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Political Research Exchange - PRX

The 'Sovereignty' of Food Sovereignty: An Inquiry with Insights from Nepal

Public Policy
Social Movements
Policy Implementation
Puspa Sharma
Australian National University
Puspa Sharma
Australian National University

Since the mid-1990s, food sovereignty is being promoted as an alternative food paradigm by various transnational and national social movements. Some countries too have recognised food sovereignty by including it in their constitutions and national legislation. The choice of the term 'sovereignty' for a new food paradigm illustrates that for food sovereignty proponents, 'security' and 'right' associated with food are inadequate.

But 'sovereignty' is a historically and politically contested term, not least because there are contestations on what sovereignty entails and who exercises it. Then, how has the 'sovereignty' of food sovereignty been perceived? Has it made food sovereignty a meaningful, purposeful and distinctly and effectively implementable idea?

This paper argues that the choice of a contested term 'sovereignty' for a new food paradigm has made food sovereignty contentious as well. Efforts have been made to address the contentions in food sovereignty by accepting the existence of multiple sovereignties. But, given the complex nature of the food system, exercise of multiple sovereignties in the realm of food and agriculture looks complicated. Therefore, despite the adoption of food sovereignty by States, implementation of this new food paradigm does not look significantly different from the existing paradigms of food security and the right to food.

We demonstrate this in the case of Nepal that has incorporated food sovereignty in its Constitution and in its food- and agriculture-related plans and policies. Despite adopting food sovereignty, Nepal has not meaningfully considered the 'sovereignty' of food sovereignty. Nepal's external trade relations, food and agriculture policy preparation process, and policies for agriculture development have all been largely the continuation of the past. The notion of sovereignty is not reflected in the new food and agriculture policies. As a politically appealing idea, food sovereignty seems to have provided the impetus to focus more on achieving national food self-sufficiency/self-reliance, and ensure people's food security and the right to food. But it has not brought about a paradigm shift in food and agriculture policies, mainly explicitly recognising the 'sovereignty' aspect.

Therefore, although food sovereignty is claimed to be a new food paradigm that challenges existing norms in agri-food governance, that might not be the case. The political appeal of 'sovereignty' might have been the reason for the acceptance of food sovereignty by States, but the contestations in sovereignty might have given them the space to follow business as usual practices in the realm of food and agriculture.
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