Towards a New Internationalist Strategy for Food Sovereignty

by Jan Urhahn and Benjamin Fogel

We all need to eat to live, but, curiously, the question about how to ensure that a steady supply of quality affordable food arrives at our tables is often removed from strategic debates. Food seems secondary to the major political questions of our time, or its discussion is confined to particular audiences. Today, ecological collapse, nuclear war, and world-economic disintegration appear as threats on the horizon, even as their concrete effects are being felt across the world. This dossier, the product of collaboration between the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Alameda, makes the case that food production and distribution are indeed of strategic importance to addressing the polycrisis that shapes the world we live in.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, problems with global food and agricultural systems became increasingly evident, as global supply chains were disrupted and the impacts were felt on existing agricultural systems of production. 

In 2022, the crisis was again accelerated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted food production and supply chains for agricultural inputs, such as chemical fertilisers. More recently, events in Gaza, Sudan, and elsewhere have further highlighted the connection between war and food crisis, as we see famine wielded as a weapon of war, unleashing untold horrors against entire populations.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, inflation and the cost of living have brought the question of food crisis back to the political agenda. Child malnutrition has risen, as millions more people, even in the richest countries, have had to choose between paying bills and buying food. But it is the earth’s poorest and most marginalised populations who have been worst affected. And it is them who overwhelmingly experience the most devastating effects of climate change.

To address this as a strategic problem, the dossier centres on interlinked questions of how to organise, how to support organising, and how to build alternatives that practically transform food systems. At the core of the dossier lays the argument that this can only be done by shifting our thinking about food crisis from the concept of food security, based on the question of availability of food, which in effect normalises crisis, to the concept of food sovereignty.

According to the international movement Via Campesina, food sovereignty can be defined “as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” 

“It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations”. In essence, food sovereignty moves the debate on food from questions of access to questions of power and production that go beyond food per se. 

This dossier brings together leading experts and thinkers on the food crisis such as Jennifer Clapp and Raj Patel, in dialogue with practitioners and activists like Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), which is directly involved in the struggle to create just and sustainable systems of food production and distribution. 

The dossier presents the food crisis as global in scope. As argued by Sabrina Fernandes, this requires a renewal of internationalism, connecting local efforts to organise for food sovereignty (by, for example, farm worker unions in South Africa) to questions of global strategy. 

The contributions of Schluwa Sama and Ansar Jasim on the role of empire in Iraq and of Ranja Sengupta on international trade address the latter directly.

This dossier thus takes a broad approach that addresses the interconnectedness of current crises. We hope it can contribute to a sustained strategic dialogue around food that supports organising for alternate futures.

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Jan Urhahn and Benjamin Fogel

* Jan Urhahn heads the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Food Sovereignty Programme in Johannesburg, South Africa. He mainly works on farmworkers’ rights, the impacts of hazardous pesticides, seed ownership, and Green Revolution approaches versus viable alternatives such as agroecology.


* Benjamin Fogel is Head of Publishing at Alameda.

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