Starting the second plenary was Jennifer Clapp from the University of Waterloo, Canada talking about the ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’ (conference paper # 5).

Unfortunately I missed a lot of Jennifer’s session but I did hear her describe the concept of extraction – in relationship on the microscale of food & nourishment for our own bodies, and the macroscale of extraction in terms of capitalism.

http://therealnews.com/media/trn_2012-04-01/vprashad0409pt2-240.jpgShe described how the financialisation of food allowed greater distancing between production and consumption, allowing actors to externalise the costs involved, and obscuring linkages between elements. She also said how the system hides responsibility and also blurs narratives e.g. The industrial agricultural food system as saviour (we can feed the world with our GM etc) rather than cause of injustice.

Marc Edelman from Hunter College/City University of New York (CUNY), USA then talked about ‘Food sovereignty: Forgotten genealogies and future regulatory challenges’ (conference paper # 72). He said how ‘Food Sovereignty’ as a phrase was actually used by the Mexican Government for a program in the 1980s, with similar concepts being used over the last three decades also.

He also made a key point in relation to the term ‘sovereignty’. Somebody needs to administer sovereignty – who? Nation? State? Region? “The people”? Which I liked, as this is something problematic I am continuously exploring as an anarchist.

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg from Wageningen University, The Netherlands then spoke about ‘Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty’ (Conference paper # 8). I really liked his talk because he was very succinct and made seven key points. These were that:

  • We have Food Empires which are governed and controlled by networks, the elite and other power holders. These food empires have the ability to de-active areas of food production. They induce precarity in consumption and production. They impose development models (think structural adjustment) and affect what and how much we can consume, and who can consume it.
  • Food Empires induce precariousness and disassemble resource bases.
  • Bypassing markets controlled by food empires are nested markets and agroecology. Resistance is everywhere and is interlinked.
  • He said that food production needs to be and can be productive, resilient, dynamic and sustainable, it should be part of society.
  • The search for and construction of food sovereignty is a long-term process.
  • We need to build a Chayanov everywhere
  • Our movement is stronger than we think. We are weakening food empires and supporting repeasantisation.

Following Jan was Michael Windfuhr of the German Institute for Human Rights, Berlin, discussing his paper ’Food Sovereignty and Human Rights. What type of a relation is possible?’

Michael pointed out, what I feel is an elephant in the room, that there is a conflict for us when asking for something sovereign, which often means the state, when it is complicit in so much harm, and in his framework, human rights abuses. He said food sovereignty therefore is about a search a good governance.

He talked about all the potential conflicts at play and our need to identify them, for example conflicts over land ownership. He also said how the right to food can be misused, such as with the foodbank model.

Finally, Ludwig Rumetshofer spoke from the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC). Ludwig was a breath of fresh air, a delight of authenticity listening to someone who spends their time on the streets and with the soil.
Ludwig said that there are some key questions facing the European Via Campesina movement which are:

  • How to access land?
  • What will be the production model (e.g. Agroecology)?
  • Under which social conditions is food produced (e.g. Without worker exploitation)?
  • What political framework do we need?

Ludwig made us laugh when he said his comrade had been writing an article about “How to become a farmer without marrying one”. Even though I’m not married, the only way we’ve accessed land in our family is through my Mum meeting my step dad so I couldn’t chuckle at its relevancy!

Ludwig’s key point however is that more than anything, we need a radical shift. He also emphasised the necessity of having a plurality of struggles, and this is a big strength of our movement.

There was then a discussion and a few further interesting points were raised. One was about the difference between industrial agriculture and peasantry. The main objective of Industrial Agriculture being capital accumulation and the main objective of Peasant Agriculture objective being feeding people.