Last week, hundreds of people poured into the Women’s Building here in San Francisco to take part in the Justice Begins with Seeds conference, organized by the California Biosafety Alliance and co-sponsored by PANNA and several other partner groups. Abuzz with activities from September 13-17, the conference provided a forum for Californians to engage in movement building that challenges the corporate food system, pushes back against genetically engineered food and seeds, and nourishes the roots of food democracy.
I had the honor of speaking at the opening plenary Friday morning, and of sharing the PAN network’s vision of what it means to reclaim our food system. The auditorium pulsed with the diversity, wisdom, courage and vast experience of our movement: Latino community organizers, urban food justice activists, Mexican farmers and keepers of the ancient, vital heritage of corn seed diversity, youth leaders, lawyers, scientists, poets, writers and artists.
As a global network linking 600 groups from over 90 countries, PAN is best known for our three decades of work challenging the global proliferation of pesticides. At the same time, ever since our founding in 1982, PAN has fought for people’s rights to a safe, fair and sustainable food system. That work has taken many forms over the years: farmer caravans travelling across Asia, denouncing the corporations that manufacture chemical pesticides and GMOs and highlighting farmers’ innovative ecological alternatives; organic cotton farmers in Peru, Benin and Senegal collaborating with European partners in devising clean, fair and green marketing initiatives; and here in the U.S., campaigning to save conservation payments in the Farm Bill as the most concrete step we can take right now to support American farmers who are stewarding the earth and protecting future generations.
Seeding justice means two things to me: growing agroecology & nourishing the emerging food democracy movement in this country.
As I told conference participants last week, “seeding justice” at PANNA means two things to me: growing agroecology and nourishing the emerging food democracy movement in this country. The many faces of these two things can get us a long way towards food sovereignty. In so many concrete ways, I am energized by our daily work in this realm:
- fighting for fairness for workers and for family farmers (call your Senator to urge support for the fair farm rules! the fight is still on!);
- exposing and challenging Monsanto’s monopoly control over the world’s seed supply;
- campaigning for green payments and policy measures to support farmers transitioning towards agroecological and organic practices; and
- mobilizing communities from California to Colombia to Cameroon, to stand together for food justice, food democracy and food sovereignty.
As Indian scientist-activist Vandana Shiva explained in her rousing keynote address:
We have to make food democracy the core of the defense of our freedom and survival. We will either have food dictatorship for a while and then a collapse of our food systems and our societies, or we will succeed in building robust food democracies, resting on resilient ecosystems and resilient communities.