Tuesday, 23 March 2010

What Sovereignty is all about... Food and Nutrition!

Recently I attended a conference in Gozo with the subject: ‘Organic Agriculture and Eco-Gozo’ organized by, amongst others, MOAM (Malta Organic Agricultural Movement), IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) and the Ministry for Gozo.

I must say that it was an incredibly informative and interesting conference with some top speakers delivering very educational and provoking talks. These included Olafur R Dyrmundsson from Iceland which discussed the challenges faced by a small island state, Leen Laenens (Belgium) which explored the topic of seed diversity and the farmers’ rights to them, Anamarija Slabe (Slovenia) which gave a thorough insight into a low-carbon Slovenia, Eva Acs (Hungary) which spoke about organic agriculture in Hungary and Dr. Alex Beck (Germany) which provided the attendees with a brief introduction on EU Regulation on Labeling of Organic Products.

But I want to focus on the first talk which was delivered. Christopher Stopes from the UK is the President of the IFOAM UK and gave a very provoking insight into food sovereignty. This is a resume of what was discussed.

Agriculture is an important economical sector. Tourism, rural development and environmental stewardship are all dependent on this sector. The farmer has many very crucial roles in society including the provision of food and safeguarding the environment.

We are currently facing an enormous amount of problems not least among them are biodiversity decline, health problems especially with cardiovascular diseases and obesity and climate change.

Organic agriculture in particular tries to solve many of these problems through its approach and these are varied. In fact the approach is a ‘multifunctional’ approach. Organic agriculture is considerate of culture, well-being, nature, diet, taste, yield, nutrition, soil, water, animal welfare, greenhouse gasses, energy and more.

We cannot continue with a productionist mindset which pulls the supply chain with it. In fact, this can be seen in light of ethics- the good/bad- which currently defines production. We need to move away from ethics and more towards ethos- the way we live. By focusing on the latter, ethics will fall into place and production will be seen in its correct context.

Greenhouse gasses are driving climate change and this is especially driven by meat consumption. There are approximately 5 billion chickens we can’t afford to eat, which are dumped into other markets especially those of developing countries with very low prices, ruining the local supply chain and economical incentive for the locals’ production. For chicken farming, Brazil clears huge swathes of land to provide soya to the EU to feed its chickens. Not only that but the chickens produced are fed so much food to fatten their muscles that their legs usually do not support the weight and collapse.

We are now facing a resource crisis with peak oil fast approaching (or perhaps past it already?), economic uncertainty that the risks of indefinite growth brings with it and a social blurring of culture.

We must now differentiate between food security and food sovereignty. Food security is having enough food to eat which is still in the hands of existing powers. Food sovereignty on the other hand gives a human right to adequate food devolving power to the people. We must move towards food sovereignty if we are ever to have an equitable and fair share of our resources and no famine in the world.

We must move towards…. so that we avoid….

People’s right to food.... to avoid Export

Valuing farmers.... to avoid looking at farmers as simply those who farm the land

Local food systems.... to avoid Global Trade

Local control.... to avoid remote global competition

Build real knowledge... to avoid relying on alien technology e.g. GMOs

Work with nature.... to avoid Harming ecosystems

We now move to another very interesting concept which was discussed in the same talk which is that of eco-nutrition: eating and drinking with ecology, animal welfare, community and social justice and equity in mind. In brief, this is what is recommended for this purpose:

  1. Eat less but better- go for quality
  2. Eat simple
  3. Do NOT diet
  4. Eat no more than you expend in energy
  5. Eat equitably- don’t take food out of another’s mouth
  6. Feast for celebration
  7. Eat seasonally where possible
  8. Support local suppliers
  9. Learn to cook
  10. Pay full costs of producing and transporting food- if you don’t others will
  11. Celebrate varieties- get diversity into field and plate: aim for 20-30 plant species a week
  12. Think fossil fuels embedded in the food (transport etc.)
  13. Drink water not soft-drinks
  14. Be aware of hidden ingredients- unnecessary salts, sugars and additives
  15. Enjoy food but think long-term impact
  16. Eat a plant-based diet
  17. If you eat fish or meat choose those that have run/swam as wild and free as possible

Food sovereignity coupled with eco-nutrition are surely food for thought. What we have in our plate has a history- it can be one of bondage, struggle and degradation possibly with adverse health impacts when consumed or a history of equity, harmony with nutritious benefits when eaten. The food you eat is one of the very few things you decide for your own. You can stop at KFC or catch a bus home to make a salad. Your choice…


  1. organic is finally making a headway in malta even if slowly but organic farming and findihng local produced foods is much more difficult sometimes. i look forward to more organic products in the market

  2. Hi Melissa!

    Actually it really is difficult to find organic food on the market- and if it is it would have probably come from abroad with all the transport greenhouse gasses associated with that.
    I suggest trying to start your own pot food garden...even if it is herbs you grow! You can't get any fresher, healthier and env friendly than that!

    Keep in touch!