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October 16 is World Food Day, a day dedicated to education about world hunger and possible solutions. For the past two decades small producers, and family farmers have been developing the concept of food sovereignty, based in the belief that all people deserve a say in how their food is produced, as well as the right to grow and produce it themselves through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. This notion, developed by the international peasant group, Via Campesina, is getting some traction this month as October 15 is the date chosen for the awarding of the Food Sovereignty Prize in New York City.

Photo by Krista Zimmerman, LWR

Photo by Krista Zimmerman, LWR

This year’s food sovereignty prize will go to the Haitian Group of 4, Dessalines Brigade/Via Campesina. In 2007, Haiti’s largest peasant organizations—Heads Together Small Farmers of Haiti (Tet Kole), the Peasant Movement of Papaye, the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movements, and the Regional Coordination of Organizations of the South East Region—joined forces as the Group of 4 (G4), a national alliance to promote good farming practices and advocate for peasant farmers.

The G4, representing over a quarter of a million Haitians, invited South American peasant leaders and agroecology experts to Haiti to work cooperatively to save Creole seeds and support peasant agriculture. Together, the G4 and the Dessalines Brigade, as it became known—named for 19th-century Haitian independence leader Jean Jacques Dessalines and supported by La Via Campesina—have collaborated to rebuild Haiti’s environment, promote wealth and end poverty. The partnership also provided immediate and ongoing support to the victims of the 2010 earthquake, and the Group of 4 made global headlines when they rejected a donation of hybrid seeds from Monsanto.

The Food Sovereignty Prize is a project of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is made up of member organizations, including Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Food First, Grassroots International, Why Hunger, and many more groups. Now in its fifth year, the prize was created as a way to provide a counter-balance to the fact that in the past several years the well-publicized World Food Prize has gone to large industrial agricultural projects which exclude peasant farmers both in their engineering and their implementation. The Food Sovereignty Prize is meant to draw attention to the kind of alternatives that people in peasant communities around the world are creating to address the very specific challenges they face.

Recognizing that nearing a billion people around the world are struggling with chronic hunger, and that a hungry world can never be a secure and just world, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Global Food Security act of 2013 (H.R.2822)  in early August. The bill is basically a roadmap on global food security directing the president to develop a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy focused on improving nutrition, strengthening agricultural development and ensuring smallholder farmers access to inputs and training, as well as updating the Foreign Assistance act of 1961 to include a renewed focus on women, nutrition and smallholder farmers. This is a valiant effort to get Congress more intimately involved on how the United States acts to promote food security through its feed the future programs.

While the bill’s focus on women farmers and small holder farmers is indeed welcome, just days before its introduction language around promoting agro-ecological methods was dropped out of the bill. These methods are preferred by smallholder farmers in less industrialized countries because they recognize that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not possible. Even though program descriptions seem to broadly recognize smallholder methods, current Feed the Future policies and programs favor more industrialized and less labor intensive methods that are dependent on new inputs from non-local sources.

Local farmers far prefer agro-ecological and biologically diverse systems to address problems related to climate change, resource scarcity and to avoid fossil fuel dependency. Although their work is seen as labor intensive, smallholder farmers around the less industrialized world see themselves as champions of their own food sovereignty; their work offers them a vehicle for escaping hunger and poverty and a deep sense of dignity that they are providing solutions to their own problems. 

Read about the Food sovereignty prize at: http://foodsovereigntyprize.org/; Learn more about the Global Food Security Act at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c113:H.R.2822:  

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