From a distance, the rural land in Chiure district of Mozambique, appears un-groomed and uncared for, but, as Hazel Haley explains in her article in the May issue of the New Internationalist, the land is far from underused. You simply have to peer through a few blades of tall grass to see that small plots of maize and cassava are everywhere. Small farmers cultivate these fields to feed their families and to grow a small surplus to trade and sell. And yet, the government of Mozambique , which owns all of the land, classifies it as “under-used” and is leasing large portions of it to multinational investment firms who will use the land to grow sugar cane. Even though the small farmers depend on the land to subsist and have been its caretakers for generations, they are given no power to decide the future of their land. Eco-Energia, the company that leased the land, will profit from the cane, while giving nothing to the people it displaces.

The small farmers of Chiure district are experiencing a process occurring in many other parts of the world where land grabs are also taking place. In most land-grabbing cases, small farmers are evicted from their land as large-scale, mono-cropped, and mechanized agriculture replaces their small-scale and labor-intensive practices. Sometimes, national development is given as the explanation for these actions. Other times, the problem of inefficiency, economic backwardness, and the chains of tradition are used to as justification. Though in all of the cases, small farmers are given little concern by companies and governments.

In 1996, La Via Campesina, a transnational coalition of small farmers, formalized the concept of food sovereignty in response to similar deprivations of small farmers’ rights. They defined food sovereignty as a “people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems”.

Since then, activists have developed the idea into a sharply honed critique of the current global system of  agriculture. And they have used it as a conceptual guide in a movement to achieve economic, environmental, and social justice. In a world defined by food sovereignty, the well-being of both farmers and the land would be the central concern of the government of Mozambique.  Multinational corporations would not be able to evict small farmers from the land. They would not be able to destroy the soil and local ecosystems with chemical fertilizers and mono-cropped fields. In a food sovereign world, regional and national systems of agriculture would be built by small farmers; their knowledge and experience would be respected, and they would have the power to transform the way that we feed the world.

Here are a few short videos explaining the principles of food sovereignty. What do you think of the concept? How would you assess it? And what are your experiences putting it into action?