delegates that were able to make it to the conference, S. Kannaiyan from Tamil Nadu in southern India. There are also delegates from Mali, Canada, Nigeria, the US, Mozambique and Azerbaijan. I wanted to give you an idea of why this delegate is so passionate about food sovereignty, what the challenges are in his country and what is being done locally to combat these challenges.

What does food sovereignty mean to you?

Food sovereignty means to me the self respect which comes from self reliance in food production and distribution. Local food production and distribution rather than food produced in one continent and transported all across another continent and distributed. I am not against international trade in food per se; when it is absolutely needed you can import and export to help other countries but it should not be led by corporations. This is leading to the imbalance of food production and distribution which completely changes local food production.

For example, India is importing palm oil from Malaysia, a small country compared to India. So, palm oil enjoys tax free imports in India and also government subsidy in the name of food security, to feed the hungry. This justification has killed the local diverse oil seed production and made India dependent on imports.

The other example is pulses. The farmers in Karnataka, are producing pulses, but those farmers are not getting fair prices. This is driving some farmers to suicide. But the government, instead of encouraging local production, is importing pulses from other countries like Burma and some African countries, and this trade is mainly done by the corporations. So it is dangerous.

The tendency now is: India is growing and we can buy food anywhere if it is cheaper. So these cheaper imports mean importing disaster to the Indian farming system. Meanwhile countries like Malaysia are expanding palm oil cultivation and destroying their own diversity. Trade is not going to solve the food crisis in the future.

This is why food sovereignty means local production and local distribution, self sufficiency and self respect and decisions on agricultural policies made by the people, not just farmers.

What examples of projects enacting food sovereignty are there in India?

I can’t say that the trend is yet towards ensuring food sovereignty but there is one example of good policy in Kerala. The Kerala government passed an act that means wetlands cannot be converted for other purposes other than agriculture. There are also good mechanisms like price support price for certain crops, where crops can be purchased by the government, protecting farmers.

Read more at World Development Movement

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