It’s time to reclaim the power of food

Food sovereignty is what we mean when we talk about reclaiming the power of food.

When food is grown by farmers to benefit their communities, it can provide nourishment and security without damaging the land. This kind of agriculture can make us stronger, healthier, and more connected to the land, to our culture and to each other. That’s the power of food.

When the power of food is usurped by corporations that put profits first, other considerations that are important to farmers and their community like making sure our food is healthy, accessible to all and sustainable take a backseat to priorities held by corporate shareholders. Farmers’ incomes deteriorate, our diets worsen, and the planet suffers.

What is food sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is a powerful and innovative concept that was coined in 1996 by La Via Campesina, a global movement of farmers, to describe their vision of a better food future. 

La Via Campesina defines food sovereignty as “the right of Peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

In other words, food sovereignty puts producers and democracy at the centre of our food systems. It recognizes food as a right and a public good, not as a commodity. It identifies sustainability as essential, and promotes the use of agroecology. It also recognizes the various layers of discrimination that combine to place an even heavier burden on some family farmers, like women, Indigenous people, youth, and LGBTQ2S farmers. 

Food sovereignty requires bringing all voices to the table, and sharing land, seeds, water, credit and other resources equitably.   

It is what guides our work in Canada and around the world.

The seven pillars of food sovereignty

Farmers at the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, Mali, in 2007 defined six pillars of food sovereignty. A seventh pillar was added by members of the Indigenous Circle during Food Secure Canada’s People’s Food Policy process.

1. Focuses on food for people

Food is more than a commodity. People’s need for—and right to—food must be at the centre of policies.

2. Builds knowledge and skills

We need to build on traditional knowledge, using research to support this knowledge and pass it to future generations. We also need to reject technologies that undermine or contaminate local food systems.

3. Works with nature

We need to optimize the contribution of ecosystems and improve resilience through the use of diverse agroecological production and harvesting methods that improve ecosystem resilience and adaptation, especially in the face of climate change.

4. Values food providers

We need to support sustainable livelihoods for farmers and everyone else involved in food production or harvesting, and we need to respect their work.

5. Localizes food systems

We need to reduce the distance between food providers and consumers, to reject dumping and inappropriate food aid, and resist dependency on remote and unaccountable corporations for food and seed.

6. Puts control locally

We need to place control over food systems in the hands of local food providers and reject the privatization of natural resources. We also need to recognize the need to inhabit and share territories.

7. Food is sacred

Food is a gift of life, not to be squandered. It cannot be commodified.

What’s the difference between food security and food sovereignty?

Food security

  • Focuses on peoples’ ability to access adequate food
  • Understands food as a traded commodity and hunger as the result of insufficient production and lack of access
  • Is less focused on production and procurement methods
  • Based on four pillars: food availability, food access, food use, and stability of the first three


Food sovereignty

  • Focuses on food producers’ right to determine local food systems
  • Recognizes food as a right and understands hunger as a problem of food governance, unequal distribution and injustice
  • Puts small-scale farmers and other food providers at the centre of the food system and highlights relationships between communities and nature

What is seed sovereignty?

Seed sovereignty is about farmers, seed keepers, peasants, and other food producers having the capacity and right to save, grow, sell and share their seeds.

The Lexicon of Sustainability defines seed sovereignty as “The farmer’s right to breed and exchange diverse open source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled by emerging seed giants.”

When smallholder farmers are empowered to take control of their seed security, they also build seed sovereignty. Keeping seeds in farmers’ hands and maintaining a high diversity of seeds is critical for building resilient food systems in the face of climate change.

Learn more about farmers’ seed systems and their critical contribution to food sovereignty here.

Further reading:

La Via Campesina, website section on  food sovereignty

National Farmers’ Union, website section on  food sovereignty

Indigenous Food Systems Network, website section on Indigenous Food Sovereignty

The People’s Food Policy Project: Introducing Food Sovereignty in Canada  (08.2012) Cathleen Kneen, Food Secure Canada