1st Edition

Human Rights and the Food Sovereignty Movement Reclaiming control

By Priscilla Claeys Copyright 2015
    210 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Our global food system is undergoing rapid change. Since the global food crisis of 2007-2008, a range of new issues have come to public attention, such as land grabbing, food prices volatility, agrofuels and climate change. Peasant social movements are trying to respond to these challenges by organizing from the local to the global to demand food sovereignty. As the transnational agrarian movement La Via Campesina celebrates its 20th anniversary, this book takes stock of the movement’s achievements and reflects on challenges for the future. It provides an in-depth analysis of the movement’s vision and strategies, and shows how it has contributed not only to the emergence of an alternative development paradigm but also of an alternative conception of human rights. 

    The book assesses efforts to achieve the international recognition of new human rights for peasants at the international level, namely the 'right to food sovereignty' and 'peasants’ rights'. It explores why La Via Campesina was successful in mobilizing a human rights discourse in its struggle against neoliberalism, and also the limitations and potential pitfalls of using the human rights framework. The book shows that, to inject subversive potential in their rights-based claims rural social activists developed an alternative conception of rights, that is more plural, less statist, less individualistic, and more multi-cultural than dominant conceptions of human rights. Further, they deployed a combination of institutional (from above) and extrainstitutional (from below) strategies to demand new rights and reinforce grassroots mobilization through rights.

    1. Introduction 

    2. The Right to Food Sovereignty 

    3. The Rights of Peasants 

    4. The Right to Food 

    5. The Challenges of Using Rights 

    6. Transforming the Right to Food   

    Appendix 1 List of Interviews 

    Appendix 2 List of Participant Observation Sites


    Priscilla Claeys received her PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Louvain (UCL) in 2013 and is now a Postdoctoral researcher. Priscilla worked as an Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food from 2008 to 2014. She previously worked for a number of human rights organizations and development NGOs. Her research interests include transnational agrarian movements, human rights, alternative food economies and the ecological transition.

    "This is the first and most systematic theoretical and empirical study of (trans)national agrarian movements from the perspective of human rights. Brilliant. It changes the boundary of how we understand and study (trans)national agrarian movements." – Jun Borras, International Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands. 

    "This is a uniquely well informed and lucid discussion of how one of the most innovative social movements of this century has been gradually transforming our understanding of human rights in general, and of the right to food in particular. Priscilla Claeys provides a contribution both to the sociology of social movements and to the history of ideas, and she offers a rich discussion of how peasants' rights are emerging in human rights law. This book is three books at once: a significant achievement." – Olivier De Schutter, University of Louvain (UCL), Belgium, and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014). 

    "The book is groundbreaking, interesting, impressive, original and solid academic work. It is a significant contribution to our understanding of the politically relevant human rights dimensions of current agrarian movement struggles. It will, no doubt, prompt some lively debate particularly around the concept of the 'right to food sovereignty' and La Vía Campesina’s broader social and political transformational framework of 'food sovereignty'." – Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Canada Research Chair in Human Rights, Social Justice and Food Sovereignty, University of Manitoba, Canada. 

    "Claeys brings a unique experience and legal eye to the food sovereignty movement’s development of a politics of human rights for the food question of our times. In recounting the movement’s philosophical and political trajectory, she critically evaluates how a small-producer based movement can make its presence and claims felt in raising the possibility of alternative, sustainable paths to the future. As such it is a singularly consequential contribution."Philip McMichael, Cornell University, USA. 

    "This intriguing study of the creation of food sovereignty as a human right provides valuable insight into how social movements are translated into human rights terms and the complicated social and cultural interactions between local and global understandings inherent in the translation process."Sally Engle Merry, New York University, USA. 

    "On a methodological level, Priscilla Claeys’ book shows that conducting a global, multi-site and multi-scale research is not only possible but indispensable to understand actors, claims, debates and tensions that articulate global, national and local dimensions. On an analytical level, it shows how the use of global rights may contribute to new paths of emancipation that are emerging in less statist, less individualist and more plural ways."Geoffrey Pleyers, University of Louvain / EHESS, Belgium and Research Committee 47 "Social movements" of the International Sociological Association.