Food is one of our most essential needs, and from this is recognised as a basic human right. The obvious truth of this statement and its consequences are being eroded on a global scale, to the detriment of our health and food sovereignty. There are three main ways in which this is happening. They are explained below, with suggestions for documentaries to watch for more information, because nothing gets home the message quite like seeing it.

Around the world, the basic right of food sovereignty is being undermined. Projects in which individuals grow their own food are being shut down, in favour of exorbitant property prices and profits. Oscar-nominated documentary, The Garden, recounts the struggle of one of the largest urban farms in the USA, located in South Central LA. On this farm the local community, largely consisting of Hispanics and African-Americans, grow food in small plots which they use to feed their families. For a largely poor community, this subsistence farming is a lifeline. Without giving any spoilers, the documentary tells the story of the fight to keep the garden alive in the face of shady dealings between the city and developers, and it is painfully clear that the struggles of the community are not going to block the path to profit. Also in LA, guerrilla gardener Ron Finley has started a movement to use unused parts of land for food growing, and has met with much resistance from the city. His TED talk is one to watch.

Land grabbing, the buying of large tracts of land in developing countries by other states and companies, is rife. What started in 2007-8 following the hike in world food prices as a way to ensure food security has turned into a marginalisation of local, developing populations in favour of profits on the world market. Foreign investors are buying or leasing more than 80 million hectares of land in other countries to grow food on, pushing people off the land that feeds them, whilst the locals largely survive on food aid and the whims of the international food market.

Planet for Sale tracks the history and current manifestations of land grabbing, with a focus on Ethiopia. In a country where more than 30 million people are hungry, Indian corporations are renting huge tracts of land from the government to grow food on. Whilst some of this will be sold to the domestic market, as it makes good business sense due to reduced processing and transportation fees, most of it is destined for foreign markets, and even to the food aid providers themselves, which they will then use to feed the Ethiopian population.

There is no increase of security for the populations in which the grabbing is taking place. There are also cases where land grabbing is happening under the guise of agricultural development but in reality relates to resource extraction. On Our Land shows how one-third of Papua New Guinea is owned by foreign companies, who are logging the world’s third largest rainforest beyond recognition, and leaving no trace of the agricultural development they promised.

Us, the everyday consumers, are unaware of what goes into our food. As urbanisation becomes the norm, with this year marking the first time that more than 50 per cent of the world’s population live in cities, we become further and further removed from the production of our food. As we rely more on supermarkets and other providers for our supplies, we also rely on them for information about what the products contain. It is with a lack of proper labelling and information that scandals such as the horse meat debacle occur.

Food, Inc. shows the state of the agribusiness industry in the USA, including the fight for more information. Items such as eggs have undergone a major labelling improvement, with the consumer now clear about whether the chickens were raised in a caged environment, in a barn, or allowed to roam free. Similar information needs to be available for some of the most controversial products, such as meat and processed foods so the consumer can be aware of what they’re buying. Whilst the traffic light labelling system is helpful, it does not provide information on the all-important production processes.

What can you do to reclaim your basic right to know what you consume, and to have the power to consume enough? You can start to grow your own. Many everyday, useful vegetables, fruits and herbs can easily be grown indoors. Try tomatoes, basil, lemon or mint for starters. If you have a balcony or garden you can grow more to meet your daily food needs. Urban gardens are even springing up on apartment building roofs around cities. You could also change the way you shop. Farmers’ markets are all the rage, and for a good reason. Or if there isn’t one nearby, you can contact local farmers directly and see what they have on offer. Alongside these personal changes, campaigning for the rights of those who are being threatened is an effective way to secure long-term rights for all. Many allotment sites in the UK are under threat of closure, perhaps you could contribute your time and skills to help prevent this.


Sources and resources:

The Garden (2008)

Ron Finley’s TED talk

Planet for Sale (2011)

On Our Land

Food, Inc. (2008)

Find local foods in your area

Magazine for urban gardening

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