Food beyond sustaining life is a symbol of culture. Traditionally, food habits have been formed based on what is grown locally, based on the agro ecological conditions. People belonging to a region had a taste for certain foods, which were not only diverse and available locally, but also helped in providing the nutrition required for living in such climatic conditions. Infact, people could be identified to a region by the food they eat. With corporatization and free trade of food, agriculture systems have become more and more external, more expensive, more resource intensive, more dependent resulting in food systems that are dangerously more uniform and unhealthy. Presently, State policies direct the type of food to be produced and the way it should be produced. As a resistance to such farming and food systems that are growing rapidly that the framework of food sovereignty has gained importance.
Food sovereignty, the term coined by Via Campesina in 1996, is all about the right of communities and countries to define their food and agricultural systems that is socially, culturally, economically and ecologically appropriate to their local regions. Today, it has grown into a global people’s movement representing 200 million farmers. Largely promoted by the Civil Society Organisations and alliances at the national and global levels, communities have asserted their rights over food in many ways (Food Sovereignty Alliance, p.33). In this issue, we have included a few initiatives where communities have been able to define their agricultural systems and produce the food of their choice.
The small tribal farmers of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts in Odisha, with the support of Agragamee an NGO have shown the path of self reliance, by defining their own food system (Jena, p.10). By following an Alternative Food Production and Storage System, these farmers have promoted biodiversity on their farms and biodiversity on their plates, which is not only vital for nutrition but also food sovereignty. The work being carried out through women’s collectives, and emphasizes ‘local’ at every stage – production, storage and distribution.
Access to the right seeds at the right time is crucial in producing the right food. Farmers from the tribal belt in Maharashtra through a participatory process, revived, conserved and replicated traditional landraces and thus regained their food sovereignty (Chavan, Magare and Wagle, p.14). Similarly, by reviving the community based seed banks and cultural seed festivals, the indigenous Kutia Kondh community of Odisha, presently maintaining heirloom seeds of 55 indigenous crops, which include millets, maize, pulses, vegetables and edible tubers (Mohanty and Siripurapu, p.5).
Climate change impacts on farming are already clearly visible in many regions. For instance, farming, livelihoods and food security of small, marginal and women farmers in flood-prone areas of Uttarakhand are under threat. To overcome this situation, women farmers of Mehdawal block in Sant Kabirnagar adopted the practice of producing flood resistant seeds, as a result of which they have ensured food security for the entire year. (Srivastava and Ahmed, p.21)
Rights over land is another crucial element for communities to cultivate the food of their choice. With the support of Nirman, an NGO, around 89 households of Kutia Kondh community in Orissa, received individual land rights over customarily used land where women were made joint owners. Around 15 Kutia Kondh villages in the study area have been issued community rights including rights over community forest resources.(Mohanty and Siripurapu, p.5)
Revival of traditional knowledge and practices do not necessarily mean that farmers are averse to modern technologies. Gujjars, a tribe in the northern parts of India, have shown that while holding on to the traditional cultures and systems, they have also embraced the new. They have learnt and adopted better techniques of milk production, animal management and animal breeding from the researchers and scientists, yet maintaining sustainable ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods.(Singh and Kumar, p.23).
Changing the agriculture and the food systems requires changing our perspectives towards people, their freedom to make choices — on the type of food to grow and the type of food they would like to consume. At the end, it is all about providing the democratic spaces to people in an effort towards building a just society. Still a long way to go.