Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue

Food First | 02.21.2014

Yale University, September 14-15, 2013

A fundamentally contested concept, “food sovereignty” has barged into global agrarian discourse over the last two decades. Since then, it has inspired and mobilized diverse publics: workers, scholars and public intellectuals, farmers and peasant movements, NGOs and human rights activists in the North and global South. The term has become a challenging subject for social science research, and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of ways by various groups and individuals. Indeed, it is a concept that is broadly defined as the right of peoples to democratically control or determine the shape of their food system, and to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways in and near their territory.

The conference brought together leading scholars and political activists who are both advocates and skeptics of the concept of food sovereignty.

The conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” was held at Yale University on September 14–15, 2013. The event brought together leading scholars and political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The purpose of the meeting was to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use, commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, the dialogue aimed at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an “intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what terms.

The keynote addresses was given by Paul Nicholson (La Via Campesina), Teodor Shanin (The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences), Bina Agarwal (Manchester University), and Olivier de Schutter (UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food). The conference was organized by the Yale University Agrarian Studies Program and The Journal of Peasant Studies in collaboration with Food First, Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies/International Institute of Social Studies (The Hague), Transnational Institute (Amsterdam), the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Yale South Asian Studies, with support from the Kempf Fund.

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