The ascendant Food Sovereignty movement — in which peasant farmers, fishers and farmworkers seek to solve world problems in food and agriculture — is the focus of an academic conference opening May 28 at the University of Michigan.
“Food Sovereignty: Local Struggles, Global Movement” at the School of Natural Resources and Environment’s Dana Building will feature presentations and discussions that focus on La Via Campesina. This international peasant umbrella organization emphasizes social equity over production and profit.
“It has a massive presence in tropical America, Asia and Africa. La Via Campesina has impacted food sovereignty laws written in Ecuador and Venezuela. Academics in the global north are kind of behind. It is an unusual situation in that a major narrative, food sovereignty, has its origin among poor people in the underdeveloped world, and it has been spreading like wildfire,” says John Vandermeer, Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in LSA.
Vandermeer will open the conference, which is one of the university’s two annual Michigan Meetings, with a welcome and overview at 4 p.m. Thursday. Ivette Perfecto, George W. Pack Professor of Natural Resources in SNRE, will follow by moderating the discussion “The Expansive and Expanding Narrative of Food Sovereignty.”
“This movement is challenging the assumption that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world. It is proposing that small- and medium-scale farmers using agro-ecological methods can feed the world and contribute to cooling the climate,” Perfecto says. She adds that industrial agriculture is among the contributors to global warming.
The conference features speakers, panel discussions, and poster sessions on the different aspects of food sovereignty. Professors, researchers and working professionals, from the U.S. and abroad, will present.
Although the conference is free, registration is requested. Sessions include:
• “Connecting local struggles with global activism in inter-governmental arenas, the importance of the Food Sovereignty narrative,” with Philip McMichael, at 4:15-4:45 p.m. Thursday. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University.
• “Extending the discourse of Food Sovereignty through the global food system,” 4:45-5:15 p.m. Thursday, with Hannah Wittman. She is associate professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia.
• “Building Food Sovereignty in Detroit: Opportunities and Challenges,” 11-11:30 a.m. Friday with Malik Yakini, a founder and executive director of The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.
• “Food Sovereignty as a social movement strategy of struggle,” 4-4:30 p.m. Friday, with Peter Rosset, global alternatives associate at the Center for the Study of the Americas, researcher at the Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico, co-coordinator of the Land Research Action Network, visiting research scientist at U-M, and staff member of La Via Campesina.
The U-M Detroit Center, 3663 Woodward Ave., will host a session from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday that will precede the conference: “Connecting the movements: Food sovereignty in Detroit and the Global South.”
Vandermeer says that before La Via Campesina, the narrative on food in the developed world centered on subjects including food security, market access of the poor to quality food. This included the identification of food deserts, such as geographic areas in Detroit where access to such food is lacking.
“They’ve replaced this discussion with the overarching theme of food sovereignty; that local communities have the right to decide what is produced, and how it’s produced,” Vandermeer says.
Perfecto says organizers are hoping to elevate the intellectual discussion on food sovereignty by having in-depth analyses of how ecological and health aspects can be articulated within the food sovereignty discussion.
“We are hoping to make stronger connections between the academic and the activist community and engage in more cross-fertilization of ideas, a kind of dialogue among different kinds of knowledge,” she says.
The event is made possible by a Michigan Meetings grant from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.