Mantilla, Juan Carlos (2017). 'Food Sovereignty: Potential for human development and capabilities enhancement' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The objective of this research is to analyze the potential contributions of the notion of food sovereignty to human development and the promotion of human capabilities. It intends to be a contribution to the debate about how to achieve zero hunger,sustainable development goal # 2. As UN- Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon puts it, zero hunger implies “to ensure the Right to Food for all and to build sustainable agriculture and food systems” (Committee on World Food Security, Rome, 12t October, Nevertheless, as Fukuda-Parr and Orr clearly explain, the goal of eradicating hunger is not going to be attained unless we make important changes in agricultural and rural development policies (Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr & Amy Orr (2014) The MDG Hunger Target and the Competing Frameworks of Food Security, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 15:2-3, 147-160, DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2014.896323). How to achieve the zero hunger goal is a problem that must be seriously addressed by academics, practitioners and citizens.

The notion of food sovereignty was proposed by Vía Campesina during the Association’s Second International Conference, held in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1996. Vía Campesina is a global rural social movement actively engaged with the World Social Forum and it’s alter-globalization approach. In their view, food sovereignty implies peoples’ right to define rural development policies autonomously in order to guarantee a permanent access to food that is healthy, adapted to their culture, and respectful of nature’s rhythms and geographical specificities (VC-CLOC).  Food sovereignty is an alternative to the most conventional food security approach, promoted by international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and the World Trade Organization (WTO)  (Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr & Amy Orr (2014) The MDG Hunger Target and the Competing Frameworks of Food Security, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 15:2-3, 147-160, DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2014.896323).


The food security approach focuses on the quantitative need to guarantee permanent access to food for every human being, but is indifferent to other more qualitative aspects of food production such as the origin of the seeds and supplies, the distribution of the property of the land, or the local cultural and gastronomic traditions. In this view, world hunger could be eradicated through a rural development model based on industrial agriculture that would presumably entail huge productivity improvements, and therefore enough food production.

 Nevertheless, as Amartya Sen has argued, the problem of world hunger is not, as we have been misled to believe, the result of a quantitative shortage of food production. It is a social justice problem determined by an inadequate design of agrarian policies and a model of economic distribution that is insensitive to human needs (Sen, A. 1999. Desarrollo y Libertad. Editorial Planeta, Bogotá). Therefore, the agrarian policies must be scrutinized critically, and the alternative views should be examined in order to determine the lessons that can be applied to policy design for human development.

According to FAO, 793 million people in the world suffer from hunger, defined as chronicle malnutrition, and 16 million children under the age of 5 are affected by diet-related growth problems. (FAO, 2015. Estado de la Inseguridad Alimentaria. Available in: Through most of the world, with the noticeable exception of the OCDE countries, hunger is a very important social problem, directly affecting human development and frustrating people’s freedom to be what they want to be, and to do what they want to do.

The notion of food sovereignty is built upon the idea that no society can move towards human development unless it achieves stable material conditions for autonomy in terms of food production. The social movements that promote food sovereignty represent rural citizens in the five continents that have been negatively affected by free trade agreements, to the point of being forced by the circumstances to change their economic activities or even to migrate to the nearest cities. According to FAO (2015) these rural citizens constitute the majority of hunger victims in the world.

These rural citizens’ economic activity is in most cases small-scale agriculture. From agriculture they derive their livelihood, but agriculture is also the center of their world-life, cultural practices and community relations. Therefore, the displacement or destruction of small-scale agriculture is at the same time the destruction of human capabilities and social tissue, and the promotion of food sovereignty is at the same time the defense of human capabilities and the reconstruction of social tissue.

 Finally, it is important to mention that there are important voices also in international organizations supporting the idea that small-scale agriculture through public policy could be an effective strategy in order to attain the zero hunger goal and to promote human development. For instance, Olivier de Schutter, UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, published a report in which he recommends full commitment to small-scale agriculture based on strong evidence of it’s potential for productivity (UNO, 2010. Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. Human Rights Council). FAO also promotes support for small-scale agriculture in its Voluntary Guidelines for the Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. For FAO, rural development in the twenty-first century should rely on small and medium-scale agriculture not only because of it’s superior productivity for food production, but also due to the positive impact in rural citizens lives and the economic development of rural areas (FAO, 2015. Voluntary Guidelines for the Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests. Rome). The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is also engaged in promoting small scale-agriculture as a means for human development, as can be seen –among others- in the 2011 Colombia National Human Development Report, that focuses on Human Development in the Rural Colombia (UNDP, 2011. Colombia Rural: Razones para la esperanza. National Human Development Report, Bogotá).

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