More than 50 organisations and groups representing the interests of small farmers and the hungry in South Africa have agreed on a declaration that will take them towards securing food sovereignty for the country and its people.
It is expected that their campaign will add to the growing, people-led global movement to restore agency over food, economy and ecology at community level.
The collection of groups, called the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and Alliance, agreedthe declaration at the end of a two-day assembly in Johannesburg. During this gathering, participants came up with a plan to correct for the calamitous effects on the population’s health and well being that have resulted from the growing control of land, food production and food distribution by transnational corporations, backed by US and UK governments.
The starting point for the plan is the hungry, the landless and small scale farmers suffering under the unjust food system but it will work towards achieving a “broad vision for society in which everyone has enough nutritious food to eat under conditions of equality and justice,” explained campaign organiser Andrew Bennie of The Co-operative and Policy Alternative Center (COPAC).
This is in stark contrast to the destructive effects of global capital on the region: large companies have in recent decades bought up vast tracts of land, displaced small-scale farmers, obliterated traditional farming practices and implemented chemical-intensive mono-cropping to maximise profit from crops on international commodities markets. The trend is continuing: aid donors and agribusinesses met recently to agree a plan that would replace traditional, small farmers’ seed breeding and saving practices across Africa with a corporate, profit-based model.
The result of these trends is an ongoing cascade of devastating impacts on families and local ecology. Rich soil has become degraded and dependent on artificial fertilisers; waterways are polluted by chemical run-off; small scale farmers have lost their livelihoods; and the availability of healthy, affordable food across the country has plummeted.
The impact of this, according to the alliance, is evidenced by now commonplace food riots: 14 million South African citizens now experience hunger, malnutrition, obesity, displacement or financial desperation. Some 70% of urban South Africa is food insecure.
In addition, the expansion of industrial agriculture, a high level source of carbon emissions, adds to and compounds the climate crisis.
The assembly agreed to confront these challenges head on, starting with a national campaign that has the support of a number of international movements championing food sovereignty, including La Via Campesina.
The campaign will entail an extensive programme of actions to raise awareness and catalyse change across the country, at grassroots and policy levels.
The programme includes strategies to challenge the country’s unequal agrarian structure; to trigger land audits; to secure land allocations for food sovereignty farms in villages, towns and cities; to promote the agro-ecological approach to farming; to end the conversion of agricultural land to game farms for the rich; to challenge authority figures standing in the way of constructive land use plans; and to push for and affirm the rights of women.
“It’s about bringing as much of society [as possible] onto our side to challenge powerful interests,” said Bennie. “We are developing a South African approach to food sovereignty that is grounded in the context here and the challenges it throws up, as well as opportunities. For example, linking food sovereignty to the solidarity economy. But global and African linkages are also crucial in terms of building networks, power and learning.”
The proposals are extensive and ambitious, fuelled by the conviction that their implementation will produce positive results for the people of South Africa, as well as for its land and ecology, not least by supporting practices that help repair soils and waterways, ameliorate some of the effects of climate change and facilitate a healthy, varied, affordable diet for all.
The alliance is one of many movements around the world rising up and tackling the catastrophic destruction of communities and biodiversity that has resulted from the corporate takeover of the food system. A paper in Solutions Journal outlining the history of the movement focuses on the long-established example of Venezuela, which has incorporated food sovereignty into state policy. Meanwhile 20,000 people have this monthstaged massive protests across Brazil to demand agrarian reform and food sovereignty.
“The global food system really is a broken one, whether in the North or the South. From Africa and South America to the US, Canada and Europe, food sovereignty is growing as a discourse and a practice,” said Bennie.