By Julian Velez
This is a reflection of my time in the Sustainable Development negotiations that took place in New York City. These negotiations are called the “informal-informal negotiations”; they are a build up to the Rio+20 summit. I speak of Food Sovereignty as a refreshing term that contrasts with the concepts and environment that is present in this UN process.
I find the process of the UN so detached from the people and the places that are in most need and are more affected by all the adverse effects of this unsustainable society created on structures of inequity and unbalance at all levels, economic, social, environmental, political, spiritual, etc.
These negotiations happen within a space where the language that is spoken is the language of policy and politics: technical and cold as it comes out of the mouths of politicians and princes that most of the time don’t represent the needs of their people and our environment.
It has been twenty long years of discussions that don’t come down to concrete actions. Actions needed for a true change to benefit the world’s poor and our natural environment. Discussions that have not manifested in implementation of principles and plans that they set themselves.
Sometimes it looks like kids not being able to reach agreement and not being able to follow their own rules: the bullies bully instead of sharing, and the bullied don’t stand strong and united. It becomes a vicious cycle of inequity that impacts the people most in need, those least represented with the least voice.
If I don’t know real hunger, how I can truly fight for food justice? Our politicians are much farther from this reality, so how can they advocate for this when it is so foreign and isolated from the UN negotiations?
Then the people like me that have the resources to attend these meetings do not have a proper space to speak and be heard. Civil society sits and observes while the words reflecting human rights and justice are deleted, and then we have two minutes to complain and demand our needs. And we are supposed to feel grateful and satisfied with our chance to participate. Moreover the meetings where all the real decisions take place are closed to civil society.
We sit and watch how concepts like resilience come to the text. Resilience entails that everyone accepts current condition of the developing world as a burden, which they should learn how to carry. Did the world’s poor have a say in deciding whether or not to carry the burden of their condition?
I have noticed how these negotiations affect myself and my teammates. I feel detached from reality and from a certain level of humanity. And I see how we become snappy, technical, cold, impatient, righteous, and arrogant instead of being inclusive and open to hear others. This process distances us from our humanity and from being kind to each other.
We had the chance to speak to Azra Sayeed from Roots for Equity and she came like a breath of fresh air and a wake up call for the team and I. She came and knocked on our doors to remind us that there are real people that die of hunger and that those people are not us; and that oppression and poverty is a real condition, not a term, or a statistic or a GDP number. Like her organization, there are other NGOs that fight for food sovereignty, contrasting with the term or thematic issue of food security that is used in the context of the sustainable development discussions.
The term food security refers mainly to the production aspect of food and more specifically the amount of production. The problem is not that there is not enough food but that many people don’t have access to good, safe food, land, water or energy. The issue is much broader and the concept of food sovereignty embraces this.
Food sovereignty is to have access to land to grow food for your subsistence; with your own technologies and traditional ways; your own seed; access to water and energy; and a local market that doesn’t have to be bound to the rules and the control of the global market. Furthermore, food sovereignty must include independence from the oppressing corporate structures in order to live with dignity in your own ways; to empower the local community’s culture so a communal fabric can support the members in a more sustainable and whole way. This is a much more whole perspective than solutions that will not change the structures weaving this reality of food insecurity and poverty.
Food sovereignty is a term that brings back a sense of humanity and community to the table, which I think are two essential things for the negotiating process and to achieve sustainable development.