Food Sovereignty and Agroecology: Growing Movements for Constructive Resistance

Food First | 12.01.2007

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. — Dr. Martin Luther King

As we witness the global assault on our food systems by corporate profiteers, it is easy to be overwhelmed. But at Food First, we believe Dr. King’s bold words still ring as clear today as they did 40 years ago. What “profit centered” agrifoods corporations are busy tearing down—rural livelihoods, healthy diets, forests, soils, and water sources—“people-centered” movements for Agroecology and food sovereignty are building up.

Even as the giant grain, seed and oil corporations spread chemically-cultivated, GMO-based agrofuels across an area of the earth the size of India, people organized in communities, local organizations, and world-wide movements are resisting the corporate transformation of food and fuel systems that enrich a handful of oligopolies while increasing hunger, depleting resources, and producing, rather than reducing, greenhouse gases.

This resistance is contributing to increasing skepticism about the agrofuels boom. There has been a growing stream of scientific and official reports denouncing the overblown claims and under-reported drawbacks of agrofuels. Recently Nobel Prize-winning climatologist, Paul Crutzen, warned that nitrous oxide emissions from agrofuel production are 300 times more potent than carbon emissions—many times higher than assumed.1 Cautionary reports from the UN, the FAO, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) all indicate that industrial agrofuels won’t cut greenhouse gasses, and will put rural livelihoods and food systems at risk. Even the International Monetary Fund had to admit that fuel crops pose a threat to food prices and are resulting in inflation that primarily affects the poor.

The agrofuels boom has sent food prices skyrocketing around the world, leading Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to call agrofuels “a crime against humanity” and to call for a five-year moratorium on agrofuels development. Quoting from Food First’s “The Biofuel Myths,” Ziegler used the term “agrofuels” in his report, revealing how monopolistic agroindustries impose their financial interests at the expense of the world’s poor and hungry.

In the U.S., rising food prices, coupled with cutbacks in food services, are depleting emergency food supplies, putting the nation’s 36 million hungry people at even greater risk. Foodlinks America reports that emergency programs, including the Women, Infant and Children Nutrition Program, face shortfalls due to food price inflation. Widespread shortages reported at food banks and food pantries reflect the fact that the agrofuels boom has not only driven food prices up, it has contributed to the disappearance of the country’s grain reserves and the erosion of surplus food stocks. As farm and food activists pointed out in a recent sign-on letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee, “We are one moderate drought or disaster away from… corn prices that would destabilize our entire economy…”

Food First helped draft three important documents calling for a halt to the agrofuels race. The first, a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urges the Speaker to oppose the Senate Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022—a massive five-fold increase over current RFS. This increase will lead to substantial environmental damage and a system of agrofuels production that will not benefit family farmers nor rural communities, will not promote sustainable agriculture and will not mitigate global climate change.5 The second document—a background paper for an upcoming national moratorium on agrofuels development— also targets the RFS as the key to the agrofuels boom, and calls for their dismantling. The third document is a background paper for the Rainforest Action Network’s international campaign against tropical deforestation by ADM, Cargill, and Bunge corporations.

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