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August 5, 2007

A Commons You Can Eat: Towards a Green Food System

An emerging global moment gathers to bring everyone healthy food and a better environment. Call it food sovereignty or just a good idea.

A new report from Grassroots International and Food & Water Watch, “ Towards a Green Food System,” shows how food sovereignty “will not only benefit small farmers all over the world, but will also give environmentalists and consumers what they want…a clean environment and healthy food,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

This is a tale of two, three, four movements – small farmers, environmentalists, foodies, consumers – all coming together to radically transform our corporate food system and win equal access to precious resources: land, water and food. Steward those resources for the common good and you have the makings of a healthy, edible commons.

An intriguing new global movement is emerging. It is stretching across the globe from the northern reaches of Japan to the southern tip of Africa, with a growing force of millions. But ask the average person about the Food Sovereignty Movement, and the answer is likely to be “Food sover- what?”

Perhaps one, not entirely surprising, place to start is with Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s “food man” and chief architect of the modern U.S. food system. He advised farmers to “get big or get out.” He then proceeded to reshape how the United States and “everyone else” gets…and eats…its food. Healthy or not.

So now, in 2007, a small handful of corporations dominate the world’s food system. They got big. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of the planet’s farm families have lost their land, their livelihood, and they fight hunger and debt on an hourly basis. They were pushed out. The current food system has failed to feed the world’s hungry, most of whom, tragically, are the very people who feed us: farmers, farmworkers, and other food producers. They are also the hardest hit by the massive environmental problems created by the industrial model…deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and the poisoning of the environment by pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

“Enough is enough” is the sane response to this abuse, and it’s the inspiration behind the rapid growth of the Food Sovereignty Movement. Its adherents care about the environment because their lives depend upon it.

One might call it a people’s environmental movement, with the accent on “people.” Food sovereignty’s principles resonate with those of the Slow Food movement and the emphasis on “buying and eating locally.” It finds common cause with Community-supported Agriculture and the Sustainable Agriculture movements. There is a very strong “beyond organic” approach, but most importantly, its supporters are pushing governments across the globe for fair trade policies and sustainable eco-economies…so that the women, children and men who produce the food that sustains us can sustain themselves.

The historic Nyeleni Forum for Food Sovereignty in Selingue, Mali, galvanized the movement by holding high a crucial conviction: it is entirely possible to both save the environment and feed the planet. It pointed to three essential ways to achieve this:

Sustainable use and management of natural resources. Agriculture must work with nature, not against it. Food sovereignty advocates believe that yields high enough to feed the planet can be accomplished through agroecology rather than chemical additives; emphasizing biodiversity, intercropping, local markets, organic cultivation; and prioritizing agriculture for food over fuel production.

Promotion of eco-friendly technologies. Instead of promoting genetically modified crops, the emphasis should be on preserving our abundant biodiversity. In particular, seeds – the very lifeblood of agriculture – must remain biodiverse and ecologically appropriate, controlled not by corporations, but by family farmers.

Building the eco-economy. “Pay for services” approaches such as carbon sinks often treat farmers as paid employees rather than sustain their livelihood as farmers. Food sovereignty sees small producers as stewards of the environment, supported holistically through fair pricing, preservation of local markets and economies, and fair access to natural resources such as land and water.

With millions of supporters, the Food Sovereignty Movement constitutes a vast global network of on-the ground environmental watchdogs, caring for the planet, and developing innovative methods for doing so. Combining U.S. environmentalism’s active networks and rich campaigning experience with food sovereignty’s world-wide people power and global perspective adds up to tremendous potential for growing the Food Sovereignty Movement, protecting the environment and feeding the world. In this report, you will find out more about this remarkable movement, how bridges can be built, and why the time to work together has arrived.

Download the report at http://www.grassrootsonline.org/files/Towards-a-Green-Food-System.pdf.