A grassroots organizing group that works in the western United States and a Ghana-based agricultural reform organization have won this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize, which honors efforts to help small-scale farmers have a bigger say in food production and policy.
The domestic winner of the prize is the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a coalition of grassroots organizations working in seven states in the western U.S. They were recognized for advocating for farmers and ranchers to create stronger regional food markets, according to the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, the award’s sponsor. For the coalition, this has meant challenging agriculture policies that prioritize corporations over people, according to a press release.
The international winner of the Food Sovereignty Prize was Food Sovereignty Ghana, which helps Ghanaian food producers gain access to infrastructure, money, and food markets. They also protect local producers from the effects of industrial agriculture developments like genetically modified crops.
The Food Sovereignty Prize serves as a “counterweight” for another global food prize: the World Food Prize, which was first awarded in 1987 to highlight achievements to increase global food supplies. Critics say those achievements often come at the expense of people and the environment.
“Food and farm advocates initiated the Food Sovereignty Prize 14 years ago to challenge the Green Revolution model espoused by the World Food Prize,” said Darnella Winston of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance in a press release. “Today, there is mounting evidence of the failures of this model.”
The Green Revolution model originated with initiatives promoted by 20th-century agronomist Norman Borlaug. Borlaug promoted high-yield crop strategies using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and farming practices like monocropping. While these strategies produced more food worldwide, they eventually led to less resilient crops and put many rural farmers out of business as big agriculture companies gained power, according to reporting from PBS.
Food policy in the United States has also favored big agriculture companies. Nixon-era Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s mantra “get big or get out” drove much of the agriculture policy that has benefitted corporations over small producers, according to Antonio Tovar of the National Family Farm Coalition (a founding member of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance).
Food security in the U.S., Tovar said, is currently defined by policymakers as food that is made as cheaply and efficiently as possible. These priorities do not benefit small-scale farmers and ranchers, who often can’t operate at the low costs our food system demands. This has led to the consolidation of food producers so just a few companies control large sectors of the industry.
While consolidation may be good for pocketbooks, it doesn’t create strong food systems.
“Efficiency and consolidation are not necessarily equipped to be resilient,” Tovar said. “When you concentrate everything in one place – the more efficient you are – your system is going to break.”
With many small-scale producers, more diverse and resilient markets can form when food security is not reliant on the productivity of just a few companies.
“We see this in storms or disasters when [producers] lose a large extension of one crop and people are unable to feed themselves,” Tovar said. Food sovereignty puts the power in the hands of local producers, allowing them to make the best decisions for their crops and livestock, according to Tovar.
Food Sovereignty Ghana and Western Organization of Resource Councils are empowering local producers to do just this, which is why they were awarded this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize, according to the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance. Both organizations prioritize people over profit, which is key to food sovereignty, Tovar said.
“When we talk about food sovereignty, the important piece is the people: the people that are producing, the consumer that is in the system, and the communities that have control over those systems,” Tovar said.
The organizations were recognized at a formal award ceremony in mid-October and given a modest cash prize.