India, Food sovereignty in Manipur

Manipur has had two historic people’s democratic movements against the artificial food scarcity. One in December 1939, popularly known as Anisuba Nupi Lan (2nd Women’s Agitation) and another one is 27 August 1965 popularly known as Chaklam Khongchat (Hunger Marchers’ Day). Every year, we used to observe the two events. Now, government and many organisations continue to observe the Manipuri women’s movement of 1939 after MACHA LEIMA pioneered the observation since 1973. The All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) continues to keep up the spirit of the 1965 event by observing 27 August as Hunger Marchers’ Day every year. These two events always remind us about the people’s fearless challenge against the authority when their right to food is denied.

On the other hand, hunger is a pressing issue for the world. According to the United Nations World Food Programme Statistics, 2010 – Hunger is the world’s number one health risk, killing more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The 925 million people do not have enough to eat, 98 percent of them living in developing countries. There are more hungry people in the world than the populations of the USA, Canada, and the EU combined. The 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women. The 10.9 million children under five years of age die every year in developing countries. Sixty percent of these deaths are from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases.

And still many people and organisations at various levels including both governmental and non-governmental talk about the food security in Manipur too. Here one pertinent question can be asked. Is it meaningful to talk about food security or is it really practicable to guarantee food security without food sovereignty?

The term “Food sovereignty”  was first coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organisations, namely the claimed “right” of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces. Via Campesina is an international organisation that coordinates rural workers, agricultural workers, and indigenous groups to help them further their demands for rights relating to their land and food.

During the 2002 World Food Summit held in Rome, the concept of food sovereignty was defined as “Food sovereignty is 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.”

The concept of food sovereignty is based on seven principles: 1) Food is a basic human right – Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. 2) Agrarian Reform – A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it. 3) Protecting Natural Resources – Promote sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. 4) Reorganising Food Trade – Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritise production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices. 5) Ending the Globalisation of Hunger – Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organisations. Therefore, end multinational corporations’ control over food to end the globalisation of hunger.  6) Social Peace – Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalisation along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanisation, oppression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated. 7) Democratic cont

rol – Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organisations will have to undergo a process of democratisation to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination.

In Manipur context too, we need to think and view beyond the food security. Because food security refers to the availability of food, and that all people have the right to have access to food; while food sovereignty means not only having access to food, but having ability to control the land where the food is produced so that food other than what is made available in market or produced corporately or internationally and also the right to decide what food will be grown and harvested on the land.

Food security implies that the hunger problem our world faces is due to lack of food, therefore the solution is to produce more that is genetically engineered or procure or import more food that means trade.  But food sovereignty is about bringing back the respect that food, land, and people deserve and that none of these should be exploited for financial, economical, or other gain.

The relationship people have with food is very important and very different from culture to culture. It is important to realise that for many Asian and African countries, food is not just energy giver for the body, it is a communal event, it feeds their souls, it provides them income, it balances their socio-economic statuses, etc. That is why in Manipur too, right from tilting the field to harvest; it has always been a collective event for family, village, community and the people. What we have to eat cannot be decided by other supreme authority. Life style, thinking process, world outlook depend on our food. Our taste of rice cannot be replaced by other foods. Food is a culture.  Here it may be mentioned that in the 1980s and 1990s a number of southern African countries experiences devastating droughts. These droughts combined with the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes developed into a serious food crisis which led to a shortage in maize, which is the basic staple. The US shipped yellow maize as a food aid. Countries in the region asked the US to provide them with white corn, since in that cultural context yellow corn was used as cattle feed. The US refused. An official from USAID stated, “We are creating a market for yellow maize.” The US understood hunger to only be a biological problem and sought to penetrate Southern African markets without taking into consideration the cultural context of food. It was assumed by the US that hunger would simply compel the acceptance of yellow corn. But it did not. And it should not be anywhere in the world.

When some forces conspire and play over the National Highways to limit the food supply, food security of Manipur which once was a rice surplus state is uncertain now. Therefore, social scientists, social activists, policy makers, peasants, agriculture activists, women workers and civil society leaders etc need to work together for food sovereignty. Otherwise, there cannot be any positive change.

By Rajkumar Bobichand