Food Security, Food Sovereignty: An Insurance Policy for Inclusive and Resilient Recovery for Future Generations

Food Security, Food Sovereignty: An Insurance Policy for Inclusive and Resilient Recovery for Future Generations


(Presentation by Liberato C. Bautista, President of CoNGO (Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations and Main Representative to the UN of The United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society), at the IFSW Virtual Parallel Event “Social Workers on the Frontlines of Inclusive and Resilient Recovery” convened by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)on the occasion of the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission on Social Development.)

16 February 2022 | New York | Virtual

1. Good morning, NGO colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen. Thank you, Dean Elaine Congress and IFSW, for having me on this panel on a crucial and urgent topic. I am especially delighted that IFSW has recently been elected to the global Board of CoNGO.

2. Today, there is a surplus of fear and a deficit of hope among the world’s people. I have often spoken about fear and hope, including my New Year’s message to the CoNGO constituency last year, 2021 because the future of people and our planet is at stake. That future is imperiled. People and the planet are imperiled. I thank the International Federation of Social Workers
here in New York for organizing this timely side event focused on inclusive and resilient recovery.

3. The concept for this event is well put. “Social workers play a global role in addressing issues that impact the well-being and dignity of populations through providing services, collaborating with communities and partners to strengthen social solidarity through advocating for just and equitable policies and centering the voices and leadership of the most marginalized, especially
indigenous people.”

4. The event’s focus on promoting inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being, and dignity for all to eradicate poverty and hunger and achieve the 2030 Agenda is not only urgent but foundational. The advocacy here for vaccine equity, local capacity-building through transformative social protection systems, the right to development that includes socially just international trade agreements that advance human rights, and the promotion of the concept and practice of food sovereignty is foundational to what makes for resilience and inclusion in

5. The survival of humanity is at stake in an ever more imperiled and unsustainable natural ecology. The health of people and the planet is endangered by intersecting crises, not the least brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, global violence, forced migration, climate crisis, racial injustice, and more.

6. To decrease fear, we must affirm the fundamental principle that human dignity and human rights are non-negotiables. To increase hope, we must build a shared future for all the inhabitants of the earth and their natural ecology by promoting and safeguarding the common public goods and services indispensable for life.

7. At face value, you may think that decreasing fear and increasing hope are fundamental tasks of nation-states. That the task of ensuring the rights of citizens and the integrity of the territory that bind them into one nation is what sovereignty means. It is, and the task of nation-states to protect sovereignty is fundamental. But my focus today is on another sovereignty—food sovereignty. How is this food sovereignty the same as our traditional notions of national sovereignty? How is it different from the original proponents of food sovereignty?

8. I would like to locate the notion and practice of food sovereignty in the context of its urgency. That urgency is mediated by fear as much as by hope. By fear because the survival of people and the planet are at stake. By hope because the notion and practice of food sovereignty are forcing us to reimagine sovereignty beyond nation-state constructs into constructs that are people-centered, human rights-based, and planetary in orientation.

9. Recovery from the intersecting pandemics that people and the planet face today must not only be inclusive of and resilient for people and the planet but also just. Justice must be at the heart of recovery. After all, we are recovering from past historic injustices, including slavery, colonialism, and racism, that have marginalized peoples plundered their lands and resources, and subverted their human dignity and their communities, especially indigenous communities. When inclusion, resilience, and justice come together, we are moving away from the prevalence of fear into the resurgence of hope.

10. Justice is what rights the wrongs that pandemics are made of. When justice is pursued, resilience goes beyond the human capacity to adapt. When people who have undergone injustices in their lives for centuries and generations in their families and communities endeavor to unyoke themselves from such injustices, I refuse to call that recovery. It is a transformation in its most fundamental, if revolutionary, sense. We must not consign resilience to resignation as if we will weather every climate and economic crisis without structural and systemic changes. Nay, resilience must be about uprooting the intersecting pandemics and injustices that bring people and the planet to hunger and poverty.

11. The impoverization that has resulted from shameful acts of injustice in human history has plunged our planet into the precipice of unsustainability and the resulting dehumanization and commodification of people and populations everywhere. The concerns this side event is trying to address—vaccine equity, transformative social protection systems, socially just international trade agreements—are an array most commendable because on this call are people, you and me, who can summon and mobilize both material and moral resources to undo the entanglements of public policy with such injustices that allow for poverty and hunger and for wars and violence to linger longer. And if this happens, our yearnings for successfully implementing the SDGs will have come to naught.

12. We must increase hope and decrease fear through arrangements that genuinely put people and the planet at the center of the local and global public imagination and public policy action. We certainly need global leadership to help identify catalytic activity and strategies for transformative change. Social workers are a well and wealth of that transformative leadership, and Multilateralism and sovereignty as we know them today will no longer suffice for that catalytic and transformative change.

13. This year’s CSocD60 is even more crucial if only because it must address what civil society is clamoring for. Not only must there be multilateralism, where institutions for norms and standards-setting work robustly, but more importantly, a multilateralism where the common, just, and equal flourishing of peoples and the planet are at the heart of its work.

14. Under the leadership of the NGO Committee on Social Development, civil society leaders around the world are gathering in solidarity to “end discrimination and invest in human dignity and well-being; to end hunger by building resilience for food security everywhere; to invest in decent and sustainable jobs; and to bridge the digital divide to access fundamental rights.” These demands are at the core of sovereign state duties, and NGOs must call governments to their responsibility as duty bearers. The original proponents of food sovereignty have taught us that NGOs are genuinely the rights holders, and as such, they have a fundamental role in defining what makes them secure. Food sovereignty is about food security.

15. The challenge to multilateralism today is not only that the world’s problems have exponentially multiplied over as imagined since the Peace of Westphalia in the early 17th century that bequeaths us with the notion of sovereignty and sovereign nation-states who can contract treaties between and among them. The true challenge to multilateralism lies in the urgency that these sovereign nation-states recognize how each of their people and their natural ecology is tied to the survivability and sustainability of all others and that acting together globally is in their local and national interest.

16. Food sovereignty is truly about crossing boundaries worldwide—crossing sovereign territorial demarcations—ensuring that the wherewithal to address hunger is not hampered by political brinkmanship and exacerbated by the uneven economic development of nations. The faster we enact socially just international trade agreements, the better we will have food on every table, not the least in the mouths of children whose nourishment ensures the flourishing of the future. Food sovereignty is an insurance policy for future generations.

17. Food sovereignty is close to my heart. My parents were small farmers and rural agriculturists in the northern Philippines. My father was a high school and vocational school graduate; my mother only finished fifth grade. Their meager income from tilling the land always made them insecure—not knowing how long the harvest would last so that there would be food on the table and they could put their children to school. Food security and education—they thought—were the ways to increase hope and decrease fear.

18. What is food sovereignty? First, its origins. Let’s listen to the international peasants’ movement called La Via Campesina, which originated the concept. In a Guide to Food Sovereignty, they produced, it said, “Food Sovereignty has emerged from peasant organizations organized at the transnational level as a proposal for humanity to rethink how we manage food and agricultural production, distribution and trade, how we make use of land and aquatic resources and how we interact, exchange and organize with one another.

19. Food Sovereignty is not a simple set of technical solutions or a formula that can be applied – it is instead a “process in action” – an invitation to citizens to exercise their capacity to organize themselves and improve our conditions and societies together. The concept of Food Sovereignty was developed by the people most threatened by the consolidation of power in food and agricultural systems– peasant farmers. Instead of being destroyed by the forces of history, they are offering a proposal to solve the multiple crises which humanity is facing.”

20. Food sovereignty is a lynchpin to just, inclusive, resilient, and transformative recovery.
a. “Food is a fundamental need – access to food is essential to human survival and a basic human right.”
b. “Food is also political – the production of, access to, and distribution of food are essential for our society to function, and control of our food system confers power.”
c. “Trade in foodstuffs – the exchange and transport of food from one human population to another – is also a highly politicized and
complex process. Control of the rules and regulations governing international and interregional trade confers even greater power
and leverage.”
d. “Despite the political and economic pressures they face, human beings continue to manage and nurture the ecosystems around
them to ensure a food supply. For thousands of years, peasant farmers, pastoralists, and other peoples who live from the land and sea have developed and refined resilient food and water systems, plant and animal breeds and cultivated plant varieties to ensure their continuation and long-term sustainability.

21. Today, the notion and practice of food sovereignty provide a powerful method of work and a way of being, becoming, and belonging that is local, global, transnational, and transborder. We need leadership today whose focus and locus recognize the geopolitical nuances of location and orientation. We need glocal leadership whose consciousness and practice are developed and nurtured through transborder and transnational organizing and mobilizing.

22. We also need leaders whose practice—indeed, advocacies and activism—is rooted on the ground as much as oriented to the larger horizon of human and planetary flourishing. Social workers, it seems to me, have true potential to be transborder and transnational agents on a mission to realize a just, transformative, and inclusive recovery from the social, economic, and cultural pandemics that people and the planet wrestle with today.

23. In my former office as human rights staff for the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, hang a poster produced by the Peace and Justice Center in Marin, California. The text on the poster said these words that continue to influence my thinking and doing: “At the table of peace shall be bread and justice.” Food invokes images of a table around which we break bread together; around which we tell stories of lives and living; around which families forge solidarity; around which peace talks are held. Food sovereignty is ultimately about what makes for peace—food on the table for everyone, irrespective of political and economic ideologies and systems of governance.

24. Around a table where we share food, we can discuss those that create fear and diminish hope today: a) climate change and global warming that is changing the way people and the planet relate to each other—affecting the sustainability and viability of civilizational and planetary life, b) forced migration in which the world is ever more globalized yet also xenophobically nationalistic; ever more securitized and militarized, vilified and criminalized, ethnicized and othered, gendered and sexualized; human beings—their bodies commodified and their services commoditized; and worse is racism and racial discrimination that would rather homogenize our ethnicities and play our sexes, classes, and religions against each other.

25. And this is why food sovereignty is crucial because many wars and imperial conquests were launched in search of food that eventually became the foothold of hegemonic pursuits. Food sovereignty is a way to decouple hegemonic sovereignty from the true sovereigns—peoples, indeed “we the peoples.” Many wars have been fought, and violence inflicted on peoples and the planet in the guise of searching for spices and securing food and commercial routes—be they in the high seas or skyways.

26. At the table of peace shall be bread and justice. That is my wish. The struggle to make this wish come true is what I see when I read about the work of this transnational agrarian movement called La Via Campesina, whose story I want to end this presentation. I want to give Via Campesina the privileged narrative—for theirs is the actual work for food sovereignty: I will read from the article, “From Food Sovereignty to Peasants’ Rights: an Overview of La Via  Campesina’s Rights-Based Claims over the Last 20 Years”—originally a paper presented at an international conference on food sovereignty at Yale University in 2013.  “La Via Campesina developed in the early 1990s as peasant and small-scale farmers from Central America, North and South  America, Europe, and elsewhere, sought to articulate a common response to the neoliberal onslaught that had devastated their lives (Desmarais 2008; Borras 2004). Since then, the movement has opposed “global depeasantization” (Araghi 1995) and the emerging “corporate food regime” (McMichael 2009). It has developed a “food sovereignty” model to counterpose the dominant “market economy” paradigm (Rosset and Martinez 2010, 154) and has managed to build a common agenda across the North-South divide. To do this, La Via Campesina has deployed a powerful “rights master frame” (R. D. Benford and Snow 2000, 619). Rights occupy a central place in most Via Campesina statements, whether in local struggles over seeds, land, territories, and resources or in international struggles over trade and investment in food and agriculture. Rights have provided a common language to peasants and small-scale farmers organizations that are politically, culturally, and ideologically radically different. The concept of food sovereignty itself is often defined as “rights-based” (Patel 2007; Houtzager 2005; Rosset and Martinez 2010; Borras 2008). In this paper, I argue that La Via Campesina has claimed food sovereignty as a collective right (Claeys 2012, 852) and that it could, in the future, become a new human right.”

27. Given another round, beyond food sovereignty and food security would have been other issues—indeed of food and freedom, jobs and justice, land and liberation—that make a recovery just and lasting, inclusive and transformative. Thank you, social workers. Thank you, IFSW New York. As CoNGO president, I feel proud that IFSW is a CoNGO full member and serves on the CoNGO board, sharing in leadership so that the NGO’s voice is heard and the agency empowered at multilateral halls and on issues such as what this event has highlighted.

New York City

16 February 2022