The annual Food Sovereignty Prize honors innovative grassroots organizations around the world that are fighting for the right to food for all and dignity for those who put food on our plates.
This year’s awards ceremony took place in October in the historic Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City, during a time of crisis in the United States. The shutdown of the government — which lasted almost three weeks and was brought on by a Congressional stalemate — left thousands of already struggling families with fewer options to access food.
The 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize had particular resonance not only because of the unusual turn of events in the halls of Congress, but as the alternative to the World Food Prize, whose awards ceremony took place just days later in Des Moines, Iowa. For more than 25 years, the World Food Prize has promoted increased food production through technology as the way to end hunger. The Food Sovereignty Prize instead champions community-based and environmentally sustainable solutions coming from the communities most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. These rural farmers and peasants in many cases risk their lives in order to stay connected to and nourish the land that nourishes them. By contrast, this year’s World Food Prize laureates included scientists from Syngenta and Monsanto, singled out for their contributions to “feeding the world” through the field of agricultural biotechnology, despite the fact that the companies’ bioengineered seeds produce very little actual food and are instead grown primarily for animal feed, ethanol and food additives. Even with more than 420 million acres of genetically modified (GM) crops planted to date, the number of those going hungry worldwide has increased to the unconscionable total of 1 billion today.
The story the World Food Prize winners tell is not the story of how we will end hunger in our world. The real story was told in New York City in October; it is a story of thousands of communities and organizations around the world who struggle to protect our fragile global food system and nourish their own communities. The story of farmers and peasants guarding the land, water and soil from GM crops and multi-national companies whose science and business practices threaten not just farmers’ livelihoods but their long-term prospects of feeding their families and their communities.
The 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize honored five rural community-based organizations from around the globe that are reclaiming control over how food is grown in their regions, what is produced and how communities get access to it.
From Haiti and Brazil: Haiti’s Group of 4 major peasant organizations, representing over a quarter of a million Haitians, for working cooperatively with South American peasant leaders, represented by the Dessalines Brigade/La Via Campesina, to save Creole seeds and support peasant agriculture. Together, these bi-national partners collaborate to rebuild Haiti’s environment, promote wealth and end poverty. The partnership also provided immediate and ongoing support to the victims of the 2010 earthquake, and the Group of 4 made global headlines when they rejected a donation of hybrid seeds from Monsanto following the earthquake.
From Europe: The Basque Country Farmer’s Union, for offering its more than 6,000 members educational and economic support, including a strong youth program which has helped young people return to farming. The Union has built and supported a vibrant network of small farms and cooperative business, resulting in a strong local food system and gains in their region’s rural sector relative to others impacted by the devastating financial crisis of recent years.
From Mali: The National Coordination of Peasant Organizations (CNOP), representing the interests of nearly 2.5 million farmers and peasants, for strengthening the structure of farming organizations throughout Mali and building their members’ capacity to influence agricultural policy. CNOP was the prime contractor for the development of Mali’s first agricultural policy, passed by parliament in September 2006, which made Mali one of the first countries to put the principle of food sovereignty into law.
From India: The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, comprised of 100,000 marginalized women in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, for organizing the lowest-caste Dalit, indigenous and widowed women into unofficial worker unions or small collective farms to strengthen their food sovereignty and thus their broader power. The Collective encourages cultivation of native millet varieties, a hardy traditional grain that is nutritious, drought-resistant and easier to grow in the region than wheat or rice.
This fall, thousands of organizations, activists and supporters gathered in New York City or via livestream around the world to honor these grassroots activists and, perhaps more importantly, to learn from them. The honorees told their inspiring stories that evening of their struggles against the massive land holdings of the global 1 percent, the consolidation of seed companies, the branding of farmers as terrorists just because they organize and the increasing need for and reliance upon food banks in the Global South.
The 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize celebrates grassroots activists, farmers and organizers who are living the real story of how we will end hunger in our world.
Photo Credit: WhyHunger