by Vanessa Reid (U.K., GESA 2013 alumna)
What role does the global food system of production, distribution, and consumption play in human well-being? Are we connected to the food we eat, the hands that grew it and the land that produced it, or is the current, and pervasive commercial food system only adding to a sense of anonymity and unaccountability within this daily exchange? Does the food we eat reflect our political orientations and our social and environmental ethics, or exactly the opposite? These were just some of the many questions that emerged from discussions throughout our experience at GESA 2013. And as it drew to a close, it became apparent just how many avenues of exploration and conversation these questions had the potential to unleash. Determined to explore further, we – GESA 2013 participants Yuki Yoshida, Vanessa Reid and Kaylena Bray, along with GDF staff Susannah McCandless and Emily Caruso – decided to create what has now become the Wellbeing Initiative, with the subject of food being our central theme. In an effort to understand the diversity of the food sovereignty movement and its political, social and economic ramifications, our initiative plan is to build a global action network. We have already begun carrying out case study research that explores commonalities and differences between diverse social, economic, and cultural approaches to food sovereignty, examining how they are redefining the current food paradigm and what ‘food sovereignty’ means in practice in different contexts. We plan to create a web platform that gathers and shares case studies of wellbeing initiatives, as well as a unique online repository of resources and analyses surrounding wellbeing-centred alternatives. Each GESA alumni is backed by the respective NGOs we work with or are affiliated with and which support the initiative: Yuki – The Global Diversity Foundation, Kaylena – The Cultural Conservancy, and myself –The ICCA Consortium. We are fortunate enough to have Michel Pimbert and Octaviana Trujillo as mentors and advisors throughout the process. Michel is Director of Centre for Agroecology and Food Security at the University of Coventry and was a GESA 2013 resource person. Octaviana is Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Applied Indigenous Studies at the Northern Arizona University, was a GESA resource person in 2011, and co-organizer of NACELE in Fall 2013. Thanks to support from the Alumni Innovation Fund, we have been able to begin our research. We plan to attend the International Society of Ecological Economics in Iceland, as well as the De-Growth Conference in Germany – both in Summer 2014 – to present a synthesis of key findings from the initiative, whilst highlighting achievements and limitations within the food sovereignty movement at large.
In brief, the food sovereignty movement is a leading transnational agrarian movement that proposes an alternative food paradigm, creating practical, sustainable and democratic alternatives to the current and pervasive industrialised food model. Contrary to the dominant capitalist framework of food production and distribution, food sovereignty is premised on the view that our food system must feed our global population in a way that is equitable and sustainable with its control and management coming democratically from civil society. In this way, the movement seeks to build local market exchanges and re-localize decision-making processes, challenging neoliberalism in favour of a new paradigm that creates diverse means of engaging in agricultural production, and empowers small scale producers as powerful economic actors in trade markets.
The Wellbeing Initiative falls under a wider framework – based on the Indian notion of swaraj or self-rule – known as the Radical Ecological Democracy (RED) framework, which is currently being co-led by Ashish Kothari, founder of Indian NGO Kalpavriksh and co-founder of the ICCA Consortium. Ashish was a GESA 2013 resource person and is also an advisor and mentor to us, providing critical insights and a wealth of resources for developing our methodological framework. The RED framework focuses on meeting human needs and aspirations of well-being through direct or radical democracy, localized economies embedded in ecological and cultural landscapes, notions of human well-being that relate to actual needs of people and to qualitative values like satisfaction and social security, democratic knowledge and technology generation, and sustaining cultural diversity and exchange. It proposes a mix of localization and globalisation, the former providing communities essential control over means of production and consumption, the latter affording possibilities of intercultural exchange and mutual learning. It is intended that findings from the Wellbeing Initiative will feed-in to the wider RED movement.