13 August, 2008

‘Food security’ and ‘Food sovereignty’ in GTA

Hunger in Greater Toronto Area, while being an outcome of unemployment, low incomes, and inadequate welfare, springs also from the failure to recognize and implement the human right to food. The question arises that do people in GTA (Greater Toronto Area) enjoy the right to food? Who stops them from this right to food? Is this because of the neglect by the federal and provincial governments of their obligations, depoliticization of hunger by governments and the voluntary sectors or increasing commoditization of welfare? The interconnectedness of hunger, welfare, and food security issues in a first world society cannot be denied. And we need to find ways to remove the problem. The Canadian people and government have started working towards it by incorporating ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’

We need to understand that what is ‘Food Security’? According to the 1996 World Food Summit, food security exists "when every person has physical and economic access at all times to healthy and nutritious food in sufficient quantity to cover the needs of their daily ration and food preferences, in order to live a healthy and active life." In its simplest form, food security means that all people have enough to eat at all times to be healthy and active, and do not have to fear that the situation will change in the future. As a concept it can be applied at many levels—global, national, household, and individual. On the other hand ‘Food sovereignty’ can be defined as the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

Food sovereignty prioritizes local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all people and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.

There are two major organizations who are working in this direction. The first being ‘Food Share’ which was founded in 1985 by then Mayor of Toronto, Art Eggleton, and others concerned about the growth of hunger and food banks that had taken place in the wake of the recession of the early 1980’s. “Food Share’s original mandate was to co-ordinate emergency food services, and to collect and distribute food. The Hunger Hotline was established as a volunteer-run referral service for people seeking these services in their neighbourhood. Another key part of its mandate was to advocate for policies that would ensure adequate employment, and the income necessary to enable all people to meet their basic needs. In the late 1980’s, Food Share’s staff began to share the frustration of many that the problem of hunger was not diminishing. Income inequality and unemployment were increasing. They heard from food bank users that the food they received was often limited in quantity and quality, and rarely included fresh produce.
A strong tradition against resorting to charity means that many feel ashamed when they are forced to use a food bank – even to the point of going hungry rather than doing so. So ‘Food Share’ began to explore self-help models like co-operative buying systems, collective kitchens and community gardens that would have the potential to address short-term issues of household hunger, while also providing longer-term benefits by building the capacity of individuals and communities.”(http://www.foodshare.net/)

The second is ‘The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC)’, which is a North American organization of social and economic justice, environmental, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, community development, labour, anti-poverty, anti-hunger, and other groups. The Coalition has 325 organizational members in 41 states, 4 Canadian provinces (includes Toronto in Ontario) and the District of Columbia. They are dedicated to building strong, sustainable, local and regional food systems that ensure access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food to all people at all times and seek to develop self-reliance among all communities in obtaining their food and to create a system of growing, manufacturing, processing, making available, and selling food that is regionally based and grounded in the principles of justice, democracy, and sustainability. They provide a variety of training and technical assistance programs for community food projects; support the development of farm to school and farm to college initiatives; advocate for federal policies to support community food security initiatives; and provide networking and educational resources.

Both the organisations promote ‘food security’ and to make people self reliant in obtaining their food. ‘Food Share’ focuses on the entire food system which includes production, distribution and consumption. They want that fresh produce should reach people, involve communities in food distribution so that people feel more affinity towards the programme and the food be consumed by the people in the most effective manner.

They advocate that fresh, whole foods are key to health, well being and disease prevention. They support the cause of not-for- profit food distribution mechanism, for example ‘Good food box’. Their programme has a social and moral message. They are involved in social assistance programme, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling. On the other hand ‘The Community Food Security Coalition’ provides training, networking and support to further the efforts of grassroots groups to create effective solutions in terms of food security. CFSC advocates for federal policies that promote community food security and provide resources for community-based initiatives. After policies are passed, CFSC works to ensure they are fully funded and implemented in accordance with their original vision. CFSC hosts a dynamic three day conference that brings together hundreds of people working on CFS issues. Conference activities include challenging keynotes, interactive workshops, short courses, exciting field trips, and great local foods. CFSC has also published a variety of guidebooks and reports, some of which can be downloaded for free. It also provides training and technical assistance for community food projects. It works on a bigger platform than ‘Food Share’. Has much more vivid developmental programmes and is a better portal for inter-country knowledge sharing. No one can deny the contribution of ‘Food Share’ but its scope is limited in comparison to CFSC. ‘Food share’ works at the local level where as CFSC works to implement policies at the government level.

But both the organisations haven’t addressed the issue of ‘Water security’. Water security can be defined as the right of people to basic water supply for their survival. Water is fundamental to all life on Earth. While it may be easy for many of us to take the availability of water for granted, growing demands on the world's water resources highlight the importance of water to everyday life. Access to clean water is a growing political issue around the world. Humans directly and indirectly consume water for drinking, cooking, and food production. They use it for bathing, household uses, industry and manufacturing, and waste disposal. Humans also use water environments for recreation, tourism, and ecosystem management. Many communities in the world do not have access to clean drinking water which is the basic necessity for survival. But neither ‘Food Share’ nor ‘The Community Food Security Coalition’ highlights the need of water security in anyway. They are just focussed on growing food resources but they are not at all willing to recognise the need to secure water resources as without the help of water, food production is impossible. Water is the most essential element for life, yet they don’t mention the importance of its conservation and security.

“In Canada, 456 food banks provide food to 2.5 million Canadians a year (CAFB 1995).”(G.Riches) It was not until 1984 that food banks in kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Frederiction and Campbelton appeared on the scene.(G Riches, p14) Every month 4000 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables are delivered to 200 volunteer-run neighbourhood drop offs in metropolitan Toronto. (Koc, p 122)

Buying clubs and markets are designed to provide with locally grown, nutritious fresh food in their neighbourhoods. Although they succeed on one level, they are extremely labour-intensive and expensive to run. The food share policies are more towards community development than socio- economic development towards job creation. Poverty and unemployment are the root cause of hunger but they are not dealt directly by organizations promoting food security. Canada contains between 5.6% and 20% of the world’s freshwater supply.(Mohammed) There is disagreement among Canadian citizens, interest groups, governments and businesses about whether this resource should be treated as a commodity (and sold in international markets), or conserved as a natural resource with an important ecological function. The inclusion of water resources in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a controversial issue in water-rich Canada. In March 2002, a group of Canadian farmers initiated a movement to lead the discussion to exempt water from the NAFTA. The Canada-wide campaign was started in order to develop farm "voice" and farm "authority" in the dialogue to reclaim sovereignty over Canada's water resources. The Farmers Resolution to Exempt Water from the NAFTA takes its strength from the many individual farm organizations that support it. The message of the farmers’ group is that Canada must have sovereignty and discretion over the management of its water resources in perpetuity. (Holm) Defining the role and jurisdiction of markets in the allocation of freshwater is a challenge that faces Canada. These campaigns to secure food security and water sovereignty have affected the Canadian community as a whole. Food security campaigns have become too elaborate to handle and water sovereignty might result in water wars with other countries.

The solution to this scenario can be assessed as to shift focus on Water security. The fundamental right to live is supported by the availability of usable water resources. ‘Food Share’ and ‘The Community Food Security Coalition’ should also promote the cause of water security. The basic necessity of provision of clean water to everyone should be highlighted. These organisations should work towards water security as it is very important for our survival.

The conclusion is that without food, a person in excellent physical condition might survive six weeks; without water, survival potential is measured in days. Dieticians recommend that adults drink eight eight-ounce glasses (nearly two litres) of water daily. To assure good health, this adequate intake of water must be of satisfactory sanitary quality. So the organizations should work towards providing water security. All living creatures, including humankind, need water for survival. Without usable water, production of food is not possible. So, effective measures should be taken to provide usable water for everyone. No one is undermining the cause of food security but water security should also be given due importance and priority.


Based on: Holm, Wendy R. May 2005 “The taking and return of Canada’s water.” Opinion. The Western Producer. 02 April, 2008

Karroum, Mohammed. April 1999. “U.S.–Canada Water Case.” Trade and Environment Database Case
Studies. American University School of International Service. http://www.american.edu/TED/water.htm 02 April, 2008

Riches, Graham. “Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis” Canadian council on social development 02 April, 2008, p14
Koc, Mustafa. “For hunger-proof cities: Sustainable Urban Food Systems” International Development Research Centre (Canada), Rod MacRae, Luc J. A. Mougeot 02 April, 2008, p 122
http://www.foodshare.net/whoweare04.htm, 02 April, 2008

Parimita Chakravorty

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