II Food Sovereignty Forum in Warsaw, Poland
Between the 30th of January and the 2nd of February 2020 around 250 people took part in the II Polish Food Sovereignty Forum.
The event was organized by Nyeleni Poland (https://nyeleni.pl/) with the support of several groups, including Koalicja Żywa Ziemia (Living Earth Coalition https://koalicjazywaziemia.pl/), Instytut Globalnej Odpowiedzialności (Global Responsibility Institute), Kooperatywa Dobrze (Food Cooperative ‘Dobrze’), Stowarzyszenie Ekologiczno-Kulturalne Ziarno (The Ecological and Cultural Association Seed) and Heinrich Böll Foundation. The event took place at the Służew Community Centre in the southern part of Warsaw.
By Ola Gracjasz
Food Sovereignty as a political discussion
After a year’s break and solid preparations, Nyeleni Poland organized the second gathering of activists, scholars, farmers and educators to discuss food sovereignty in the world, with special attention paid to the Polish case. The event lasted four days and was filled with discussions, panels and workshops that dealt with the issue of food sovereignty on various levels of the food chain and in relation to global issues, such as climate change and human rights.
Throughout the Forum several groups worked together in various workshops on the following issues:
– “food sovereignty in practice”, which dealt with the question of: how can we realistically change the food system and fight for food sovereignty? A significant amount of attention was given to presenting and discussing agroecology, permaculture and ecological methods of food production.
- “food sovereignty in politics” – this topic included discussions around the questions of: what kind of political obstacles are we facing as we strive for food sovereignty and how should we approach them?
- “food sovereignty in food distribution and as a form of solidarity” looked at food cooperatives and asked, how can engaging in these enable actual changes in the food system? Specifically, this included asking how such efforts may improve relationships between consumers and producers while at the same time promoting small scale and ecological farming.
- “food sovereignty on a global scale” was a topic concerned with the relationship between the climate crisis and farming. It also stressed that the climate crisis is affecting all of us, beyond borders and beyond the political affiliations.
The Food Sovereignty Forum connected people involved in the food sovereignty movement in various ways. For example, one could listen to the presentations of farmers, both ecological and conventional. Despite differences in age, work experience and food choice (vegetarians and meat-eaters) they shared concerns for the well-being of soil, promoted small-scale farming and stressed the importance of increasing biodiversity. It was interesting to realise the emergence of “new” types of farmers: intellectuals, with background in business, marketing or IT, fluent in English and with a niche, progressive knowledge on farming.
The organization of the Forum also invited members of food cooperatives, who discussed the necessity for coming up with a new, uniting and inclusive definition of food cooperatives in Poland. Behind this necessity there is a need for working together in order to spread the idea of the ecological benefits of cooperatives.
In the spirit of building regional and international networks of cooperation, the forum also welcomed international guests, members of URGENCI - The International Community Supported Agriculture Network, members of La Via Campesina, and a freshly emerging EURopean Youth initiative for the future of our Food and Agriculture (EURYFA).
The event was also a place for political and scientific discussions. Scholars from leading Polish universities (e.g. dr. prof. Zbigniew Karaczun from SGGW) discussed how climate change is related to large scale intensive farming, while politicians (Jarosław Sachajko from the Sejm Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and Wanda Klepacka from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) called for consumers to become more aware of their food choices and reminded them of their decisive power in fighting climate change. This stirred some debates in the audience, as many felt that the message was one-sided and placed too much responsibility on the consumers without putting the responsibility of policy-makers in the picture. All in all, this panel generated heated discussions on shared responsibility, citizenship and the role of politicians in implementing system changes.
The climate crisis is a moral crisis
Even though the programme was rich and time for discussion limited, several important issues emerged and caught my attention.
Apart from discussing the importance of food sovereignty as a political and practical action, it was also presented as a fight for human rights, respect and protection of skills and knowledge. Farming knowledge, as mentioned on multiple occasions, has been produced for centuries by peasants and farmers and is now threatened with co-optation by large corporations as part of a larger green-washing practice. It is important, as Joanna Bojczewska (AGRO PERMA Lab organizer and educator) said, to share knowledge, but also to protect it by developing alternate systems of education where farmers have the right to be specialists.
Similarly, the question on re-building social trust was raised, as Poland is (self-) perceived as a country with weakened trust, not only citizens towards the State, but interpersonally at a social level. Creating new communities through, for example, food cooperatives, was suggested as one of the many ways in which we could work on restoring trust relations at both levels.
On several occasions people brought up the question of powerful institutions and their role in affecting populations. One of the topics of the debates was: “Why does the church not take a stance on food sovereignty?” In Poland, where more than 90% of population is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church, this institution has a strong position in the formation of cultural beliefs. Some suggested that its involvement could provide a great help in raising questions on and awareness of the climate crisis amongst the general population.
All of the aforementioned issues point to what an ecological farmer Anna Bednarek called a ‘moral crisis’: depleting respect towards one another, the soil, the animals and the environment. Together with system changes, she said, we need to work on improving interpersonal skills, learning about appreciating the soil and the animals, and treating the world surrounding us with dignity.
II Food Sovereignty Forum in Poland, an interview with Wioletta Olejarczyk
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“We are the seeds.”
At the end of the forum, everyone was invited to share their observations and conclusions. The main thought that came through was how much the meeting made people feel a part of a larger movement giving them empowerment, a sense of belonging and solidarity. In the joint publication available at the forum, entitled “Polityka na talerzu” (Politics on the plate), one of the editors, Joanna Perzyna (Nyeleni Poland) makes a reference to an environmental activist Joanna Macy who says “… you can’t do it alone. The dangers coming down on us now are so humongous that it is really beyond an individual mind all by her/him/itself to take it in. We need to sit together, grab each other and be together as we even take in what is happening, let alone how we respond.” By this, she was calling people to unite, create solidarity links and work together against environmental and social changes that affect us all. Despite some disagreements during the forum, or perhaps in part catalysed by them, participants seemed to share the realization that they compose a niche community and should remember to share their knowledge, work in dispersion in their own communities and plant the seeds of knowledge wherever they can.