This talk interrogates the definitions, ideologies and strategies of transnational agrarian movements for food sovereignty for resisting the growing neoliberal agro-food regime. It raises issues with the definition of food sovereignty and the bringing together of diverse actors in the creation of transnational coalitions. It considers how the diverse class bases, historical contexts, and the ideological positions of stakeholders lend themselves to contradiction and contestation within these movements. It raises issues with the use of localism and the centrality of small farming as an alternative to mainstream development, highlighting that their espousal of the ‘peasant way’ reflects a romantic rural vision that obscures class differences and local politics and fails to provide a realistic vision for rural development.
It then examines the ramifications of promoting “food sovereignty” amongst poor and marginal farmers in the Telengana region of India. It suggests that while local level strategies intend to improve farmers’ capacity to subsist, they often overlook the evolving need of poor peasant farmers to take advantage of diverse opportunities in a harsh economic climate. Alternative agricultural solutions based only in farming could paradoxically constrain their options for maintaining viable rural livelihoods. This paper argues that in order for farmers to exercise “food sovereignty”, they must first secure their livelihoods, which are determined not by their ability to opt out of the market economy, but rather by negotiating their position within it.
About the speaker:
Elizabeth Louis is a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her academic interests include political economy of agriculture, political ecology, sustainable agriculture and alternative food movements.