Food Sovereignty
Food insecurity is abundant on Native American reservations, with the lack of grocery stores and affordable fresh foods leading to high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. As of 2018, a quarter of Native Americans lacked access to nutritious foods. When COVID-19 hit, the more than two-hour round trips to get food were often fruitless, as panic-induced buying emptied store shelves. Some tribes are now taking matters into their own hands. Today, solutions to the problem are starting to emerge with a variety of tribal and intertribal efforts exploring food sovereignty.

The Structure of Reservations

Federal government mismanagement of native lands is a major underlying cause of food insecurity. Through the federal trust doctrine, the U.S. government owns and manages native lands and assets. This means that reservation residents are not usually the owners of homes. This makes it impossible to mortgage property to start a business on a reservation. Federal land ownership hinders harnessing natural resources and developing the land. On-reservation development projects must go through 49 steps, spread across four government agencies before approval. In contrast, off-reservation projects require only four steps and this difference extends wait time from a couple of months to years.

These factors, in addition to low population density and poverty, cause companies to avoid investing in reservations. Tribal leaders or entrepreneurs are able to start farms. However, the leaders often lack the complementary infrastructures needed to get their products on grocery store shelves. As such, produce and meats often leave the reservation for services such as grading, freezing and packaging. By the time the products make it back to the reservation, the produce is less fresh and marked-up due to travel.

The Disruption of Traditional Diets

The lack of infrastructure and government restrictions on hunting and gathering create food insecurity on many reservations. The Pine Ridge Reservation imports 95% of foods and everyday necessities while the Menominee Reservation, the largest reservation east of the Mississippi River, has only one grocery store.

Due to the situation, some families’ only option is to seek government assistance. In 2015, 24% of Native families participated in the SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program. This is almost twice as much involvement as that of the general population. Furthermore, nearly a fifth of all Native children participated in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) free or reduced school lunches at the same time.

These programs, while important to feeding the hungry, do not conform with traditional diets. In 2014, the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations only allocated roughly $1 per meal. These meals are high in processed sugars and carbohydrates and lacking in fresh produce. This leads to high rates of health problems on reservations. For example, 42% of Native Americans struggle with obesity, and 20% of Navajo adults have diabetes, the third-highest rate in the world, below only Nauru and Mauritius.

Reclaiming Traditional Diets

In 2018, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin established the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems (DAFS). Embracing their traditional culture and diets, the Menominee move toward food sovereignty by hunting, fishing, gathering, tree tapping and farming.

DAFS Director Gary Besaw told The Borgen Project that the Menominee Tribe has a long history of agriculture. Archaeological evidence shows that the Menominee gardened through the last ice age. To do so, the Menominee used advanced techniques like raised-bed farming and biochar to improve soil quality. The tribe has reclaimed producing squash, maple syrup and corn, with hopes of growing orchards in the near future.

Nature and Intertribal Efforts

Prior to reservation life, the Menominee had access to fishing over much of the Great Lakes and their river systems. The current location of the Menominee Tribe’s reservation lacks this access. This makes it difficult to obtain enough fish without depleting the local resources.

Besaw stressed the importance of intertribal commerce and collaboration since each Tribal Nation has access to different food and lands. Besaw informed The Borgen Project that “re-establishing intertribal trade and commerce allows not only for economic growth in a sustainable green industry but also allows us to obtain healthy traditional foods.” Both products and skills move between tribes. The Menominee work with neighboring tribes and organic farms to grow food, manually dealing with weeds, pests and invasive species.

One of the Menominee Tribe’s partners, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, worked with the Intertribal Agriculture Council to form the Mobile Farmer’s Market. This organization connects Native Americans across the United States with produce grown and harvested by Native Americans. Additionally, the Mobile Farmer’s Market hosts workshops to facilitate the spread of traditional skills.

In February 2019, a workshop occurred on the Menominee Reservation, teaching farming, seed keeping and healthy diets. According to Besaw, Menominee County has the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease in Wisconsin. The move toward food sovereignty and traditional diets has had a positive impact on the community’s health. To supplement these healthier diets, the Menominee Tribe is also conducting early-stage diagnosis and tracing family trees to see who has a genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Food Insecurity and COVID-19

According to Besaw, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the level of dependency that his tribe has on the federal government for food. The food boxes that the USDA provided were a lifesaver, though sometimes compromising his tribe’s goal of growing food indigenously, without GMOs and pesticides.

Across the country, many tribes have realized this as well. In Minnesota, the Dream of Wild Health intertribal nonprofit organization is working to distribute food to food-insecure Native Americans living in the Twin Cities. The organization owns a 30-acre pollinator farm outside of the Twin Cities and produces pesticide- and GMO-free produce.

Throughout the Dream of Wild Health’s history, the organization has received heirloom seeds from around North America. In 2019, it started to identify the seeds and return them to its community of origin, benefitting in-state and out-of-state tribes. According to another seed-saving organization, Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, the demand for seeds has increased around 4,900% during COVID-19, as Native Americans strive toward food sovereignty during these challenging times.

With many tribes and intertribal organizations around to help Native Americans attain food sovereignty, prospects are growing across North America. Not only are traditions returning but traditions are also making their way between and outside of tribes. As these efforts continue with success, it is time the U.S. government steps up to give tribes the support they need in a way that will not jeopardize their health further.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

cause of hungerThe COVID-19 pandemic is deemed a global health crisis that has resulted in an economic crisis and a hunger crisis too. In the Dominican Republic, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger.

Unemployment Due to COVID-19

Cabarete, Dominican Republic, prides itself on being one of the watersports capitals of the world. Nearly two-thirds of Cabarete’s population depends on the local tourism industry for work and income. These jobs mostly fall under the informal economy.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60% of the world’s working population were employed in the informal economy. The informal economy is defined by hourly jobs that offer neither a salary nor employee benefits. The pandemic left many people without a regular source of income and without health insurance.

Compared with the bailout packages that the governments of wealthy nations were able to provide to their citizens, the governments of impoverished nations were unable to provide citizens with such economic support. Around the world, NGOs have attempted to assist in providing the support that impoverished governments are unable to provide.

Cabarete Sostenible Addresses the Root Cause of Hunger

Moraima Capellán Pichardo, a citizen of Cabarete, is a supporter of the concept of food sovereignty. The Borgen Project spoke with Capellán Pichardo about the origins of Cabarete Sostenible and the organization’s long-term goals. Food sovereignty, the principle that individual self-actualization is dependent on having enough to eat, is at the heart of Cabarete Sostenible’s mission.

Capellán Pichardo told The Borgen Project that individual NGOs in Cabarete were working independently of each other when the COVID-19 pandemic began. These separate organizations had a common goal so they came together to form a coalition and increase their impact. This coalition became the nonprofit organization, Cabarete Sostenible. Everyone who works with Cabarete Sostenible is a volunteer. The organization works with local food distributors and organic farms and distributes the foodstuff that it receives to struggling families and individuals in Cabarete. This forms the organization’s first response to the hunger crisis.

Although it began as a method to address an acute crisis, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger. Capellán Pichardo indicated that food sovereignty has been on the minds of Cabarete Sostenible’s volunteers and organizers since its inception. “Very early on, we sat down to discuss where we thought Cabarete Sostenible was going in the future. For us, we wanted to make sure that we did not just stick to giving out food because that does not really address the root problem.”

The Concept of Food Sovereignty

Food insecurity means being without reliable access to sufficient and nutritious supplies of food at any given time and is a common reality for citizens of Cabarete. On the other hand, food sovereignty, organizing society in such a manner that every individual has access to producing his or her own food, is a possible solution to food insecurity. “Food sovereignty is tied to land access,” Capellán Pichardo says. “For us, it is important that the first mission that Cabarete Sostenible focuses on is food sovereignty: access to healthy and appropriate food and using the native agricultural land to provide that.”

Food Sovereignty Addresses Food Insecurity

Since COVID-19, many factors have contributed to a rise in food insecurity and extreme poverty worldwide. Mass rates of unemployment have threatened access to food as even the poorest households spend close to three-fourths of their income on food.

Widespread unemployment, combined with unexpected drops in agricultural production, has created an unprecedented crisis. Because of supply line disruptions and trade barriers, often the result of increased health precautions, citizens of the world’s poorest nations are left without access to food. Some of the suffering caused by such disruptions can be mitigated by food sovereignty policies. Perhaps, a societal approach may be modeled after Cabarete Sostenible’s efforts to address the root causes of hunger.

Sustainable Community Solutions to Hunger

Capellán Pichardo is optimistic about the road ahead as she details how the organization has worked with local landowners to collaborate on solutions. The organization has opened the first community garden and is working to partner up to create a community-style farm. All this is work toward creating a social business model. Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger by helping to create a sustainable way of living, where food shortages are less likely and future hunger crises are averted.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Food SovereigntyAt the World Food Summit in 1996, La Via Campesina changed the face of agriculture forever by creating and advocating for the idea of food sovereignty. La Via Campesina, which translates to “The Peasants’ Way,” is an international, grassroots social movement — arguably the biggest one around the world. It works to educate and empower small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, land workers, rural women and indigenous people everywhere so that they can reclaim their power in the global food system.

The Origins of La Via Campesina

In Belgium in 1993, farmers – both men and women – from four different continents came together to found La Via Campesina. During this period of globalization, small farmers needed to unite to protect their voices. An estimated 200 million people are now part of this movement.

The International Peasant’s Movement

La Via Campesina, also known as the International Peasant’s Movement, has three main goals:

  1. Defending food sovereignty and agrarian reform

  2. Promoting agroecology and defending local seeds

  3. Promoting peasant rights and defending against the criminalization of peasants

Defending Food Sovereignty

When people speak about global food equity, they often refer to food security. Food sovereignty takes this concept of equal distribution of food one step further, and advocates for control of the food system by those who actually produce, distribute and consume.

According to the Declaration of Nyéléni at the first global forum on food sovereignty in 2007, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

World agricultural systems are the most productive they’ve ever been. The issue today isn’t a lack of food, but rather power imbalances in the control of the food, preventing those who need nourishment most from getting it. Food sovereignty supports that everyone – producers, harvesters, consumers – has the right to take back power from the markets and corporations.

Another factor is the struggle for land and agrarian reform. The organization seeks to ensure that those who produce have the rights to use and manage lands, water, livestock, etc., rather than the corporate sector.

Promoting Agroecology

This movement is deeply connected to sustainability and believes that agroecology is a way to combat the economic system that places more importance on profit than people around the world. Small farmers comprise almost half of the world’s population and have shown already that they can produce food in an eco-friendly, sustainable way.

Agroecology is a comprehensive view of farming which states that processes and practices should be adapted to fit local conditions. By creating agricultural systems based on the independence of peasants, without the use of oil or other fossil fuels, agrochemicals, or genetic modification, both the environment and global food systems will make strides towards a safer future. It relies on the decentralization of agricultural power. While this may sound counterintuitive in an increasingly globalized world, decentralization gives power back to the people who need it most.

An integral part of agroecology is the recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge. Passed on from generation to generation and deeply embedded in the culture of a community, traditional knowledge provides useful information about the local landscape and agricultural needs. La Via Campesina fosters farmer-to-farmer transmission of information and innovation through observation.

Promoting Peasant Rights

Peasants are increasingly being displaced and discriminated against in every part of the world. Corporations continue to violate their basic rights while peasants struggle to protect them, sometimes dying in the process. In 2017, 207 men and women were killed for defending their land, forests and water; a quarter of them were Indigenous.

It must also be noted that the term “peasant” does not carry negative connotations; as defined by La Via Campesina, “A peasant is a man or woman of the land, who has a direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the production of food and/or other agricultural products.” Many think peasant is a pejorative word, indicative of a low status. In a modern context, there is no association between the word “peasant” and “low class.”

La Via Campesina promotes a Universal Declaration on the rights of peasants and other rural workers. This Universal Declaration includes the right to an adequate standard of living, seeds, land, information, justice and gender equality.

The Accomplishments

La Via Campesina has made substantial, lasting accomplishments. Multiple countries have made food sovereignty a part of their national policies and constitutions. After heavy lobbying, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants was adopted in 2018.

Djigal, a small-scale fish producer from Senegal, shares her thoughts on the matter. “…A movement like this allows us to globalize the struggle…For a long time, peasants didn’t know what was at stake in these negotiations. But through this movement, we’ve become more educated. Now we can speak for ourselves.”

The impacts of this movement cannot be overstated. It is a daunting task to shift the balance of power of the global food system towards small-scale farmers, indigenous people and rural women. Advocates of industrial capitalism believed peasants would disappear, but here they are, fighting around the world for their rights.

– Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in GuadeloupeGuadeloupe, a territory of France, is a small archipelago found in the Caribbean. Food poverty in Guadeloupe has a complicated history involving the archipelago’s relationship with France.

In 2008, Guadeloupeans began to fear a major food crisis was on the horizon. This fear was due to its neighboring countries like Haiti experiencing the effect of rising food prices. With the archipelago’s long history as an overseas region of France, Guadeloupe depends on food imports from the European country. Suddenly, people in Guadeloupe feared that French imports would follow suit in rising food prices.

Fortunately for Guadeloupe, the archipelago’s long-standing trading relations with France actually became a major source of relief for the French-Caribbean territory. France was able to provide Guadeloupe with food imports that helped them avoid a food crisis like in Haiti. In fact, the prevalence of malnourishment within the Caribbean actively decreased from 19.9% in 2010 to 17.7% by 2016. By all means, this is seen as a major victory in the eyes of many, especially for the people of Guadeloupe.

Reliance on French Imports

Yet, such news only signified a greater ongoing problem within Guadeloupe. France’s role in warding off food poverty in Guadeloupe showed just how powerful and influential the European country still was to the French-Caribbean territory. In fact, around 90% of Guadeloupe’s food in 2013 came from imports, a majority of which have historically been from France.

In terms of what this means for food poverty in Guadeloupe, it has now led to a reliance on food imports that have negatively affected Guadeloupeans’ nutrition and diet. In addition, as Guadeloupe is trading away much of their healthier crops, the archipelago must accept unhealthier and more processed food in return. As a result, the problems Western countries have faced in recent years regarding diabetes have translated into Guadeloupean society.

According to Rapid City Journal, by 2017, Guadeloupe was listed 38th in countries with the highest diabetes rates. The prevalence of diabetes from ages 20 to 79 was at 13.56%. While such a number may not seem like very much, it is in fact 42.58% above the global prevalence for diabetes. Hunger in Guadeloupe has, as a result, become an issue of diet rather than malnourishment. Such is the state of food in Guadeloupe. Many have now accepted these westernized diets into their cultures and backgrounds. This makes changing to a healthier lifestyle much harder.

Food Sovereignty

Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope. Many Guadeloupeans have begun to advocate for their fellow citizens to utilize the diverse and healthy natural agriculture found in their own territory. Unfortunately, many Guadeloupeans seem to have grown out of touch with the traditional food of their own territory. This is evident since Guadeloupeans export much of their crop. Yet, this new move toward what some call “food sovereignty” could signal a monumental change for Guadeloupe’s future. Such a move would not only help to improve diet and lower diabetes rates for Guadeloupe but also be a symbolic gesture of independence from France’s economic and cultural grasp on the small archipelago.

Though the territory seems to be doing well on the outside, Guadeloupe still finds struggles with hunger and diet. A great trading relationship with France has covered the cracks over the archipelago’s issues with health and diet. In fact, much of the problem comes from such a reliance on France for food imports. The reliance on imports has caused Guadeloupeans to fall into unhealthy dietary habits. Yet, there is still hope with the food sovereignty movement. In the end, Guadeloupe shows how global poverty and struggle can take shape in many forms.

– Colin Park
Photo: Flickr

This past Thursday, the World Food Prize, given in honor of those who fight global hunger and foster sustainable agriculture, was awarded to Monsanto. This company and others like it claim that their practices and the goal of these practices – to produce more food – will ultimately end world hunger. However, Monsanto’s policies – which include resource grabbing, creating genetically modified (GMO) seeds and lobbying for questionable free trade agreements – do more harm than good.

Monsanto and other agribusinesses regularly expand into developing countries where their seeds create cycles of dependency for farmers, many of whom are women, while failing to alleviate the burden of hunger or poverty in these countries.

According to the United Nations’ recent Trade and Environment Review for 2013, “the world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development from a ‘green revolution’ to an ‘ecological intensification’ approach.”

In other words, the world needs sustainability, which can’t be obtained through Monsanto seeds that limit or eliminate plant diversity. Rather it is smaller farms, using organic farming practices and diverse crops, that will improve soil health and sustain communities. And there are many such farms doing just that.

The Food Sovereignty Prize, like the World Food Prize, is also granted to companies that fight hunger and promote sustainability. Unlike the World Food Prize, however, the Food Sovereignty Prize this year went to groups that fight against GMO foods, free trade agreements and resource grabs made or supported by agribusinesses. Their winners included Haiti’s Group of 4 and South America’s Dessalines Brigade.

Group 4, in particular, has led the movement against agribusiness likes Monsanto. Representing over a quarter million rural farmers, Group 4 was formed in 2007 to provide a place for Haitian farmers to mobilize and to voice concerns. After the earthquake in 2010, Monsanto offered the country over $4 million worth of seeds. Group 4 made it a priority to stop those seeds from reaching fruition.

It was also Group 4, alongside Via Campesina, the global peasant movement, that coined the term “food sovereignty.” Adding to the spectrum of security and sustainability, food sovereignty is the idea that people have a “right to define their own food and agricultural systems.”  Rather than working under corporations or policies that displace farmers into foreign countries or force mass production of certain crops, food sovereignty is about prioritizing the farmer, the distributor and the consumer.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: AlternetHuffington Post
Photo: DailyMail UK