Food security: In search of a more right-based notion
Mohammad Yusuf Ali
It is apprehended that this year will be marked by huge 'food crisis' all over the world. So countries of the world are in intense search for ways to overcome the crisis. In this regard, expert opinions have been offered. While most of them suggest attaining food security as an antidote to this problem, only a few speak for attaining food sovereignty. However, both the notions involve the some fundamental question of human rights and politics. So, before going for the one or the other notion careful examination should be made and the one which is more right based and politically sound should be undertaken.
Food security, in common parlance, denotes a situation which presupposes the availability of enough food to eat whatever be its source. According to world food summit Plan of Action Declaration, 1996, “Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This definition clarifies that food security indicates a situation in which people have access to safe and nutritious food. But this concept does not enquire into very fundamental questions as to: (i) Who produce food? (ii) How they produce food? (iii) How the people have access to this food? The answer to these three questions are inextricably linked with some rights such as 'Right to food,' 'Right to self determination,' 'Right to Development' etc.
On the other hand, the term 'Food Sovereignty' generally means the right of every person, of every group or of every nation, to choose what they eat and then to decide freely how they will produce what they want to eat, without being influenced by other nations or outside institutions. The term 'Food Sovereignty' was first coined at the world food summit+5 (Rome, 2002). The Summit defined food sovereignty as “ The right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural, pastoral, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate in their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies”. This definition contains a lot of things within its ambit such as empowerment of people to produce food, the matter of producing culturally adequate food, sustainability of food producing system. So, this concept does not limit itself only to the matter of quantity of food. In fact, food sovereignty expands upon the concept of food security by moving beyond accessing adequate amounts of food to prevent situations of hunger.
Having briefly defined both the terms 'food security' and 'food sovereignty', now let us have a critical look at them and try to assess their impact upon various rights such as right to food, right to self-determination, right to development. The term food security puts much importance on adequacy of food. So, it urges the authority or the government to increase the production of food. And, for increasing production of food the government supposedly leaves no stone unturned. This paves the way for the entrance of corporations in the food production (specially in developing and LDCs) as the corporations possess sufficient technology to increase production artificially. They come up with some propaganda like 'Green Revolution' and thus sell their technology, seed and insecticides to the farmers. Initially, they freely distribute these things among the farmers. But, when they get popularity, they take the shelter of patent law of the relevant country and sometimes even prosecute (Monsanto vs. Schmeiser) very poor farmers for using their seeds or technology without authorisation. By this time, as a result of using excessive chemicals the fertility of the soil withers away, the particular land become accustomed to producing one particular type of crop, the other collateral crops which once would grew naturally stops growing etc. all these havocs have occurred already. Again patented seeds are debarred from conserving as the essence of patent law is that it enables the patent holder to prevent third parties not having the owner's consent from the acts of making, using, selling etc, the patented product [article 28 of the TRIPS Agreement].
The result of the above facts is obvious. The farmers so dependent on the technology and seeds of the corporations set the concerned country at the perusal of the corporations for its food production and food security. But what would happen if the interest of that corporation is not fully protected in that country owing to lack of proper laws and implementation system? The trade would stop leaving the country in an insecure position regarding food.
In fact, in such a situation the concerned country cannot determine its food and agricultural policy freely, which greatly undermines the right of self-determination of people. It is interesting to note here that not only the farmers of developing or least developed countries (LDCs) but also the farmers of developed countries like USA are in the grip of corporations for seeds and technology. This has been echoed in the voice of Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the 'Centre for Food Safety' (CFS) USA based institution, as he comments “Monsanto (a giant corporation) would like nothing more than to be the sole source for staple crop seeds in this country and around the world. And it will aggressively overturn centuries-old farming practices and drive its own clients out of business through law suits to achieve this goal”. According to a report of CFS on 13 Jan, 2005 Monsanto filed 90 law suits against American farmers in 25 states that involved 147 farmers and 39 small business or farm companies. It further stated that Monsanto had set aside an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers. The most devastating effects of such legal campaign against the farmers is that farmers even have been sued after their fields were contaminated by pollen or seed from a previous year's crop had separated, or “volunteered” in fields with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year.
It greatly prejudices productivity as well as participation of farmers in food production and thus undermines an emerging human right called 'Right to Development'. The UNDP Human Development report defines development as “a process of enlarging people's choices”. But as we have seen earlier, the consumption of seeds from a particular corporation' for the increasing production restricts people's choice vehemently and thus negates the concept of 'Right to Development'.
Attaining 'Food security' sometimes prescribes a change in the food habit or food stuff. It becomes evident when, for ensuring good security, the government or other donor agencies speak of replacing one staple food by another e.g. eat maize instead of rice. To deny people their staple food is to deny their Right to Food. For the term, 'Right to Food' also implies, inter alia, right to have culturally adequate food. According to PV Satheesh, director of the Deccan Development Society, Andhra Pradesh, Southern India, if people don't eat the food, they are used to, and they are fed another kind of food just to fill their belly, it's an insult to their civilization. So, replacing staple food by another food in a particular country for attaining food security is a denial to the 'Right to Food.'
So, at this juncture, we may conclude that the term 'Food Security' is not concurrent with some important human rights like 'Right to self determination,' 'Right to development' 'Right to food' etc. So, let us have a look at the other concept. 'Food sovereignty'. From the definition given earlier it is evident that food sovereignty implies the right of every person, group or nation to choose what they eat and them to decide freely how they will produce them. According to Mamadou Goita, a social economist in Mali. West Africa, “Food sovereignty enshrines our right to eat what we want to eat, to produce what we want to produce, and to do it in the way we want to do it. It is a deeply political concept and it has many dimensions.” So, the term tends to answer the basic questions such as: (1) Who produces food? (2) What food they produce? (3) How people have access to food? It ensures popular participation in the production of food and thus ensures democracy resulting in the people's choice. It also enables to determine agricultural policy freely, which is an indicator of the 'Right to self determination.' The concept also speaks of food which is culturally and traditionally acceptable in a given community or a nation. Thus, it concurs with the very right 'Right to food; for, right to food means, inter alia, right to take such food as is culturally adequate.
Achieving food sovereignty discards the monopolistic business of corporations in food industries, as it makes the people independent of the corporations regarding collection of seeds. People can collect and gather their own seeds from their own fields. It expands people's choice and thus leads to development, for development means the expansion of real choices that the people enjoy.
From the above discussion it is revealed that between the term 'Food security' and 'Food sovereignty' the latter one is more right-based and politically sound. So, in case of adopting measures to meet the problem of food deficiency the appropriate notion to be used is 'Food sovereignty' not 'Food security.'
However, achieving food sovereignty is a gigantic task. In this regard the following measures may be adopted:
(1) Firstly, developing and least-developing countries having agro-based economy should be coordinated to fight against corporate agriculture.
(2) Organic agriculture should be introduced. A recent study by Michigan University shows that organic farming can yield up to three times much food on individual farm.
(3) Patents on life should be banned. Because, patents on life and seeds substantially contribute to the current deplorable world food situation. Earth's gene should be considered as the common property of the mankind.
(4) Dumping system by the developed world should be totally abolished.
(5) Cultivation of indigenous varieties of paddy which can yield much more than high yielding varieties should be introduced. According to Nayakrishi Andolon, a non-governmental organisation in Bangladesh, many of indigenous varieties are capable of yielding much more than many hybrid varieties.
(6) Agrarian reforms, with rejection of land policies of World Bank as well as rejection of entrance of MNCs or TNCs into agriculture etc. may also be undertaken in this regard.
Mohammad Yusuf Ali is Lecturer, Dept. of Law, Sylhet International University.