Food sovereignty for a better normal | Inquirer Opinion

Food sovereignty for a better normal

/ 05:02 AM October 17, 2020

As the world reels from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s celebration of World Food Day (held yesterday, Oct. 16) is deemed even more significant, for hunger is strongly felt especially in areas where lockdowns have been imposed.

It has been projected that COVID-19 will plunge much of the world into the biggest recession in over a century, with devastating impacts for developing countries with little resources to combat a pandemic on this scale. As all sectors of the economy shrink, inequality will greatly impact ordinary people who are already mired in poverty and hunger even before this health crisis. The timing of this pandemic could not be worse, as the climate emergency demands massive and urgent investments for governments to shift into sustainable and regenerative economies.


Amid hunger and loss of livelihoods, what options do we have under the current circumstances in order to future-proof communities while ensuring just recovery? How can we change the narrative to stop an unfolding crisis becoming a deepening emergency, especially for the agricultural, fisheries, and livestock sector?

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is this: We need to look for alternative ways of charting a development path. In the case of the agricultural sector, one thing that can be further mainstreamed is food sovereignty, a movement that has been gaining ground as an alternative against the dominance and control of the industrial agro-food corporations.


Food sovereignty is broadly defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” It rests on the following tenets: food for the people, especially food producers; diversified food systems; local control of the food system; knowledge and skills-building, especially Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge; and alignment with nature.

The big agro-food corporations have been successful in controlling and dictating policies that benefit them at different levels. This has brought about a problematic notion of efficiency and a production-driven paradigm of food security in the way we run our global food system—ramping up production by monocropping and industrialization, for instance, in the name of the planet and the people. Instead of crop diversification, farmers are increasingly contracted to produce specific types of commodities for the big transnational food corporations. From a neoliberal perspective, this so-called “efficiency” helps lower prices. However, the setup jeopardizes the environment, puts food producers at a disadvantage, and, as the pandemic has revealed, creates a lack of flexibility in our food system to withstand shocks and crises. With the lockdowns, closed borders, and trade restrictions spawned by the pandemic, we have seen the serious ramifications of relying too much on monocropping and a highly specialized food production.

Throughout this period of disruption, we have seen small pockets of alternatives to the dominance of industrialized food production with the increasing visibility of community-supported agriculture and local markets done virtually. “Plantitos” and “plantitas” are practicing edible urban gardening, which can lead to the rise of small-scale family farming and citizen-led innovations in transporting fruits and vegetables from the producers to the consumers.

These stories are good starting points to show that transitioning to food sovereignty is possible. The government can do its part by shifting its support from the large-scale, specialized, and export-oriented food system to more diverse local food production and consumption practices. Ensuring that economic stimulus packages will support efforts to build diverse and localized food systems is also a step in the right direction.

The pandemic has shown just how fragile our food system is. It is time to turn this crisis into an opportunity by prioritizing diversity, resilience, and just policies in our food system. By ensuring food sovereignty, we can help build a better normal post-pandemic.


Jed Alegado teaches post-graduate courses at the Ateneo School of Government in Quezon City. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Development Studies, major in Agrarian, Food, and Environmental Studies, from the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. He is also a development communications professional working with nongovernment organizations and environmental movements in the Asia-Pacific region.

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TAGS: agriculture, COVID-19, economy, food, health, hunger, World Food Day
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