Food Sovereignty: an Alternative to Industrial Agriculture?

Victoria Capoferri (2013)


Since the World War II, the agrarian sector has become the subject of a profound re-arrangement of both its structure and methods of production. Agriculture has evolved into an industrial-intensive sector and food production has boomed; states have become globally interconnected in an arena of free trade; and corporations have emerged as the dominant actors in this arena. This new type of agriculture is fundamentally reliant on chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, more economically-efficient monocultures, and it depends on massive exploitation of natural resources – e.g. water, wood, oil – generating in turn deep environmental degradation and pollution. Moreover, the increasing concentration of power in few transnational corporations (TNCs) has resulted in severe inequality and injustice for peasants and farmers. In the light of these externalities, it is increasingly a subject of debate whether perpetuating the present agricultural model is feasible. The productive mode upon which contemporary food production is based, is utterly unsustainable. Therefore, development of an original model is mandatory to preserve the environment, ensure human survival of climate change, and to reverse the social inequities inherent in the system. This article, after briefly outlining the panorama of the issues involved in the agro-intensive industrial system, investigates the patterns of the emerging food sovereignty paradigm and stresses its applicability. Food Sovereignty is a practical alternative program; however it is often misunderstood as a romantic re-framing of the world. On the contrary, food sovereignty is a complex and multi-faceted program that not only engages millions in civil society and in bottom-up processes, but which can also be pursued as a national strategy, as the case study of Venezuela will illustrate in the final section of the article.


The space of the article did not allow for a deeper investigation of the patters and issues posed by the global agrarian system. However a fundamental impediment to overcome lays in the neoliberal structure of the contemporary global economy and in the power of TNCs such as the interests of industrial lobby groups, that determines a situation of ‘corporate regime’. The concept of food sovereignty offers an alternative to industrial practices, with positive correlations in terms of ecological sustainability, and potentially beneficial gains in terms of social justice, if carefully managed. Whether and when there will be a global consensus to move towards and implement such a dramatic shift is another question. Large segments of civil society are yet mobilising to promote this alternative and demand the revision of the current neoliberal orthodoxy. Despite the fact that the transformation of the present agri-food system goes beyond the capacity of TAMs, these forces have the potential to play a crucial role as drivers and catalysts of the process of transition.


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