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Laws governing global food system must be changed to stave off collapse – activists

Laws governing global food system must be changed to stave off collapse – activists
Previous choices such as pesticides, genetically modified foods, displacing communities, and prioritising certain foods that can be mass produced are eroding the indigenous crops of each community. (Photo: schmidtlaw.com / Wikipedia)

The evolution of the food system will not only be solved by policy but also by sustenance and small-scale farmers and fishers helping to build a just transition in food production, a webinar has heard.

The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) was launched in February 2015 at an assembly of agricultural NGOs, small-scale food producers, food justice activists, environmental justice organisations and community movements.

In a webinar on Tuesday, 13 February, food sovereignty activists Jennifer Clapp and Vishwas Satgar led a conversation asking, “Is the global food system heading for collapse?”

The conversation took place on the back of the shocking findings that 828 million people — 10% of the world’s population — go to bed hungry each night, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are lost in the food “life cycle” every year and communities are now dependent on supermarkets for their food needs, which has made food production a huge contributor to climate change.

Clapp, the Canada research chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability and a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, said it was important to understand how food became industrialised.

food system clapp

Jennifer Clapp is the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability. (Photo: University of Waterloo / Wikipedia)

Market power and the technology power of dominant firms narrowed farmers’ choices, and the powers-that-be prioritised “profit-oriented innovations over those that serve the public good”.

These innovations included pesticides, genetically modified foods, the displacement of communities and prioritising foods that could be mass-produced, which eroded the indigenous crops of communities.

“We have this system that’s been put in place that has now been modified in each era. The consequences of this globally are displacing tendencies that drive inequality and marginalise some populations.”

The industrial food production model also “undermines the ecological base of agriculture through harm to soils, biodiversity loss, carbon emissions, pollution and has created health threats due to exposure to toxins. So, huge consequences, but the system has stayed in place,” Clapp said.

Clapp said the powers behind the global food system would not let it collapse, but would reinvent and modify the system, and the food industry was trying to “present itself as the solution to problems it created”.

“What’s needed is an uprooting of industrial food agriculture as the norm, because corporate power promoting it is deeply entrenched.”

Clapp said there needed to be more support for agroecology, as well as promoting the “logic of diversity” and food culture, and agricultural research and development led by the state and not the private sector.

Evolution of the food system

food system satgar

Activist Vishwas Satgar. (Photo: Great Transition Initiative / Wikipedia)

Satgar, a long-time activist and co-founder of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the Climate Justice Charter process, mapped out examples of famine linked to the climate crisis. He noted that after the Great Recession in the early 2000s and the Covid-19 pandemic, world food prices had more than doubled in the past decade.

Satgar said that the evolution of the food system would not only be solved by policy but also by sustenance and small-scale farmers and fishers helping to build a just transition in food production.

Read  more in Daily Maverick: Fighting back against food poverty and climate change through indigenous farming methods 

He referred to the Food Sovereignty Act proposed by the SAFSC and other civil society organisations.

“The People’s Food Sovereignty Act will be taken to Parliament again in October for World Food Day,” said Satgar. The Food Sovereignty Act was created in collaboration with small-scale farmers, rural community members and other stakeholders.

The Act aims “to change the laws governing the food system, and for that purpose:

  • To give effect to the right to food in the Constitution, provided under section 27, and to ensure that the right to food is realised by all people;
  • To ensure that indigenous seeds and seed-saving practices are protected to maintain the biodiversity of seed and food systems;
  • To promote the ownership of land by food-producing communities, and ensure that land is distributed and managed to maintain biodiversity;
  • To establish the rights of persons and food producers regarding water, and to promote the sustainable use of water in the context of climate shocks, such as drought, to maintain food production;
  • To ensure that all food production is undertaken by methods that are environmentally sustainable, safe and just;
  • To promote the consumption of adequate, culturally appropriate, indigenous and nutritious food for all persons;
  • To ensure that all food producers have access to relevant financial mechanisms to improve food production and distribution;
  • To promote community markets linked to small-scale food producers and processors for the union of food and to ensure that local food supply is prioritised over trade;
  • To provide for the setting up of national, provincial and local participatory mechanisms to ensure democratic planning of the food system;
  • To limit, prohibit and push back through regulation the destructive practices of the existing corporate-controlled food system;
  • To democratise the food system and reposition the post-apartheid state in support of food sovereignty through active citizen intervention; and
  • To amend and repeal any laws that give power to monopolistic food enterprises along the food chain, thereby maximising control of the people over their food production resources and food system.”

Satgar said the document would be continually modified as more stakeholders were engaged. DM

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