Is My Food Sovereign Enough?

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bazarFood is an essential need and almost all countries agree that it should fall under human rights. In a measure to protect its citizens from poverty-induced malnutrition, many countries support food security programs to ensure that citizens have access to essential food items necessary for survival and basic nutrition. However, food security, as a program, has received some criticisms for the approaches taken in the step towards eliminating hunger. Many proponent nations of food security have seen their national, local, products eradicated by being outcompeted by cheaper and easily available “factory-farmed” products. In a step taken to curb this possibility, Nepal has become one of the few countries to address issues of eliminating food insecurity, while, simultaneously striving to preserve local food systems and food diversity by attempting to indoctrinate Food Sovereignty in its constitution.

Food sovereignty is defined as the right of the people to define their own food systems. Food consumers and producers form the heart of this idea in an attempt to diminish the effects and influence of corporate farms and “world-markets.” As economies develop, it is more than likely that the persisting food systems within nations’ boundaries also change over time. This change may be induced by a preference for novel, exotic foods, media influences, or other reasons. Proponents of food sovereignty may infer that if such outside influences were not heeded, a nation could easily provide basic nutrition requirement through indigenous foods; and it is due to the import of new food cultures and food demand that we are forced to farm products that may not be well suited to our climate or require excessive import to meet local demand. While a sound argument, it is likely that such actions, if aggressively pursued by policy, may disenfranchise consumers’ wants and needs.

Simple reasoning allows us to conclude that locally available, or locally grown, or native foods will only be chosen by consumers if such food items provide equal, if not more, benefit than imported or locally grown but non-native varieties. Similarly, it is a completely rational decision, on the part of consumers, to seek assurance on whether local products are of equal standard to imported variants and it would be a violation of their rights to prevent consumers from choosing or buying the foods of their choice. Similarly, local products or foods may require additional processes or actions on the part of consumers before it can be used. As people spend less time on household activities and dedicate more effort to income generating activities—due to the availability of jobs or due to the economy gradually shifting from being agriculture dominated to service oriented, household activities become less economically viable.

However, the principle of food sovereignty is not all bad in the presence of a sound market and marketing opportunities. Proper utilization of science and technology, through research and development, can easily create stronger seeds and varieties of locally adapted varieties. And expert market research can identify consumer needs to add value to local products to create high value finished goods. What is required, though, are opportunities for businesses to add value to these local produces and present them to an audience that has acquired a taste for quality goods. Local food items have just as much potential in becoming high quality/high value products that we see in the market today. However, such progress requires easy access to markets and a secure business environment augmented by strong property rights. Unfortunately, business climate researches on Nepal paint a different picture.

Hence, before attempting such goals and policies—especially ones that may infringe upon the customers ability to make choices and decisions—the market and market needs must be taken into full consideration. Local products should be given credence, and from an environmental perspective, it is very important to preserve species variety and diversity in order to promote disease resistance and preserve necessary traits. However, it is infallible that markets should be allowed to decide what stays and what goes.

Anurag Pant

About Anurag Pant

Anurag holds a Bachelors of Science in Economics and works as a Research Assistant at Samriddhi, the Prosperity Foundation. He also lectures on Economics at Xavier International College.