You are here: Home / Resources / publications / annual report / annual report 2009 / what we achieved in 2009 / program highlights / Food Sovereignty Program highlights

Food Sovereignty Program highlights

The Food Sovereignty Program’s objective is to resist and expose industrial corporate-led agriculture and promote food sovereignty.
FoodSovGroup20Apr2009 USED FOOD.jpg

Friends of the Earth is developing its Food Sovereignty Program in close conjunction with allies, including La Via Campesina. We attended the High-Level Meeting on Food Security in Madrid (26-27 January) where Via Campesina and FoE Spain’s joint actions outside the conference got excellent coverage in the Spanish media, and Henry Saragih from Via Campesina was eventually invited to speak on behalf of civil society in the final plenary session. The response from the conference was striking: the applause was deafening and continued for a full two minutes despite repeated attempts by the Chair to move on to the next agenda item. 


Critically, the meeting ended without consensus on a new 'Global Partnership', which was in line with civil society proposals. However, the official website is less clear about this outcome and presents a non-negotiated and non-adopted 'Final Statement' that still talks about a new Global Partnership. In general we were extremely disappointed to find that proposed solutions to the food crisis still include pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and fertilizers.

The 17th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in May, in New York, saw important progress on food sovereignty however, when the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter's proposals included the right of peoples to access land and define their own food policies, as well as the principles that the government should support the least protected (including rural) people and implement production models that do not contribute to climate change. The UN Special Rapporteur’s position strongly echoes the new production model that La Vía Campesina and FoEI have been promoting for years, although it does not yet go far enough: people also need to have the right to define and control their own food and food production systems. A successful side event on GMOs and the food crisis was also held during this event.

Together with the EJRN Program, the Food Sovereignty Program is also starting to build a new global campaign challenging agribusiness. This lengthy undertaking is being undertaken in conjunction with Via Campesina and the World March of Women, and is a follow up to the Food Sovereignty Forum, which took place in Nyeleni, Mali in February 2007.

The plan is to build up from the regional sphere to the global. To this end, we have started organizing regional forums to launch the regional processes; from these we can then decide where to concentrate forces in our struggles for food sovereignty, how to strengthen our coordination and our joint campaign efforts. To date regional food sovereignty forums have been held in Paraguay (21-23 August) and Nigeria, with representatives from different regions of FoEI and strategic allies present at each. The meeting in Nigeria focused on Opposing Land Grabs, AGRA and Non-Ecological Agriculture, and took place in Abuja, Nigeria, 20-23 October. AGRA is an organization that focuses on the Green Revolution, and it represents agribusiness in Africa at its worst.

In April 2009, when FoEI activists from around the world were in Amsterdam for internal strategy meetings, FoEI and FoE Netherlands also co-hosted a public discussion on "Food sovereignty versus certification: the soy case in the Netherlands," with politicians, academics and members of the Dutch farming community.

In-line with the program’s objective to expose industrial corporate-led agriculture and promote food sovereignty, Friends of the Earth, together with Food and Water Watch and the European Co-ordination of Via Campesina, also produced a groundbreaking film, "Killing Fields: the battle to feed factory farms," which investigates the impacts of growing soy in South America to feed factory farms in Europe. Few people realize that a hidden chain of destruction stretches from factory farms in Europe to the forests of South America – where huge soy plantations are wiping out wildlife and making climate change worse. To make way for soy plantations, thousands of people are being forced from their land and with it, losing their ability to grow their own food. Indigenous People are being evicted and forests are being cleared. Many of the soybeans are genetically modified and massively increase the use of pesticides – resulting in the poisoning of rural communities, water sources and the natural environment.

As part of its collaborative approach, FoEI has been increasingly involved with the International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), participating in the drafting committee of the IPC’s "Eradicate Hunger" document, and in the Steering Committee of the People’s Food Sovereignty Forum that paralleled the FAO Summit on Food Security in Rome, 16-18 November 2009. As soon as the summit was announced, social movements, NGOs and other civil society organizations started a dialogue with FAO to organize the parallel civil society forum, which included some 500 farmers, Indigenous Peoples, rural youth, women and others. The forum addressed the hunger crisis affecting over one billion people and nearly one sixth of the world's population. FoEI was also involved in preparations for activities in parallel to the 3rd Session of the Governing Body on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in Tunisia, in June. FoEI has been invited to join the IPC’s international facilitation group, which has been formed to work on the FAO process for the adoption of voluntary guidelines on land and natural resources tenure. This group will also be a space for reflection and articulation on land rights and land grabbing.

The struggle for a GM-free world also remains a priority for the food sovereignty movement and Friends of the Earth International continues its campaign against the GM industry. Working against GMOs includes struggling against soy monocultures and the dominant model of production. We are campaigning to stop GM food aid, and to increase land available to family farmers and for rural agriculture.

In 2009, we published our annual research report on GM crops," Who Benefits from GM Crops? Feeding the biotech giants, not the world’s poor," which focused on the importance of democratic decision-making in food production and distribution, and raised questions about the ability of GM crops to contribute to poverty reduction, global food security or sustainable farming.

Friends of the Earth groups and allies are also maintaining pressure on the GM industry at the national and regional levels. This has had a particularly marked impact in Europe. At the beginning of the year, the European Commission issued proposals for two new varieties of genetically modified (GM) maize to be grown in Europe despite ongoing safety concerns. In a proposal sent to EU member states, the Commission also said it wanted to force Greece, Hungary and France to drop their national bans on a similar GM maize. But the European Commission was defeated when member states voted on this issue, with many member states holding fast with their position on GMOs. Civil society organizations were clearly instrumental in this.

In Hungary, for example, Friends of the Earth, along with other civil society organizations, farmers’ organizations and politicians held a demonstration to keep Hungary free of genetically-modified organisms and demonstrators dispatched representatives to every EU foreign representative in Budapest to ask other European countries to vote against the Commission’s proposal. FoE Spain and other Spanish civil society organizations coordinated a hugely successful action against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with more than 100 actions and protests across the country. 8,000 people also took part in a national demonstration in Zaragoza, the capital city of the GM maize-growing region. With support from FOE Europe, FoE Spain also organized actions and sent letters to the Spanish Embassies in the EU.

This European resistance received a further boost in April, when Germany banned Monsanto's GM maize MON810 as allowed under EU law (known as the ‘safeguard clause’). Germany joins Hungary, Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Poland and Italy who all effectively have bans in place. The German decision is based on new scientific research, which shows that the crop damages ladybirds, butterflies and daphnia magna (water organisms). This was a huge success for FoE Germany and other environmental and agricultural organizations, who have worked hard for this outcome for many years. Furthermore, 73% of Germans polled in April said they would favor products labeled as being GM free.

In July 2009, a scientific analysis commissioned by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe showed that an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which advocated the safety of the only genetically modified (GM) crop grown in Europe, was fundamentally flawed. The report revealed serious mistakes and omissions, which completely undermined EFSA’s conclusion. The report was submitted to a public consultation on Monsanto’s MON810 maize, and the groups called on the European Commission and EU countries to reject the authorization of this crop.

In a related action organized by FoE Spain in September, activists dressed as Spanish maize fled to the French Embassy in Madrid to seek asylum, fearing contamination from genetically modified varieties, which are being grown in Spain without any precautions against contamination. FoE Cyprus has also been active, hosting a lecture on GMOs, and speaking at a seminar designed to educate teachers about organic food and its benefits, organized by PASYBIO (the Cyprus Organic Farmers Union).

Other national campaign successes and activities in Europe in 2009 included the following:

  • On 6 March, during an extended session on food safety and regulation in the Georgian Parliament, Georgia’s Minister of Agriculture unexpectedly supported citizens’ demands to declare Georgia a GM-free country. This is an abrupt change in the political discourse, after many years of campaigning by FoE Georgia and other Georgian NGOs, and a significant public victory.
  • In its Renewed Programme for Government, published on 10 October 2009, the Irish Government declared that it “will declare the Republic of Ireland a GM-Free Zone, free from the cultivation of all GM plants.” This will make it the ninth country in the EU to prohibit the cultivation of transgenic plants.
  • A protest outside the head office of WWF-Netherlands with a weeping panda, a Monsanto circus director, and various people in white overalls spraying ‘Roundup’, protesting against WWF’s support for the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) proposal to certify GM Roundup Ready soy as 'responsible'. Another action followed days later outside the head office of Ahold, which is a prominent member of the RTRS, in response to RTRS’s newly agreed criteria for ‘responsible’ soy, which will allow the continued expansion of soy and even certify GM soy. 

There have also been strong FoE campaigns against GM crops in other regions. For example:

  • In Mexico, Friends of the Earth Mexico organised a festival event in the square Plaza de Mexicanos in San Cristobal, to mark World Food Day on 16 October. 
  • In Nigeria, Friends of the Earth launched a campaign against field trials of the so-called ‘super cassava’, which is engineered for enhanced levels of Vitamin A. FoE Nigeria has published a detailed report arguing that the trials would be a breach of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which Nigeria has signed. 
  • In Paraguay, the Paraguayan Senate has been discussing a new law on agrochemicals, which would dramatically increase the environmental, health and other social impacts of soy and other crops in Paraguay. Several key clauses of the existing law would be weakened, such as the requirement to have vegetation barriers and to warn surrounding communities in advance of spraying. Also, as the new law would be easier for soy growers to comply with, their crops – including GM crops – could be more likely to acquire Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certification, which calls for adherence to national laws. Friends of the Earth and others, including small farmers’ movements, several Ministers and the World Health Organization have all strongly opposed this proposal.

The Food Sovereignty Program is also starting to develop its work around climate and agriculture, together with the CJE Program. It is important to analyze and expose the links between climate justice and agriculture including emissions from long distance transport of food for international trade; the impacts of changes in land use; the impacts of industrial agriculture on climate; and the impacts of agrofuels production. In addition, we will report on the impacts of false solutions to the climate crisis on food sovereignty, expose the impacts of climate change on women, and analyze and report the increasing control of agribusiness transnationals in the UN’s climate change negotiations.

The first steps in this process were the development of an analysis of the role of GMOs in climate change, and a seminar at the Klimaforum09 in Copenhagen in December. On 11 December, a major event on "Food, Energy Sovereignty and Climate Justice" (which also included several presentations on REDD) was also co-organized in Copenhagen, by Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition, Via Campesina and the World March of Women.

Developing strategic relationships and alliances is a priority for the Food Sovereignty Program, especially with Via Campesina and the World March of Women, and has been a focus throughout the year, including in preparations for and actions at the Forum Against Agribusiness in Asuncion, the Conference against Land Grabbing and AGRA in Abuja, the Global Action Day against Monsanto on 16 October, and events in Copenhagen in December. This has included a number of joint letters and statements, including:

  • Preparing and coordinating a statement from FoEI and Via Campesina within the framework of the 17th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development: "Food sovereignty: A new model for a human right" (May).
  • Civil Society open letter to FAO regarding the High-Level Expert Forum on "How to feed the world in 2050" (September). 
  • An open letter to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with regard to their participation in AGRA.

Other key meetings that the Food Sovereignty Program has participated in include:


  • The High-Level Meeting on Food Security for All, Madrid (January)
  • CSD Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting (February)
  • 17th Session of the UN Division for Sustainable Development (May)
  • Activities prior to the WTO Ministerial Conference, Geneva, (November-December), and the
  • Trade to Climate Caravan, Geneva to Copenhagen, organized by the Trade and Climate Change Working Group of Our World Is Not For Sale and other organizations prior to COP15 (December). 

The Food Sovereignty Program’s main working areas are:

  • Resistance to land grabbing and agribusiness
  • A GM-free world, and 
  • Climate and agriculture. 

Internal cross-cutting themes include:

  • The promotion of food sovereignty and solutions; and 
  • Gender

Collaboration with other programs and campaigns:

  • With EJRN and Agrofuels - resistance to land grabbing and agribusiness, including Stora Enso.


International Co-coordinators


  • Martín Drago, FoE Uruguay,
  • Kirtana Chandrasekaran, FoE EWNI,


Regional Coordinators:


  • For ATALC: Caludia Jerónimo, FoE Guatemala, and FoE Paraguay as alternate
  • For Africa: Marianne Bassey (Nigeria) and Sicelo Simelane (Swaziland) as alternate
  • For Asia Pacific: Choony Kim (South Korea)
  • For Europe: Helen Holder (FoE Europe) and Kirtana Chandrasekaran (FoE EWNI) as alternate


Groups that participated actively in 2009:


Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, EWNI, France, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay, and members of the Feeding and Fuelling Europe project in Europe. 

Filed under: ,
Document Actions