Prior to my arrival at the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, I spent some time working at Jonai Farms and Meatsmiths. Not only did I make some excellent new friends in Tammi, Stuart and their community, but I also became involved with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA).
It just so happens that aside from being a farmer and a butcher, Tammi is the president of the AFSA committee. During long days in the boning room learning the basics of butchery, I peppered Tammi with questions and soaked up as much information as I could around the concept of food sovereignty.
I realised then, that food sovereignty was at the centre of everything I care about fixing in this world. Finally, I had a direction into which to channel my dismay, disenfranchisement and discontent at the injustices I saw around me. Since then, I’ve been involved on some level, with AFSA.
Food sovereignty is multi-faceted and holistic and so difficult to define. The official definition (see below) is succinct but can be a little overwhelming. I will try here to give a simpler outline of what it means.
‘Food security’ is a common idea – that all people should have an adequate and reliable food supply to maintain proper health. Food sovereignty is very similar, however, also considers the agencyof the eater. It questions the ownership of the food supply and hence the ability of people to participate in it.
Imagine, a multinational food corporation supplies food to a hungry population. The people are no longer starving. This is a great outcome. BUT – Where and how was the food grown? How did it affect the soil, air and water quality? What is the impact on biodiversity and climate change? Is that population empowered to produce their own food? Is indigenous knowledge/culture being respected? How are the animals in that system treated? Are the farmers and workers being paid fairly? What is the impact on local trade? Is the money staying local and lifting the people from poverty? Does access to this food impose restrictions on farmers or eaters?
You get the point. Food sovereignty considers all tangential elements in its approach to defending a resilient and equitable food and agriculture system. The privilege that affords many who call Australia home comes at the price of that of people less fortunate.
Our government is one of the biggest opponents of global peasant and farmers rights group La Via Campesina, and other UN groups fighting for food sovereignty. Despite being one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, we continually fail to endorse agroecology as the new farming convention, even with significant evidence that it is key in reversing climate change.
That is only one example of how we, as a nation, inflict damage on the world around us via our food and agriculture system. AFSA receives funding from the UN (for travel expenses, not time invested) to represent Australia’s small scale and regenerative growers at the international level. In the shadow of our government’s wrong doing, AFSA attends these meetings to stand with the global south in their fight for food sovereignty.
Domestically, we receive funding from our membership base. That money goes into direct support for farmers involved in legal battles and a series of government submissions and public campaigns. For example, contesting the proposed ‘license to sell lettuce’.
Another thing AFSA gets from its members, is its mandate. It is democratically constituted and strongly encourages all farmers and eaters to participate. If you’re not a farmer then you’re an ally, and if you’re not an ally then what are you? The future belongs to those who show up. Become a member now.
Since arriving at the co-op, I’ve been chasing my tail running a new farming enterprise and had much less time and energy for food sovereignty activism. However, after attending AFSA’s mid-year strategy meeting, the fire in my belly is once again re-ignited. I am considering my future and wondering what I can change so that I have more time to dedicate to collectivising for a better future.