Food Sovereignty Award Coverage: Column for The Progressive Populist


By Margot Mcmillen

Every year since 1986, the Norman Borlaug fan club, made up of the big winners in the Green Revolution, has awarded a prize to some corporate tiller of the field. The “World Food Prize” is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa in the former public library building. From this modest address, the chemical producers, giant combine builders, soybean processors and hog owners give the award mostly to researchers who have helped build the system of patented seeds and chemical inputs—a system that excludes small farmers and has convinced the rest of us that chemically-flavored soy paste and corn sweeteners are nutrition.

A look at the sponsors tells all: DuPont Pioneer, John Deere Foundation, Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, Cargill, General Mills, Hormel, PepsiCo, Walmart, and literally all the Iowa commodity associations.

Borlaug was the guy credited with using chemical fertilizers to obtain ever-increasing yields of corn and soybeans. Before the work of him and his co-scientists, farmers had used manure to fertilize the land. They also used natural cures for invasions of pests and weeds. The Food Prize website intones: “As we conclude the yearlong centennial observance of the birth of our founder, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the 2014 Borlaug Dialogue international symposium will draw upon Dr. Borlaug’s legacy and address ‘The Greatest Challenge in Human History: Can We Sustainably Feed the 9 Billion People on our Planet by the Year 2050?’”

Understand, dear reader, that when the World Food Prize uses the word “we” they mean “the multinational corporates.” It goes on, “The Dialogue will give special emphasis to the powers of intensification, innovation and inspiration to uplift smallholder farmers and meet the increasing demand for nutritious food. . . ”

“Uplift?” The WFP writers mean, “get big or get out…”

Let’s be clear, friends. What they’re really asking is “can we feed the people who can pay for food that we’ve created in our laboratories, patented and raised with the water, air and land that we’ve stolen from small landholders, indigenous tribes and other powerless folk?”

Finally, in 2009, a few brave thinkers created an alternative prize. We might call it the REAL food-for-people prize. This newer prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance which, in their words, “works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system.” Sponsors include Ecowatch, the Small Planet Fund, Why Hunger?, Grassroots International and the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Unlike the Borlaug-driven prize, which rewards corporations for systems that invade ecosystems and beat nature into submission, providing corn and soybeans for the world, the FSA rewards people who farm in their own ecosystems in an ecologically sound manner. They reward schools for serving healthy, culturally-based foods. This is how all peoples ate before the Green Revolution.

Nobody would argue against the fact that food (and air and water) are human necessities and public goods. All of us know that hunger drives unrest, resource grabs, rioting and disease. But the World Food Prize corporates want to own the solution while the Food Sovereignty Prize believes that every ecosystem and culture will invent their own solutions, with local solutions connected to an international movement for food sovereignty.

A winner of this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize is the Palestinian-based Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), established in 1986. This group, with committees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, seeks to improve the situation of Palestinian farmers who have been marginalized by Israeli occupation. Their land confiscated and separated from their villages by a system of walls and checkpoints, with water diverted to urban Israeli settlements, the Palestinian farmers labor under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Witnesses, many of them Americans sponsored by Christian groups, report that olive groves, which can be hundreds of years old, have been destroyed or walled off from the Palestinian villages that care for them. To get to their land, some Palestinian farmers have to travel long distances to checkpoints where they may or may not be allowed to pass. Israeli soldiers amuse themselves by chasing these farmers, lobbing tear gas or shooting at them.

The UAWC has prioritized five main goals: Sustainable development to minimize reliance on food aid and emergency and relief projects; Creating work opportunities; Holistic rural development;

Empowering and developing women’s skills and capacities; Connecting youth to the land. Grassroots International is helping them with efforts to reclaim land, develop food security, improve water access through projects like digging and rehabilitating wells and processing gray water, and education and income generation through raising honey bees.

The other honoree of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize is Community to Community Development, of Bellingham Washington. This organization is led by women of color working in their community to promote self-reliance and teach people to access the tools of democracy. They say, “We are committed to systemic change and to creating strategic alliances that strengthen local and global movements towards social, economic and environmental justice…Our work is based on the belief that everyone should have equitable access to the fundamental democratic processes affecting their everyday lives.”

So, who do we want to feed us in the future? Corporations that exploit the land, resources and consumers? Or humans working in their own communities? It’s up to us to decide.