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By:  Marijke Colle

This article was used by Marijke Colle in her lecture on the Marxism and Ecology during the 7th Asian Global Justice School on July 15, 2015 in Quezon City Philippines.

The first mobilisations amongst third world peasants against the pressure of international trade happened in Puerto Rico in 1995 and in Karnataka, India, where small farmers also took to the streets in protest.

La Via Campesina was founded in 1993. It is now the largest international social movement present in more than 70 countries organising around 200 million farmers. We can call it the first anticapitalist international of farmers against agribusiness in history.

In 1986, the so called “Uruguay round” of trade negotiations was nearly finished. Agriculture was at the centre of the discussion because agriculture was going to undergo the next wave of commodification. In the name of efficiency, farmers had to compete against each other and the least competitive should disappear!

The farmers resisted and decided to unite against this new pressure from the global marketplace and the large agrifood and agribusiness companies behind it.  They proposed food sovereignty as opposed to efficiency which in fact means solidarity and cooperation instead of competition. Food sovereignty was in total contrast to the food wars waged by agribusiness.

How did they do it? By building socially resilient communities involved in small
scale local farming thus relocalising the agrifood system. The art of farming
replaces the business of agriculture.

Food sovereignty activists are accused of giving priority to the specific interests of the producers above those of the (urban) consumers who want abundant cheap foods with a long shell life and all year round.

But what are the consequences and the damage caused by the low cost food economy?

-          Agribusiness is in charge of feeding us(with loss of biodiversity and with GMO’s!)

-          Supermarkets, multinational transportation companies and long food chains have acquired a monopoly

-          Ill health caused by industrially processed food (sugar, salt, conserving agents…)

-          Low wages in the food sector (from supermarkets to migrant – often undocumented – labour in the fruit sector)

The low prices for food should not serve as a justification for low wages, social policies should on the contrary, make it possible to provide fair prices for the farmers-producers and good food for the poor.

Alternatives are possible:

-          Local and regional production and markets

-          Less risk of being dependent on the import of food

-          Higher resilience against volatile prices and price shocks on a global level

-          This resilience is only possible when there is diversity in production methods and in products

The food sovereignty movement has developed the last 20 years. There have been growing problems in the food system, also in the rich countries. There is anincreasing demand for locally produced food, a growing success of farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture.

The concept of food sovereignty has deepened:  we have seen the diversification of production methods and localities (from third world farmers to middle classes in towns of the ‘rich’ world, from Cuba to the new transition towns in Europa) and the emergence of a second generation of food activists.

Building bridges between urban consumers and local farmers through reconstructing a local food system, means not only a global fight against the WTO but also local action (for example around school canteens) and with low income communities; introducing the concept of food justice amongst the most dynamic activists joining in with the needs of farmers and low income groups

Democratising the food sovereignty movement, passive consumers become active citizens claiming control over their food system and the right to choose.

After the demands for democracy in the workplace, we must now also put forward the demand for democracy in the sector of food production

The movement for food sovereignty strengthens social links. The market economy corrodes human relations, useful goods have been commodified and human needs have been transformed into demand, personal relations between individuals who cooperate have been degraded into the impersonal exchange value of the goods produced.

Food sovereignty creates and favours resilience over efficiency. Against the growing uncertainties and the crisis of agriculture: peak oil, imbalances in the mineral cycles (N and P), mono-cropping and genetic erosion, soil degradation etc.

The alternative of agro-ecology: with less fossil fuels input, less irrigation, rebuilding of humus rich soils and a global rethinking of our relationship to Nature


Against the linear model of a simplified nature invented in the science lab, we must reconsider the job of farming as that of an inventor. The farmer is much more than a person capable of reading instructions, spray bottles and use seeds from seed bags. Peer to peer exchange amongst farmers, giving priority to local solutions transform also the relationship between farmers and scientific experts as shown in participative plant breeding.


The main food system is dominated by the direct interests of the big agribusiness corporations, it is energy devouring and obsessed with low cost. But the real costs are: ill health, rural depopulation, ecological damage. Society pays for this damage, not agribusiness.

Alternative food systems democratise, re-localise production and empower the citizen to become a stakeholder in the food system in collaboration with the farmers.


Marijke Colle
 was a Former Executive Director of IIRE Amsterdam.  She is of a Belgian origin living in France. She was a biology teacher and a feminist activist from the 1970s up to the present. As a feminist, she had a leading role in the fight for contraception and abortion rights in Belgium. She is also active in anti-nuclear movement.  Currently, she is writing more and more on ecology and eco-feminism.

She has written several articles on eco-socialism in English and a regular contributor of a Weekly Ecological Magazine in Belgium.


This article was based on the following article published in March 2015:

Olivier De Schutter has been the UN special rapporteur on the right to food from 2008 until 2014




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