Rural women and food sovereignty

Over the past decades in land grabbing by large-scale investors has displaced millions of small-scale farmers from their lands in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Loss of other resources, such as forests, water, and seeds has been rampant. Small-scale agriculture is being replaced with an industrial model, in which seeds become commodities and free exchange, storage and use of seeds traditionally practiced by peasants is prohibited. This global industrial food system may be seen as one of the causes of the climate crisis. Food production, processing and transportation are dependent on fossil fuels. These have been estimated to cause 19-29 % of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and even up to 56 % of other than CO2 emissions.

Simultaneously small-scale farmers face in their daily life a rapidly changing climate, the predictability of which is becoming harder, and where extreme weather conditions are more and more common. Greater seed and crop variety is crucial for agricultural climate adaptation, as well as to enable food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty consists of six principles. First, food is to be seen as a basic human need instead of a mere commodity. Second, food producers’ work needs to be appreciated. Third, distance between food producers and consumers needs to be shortened and dependence on distant, unaccountable corporations avoided. Fourth, monitoring should be in the hands of local food producers and natural resources shall become commons. Fifth, traditional knowledge is thought to be the basis of information and skills, which is transferred to future generations through research. Sixth, food sovereignty is based on collaboration with nature; the contribution of ecosystems is maximized and their resilience developed at the same time as energy intensive, monoculture based, industrial and harmful production methods are abandoned. These principles also form the basis of the demand for a UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.


For the small-scale farmers’ movement agroecology is a central concept, linked with food sovereignty. It is a way of life, a method for transforming food production into something more beneficial to humans and to biodiversity. It is built on ancestral knowledge and practical experience of peasants and takes into account the diversity of food production, gathering and consumption. It challenges power and places local communities at the centre of food production, aiming at a just food system. Processing and marketing food at local levels and direct sales to consumers provides healthy food at a fair price. Agroecological practices, such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal breeds, are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation.

In Eastern and Southern Africa members of the international peasants’ social movement, La Via Campesina (LVC) have identified the role of Transnational Corporations as one of the main challenges. They ask governments to hold corporations responsible when they fail to respect national laws, as well as to halt industrial farming. Small-scale farmers commit themselves to building agroecology and food sovereignty from the grassroots, advocating land and seed laws that defend peasants’ rights. In West and Central Africa peasants deem agroecology as a form of resistance to an economic system focused on profits, as it challenges power structures.


In Latin America, peasants consider crucial to build democratic and participative societies free of discrimination of women and youth, by means of a comprehensive agrarian reform and agroecology. The reform would guarantee access to land and water to women, youth and the landless, and it would recognise the social functions of land and water. Defending native seeds is vital to ensure that they remain viable.

In strengthening small-scale farmers’ rights, women’s contribution is essential on all societies. Women are fighting for their identity as peasants, for ownership of the land they cultivate, and against gender based violence. Simultaneously rural communities often witness a trend of young people from farming families moving away from agriculture and migrating to cities.

Siemenpuu’s aim is to support sustainable rural livelihoods and food sovereignty through food production practices, which conserve agricultural biodiversity, mitigate climate change and help adapting to it. Particular attention is paid on improving rural women’s position, as they play a key role in rural communities and peasant families.


Read more about Siemenpuu's development cooperation programme. This funding scheme has been built upon the experiences of earlier Global dialogue, Latin America and Mali programmes. Read also a background article on right to water.


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