Food Sovereignty and its Discontents

ATDF Journal, Vol. 8, Nos. 1-2, pp. 23-40, 2011

18 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2011 Last revised: 15 Feb 2012

See all articles by Philipp Aerni

Philipp Aerni

Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich

Date Written: November 24, 2011


The global food crisis is a clear signal that old belief systems no longer apply. Innovative ideas are necessary to make agriculture simultaneously more inclusive, sustainable and productive. Hybrid models of problem-oriented collaboration involving competent and committed actors in civil society, farmer organizations, government, academia and business are increasingly crucial in tackling the global challenges of agriculture. They create demand-driven agricultural innovation systems that respond to the needs of small-scale farmers to produce more with less through homegrown innovation. The Food Sovereignty movement could play a crucial role in this endeavour because the agro-ecological practices it advocates must be part of a comprehensive approach to sustainable intensification. Unfortunately, the movement still prefers political confrontation to cooperation on the ground, and its baseline assumptions of agriculture are defensive, not progressive. This article shows why these baseline assumptions are misleading even if they sound intuitively right. Sub-Saharan Africa has become a net importer of food because ideology has always mattered more in agricultural policy than the knowledge gained from farmers’ experience in the field and from agricultural research. The Food Sovereignty movement is right about the mistakes of neoliberal economic ideology, but it is silent about the fact that most famines actually occurred under socialist and communist regimes that pursued the goal of food self-sufficiency. The concept of Food Sovereignty still contains too much old left-wing ideology and too little creative thinking on how to make better use of today’s global knowledge economy to promote sustainable development. The movement could either become an obstacle to future food security, if it sticks to its ideology-based and confrontational rhetoric, or part of the solution, if it decides to extend collaboration beyond like-minded groups and engage in joint pragmatic action.

Suggested Citation

Aerni, Philipp, Food Sovereignty and its Discontents (November 24, 2011). ATDF Journal, Vol. 8, Nos. 1-2, pp. 23-40, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Philipp Aerni (Contact Author)

Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich ( email )

Zähringerstrasse 24
Zurich, CH-8001
044 634 40 60 (Phone)


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