Nyeleni: A global movement for food sovereignty

In late May, the UK Food Group  www.ukfg.org.uk held a preparation meeting for this year's European Forum for Food Sovereignty. The Forum itself will be held in Vienna from 16th - 21st August.

How it all started

In 2007, people from grassroots movements from all over the globe came together in Mali, to discuss how they could shape the development of a sustainable fod system. The event marked he shift from a mindset of resistance against commodification and corporate control of the food economy, to a more proactive stance, defining the common ground of these movements and the  direction to move into. As a result the Nyeleni declaration for Food Sovereignty was produced.

What is “Food Sovereignty”?

The Nyeleni conference defined six principles of Food Sovereignty. These are:

  • Producing food for people, not for the global commodity market
  • Valuing food producers
  • Localising food systems
  • Local control over resources
  • Building skills and knowledge
  • Working with Nature


You can read them in full below. Crucially, the declaration also states what food sovereignty does NOT stand for, to prevent the concept going the same way of dilution and appropriation as happened to “sustainable”  and other laudable concepts. The concept differs from the similar sounding “food security” in that it places control within communities rather than governments or corporations. You  can find out more about the background on www.nyelenieurope.net  

What is happening this year?

An international Forum will take place in Austria at the end of August. Farmers, growers and fisherfolk, landrights and food campaigners from all over the world will discuss how to put the principles of Nyeleni into action on the international stage. The timing is crucial: next year, the Rio+20 conference in Brazil will try to reboot the sustainability debate, and the European Common Agriculture Policy will be relaunched in 2013. On both stages, there is a lot of behind the scenes struggle between proponents of agroecology and community-based approaches, and defenders of the corporate model.

How will the Forum work?

The event in Austria is only the catalyst to bring together existing food sovereignty initiatives and to give an impulse to create a strong local, regional and European movement. This means that meetings before and after the Forum are as essential as the Forum itself.  Local and regional meetings should define the priorities for the outcomes and content of the debates at the Forum. To do this, people in each country are discussing the following questions:

1. What does Food Sovereignty mean here, for us? How are we engaged in it?
2. What are the barriers to achieving it? What potential opportunities exist?
3. How do we need to work together to achieve Food Sovereignty?

The discussions at the Vienna Forum will be clustered around the followign 5 themes:

  • Models of production (community-supported agriculture, agro-ecology, energy, climate, GMOs, protein dependence, biodiversity/seeds...)
  • Markets/organization of food chains and food webs (corporate domination in the food chain, local markets, food speculation, transparency, criminalisation, solidarity,...)
  • Conditions of work/social aspects (agricultural and migrant workers, income, health, access to food, …)
  • Access to land and other resources (installation, renewal, financing...)
  • Public policies (CAP and rural development, fishery policies, energy, trade, etc.)


The Nyeleni Europe Forum will not be a space for individual workshops or speeches and seminars. Rather, the delegates will collectively discussing specific themes with the objective of developing a shared synthesis and plan of action for the different groups present.

What will happen after the Forum?

Delegates will share the stories and information from the Forum within and across their own networks. In Britain, the process of building a food sovereignty movement is at the very beginning, and we hope that this year's Forum gives us momentum to make it strong and diverse. Already, the initial meeting in London has helped make many useful connections across many issues. We will publish the outcomes of the European Forum on this website, and inform you about any further developments and how you can get and stay involved. Do let us know if you want to be involved in this process.

How can I contribute?

Discuss these three questions with others – in your farm or growing project, transition or campaign  group, food cooperative or CSA scheme.  Also consider some of the five themes for the Forum as mentioned above. Send a record of your discussion to us on  [email protected]

1. What does Food Sovereignty mean here, for us? How are we engaged in it?
2. What are the barriers to achieving it? What potential opportunities exist?
3. How do we need to work together to achieve Food Sovereignty?

If you have any thoughts about those subject or anything else that you think we should be taking to the Forum please share them on this list or send us an email.

The UK Food Group is coordinating efforts to send a delegation to Vienna. If you are interested in going, please contact Graciela [email protected].  There is a quota system favouring food producers, young people under 25 and women. So if you are one of those - or even if you're not but are interested please get in touch.