The Nyéléni declaration

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The Nyéléni declaration

In 2007 a group of 500 peasants, family farmers, artisinal fisher-folk, indigenous peoples , landless peoples, rural workers, migrants, pastoralists, forest communities, women, youth, consumers, environmental and urban movements came together in Nyéléni, Mali to hold the world forum for Food Sovereignty.

They consulted together two key questions: What, exactly, is Food Sovereignty? And how can a process be put into action at the international level to recognise food sovereignty as a protected right. What emerged was the most detailed and cohesive picture of food sovereignty to date.

Food sovereignty includes the right to food – the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through socially just and ecologically sensitive methods. It entails peoples’ right to participate in decision making and define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation and supports new social relations free from oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups and social classes. It promotes a genuine agrarian reform and defends access to, and the sharing of, productive territories free from the threat of privatisation and expulsion.

Food sovereignty defends the interests and the right to food and to produce food of peoples and communities, including those under occupation, in conflict zones, facing and/or recovering from disasters, as well as those who are socially and economically marginalised, such as dalits, indigenous peoples and migrant workers. Food sovereignty provides a policy framework for food, farming, pastoral, fisheries and other food production, harvesting and gathering systems determined by local communities.

The six pillars

1. Focuses on Food for People: Food sovereignty puts the right to sufficient, healthy and culturally appropriate food for all individuals, peoples and communities, including those who are hungry, under occupation, in conflict zones and marginalised, at the centre of food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries policies; and rejects the proposition that food is just another commodity or component for international agri-business.

2. Values Food Providers: Food sovereignty values and supports the contributions, and respects the rights, of women and men, peasants and small scale family farmers, pastoralists, artisanal fisherfolk, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples and agricultural and fisheries workers, including migrants, who cultivate, grow, harvest and process food; and rejects those policies, actions and programmes that undervalue them, threaten their livelihoods and eliminate them.

3. Localises Food Systems: Food sovereignty brings food providers and consumers closer together; puts providers and consumers at the centre of decision-making on food issues; protects food providers from the dumping of food and food aid in local markets; protects consumers from poor quality and unhealthy food, inappropriate food aid and food tainted with genetically modified organisms; and resists governance structures, agreements and practices that depend on and promote unsustainable and inequitable international trade and give power to remote and unaccountable corporations.

4. Puts Control Locally: Food sovereignty places control over territory, land, grazing, water, seeds, livestock and fish populations on local food providers and respects their rights. They can use and share them in socially and environmentally sustainable ways which conserve diversity; it recognizes that local territories often cross geopolitical borders and ensures the right of local communities to inhabit and use their territories; it promotes positive interaction between food providers in different regions and territories and from different sectors that helps resolve internal conflicts or conflicts with local and national authorities; and rejects the privatisation of natural resources through laws, commercial contracts and intellectual property rights regimes.

5. Builds Knowledge and Skills: Food sovereignty builds on the skills and local knowledge of food providers and their local organisations that conserve, develop and manage localised food production and harvesting systems, developing appropriate research systems to support this and passing on this wisdom to future generations; and rejects technologies that undermine, threaten or contaminate these, e.g. genetic engineering.

6. Works with Nature: Food sovereignty uses the contributions of nature in diverse, low external input agroecological production and harvesting methods that maximise the contribution of ecosystems and improve resilience and adaptation, especially in the face of climate change; it seeks to heal the planet so that the planet may heal us; and, rejects methods that harm beneficial ecosystem functions, that depend on energy intensive monocultures and livestock factories, destructive fishing practices and other industrialised production methods, which damage the environment and contribute to global warming.

elaborated pillars


Food is for people’s health and nutrition – it should not be simply a tradeable commodity. In order to ensure the right to food for all and the right of peasant farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and others to produce healthy food sustainably, we must build new mechanisms for fairness in trading, with fair prices, that are in the hands of producers and consumers, that are transparent at all steps in the food chain, and where priority is given to local production for local markets. We must fight for radical change in agricultural, fisheries and food policies so that they are based on food sovereignty and not on free trade as promoted by its neo-liberal proponents – governments, multinational corporations and international institutions, such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

We will continue to reject all bilateral and multilateral agreements that do not respond to the needs of local producers and consumers. Food Sovereignty is not against international, regional or national trade but places priority on local production for local markets in order to guarantee food sovereignty. It values the production of culturally appropriate foods without forcing people to consume things they do not want, such as genetically modified organisms.

The local markets emphasis also supports the use of land for food production rather than for the production of agrofuels and other monocultures; coastal marine resources for local fishing rather than destructive fisheries; pastoral grazing territories for sustainable livestock keeping; and so on. We will continue to fight against free trade and other market mechanisms that promote over-production and the dumping of “cheap food” and unnecessary imported food aid, which benefit large corporate producers and harm food sovereignty. Instead, we will encourage laws and policies that promote local autonomy in food production and consumption so that indigenous peoples, peasant farmers, fishers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and other local food providers are able to produce for themselves, their local communities and wider society.


The majority of the world’s food is still being produced or harvested at relatively small scales by local communities, based on local knowledge, using locally based technologies and locally available resources. Our knowledge and wisdom is what the world needs for food sovereignty. We are the women and men, peasant farmers, pastoralists, artisanal fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, forest dwellers and others who for millennia have created, maintained and developed the basis not only for our survival but also the survival of society. This includes the knowledge and skills to produce food, clothing, medicines, seeds, livestock etc, to sustain biodiversity and to respect the environment and ecosystems.

Our knowledge is alive, shows itself in many ways and is essential for food sovereignty. It is local, collective, and diverse and is ever changing and dynamic – not static – and gathers strength through exchange and solidarity. Fighting for food sovereignty means recognizing women’s contributions and experiences and making indigenous knowledge and production systems a central element in strengthening local food systems under the control of local communities. The impacts of the technologies for intensive monocultures including those for agrofuel production, industrial aquaculture and destructive fisheries, that are imposed through the green (crops), blue (aquaculture) and white (milk) revolutions, now being reimposed on Africa, are having devastating impacts on our local knowledge systems, technologies and environment. It actively leads to the consolidation of the market power of transnational corporations throughout the entire food chain from production to distribution.

This corporate control and domination, supported by local elites, leads to the concentration of land, erosion of soils, poisoning of waters from nitrates and pesticides, damage to productive ecosystems, culminating in the disappearance of farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk. With this distortion of power come new genetically modified organisms, nanotechnologies and seed sterilisation technologies, protected by patents and other intellectual property rights. Also, the privatisation of agricultural research moves knowledge, seed varieties and livestock breeds from the public domain into corporate hands; thus, damaging transformative local knowledge development. In the name of hunger, bird‘flu, climate change and the thirst for fuel by the wealthy, unsuitable and unsustainable technologies are being imposed in our territories, are poisoning our water bodies and, with the impacts of industrial extractive fisheries and aquaculture, are killing our seas.


The access, control and stewardship of the natural resources that peasant farming, pastoral, artisanal fishing, forest dwelling and indigenous communities rely on for food and livelihoods – for example, land, forests, water, seeds, livestock, fish and other aquatic species – are essential for food sovereignty. For generations, local communities have conserved the richness and diversity of these resources by controlling access to them for the practice of agroecologically sustainable and biodiverse agriculture, livestock production, pastoralism and artisanal fishing, saving and protecting their lands, territories, forests and water bodies from over-use, depletion and contamination. We must ensure women’s access to land, abolishing discriminatory laws of inheritance and repartition in the event of divorce; transforming customs that deny women’s right to the land; and equality between women and men in processes of agrarian reform.

A genuine agrarian reform is needed that allows us continued rights of access to and control over our territories, including for Indigenous Peoples and pastoralists, that can then be used exclusively for ecologically and socially sustainable production. We require similar rights to water bodies and coastal commons for artisanal fisheries, preventing the imposition of industrial aquaculture or destructive fishing practices, as well as guaranteeing riparian and beach access to these resources. We must develop a common plan of action around the fight against water privatisation, commodification of water and exploitation of ground water by transnational corporations. Access to and control over our seed varieties, livestock breeds and fish species that are the basis of food sovereignty should not be compromised by intellectual property rights nor should they be contaminated by genetically modified organisms.

We must guard against humanitarian and development assistance that reduce access and our control over natural resources, as happened, for example, after the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. We must force governments either to apply existing international laws and agreements, or design national laws, that guarantee the rights of access to the resources to which people are entitled and prevent the privatization of common resources and the actions of transnational corporations, which limit our access to the natural resources we need to realize food sovereignty.


We must first define territories beyond geopolitical boundaries so as to include the territories of indigenous peoples, nomadic and pastoralist communities and beach-based fisherfolk. We should also view nature as material and spiritual beings, not as ‘resources’ that exist to be exploited. We understand the holistic nature of territories as including land, water, seeds, livestock breeds and aquatic organisms. Local communities and peoples that share territories should have equitable, but controlled, access. One of the biggest obstacles to equitable access to territories is the privatization of land, water and material beings. We need to fight against all forms of expulsion of peoples from their territories and against mechanisms that favour remote, corporate or centralised control of territories.

We need to ensure the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities in territories by strengthening our organizations and multi-sectoral alliances so as to democratically negotiate and share territories. A strong, aware and organized civil society will be able to assert the rights of peasants/farmers, artisanal fisherfolk, pastoralists and indigenous communities. We must also assert the rights of young people and women to access territories. We can solve conflicts over shared territories between different sectors by improving our traditional management of territories, particularly since one major source of conflict is the overexploitation of nature and unsustainable management of territories by one sector to the detriment of another, by one generation to the detriment of future generations. We need to fight for genuine comprehensive agrarian reform based on the diverse needs of peoples and for governments to protect the rights of those who inhabit territories.

Anchored in our traditional knowledge, we need to create our own research activities to collect and imagine alternative solutions to the obstacles to sharing territories by diverse communities. One such solution is the creation of an alternative economic system of exchanges among local producers that resists global market domination.


Food sovereignty is threatened by conflicts, occupations and disasters, as well as by efforts to ameliorate the situation such as through inappropriate food aid and development / reconstruction projects, which themselves can generate more conflicts. Environmental degradation as a result of warfare and disasters also compromises food sovereignty, as it affects local production. At the same time, we see that where food sovereignty is present, communities and their production systems are better able to survive and recover including sourcing local foods to avert famine. Examples were given about the loss of food sovereignty due to occupation in Palestine and Lebanon; as a result of conflicts over natural resources in Cameroon and Colombia; and due to the precarious living conditions because of human-made and natural disasters in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. These and many other stories articulated the importance of food sovereignty in areas deeply affected by conflicts, occupations, and disasters.

We often speak of access to markets for local producers and peoples who want to consume local products. But for communities living with conflicts, occupation and the aftermath of disasters, access to markets is a basic physical issue when there is, for example, a wall between the producer and the market, or where the transport infrastructure disappears in a flood. Also, after conflict or a disaster, people are often displaced from their lands and territories, which are then appropriated for other purposes, such as tourism or occupation by others.

Food sovereignty is challenged by repression and state terrorism, particularly as conflicts affect communities’ control over territories. This limits their access to land, water, food and excludes their participation in decision-making. For peoples living under occupation, self-determination and local autonomy becomes crucial in order to achieve food sovereignty. Self-determination can also prepare against the impacts of natural and human-made disasters by ensuring ecological community-based management, reliant on traditional knowledge and lifestyles that increase the resilience of ecosystems to catastrophic events. In order to achieve food sovereignty, we must ensure that those who are victims/survivors of disaster/conflict can determine and lead the relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts.

We assert that food sovereignty is essential for community resilience and response to all disasters. In this context, we discussed: how to secure the benefits from legal frameworks that should maintain biodiversity and provide compensation when the livelihoods of communities are intentionally destroyed; as well as an international convention on food sovereignty, especially for communities living with conflict, occupation or disaster.


We need to integrate the struggle for food sovereignty in the fight for migrants’ rights. The causes of forced migration, often to work in agriculture and fisheries, include international financial and development policies, warfare, and destruction of habitats and cultures due to social and environmental injustices, among other factors. The characteristics of forced migrations include racism and sexual exploitation, human trafficking, the use of migrants for cheap or slave labour, and the treatment of migrants as “second class citizens”.

We see an increased awareness of the contributions of migrant workers as evidenced by the mobilizations in the United States and France in 2006, and by the weight placed on remittances by migrants to their families in their countries of origin. However, there are no policies in place to support the right of displaced peoples to return to their home communities, particularly those who have been displaced by occupation, disaster, or conflict. In order to confront the problems generated by forced migrations, the following proposals are made as strategies to contain forced migration:

1) The defence of territories, cultures, food sovereignty and self-reliance and the defence of rural, farmer, agrarian and urban organizations that are essential to ensuring dignity in the countryside and the city;

2) Articulating the value of peasant production and the creation of sustainable economic relationships that are outside of capitalist market rules.

We need to strengthen and promote independent migrants’ organizations and movements, from local to international. This includes strengthening alliances between organizations and social movements in countries of origin and the places where migrants live and work. We need to increase awareness about forced migration and the conditions that migrants face, especially in the food, fishing and agricultural sectors, and we need to stand in solidarity with migrant organisations as crucial allies in the fight for food sovereignty.


Food sovereignty and environmental stability are underpinned by agroecological production of food and the use of ecologically sensitive artisanal fisheries practices. But this form of production can only continue if society values and supports it and buys local foods whilst at the same time removing privileges and subsidies from industrial production systems that benefit transnational corporations. Industrial production models are capturing and destroying local markets, the livelihoods of small scale food providers and the diverse ecosystems upon which sustainable, low energy production depends. This industrial model pushes monocultures as well as the use of food crops and land for agrofuel production rather than to feed people. It also causes downstream pollution which, together with industrial fisheries and aquaculture, is killing our seas. The corporate-led production model is also environmentally damaging, destroying nature’s capacity to adapt and flourish and greatly contributes to climate change.

The models of production and the way in which food is sold and distributed are more important than the scale of production (small scale in one country can be seen as large scale in others) or where production takes place: food sovereignty is as applicable in Northern industrialised countries as in the global South.

Strengthening the links between producers and consumers and persuading them to switch to a ‘solidarity economy’ that supports local farmers, livestock keepers, artisanal fisherfolk and their systems of agroecological production and harvesting, as well as persuading authorities at all levels to buy locally produced foods for schools, hospitals and other public institutions, are key strategies. A challenge for the current generation is not only to change policy and societal support in favour of ecologically sustainable production but also to keep alive the values and the resources needed for this production system so that they can be taken up and used by the next.