Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Food sovereignty, not food security

Professor of anthropology Reem Saad warns of the increasing challenges to Egypt’s food sovereignty due to the expanded use of imported seeds

Al-Ahram Weekly

Dina Ezzatlooks at the diverse challenges of putting food on the table, from the point of view of the consumer as well as the producer


“We seem to be talking a lot about food security without really paying enough attention to the crucial factor of food sovereignty, which is an even more crucial matter,” said Reem Saad, a professor of anthropology and a researcher.

Speaking against the backdrop of the perhaps exaggerated optimism as a result of the increase in this year’s harvest of wheat, Saad warned that what counts is whether we are talking about a harvest produced mostly from local seeds or one that has come about as a result of imported seeds.

Having done research on the influence of imported seeds on bio-diversity and food sovereignty, Saad warned that “often enough imported seeds tend to give more rewarding harvests, especially with their early usage in the soil.”

“But later there are two problems: farmers become dependent on the continued supply of imported seeds, as they cannot produce propagated seeds out of the imported seeds, unlike the case with local seeds, and productivity starts to decline.”

The introduction of imported seeds and the “massive and uncalculated expansion” of their usage, Saad laments, were essentially done under the auspices of former minister of agriculture Youssef Wali, who is blamed for having adopted policies that compromised Egypt’s agricultural autonomy.

These included “policies that largely eliminated the use of local seeds, thus influencing national bio-diversity and specific local tastes in favour of standardised agricultural products that lack flavour,” Saad said.

“The fact is that as the possibility of the sustainable reproduction of local seeds declines, and as the soil becomes ‘tuned’, almost strictly speaking, to the new or hibernated seeds, farmers have to continue buying these seeds whether they like it or not and whether they can afford it or not,” Saad said.

“In fact, here we are not just talking about challenging the autonomy of farmers, but also about challenging the very concept of food sovereignty and ultimately of food security. This has all been done in favour of the multinational corporations that sell these seeds and that in fact control the seed market today.”

Saad celebrates that fact that despite the aggressive campaign against local seeds, “there still remain pockets where poor women farmers use propagated local seeds. They do this because they are poor, and they would rather compromise than run after the illusive and actually deceptive promise of higher productivity because they are not sure they can keep on buying imported seeds,” she said.

“They also do it because they can appreciate the difference in flavour between the products of the local seeds and those of the imported ones, simply because they cook themselves.”

While poverty and economic vulnerability have been successful in preserving some pockets of local seed-users, Saad argued that “this is not enough. We need to work to regain our food sovereignty, essentially by supporting these pockets and by trying to help farmers to regain their autonomy and break away from the monopoly of imported seeds.”

Campaigns to serve this purpose have been carried out, Saad noted. These efforts, she explained, have included direct support to farmers and support for the local weekly markets where local fruits and vegetables are sold. “But there have to be more coherent and orchestrated efforts in favour of local varieties,” she stressed.

In parallel, Saad also recommends the need for vigilance against the illicit expansion of genetically modified crops, with such crops, including grains, vegetables and fruit, being introduced into the local market and gaining ground “without any prior social debate”.

Such genetically modified crops are arguably harmful not just to the autonomy of the farmers, but at times also to the long-term fertility of the soil. They are also not at all easy to promote for exports.

Saad is convinced that the time has come to revisit the agricultural ideas that have been adopted over the past 20 years, which she describes as disastrous and that are still being pursued. For Saad, the objective of this debate should go beyond the obvious target of food security and should now include the larger issue of food sovereignty.



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