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Food sovereignty and peasant agriculture

10 / 2007

Experiences in the production of raw material for agroenergy by small farmers have demonstrated the risk of dependency on large agricultural companies that control prices, processing, and distribution. Rural workers are utilized to give legitimacy to agribusiness, through the creation of certificates of so-called “social fuel.”

This model has caused negative impacts in peasant and indigenous communities, who have their territories threatened by the constant expansion of large plantations. What’s more, the lack of policies in support of food production may lead peasants to substitute their crops for agrofuels, and, as a result, compromise their food sovereignty. In Brazil, for example, small- and medium-sized farmers are responsible for 70% of the food production for the internal market.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota warn that, in order to fill one tank of ethanol it is necessary to utilize the same quantity of grains that it would take to feed one person during a whole year.

Francisca Rodriguez, a representative of the rural workers’ organization Via Campesina, has denounced that “large landowners are going to control land in order to feed motors, not people.” She adds: “Facing these challenges, we must defend our commitment to preserving our land, unmasking these destructive projects, and stimulating a profound discussion about the current model of energy production. We want to avoid the destruction of our lands, since we know what extensive monoculture means for the future of our countries.”

Proposals in defense of agrarian reform and food sovereignty

Grassroots organizations throughout the continent are echoing the denunciations of the devastating effects of an agricultural model based on monoculture, concentration of land and profit, exploitation of labor, and environmental destruction. They propose a new agricultural model, based on massive agrarian reforms.

It is necessary to strengthen rural workers’ organizations to promote sustainable peasant agriculture, prioritizing diversified food production for local consumption. It is crucial to advocate for policies that guarantee subsidies for food production through peasant agriculture. The principal objective of this model should be to guarantee food sovereignty. We cannot keep our tanks full while stomachs go empty.

The Right to Food

The principal international norm on the Right to Food is contained within Article 11 of the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. According to this norm, hunger should be eliminated and communities should have permanent access to adequate food, both quantitatively and qualitatively, such that the physical and mental health of individuals and communities is guaranteed.

According to the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, states have the obligation of “respecting, protecting, and guaranteeing” the right to food. To respect this right means that the state cannot obstruct or impede its population’s access to adequate food, such as is the case of displacement of rural communities from their lands, especially those who depend on agriculture as their form of subsistence. The Convention also prohibits the state from using toxic substances in food production.

Beyond this, the Convention establishes the principles of non-regression and non-discrimination in relation to the approval of laws that guarantee access to food. This means that governments may not approve laws that impede the organization of people that seek to obtain this right. On the contrary, governments should facilitate the organization of society in favor of access to land, work, and protection of the environment. States should guarantee the universal right to food through actions and concrete measures that protect vulnerable social groups, and provide the necessary means for them to feed themselves.


agrocarburant, souveraineté alimentaire, agriculture paysanne, agriculture et alimentation


Agroénergie : mythes et impacts en Amérique latine


This file « Agroenergy: Myths and Impacts in Latin America » is the result of a seminar about the expansion of sugar cane plantations in Latin America, which took place in São Paulo, Brazil, from February 26-28, 2007.

This file is also available in french, spanish and portuguese.

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