Photo by: Tomasz Figarski
Our contemporary agricultural system – the mono-crop system – has been in use since it was developed by the ancient Romans and has made our current reality possible (Cribb 2019, taken from ‘Food or War’). This technology allowed for the tripling of the human population in the past 70 years alone (ibid.). Studies have been showing that this method is no longer sustainable however. It is unsuited to our growing population and lifestyle – now, we are facing a question of resources and land.
The mono-cropping method refers to when a plot of land is used to maintain one type of crop or animal at a time (Earth Observing System 2020). The farmer selects the crop that is best suited to the environment, and which will require the least amount of maintenance. There are, as history and our current way of life has shown, many advantages to this – it has allowed farmers to specialise in growing crops with minimum effort, and maximise profits through industrialisation (ibid.).
The advantages are starting to be outweighed by the disadvantages, however. With the human population and appetite growing, our agricultural footprint covers 52% of earth’s habitable land and has potential to occupy 70% in another thirty years (Cribb 2019). Yet, despite that we produce in excess, one in nine people suffer from malnutrition (ibid.). This coupled with the precarious climate and environmental deterioration, including “loss of soils, scarcity of water, global chemical pollution and ecosystem decline” shows that the current system is not working for us – in fact it is becoming a threat (ibid.).
In Sydney, Australia, at the 2016 Food Governing Conference, held between food scientists from 17 countries, the conclusion was that indeed that our current system was unsustainable and an “integrated and holistic approach involving the whole of society is needed to reverse unsustainable trends within the current food systems” (Cribb 2019). We each are individually responsible for creating a change in how we produce and consume.
“The failings of dominant food systems are becoming impossible to deny. Current production methods are severely polluting. They are the cause of malnutrition. They are also inequitable, and unjustifiably wasteful. And they are concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Entangled in the multiple crises humanity is facing, establishing global food security is considered a key challenge of our time” said agricultural experts Nina Moeller and Michel Pimbert, to The Independent newspaper (Cribb 2019).
A possible approach might be inspired by the La Via Campesina community, which was founded in 1993 and represents an international community of around 200 million farmers (many of which are indigenous peoples), 180 organisations, and 81 countries (nffc 2020). This movement kickstarted the Food Sovereignty movement in 1996.
Food Sovereignty has been described as “the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self-reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets; and to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production” (Raj 2009 taken from Peoples Food Sovereignty Network 2002).
Perhaps interpretable by the name, Food Sovereignty is linked to the preservation of local cultures and self-determination. This is visible in the recent growth in native American communities turning back to the land in order to preserve their ancestry: “Indigenous people are as much part of the land as the land is part of us. We cultivate the land and the land cultivates us. This retainership has supported my people since time immemorial, is remembered daily when we place our fingers in the dirt, pull the weeds from our fields, or plant our seeds with water, prayer, and hope, cook the food which we grow, and ingest the world with each bite of food we eat,” said Vena A-dae Romero, a farmer from the Cochiti Puebloan and Kiowa tribes in New Mexico (Pace 2015).
We know we cannot continue as we are now, with climate change being one of the greatest threats to humanity. So, reaching back to more traditional styles of farming might help us gain solutions. While the expanse of the movement, the variety of cultures joining the movement suggests there will not be one solution for each community, there are several umbrella goals which can be worked towards:
- Healthy food is a human right.
- Food providers and farmers should be protected from policies negatively impacting their livelihood.
- Locals should have control over their food and its production. This has the potential to creating community and comradery between farmers and help prevent monopolies over resources. In addition, the more local the farming, the easier it is to pass on technique (nffc 2020).
- The length of the supply chain should be shortened – Ultra-processed foods have had extreme consequences on human health, with increased risk for obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other illnesses (Jones et al. 2015).
- Lastly, the types of techniques used should not be destructive to the environment but rather work with it. (nffc 2020), (Raj 2009 taken from Peoples Food Sovereignty Network 2002).
Cribb, Juilan. “Is ‘Agriculture’ Sustainable?” Modern Farmer, 2019, modernfarmer.com/2019/10/is-agriculture-sustainable/.
“Food Sovereignty.” National Family Farm Coalition, 12 Sept. 2019, nffc.net/what-we-do/food-sovereignty/.
Heim, Tracy. “The Indigenous Origins of Regenerative Agriculture.” National Farmers Union, 12 Oct. 2020, nfu.org/2020/10/12/the-indigenous-origins-of-regenerative-agriculture/.
Hurt, R. Douglas. “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | NATIVE AMERICAN AGRICULTURE, 2011, plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ag.052.
Jones, Andrew D., et al. “Assessing the Potential and Limitations of Leveraging Food Sovereignty to Improve Human Health.” Frontiers in Public Health, vol. 3, 2015, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2015.00263.
Pace, Katie. “Indigenous Agriculture and Sustainable Food.” Sustainable Food Center, 7 Oct. 2015, sustainablefoodcenter.org/latest/gardening/indigenous-agriculture-and-sustainable-food.
Raj Patel Guest Editor (2009) Food sovereignty, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 36:3, 663-706, DOI: 10.1080/03066150903143079
Vanorio, Ame. “What Native Americans Teach Us About Sustainability.” Fox Run Environmental Education Center, Fox Run Environmental Education Center, 22 June 2020, www.foxrunenvironmentaleducationcenter.org/ecopsychology/2020/6/8/what-native-americans-teach-us-about-sustainability.