Review in Canadian Journal of Development Studies

Food Sovereignty
Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community

Edited by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe and Hannah Wittman  

The cover of my copy of this book has seen better days. It was an excellent and informative travel companion during a recent research visit to Cameroon, and I now find that I often do not leave home without it. Wittman, Desmarais and Weibe’s comprehensive and original edited collection charts the origins of and potentials for the food sovereignty concept and movement. Overall, the theme of the book is to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of food sovereignty. This book should serve a crucial reference for academics, professional researchers, students and policy entrepreneurs working in the area related to food and food systems for years to come. Moreover, it is possible that the editors’ nuanced, multidimensional approach to explaining food sovereignty could be developed by others who seek to challenge and transcend narrower perspectives on food “security.” Scholars engaged in broader efforts to design and execute transdisciplinary analyses of the impacts of globalization on food could also reap a rich harvest from engaging with this book. As an edited collection, the contributions from several esteemed authors make for an original and timely contribution to the fields of international development and food studies.

This collection can lay claim to being the first academic effort to examine the food sovereignty concept. By challenging norms established at the global level for increasing food security 0 such as reliance on the market for food provisioning, embracing high-tech solutions to the food crises and further liberalizing agriculture - the contributors situate calls for food sovereignty within a volatile political climate. The book outlines attempts to contextualise the concept of food sovereignty within debates on food and agriculture that seek solutions for a more equitable and environmentally conscious food system. As a political project, Wittman et al. contend that food sovereignty “aims to transform dominant forces, including those related to politics, economics, gender, the environment and social organizations” (p.2). As stated by the editors, this book contributes to “this struggle” by “engaging in a conversation that identifies and expands the meanings, understandings and implications of food sovereignty in an international context” (p. 2).

The book is divided into three sections totaling 13 chapters. The first section explores the origins of an alternative model for food systems, expressed in the language of food sovereignty. The second section focuses on elements of capitalism that have driven the current food system to crisis. The final section revisits the theme by “broadening, deepening, challenging and exploring some of key issues evoked by the concept of, and struggle for, food sovereignty” (p.11). The first chapter, by the editors, provides an excellent history and overview of the concept, outlining attempts and obstacles within global institutions to prioritise food sovereignty. The chapters that follow chart the various themes within the food sovereignty literature. They are mixed in aim and scope, addressing, for example: land; agrofuels; seed patenting; ecological citizenship; food crisis; social movements; and peasant resistance.

In Chapter 2, “Framing Resistance”, the author Fairbairn makes a valuable contributions to the literature on food regime analysis by situating concepts such as the “right to food” and “food security” within particular arrangements established at global level. Her table on p. 29 is a useful reference and starting point for charting global initiatives as they relate to food and agriculture on a historical timeline and within dimensions of food regimes. Handy and Fehr’s spirited chapter (Chapter 4) outlining the history of enclosures in England after 1750 situates the food sovereignty concept within a longer and broader history of industrial capitalist agriculture than the concept is often given credit for. The idea underpinning food sovereignty, which proposes a dramatic reorganization of the social relations of production within agriculture, stems from several suppositions about the effect of current and past agricultural policies.

In the final chapter (Chapter 13), Raj Patel asks what food sovereignty might look like. In so doing, he makes a valuable contribution to the literature. He stresses that food sovereignty is a precursor to food security, and that we may not achieve food security without it. Patel also explores the political principles on which the food sovereignty concept rests. However, I found this aspect of his exercise to be rather limited. Here, Patel engages in an abstract and philosophical discussion on food sovereignty without reference to recent debates about he nature of sovereignty in the changing world order. He could have strengthened the theoretical underpinning of his treatment of food sovereignty by engaging with Edgar Grande and Louis Pauly’s (2005) book, Complex Sovereignty: Reconstituting Political authority in the Twenty-First Century, and with other volumes that have attempted to theorise the changing nature of sovereignty today.

Overall, the robust analyses of food sovereignty provided by Wittman, Desmarais, Wiebe and their contributors have drawn attention to broader questions surrounding food security and insecurity, and also to other important topics for future research. The editors invite their readers to find meaning and application for food sovereignty in their own work. As food sovereignty movements are gaining traction and ground most notably in Latin America, more work on the potential for this concept in Africa is needed. This collection pushes the boundaries for research and practice by making concrete calls for food sovereignty. The content of the book’s Appendices I and II is a useful starting point for researchers seeking to identify and outline the core elements of a more sovereign food system. - Lauren Q. Sneyd, University of Guelph for Canadian Journal of Development Studies.

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