Food Security vs. Food Sovereignty: what is the difference, and why does it matter?

Well, it turns out that the difference is crucial, and it matters a hell of a lot. For example, see this from one hard-hitting academic report (entire report is well worth reading):

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Googling “food security vs. food sovereignty” I found this:

Food Security vs. Food Sovereignty

November 30, 2012


One of the most common questions I get in discussing food sovereignty is how it differs from food security.

On the one hand, the distance between the two is quite large. Food security refers only to the availability of food, regardless of the type, method or location of production, and so on. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization,

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food sovereignty is a broader concept. According to the 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, food sovereignty encompasses

The right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies. Food sovereignty means the primacy of people’s and community’s rights to food and food production, over trade concerns.

Food sovereignty is thus embedded in larger questions of social justice and the rights of farmers and indigenous communities to control their own futures and make their own decisions.

The difference between food security and food sovereignty is important. As Windfuhr and Jonsen describe it in their 2005 book, Food Sovereignty: Towards Democracy in Localised Food Systems, “food security is more of a technical concept, and the right to food a legal one, food sovereignty is essentially a political concept.”

For my part, I’d argue that food sovereignty emphasizes local control and self-sufficiency, while food security emphasizes reliance on the global economy based on liberalized agricultural markets.


Here’s Raj Patel on the subject: “The idea of food sovereignty is about what needs to happen in order to bring democracy to the food system.”

Sounds sort of bland, right? Watch this video, you’ll be surprised at how something so obvious and simple is multilayered, utterly radical and transformative. And, as Patel points out, the solutions are not simple; the [globalized corporatized] food system that took 200 years to develop will also take time to redo.

Thanks to Keith for the pointer to the video.

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