Food sovereignty

Food sovereignty

Point of View

I was in a conference on Slow Food aptly titled “Slow Start” with Cong. Kiko Benitez of Negros Occidental where he talked about the subject. I asked for a copy of his speech because it so resonated with me as a Slow Food advocate and food activist.

One topic he touched on was Food Sovereignty. After writing about Food Security, we should be more concerned about this subject as imports (from China, for example), change our food systems. We become consumers of Ponkan oranges, Fuji apples and even Japanese melons. Children, even in remote villages in Pampanga, have access to these cheap imports and probably consume more of these foreign harvests than consuming our local banana, duhat, papaya and other fruits in season.

We have been deluged with imported fruits and vegetables (did you see the smooth mass-produced carrots from China?) and even rice. This flooding of our markets with imported food is slowly changing our food culture. Our next generation may no longer see kamias, sampaloc and batuan if we do not save these varieties that we use as souring ingredients. Or our native heirloom glutinous rice (e.g. Diket, Jeykot) that is used for champorado in the Cordillera.

Our indigenous people are also starting to lose their heirloom rice as staple food due to traders swapping two kilos of heirloom for one kilo of white NFA rice. They also are no longer using medicinal herbs which they use for natural cures as BigPharma introduces chemical medicines offering quicker relief from pain or other ailments.

So what is needed now is for our legislators to help us by understanding food systems. And how do we as consumers help? Simply by supporting our local farmers instead of buying what is the cheapest variety, even if it is not a sustainable kind. Imports are hardly sustainable because they demand more energy (for logistics) and they also are destroying our local culture. Soon, we may no longer have a culture to speak of.

When unenlightened and uncaring politicians claim food security to defend the deluge of imports, think again. Every imported substitute also means the slow demise of a farmer. For every imported fruit or vegetable we consume, we also deprive a local farmer of income.

Food sovereignty demands that we start an agro-ecological revolution – not just a green revolution, but one that takes into account the future of agriculture and the health of the farmer and the planet. If I may quote Cong Kiko Benitez:

“The imperative for an agro-ecological revolution is highlighted not just by climate change but by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid disruptions in agricultural supply chains due to mobility restrictions, the need to strengthen community- or household-based food production is clear. We cannot entirely depend on external food production. Thus, we have to develop the capacity of communities and families to produce their own food in community gardens or in what little space in their house they could spare for pots of vegetable crops. We need to intensify the connections between local producers and local consumers to improve resiliency of our food supply chains. This stresses the importance not just of food security, but also food sovereignty – or the control of food systems to ensure food self-sufficiency and governance in as local as possible a context. Agro-ecology and food sovereignty come hand-in-hand in promoting a food system that balances economic demand for food with environmental, cultural and social imperatives.”

So it’s high time to think about food sovereignty and not just food security. We may still have food to eat, but what kind of food will it be? As it is, our farmers are already challenged with high costs of transportation that makes us want to buy closest to point of use. That means BUY LOCAL.

The farmers are challenged with changing consumer tastes like choosing super white rice and not opting for brown, black and red rice –always comparing it with imported white varieties. That means we must promote EAT LOCAL.

We are also challenged by the proliferation of seed suppliers, fertilizer manufacturers whose motives are suspect. Farmers are offered seeds that yield double the production but also because you have to buy the companion fertilizer and pesticides. The farmers get sucked into that quagmire without them knowing what hit them. And they cannot get out of the system so easily after having incurred loans to afford the promise of seed dealers for better yields. Check out all the agriculture stores and suppliers along the highways of each town. Check out the promotional materials of BigAgri. The farmer truly needs a choice. Regenerative agriculture is not reserved for the educated but is open to everyone who can appreciate Nature, the changing climates and sustainability.

So, how do we solve this situation? We need to go back to the old ingredients, heritage breeds, old seeds and practice regenerative agriculture.

It is a revolution to reclaim our food sovereignty, our food culture. And that is the solution – going back to basics and the start of a revolution that will reap fruits (pun intended) and not casualties.

Let’s save our future and our food sovereignty. Let’s eat, promote and grow local varieties. This is how we can help our millions of farmers – not through yields alone, but through quality food production using sustainable practices. Read about Slow Food – for good, clean and fair food. It’s no wonder millions of people in 160 countries believe in changing our broken food system. is a movement to ensure we keep our Food Sovereignty.

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