Fostering food sovereignty here in the UK

Fostering food sovereignty here in the UK

Date: 1 December 2014

In my role at WDM, I have been supporting the food sovereignty movement here in the UK. As the food sovereignty movement is an international movement with hundreds of millions of people behind it is important that the UK is a strong part of it.

This is partly because many of the corporations that own the food system are based here and partly because the UK government is currently helping them expand across the world. But it is also because the food system here in the UK is in urgent need of a revolution.

The ownership of land in Britain is more unequal than in Brazil, supermarkets are able to wield increasing control over both the lives of their consumers and the farmers that supply them, and the government’s agricultural policy is still framed towards helping large-scale farming instead of small. The need to reclaim power is ever more necessary. 

So here’s some recent activities that I’ve been involved with:

National food sovereignty gathering 2015

I have been part of a planning group to organise a national gathering for the UK food sovereignty movement that were selected from a wider group from the movement to organise the next big national gathering. So far we are planning:

  • To have the UK food sovereignty gathering on Friday 2 October until Monday 5 October in 2015
  • To have this gathering in the north of England (somewhere near Leeds, Manchester or Sheffield)
  • To run a food sovereignty tour across the country in the run up to this gathering to galvanise the food sovereignty network regionally.

You can find out how to get involved here:

Land Workers Alliance (LWA)

Two weeks ago I attended the Land Workers’ Alliance (LWA) AGM. For those that might not know, the LWA are (along with the Crofters in Scotland) the UK’s member of La Via Campesina, the international peasants movement. LWA was founded in 2013 and they have been growing fast in membership (of growers) and in influence. In the last year they have organised two well attended protests; one outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on April 17 and one involving some food sovereignty football outside Parliament on October 16. They have also just written a report focused at DEFRA to lobby for a national food sovereignty policy in the UK (amongst other things). 

As far as our food sovereignty campaign goes, the LWA are great allies as we form a dual food sovereignty front focused at different parts of government. With us focusing on the Department for International Development and them focusing on DEFRA (and all the MPs in between) we’re bound to get some traction somewhere. 

Land Workers' Alliance (and WDM) outside DEFRA on April 17
Land Workers’ Alliance (and WDM) outside DEFRA on April 17

Other allies

In addition to LWA, we are also trying to connect with other parts of the food sovereignty movement. In order for food sovereignty to work in the UK it needs to address the issues of people suffering lack of control over food in an urban environment (as well as small and medium scale farmers trying to get control over food in a rural environment). And so this includes food manufacturer workers, low income consumers and supermarket workers. Overall, it would be great to kindle something like the movement in the US where supermarket workers and fast food workers are just as key to the movement to reclaim the food system as the growers.

The 'Our Walmart' movement in the U.S. Photo: UFCW International Union
The ‘Our Walmart’ movement in the U.S. Photo: UFCW International Union

Food sovereignty networks in the UK are weaker in this area so I have been trying to make links.  We have been chatting to trade unions about improving links with food manufacturing workers and flexible rural workers earlier this year. We have been working with an organisation called Community Centred Knowledge that is looking to give more power to low income consumers and diaspora groups in the UK. And we have been linking in with networks like Whole Food Action so we can strengthen the consumer angle of food sovereignty. Our allies, Organiclea, the Kindling Trust and the Community Food Growers Network also have great urban links, using food growing (and the knowledge of) to empower people on low incomes and above all connect more people with local food. Also, a big part of the food sovereignty tour, which will hopefully be going across the country from spring next year, will be about linking in with the un-usual suspects. 

The food sovereignty movement can seem a bit nebulous sometimes but there are lots of exciting developments. Local food movements are exploding in the UK. Food co-ops are having a resurgence and the seed sovereignty movement is going from strength to strength.  But the best thing about the food sovereignty movement is that it is a crucible bringing all this together. With a bit more fostering this crucible should be the right space to form strong alliances with which to challenge the corporate food system. Here’s to food for people not for profit!

Top photo: One of the plenaries at the national food sovereignty gathering in 2012 – Photo: j.bojczewska