Sustainable Local Food Systems & Livelihoods
Food Sovereignty is an important idea first introduced internationally by the peasant movement La Via Campesina at the 1996 World Food Summit. Definitions vary, but in general food sovereignty means: People’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. (source: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Presentation, Food Rebellions, Spring 2011).
Supporting agroecological family farming and rebuilding local food systems are key pieces in achieving food sovereignty.
With the development of industrialized agriculture, consumers of food have become more and more distant from those who produce it, as well as from the methods of production and processing and their impacts on the environment, communities, and health. The food we eat travels longer distances, using fuel, contributing to climate change and undercutting local economies. Factory farming has pushed many farmers off the land, is heavily dependent on external inputs and chemicals, and has multiple negative environmental, health and climate impacts. Much of the processed stuff we eat bears little resemblance to the food human beings have evolved to eat. The obesity epidemic is growing, as are its related diseases. Increasing corporate concentration in food production, processing and sales means reduced local control over what people farm and eat.
Stronger local food systems are way to reconnect rural and urban areas, farmers and consumers, and create healthy landscapes. Where we work in Africa, Latin America and Asia, we support strategies to help put control and benefits over these issues back in the hands of both rural and urban communities.
Some of the benefits stronger local foods systems are (source: Blouin, Lemay, Ashraf, Imai, Konforti, Équiterre & The Centre for Trade Policy and Law, Carleton University; “Local Food Systems and Public Policy: A Review of the Literature”):
- Environmental: reduced CO2 emissions; encourages sustainable agriculture; reduces use of fertilizer, pesticides and other agro-chemicals; reduces packaging and waste.
- Economic: control over prices and sharing of risks; greater share of valued added and income for farmers; better prices for consumers; economic spill-over; employment; business skills development among farmers.
- Social: creates social bonds between farmers and consumers; food security for at risk populations; nutrition and healthier eating and better nutrition; equality – greater market access for small farmers.
Groundswell is working with our partners around the world to strengthen local food systems. For example, in Ecuador the latest census estimates that consumers spend more than $5 billion on food, which represents more than 10 times the amount of international development cooperation invested in the country. If invested in sustainable farming and local food, this market could transform much of Ecuador’s food system into a positive force that dramatically improves the health of millions of marginalized people as well as much of the country’s ailing landscape. To promote this, EkoRural is working to strengthen the Canastas Comunitarias movement (community food baskets).
In 1987 in the central Andean highlands city of Riobamba, the Canastas first emerged as a response to the modern food system. The process was deepened in response to the economic crisis in 2000. Low income urban families initially organized to buy food wholesale – motivated to reduce their expenses by 30-50%. As they began to reflect on their diets, the Canasta members discovered that their families increasingly replaced fresh products with less nutritious, but more expensive processed foods such as white rice, potato chips, soda, and other ‘fast food’ snacks. Eventually, EkoRural supported them to make forays into the surrounding hillsides to visit the peasant farmers who supply their local markets, and to learn about the many problems the farmers face, such as finding markets and fair prices for produce. The Canastas groups discovered that the seemingly cheap ‘modern food’ carried hidden costs. It threatened family nutrition, local economies, the environment, and ultimately the wellbeing of their people. This led Canastas leaders to build personal relationships and direct purchasing arrangements with farmers, and to spread their work. Exchange visits have allowed others to learn about the process, and the movement has grown to over 50 Canastas groups, reaching more than 1,500 urban families and 600 rural families. Results include improved community organization, improved food security and nutrition, increased access to and incentives to cultivate chemical-free produce, and the preservation of traditional crops and dishes. The Canastas movement is sparking national interest, with the municipalities of Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Ibarra and Riobamba having expressed interest in investing in Canastas Comunitarias.