Food sovereignty: something is moving in Europe

Food sovereignty: something is moving in Europe

By Esther Vivas

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), within the framework of the European Union (EU), and the agricultural regulation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are a good example of the process of agri-food globalization at the service of the interests of the agro-industry and of the institutions that protect them. Policies that put the corporate profit motive before the food needs of the population and local and environmentally-friendly production.

In Europe, more than a thousand farms disappear every day, according to data from the European Coordinator of Via Campesina (2008). The lack of political will on the part of governments and international institutions to support local, family and peasant agriculture is the main cause of this phenomenon. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), within the framework of the European Union (EU), and the agricultural regulation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are a good example of this process of agri-food globalization at the service of the interests of agribusiness and the institutions that protect them. Policies that put the corporate profit motive before the population's food needs and local and environmentally friendly production.

The current CAP, according to the European Coordinator of Via Campesina (2008), is the result of a bad CAP since before 1992 and bad reforms according to the WTO criteria in 1992, 1999 and 2003. The application of the CAP, With the industrialization of agriculture and the stimulus of guaranteed prices, it generated an increase in agricultural production and the consequent fall in prices, reinforcing a productivist dynamic with a strong social and ecological impact (Soler, 2007). In addition, the CAP allocates most of its aid to large producers, to the detriment of small family farms. As the Goliath vs. David report points out. Who wins and who loses with the CAP in Spain and in poor countries (Intermón Oxfam, 2005): “The millionaire grants from the CAP support an intensive production model that rewards those who have the most and causes significant distortions in international markets, often at the expense of developing countries ”and adds that“ behind the legal and technical tangle that accompanies the operation of the system hides a very simple principle: the more you produce and the more land you own - that is, the richer you are - the more public support you receive ”.

According to data from the European Commission (1), in 2000, some 2.3 million European farmers received only 4% of the aid, while 5% of the largest producers obtained half of the subsidies. We put some examples. In Great Britain, families at the top of the rankings of the country's main fortunes received substantial aid from the EU: the Duke of Westminster, 470,000 euros; Sir Adrian Swire, 300,000 for his farm in Oxfordshire; the Duke of Malborough, 535,000 for his exploitation of cereals, among others. The same logic is repeated in countries such as France, Germany or the Spanish State. According to data from the French government, a quarter of all farmers do not receive any help, while 15% of the largest farms concentrate six out of ten euros in subsidies (Watkins, 2003). This dynamics has led to that, for example, in Spain, 17% of the owners of the largest farms have incomes well above the general average, while 60% of the smallest farms are below the same (Intermón Oxfam, 2005).

Another of the battle fronts in Europe is the fight against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The Spanish State is the only country in the European Union that grows GM crops on a large scale and has consequently become the back door of entry for GMOs on the continent. It annually imports about nine million tons of soybeans and corn from countries that have opted for the massive use of transgenics such as the United States, Argentina and Brazil, approximately half of which comes from transgenic crops that are incorporated into the human food chain and animal. Its importers (Cargill, Bunge, Simsa, ADM, etc.) do not separate conventional cereals from genetically modified ones, massively contaminating the consignments (Greenpeace Spain, 2004). In Europe, by not providing systematic protection for conventional and organic seeds and by accepting a threshold of accidental contamination by transgenics in them, the freedom of choice of farmers and consumers is undermined, at the same time that they are Conventional and organic agricultural production at risk.

This model of industrial and intensive agriculture, supported by the European Union and the respective governments, has a strong social and environmental impact. In the Spanish state, between 1999 and 2003, 147,000 family farms disappeared, causing the depopulation of rural areas, their impoverishment and the withdrawal of essential public services (Intermón Oxfam, 2005). The impact on the ecosystem could not be less. The erosion of the land due to the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers and their depletion due to the absence of rotating crops and fallow periods; the loss of biodiversity as a consequence of the extension of monocultures, the increasing use of hybrid varieties and the degradation of the ecosystem; and pollution and depletion of water, with excessive spending on irrigated crops and with a direct impact on the desertification process of the territory, have been some of its consequences.

Alternatives and resistances

The inability to carry out a decent life and work in the European countryside has generated an active social response. Peasant unions, environmental organizations, consumer groups, fair trade entities, solidarity economy networks, among many others, have taken to work in different countries to denounce the impact of the agricultural policies of the European Union and the need to propose real alternatives to them. Responses that have been disparate between some countries and others, depending on the local associative fabric, but that to a greater or lesser extent have consisted of: the creation and strengthening of alliances between different sectors affected by these agri-food policies and the development of alternatives practices in the field of agricultural production, distribution and consumption.

In France, for example, solidarity networks have been developed between producers and consumers through the AMAPs (Association pour le Maintien de l’Agriculture Paysanne). An experience that starts from a "solidarity contract" between a group of consumers and a local agroecological peasant, based on which the former pay in advance for their total consumption for a determined period and the peasant provides them weekly with the products of their own. vegetable plot. Since the creation of the first AMAP, in April 2001 between a group of consumers from Aubagne and the Olivades farm in the Provence region, the experience has multiplied throughout the country, adding today to 750 AMAPs and supplying a total of 30 thousand families.

In other European countries, experiences such as AMAPs date back to the 1960s, when similar initiatives began to be developed in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as a result of the increasing industrialization of agricultural production. In Geneva (Switzerland), for example, the experience of Les Jardins de Cocagne is well known, a cooperative of producers and consumers of organic vegetables that today groups around 400 households.

In Great Britain, these experiences, which have been running since the 1990s, are called CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) or “Vegetable box scheme”. At the beginning of 2007, there were some 600 initiatives of this type in the country, 53% more than the previous year, according to data from the Soil Association (2), reaching the same number of local farmers markets that operate in the country (Times , 03/03/08) (3). In Belgium, these experiences have been developing more recently, throughout 2006 and 2007, especially in Brussels, where we can currently find about 200 households that periodically receive fresh fruit and vegetables through the GASAP (Groupes d'Achat Solidaires de l'Agriculture Paysanne).

In Spain, there are several initiatives of this type, some have a model very similar to that of the French AMAPs, such as the unitary cooperatives of production-distribution-consumption of organic agriculture that are called Bajo el Asfalto esta la Huerta (BAH ), mainly in Madrid and its surroundings. Others represent different models of operation and relationship with the producer, such as the more than 70 cooperatives in Catalonia, some of which are grouped together in the Ecoconsum coordinator. In Andalusia, similar initiatives have existed since the early 1990s.

All these experiences highlight that it is possible to carry out another model of food distribution and consumption from a direct relationship with the peasant and based on criteria of environmental and social justice. Practices that have been multiplying throughout Europe in recent years, as well as other initiatives that point in the same direction: peasant markets, direct distribution, participatory certification models, urban gardens, etc.

At the political level, coordination networks of actors working in the production, distribution and consumption of food and who are affected by the impact of neoliberal policies in the sector have been developed and strengthened. In France, there have been several experiences of collaboration between solidarity economy networks such as Minga, which brings together some 800 associations that work in favor of local and international fair trade, the peasant union Confédération Paysanne and other agroecological, peasant and consumer organizations responsable.

In Spain, the Rural Platform is the broadest and most diverse space that groups from farmers to consumers, through environmentalists, NGOs ... who are committed to creating greater bonds of solidarity between rural and urban areas, strengthening life in the countryside and promote social, ecological and local agriculture. From the Rural Platform, unitary campaigns are promoted against transgenics, large surfaces, the CAP, agrofuels and in favor of food sovereignty, local commerce, responsible tourism, public and quality services in the field, among others.

On the continent, one of the main reference networks is the European Coordination of Via Campesina, which brings together organizations and agricultural unions from Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Malta and Turkey. Its objective is to fight against the current agricultural and food policies promoted by the European Union within the framework of the CAP and to bet on a diverse peasant agriculture, linked to the territory and for a living rural world. The European Coordinator of Via Campesina works in coordination with other social movements within the framework of the European Social Forum and in other unitary campaigns against the CAP, against transgenics, etc.

An important challenge on the continent is to increase articulation and coordination between the different networks that feel they are part of the anti-globalization movement and to achieve joint and coordinated work in favor of food sovereignty. The International Forum for Food Sovereignty, held in Mali at the beginning of 2007, with the participation of networks of women, farmers, fishermen, consumers, shepherds ... is a good example to be repeated in Europe (4). In fact, in countries such as Hungary or in Spain, work is beginning in this direction through national forums. In short, it is about coordinating action strategies in favor of food sovereignty at the local, national and continental levels and including new actors and joining forces to advance in this fight.

The challenge is not easy at all, but it is encouraging to see how, in the face of the increasing aggressions of the capitalist system, those who fight neoliberal globalization are united in a common front following the call of Via Campesina: "Let's globalize the struggle, let's globalize hope."


(1) See: Intermón Oxfam report (2005).

(2) More information on the website:

(3) For more information on these experiences in Great Britain see the report Cultivating communities farming at your fingertips (Soil Association, 2005).

(4) For more information about the International Forum for Food Sovereignty see: Vivas (2007).


Coordinadora Europa de la Via Campesina, (2008) Creation of the European Coordinator Via Campesina at:…)

Greenpeace Spain, (2004) Spain is the back door of entry for GMOs to Europe at:…)

Intermón Oxfam (2005) Goliath vs. David. Who wins and who loses with the CAP in Spain and in poor countries at:…)

Soil Association, (2005) Cultivating communities farming at your fingertips at:

Soler, M. (2007) "WTO, PAC and food globalization" in Viento Sur, nº94, pp. 37-45.

Vivas, E. (2007) "Forum for Food Sovereignty, new alliances" in Political Ecology, nº33, pp. 133-135.

Watkins, K. (2003) Northern agricultural policies and world poverty: will the Doha ‘development round’ make a difference ?, paper presented at the ABCDE conference of the World Bank, Paris.

Article published in El Viejo Topo, nº 255.

Video: Indigenous Food Sovereignty. Youth in Action (May 2021).