October 16th was World Food Day. To commemorate this, conferences, symposia and expositions are organized across the globe. I had planned to attend the event in Amsterdam, which was brought to my attention through Facebook. I even clicked the “I Am attending” button, so I was pretty serious about going. But something else turned up and I didn’t make it.
My plan was to write a blog about the event and discuss what I had learned about the state of the world’s food supply and its distribution. While I’m sitting in the train from Leeuwarden to Amsterdam, I watch the Dutch landscape pass by and see farmers harvesting the last of this season’s potatoes. It has been a bad season, I have been told by farmer friends of mine. I’m guessing the conclusions of the investigations discussed at the symposium I am missing, will not have been very optimistic either.
Food sovereignty, a term presented by Via Campesina, is threatened when people are denied access to food sources, as is the case in places like Sudan or Pakistan; places that are not only confronted with great social unrest but have also had to deal with the wrath of Mother Nature. In Sudan’s case it was drought that drove the people into refugee camps to beg for food at aid trucks. Pakistan faced the other extreme with immense floodings, that deserved far more media coverage than they have gotten, in my opinion. The scale of this disaster has gone completely lost and I doubt the stricken region has overcome this trauma yet, all though it’s hard to tell from my safe little European haven.
There are also numerous cases worldwide where arable land is omnipresent, as is social stability, yet food sovereignty is not guaranteed for the population. This occurs when great amounts of land are in hands of a wealthy few, as is the case in Brazil, and other countries in South America. Endless fields of soy beans and palm trees are cultivated for fuel and export. Locals are lucky if they can temporarily work at these farms, although a lot of manpower is not really needed on these modern mechanized agribusinesses. Communities in the region see none of the profits of this cultivation and are left with the most unproductive plots of land, if any at all.
I have read about the violence aimed at large land holders, coming from landless peasants in Africa who come to claim what they believe they have a right to. The other way around though, is at least as common as has been shown in cases in the Bolivian lowlands, which I investigated for my own thesis in 2009. I know about the problems and some of the hurdles people face around the globe. If only I had gone to the symposium today, I might have learnt about some of the solutions.
As my train glides into the next station I crave for a cup of fair trade coffee and a bar of Tony Chocolonely chocolate.