Isa Pearl Ritchie Interviewed by Annie Wright:
Please let me take a moment to introduce to you Isa Pearl Ritchie. I was lucky enough to encounter her book Food Freedom Community while researching Food Sovereignty. I found Isa’s work in the field to be insightful, hopeful and it offered ways in which we can all bring awareness and action to this important movement. Below are a few questions I asked Isa on Food Sovereignty to offer her knowledge to the Annapurna Living community.
Annie asked: Isa you wrote in your book Food Freedom Community about the foundational notions of food sovereignty, can you please elaborate on this more?
Isa wrote: The foundational notions of food sovereignty include: giving people the right to produce their own food; valuing community food providers; encouraging local sustainable food systems; giving control over land and resources to communities rather than corporate interests; building knowledge and skills within communities; and valuing diverse eco-systems (Rose 2013).
Food sovereignty came out of the international peasant movement, Via Campesina who are an international group of migrant workers and small farmers. They came together feeling disheartened by the way “food security” was being taken over by big corporations who were growing GM monocultures of food in the name of food security, often on land which indigenous people were being pushed out of. They coined food sovereignty as the term that could not be co-opted in the way that “food security” had been, that was about people and communities having connection and empowerment over food, land, and water. Now that the conversation has moved on, “food security” is considered to be one smaller component of food sovereignty.
The six pillars of food sovereignty were defined my Via Campesina as follows:
- Focuses on food for people: The right to food that is healthy and culturally appropriate is the basic legal demand underpinning food sovereignty. Guaranteeing it requires policies that support diversified food production in each region and country. Food is not simply another commodity to be traded or speculated on for profit.
- Values food providers: Many smallholder farmers suffer violence, marginalization, and racism from corporate landowners and governments. People are often pushed off their land by mining concerns or agribusiness. Agricultural workers can face severe exploitation and even bonded labor. Although women produce most of the food in the global south, their role and knowledge are often ignored, and their rights to resources and as workers are violated. Food sovereignty asserts food providers’ right to live and work in dignity.
- Localizes food systems: Food must be seen primarily as sustenance for the community and only secondarily as something to be traded. Under food sovereignty, local and regional provision takes precedence over supplying distant markets, and export-orientated agriculture is rejected. The ‘free trade’ policies which prevent developing countries from protecting their own agriculture, for example through subsidies and tariffs, are also inimical to food sovereignty.
- Puts control locally: Food sovereignty places control over territory, land, grazing, water, seeds, livestock and fish populations on local food providers and respects their rights. They can use and share them in socially and environmentally sustainable ways which conserve diversity. Privatization of such resources, for example through intellectual property rights regimes or commercial contracts, is explicitly rejected.
- Builds knowledge and skills: Technologies, such as genetic engineering, that undermine food providers’ ability to develop and pass on knowledge and skills needed for localized food systems are rejected. Instead, food sovereignty calls for appropriate research systems to support the development of agricultural knowledge and skills.
- Works with nature: Food sovereignty requires production and distribution systems that protect natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding energy-intensive industrial methods that damage the environment and the health of those that inhabit it.
Annie asked: The right to food is a value that resonates with local food communities. How can we support food sovereignty in our own local areas?
Isa wrote: ‘Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produce through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture system.”
Annie asked: Can you speak to this idea more?
Food sovereignty in our local areas has to be defined in relation to what we need and want in our communities. In some areas that might look like building community gardens, setting up seed swapping and food sharing, supporting local farmers or small businesses that make food, and other things that build and connect communities like time banking for instance. To support food sovereignty in our communities we need to start talking about it – about what it means for us in our contexts, rural or urban, in our climates, and so on. Conversations and bringing people together are the first steps.
Annie asked: Food sovereignty also values and supports the contributions of indigenous people. Can you explain some of the principles of indigenous people’s connection to growing food and how it is part of who we are in the greater sense of being human?
Isa wrote, “Community resilience, producer accountability, and the ability to investigate integrity are seen as positive aspects of local food.”
A lot of food sovereignty deals with accessibility to local food and this is one of the ways we can support it, I would also like to explore growing our own food and how we as individuals can be more resilient as well. Community resiliency is also healing.
Each community of indigenous people will have its own way of relating to food sovereignty, however, in my research and experience, it is a concept that resonates deeply with many indigenous communities. One example of this that we saw in New Zealand was that during the recent pandemic response when the whole country was in lockdown and people didn’t have the same access to food and income sources, particularly in isolated areas, there was a call for more food sovereignty and community food production among indigenous Māori groups.
One perspective on this is that indigenous world-views are closer to the natural world and are far less disconnected from nature and holistic ways of being because of the Western corporate worldview that reduces complex interrelationships and ecosystems into mere resources and commodities to be bought and sold.
Annie asked: Do you feel food sovereignty can heal communities?
The concept of food sovereignty is one that aspires to wellbeing and healing for communities and nature. Social justice and environmental justice are deeply embedded within food sovereignty and this way of thinking and operating in the world has the potential to be healing to communities.
Annie asked: Are there particular ways we can connect to this movement easily in our community?
The Food Sovereignty movement exists wherever people are who are thinking about it, talking about it, sharing about it, building gardens together, growing and making and sharing food, and building their community networks. We can also learn a lot from already established groups and initiatives. We can seek out initiatives that relate to food sovereignty in our local areas and learn from them and share both food and understanding.
Information on Isa Pearl Ritchie and Food Sovereignty:
Isa Pearl Ritchie is a Wellington-based feminist, novelist, and recovering academic with a Ph.D. on food sovereignty in Aotearoa. She grew up as a Pākehā child in a bicultural family and Māori was her first written language
Food, Freedom, Community: Local Solutions, Community Economics, and Food Sovereignty
A little background on the Food Sovereignty movement known as La Via Campesina.
How Food Sovereignty came to be through the La Via Campesina peasant movement.
The concept of food sovereignty arose in 1996 from the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, which was formed in 1993 and represents more than 180 groups of small farmers and migrant workers around the world – see viacampesina.org. Via Campesina was
disillusioned with the United Nations’ concept of ‘food security, which is focused on households having access to adequate food. This concept favors food policies that maximize food production and access opportunities, without questioning how, where and by whom food is produced.
Food sovereignty is more than an idea it is also a movement that has a voice and everyone can be connected to it. Food security belongs to all of us and it is worth fighting for.
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