Making food systems work for people and planet

A new web-based publication describes how to rethink food production and distribution for environmental and social gain.

News, 06 May 2008

With food hitting the headlines like never before, the International Institute for Environment and Development has launched a web-based publication that describes how to rethink food production and distribution for environmental and social gain.

Towards Food Sovereignty is an online book with linked video and audio files, whose first three chapters are now freely available at IIED's website.

"Rising food prices and fears that biofuel production will reduce the availability of food are forcing this issue onto the international agenda," says the book's author Dr Michel Pimbert, who is the director of IIED’s Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Livelihoods programme.

"It is now time to look long and hard at what is wrong with the global food system and to find ways to make it work better, especially for poor and marginalised communities."

That in essence is the aim of the food sovereignty movement, through which communities and citizens worldwide are striving to reclaim control of what food they produce, how they produce it and for whom, and what they consume.

Earlier this month, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) published the results of three years of research. It concluded that agriculture must change radically to protect the environment and ensure that poor people have enough food to eat.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme said during the intergovernmental meeting that endorse the report that: "Agriculture is not just about putting things in the ground and then harvesting them…it is increasingly about the social and environmental variables that will in large part determine the future capacity of agriculture to provide for eight or nine billion people in a manner that is sustainable."

Pimbert's book describes the ecological basis of food and agriculture, the social and environmental costs of modern food systems, and the policy reversals needed to democratise food systems.

Using a novel approach that includes video and audio clips of farmers, indigenous peoples and consumers all working to promote food sovereignty, it highlights the importance of locally controlled food systems to sustain both people and nature.

"Local food systems vary greatly and are the foundation for livelihoods, cultures and wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people, mostly in developing nations," says Pimbert. "But governments, international corporations and other elites either marginalise or directly threaten these diverse systems and the ecologies they depend on."

"The food system can be made fair and sustainable, but to achieve that we need national and international policies that promote food sovereignty. And we need stronger federations of local organisations so that food providers and other citizens can reclaim their own definitions of food, agriculture and human well being," adds Pimbert.

The full book will be published later this year. After describing the food sovereignty concept and the growing movement behind it, the book critically examines the transformations needed to regenerate a network of diverse local food systems based on democratic control, equity, social justice and ecological sustainability.