Go to

Home / News and events / News / The issue of water is inseparable from Food Sovereignty

The issue of water is inseparable from Food Sovereignty

11 April 2012

Food Sovereignty guarantees that the rights to use and manage land, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity and should remain in the hands of those who produce the food. (Nyeleni declaration 2007).

Food Sovereignty guarantees that the rights to use and manage land, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity and should remain in the hands of those who produce the food. (Nyeleni declaration 2007). The Food Sovereignty movement is well aware of the fact that the struggle for water is part of the broader current context of privatisation of nature that is promoted by the policies introduced by the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, the World Water Council and the CAP. As we have previously stated on the question of seeds and land, the struggle for water is an integral part of our strategy for introducing Food Sovereignty and preventing all forms of privatisation. For ECVC, water is a resource that should be considered as a Commons, and managed by public authorities as a common good. We are against the privatisation and commodification of water. Access to water for all is a social and human right, (a right that is shared by all life); it is fundamental and indispensable to all life and to the identity of communities. Water is neither a good that can be privatised nor a tool for market speculation.  Rights “to” and “of” water in the perspective of Food Sovereignty The water cycle is central to our preoccupations and reflections. Water rights involve the constant and integral respect of the water cycle. If we are unable to guarantee the respect of the water cycle, the availability of water will be undermined. The right “of” water is a prerequisite of the right “to” water. The right of access to water: water is a Commons and not a commodity. We wish to see users’ rights and not owners’ rights implemented. These users’ rights should enable fair distribution of water, collectively determined for all kinds of different use, and guaranteed free access to water for vital needs as well as for food self-sufficiency. Access to water forms an integral part of our fundamental right of access to natural resources, as defined in the context of Food Sovereignty (cf the Nyeleni Declaration 2007). Our commitment to the water issue is part of our general strategy in the struggle for the recognition of Food Sovereignty. These rights include the traditional water management methods of local communities. Our first priority is the respect of the water cycle. This leads to the recognition of the following water-usage priorities in order to: - Maintain sustainable land and marine ecosystems - Guarantee basic food and hygiene-related functions for households - Provide small- and medium-sized farms with water to produce food for local consumption that respects the principles of Food Sovereignty - Public services (gardens, fountains...) - Crafts and trades - Agribusiness, industrial use, tourism, industrial-scale fish-farming - Hydro-electric power production It is essential that the way all water is used be defined according to management criteria and priorities linked to human consumption and agriculture. These priorities are based on how important water is for agriculture, especially in the Mediterranean zone, where irrigation plays an essential role in maintaining and consolidating small-scale sustainable family farms, and helping to avoid people leaving the countryside. If water is to be properly managed in the different geographical zones (or watersheds), we need to know how much water is necessary for different activities; this would enable us to promote water conservation.  Against privatisation, for participatory sustainable management of water resources We are against the privatisation process of water distribution and sanitation, as this is contrary to fundamental rights “of” and “to” water. In Portugal, for example, the government used the economic crisis as a pretext to legally privatise water distribution in 2005. This loss to people’s sovereignty was amplified by the soaring water rates. The most fragile sectors of society - including agriculture - are now those who suffer the most from this law. In Turkey, over 2000 dam-building hydroelectric projects are being implemented; this corresponds to real privatisation of the water users’ rights. The dams stop the water from returning to the land, and livestock no longer have access to the water. The privatisation system does not only affect water however: it also affects the land along the rivers, whose owners are expropriated to the benefit of the multinational corporations. There are also disastrous impacts on biodiversity, and the modification of the water cycles is endangering the entire agro-ecological balance in these regions. Finally, when this process is implemented, the farmers have to pay for the water they use to irrigate their fields. We support a system of public water management that is both collective and participatory. Such systems should be managed locally, be independent and autonomous, and serve the local population. Examples of this kind of practice are the “Comunidades de regantes” in Spain, “Consorzio di bonifica” in Italy and “Water user communities”. They respect the universal right of access to water, and local ecosystems as well as preserving ecological continuity . They limit the modifications to rivers as much as possible. The geographical dimension of this management should be linked to the local watershed. It should also respect transnational solidarity and contribute to building peace.  On users’ responsibility, and the different uses of water All water users (including water used by civil society for domestic purposes and by industry) need to take responsibility for the need to preserve the water cycle. Water that returns to this cycle is always lower in quality than that from which it came. We decry the externalisation of social and environmental costs by industrial production and agribusinesses and their repercussions on distribution and sanitation, and wish to see them replaced by more sustainable water-saving methods.  Models of production or how small-scale farmers and peasants are rising to the challenges of agriculture. Agriculture needs to adapt to available water supplies - as defined by the above priorities - rather than attempting to adapt the available water supplies to the needs of pre-programmed agriculture. The industrial agricultural model strongly reduces soil fertility and is far more water-dependent than its agro-ecological counterpart. The industrial model uses great quantities of water, and the earth becomes heavier and devoid of its natural nutrients. Groundwater supplies and rivers also become polluted by the use of pesticides, fertilizers and factory farming of animals. It also involves standardised farming and the use of standardised seeds that are poorly adapted to the local climate, to the soil and to the available water resources. The programme of reallocation of rural land caused by this kind of production (removal of hedges, ditches and wetlands...), is also one of the reasons for the lesser responsiveness of land to local water cycles; in extreme cases it even causes disastrous floods that affect both towns and countryside. These systems are also symptomatic of the economic model to which they belong and upon which they depend. This economic model promotes maximum exploitation of available resources and the economic competitiveness of the actors comes at the social cost of the destruction of rural employment and the environment (pollution, intensive use of land). A particularly striking example is that of “virtual water”, that represents the quantity of water required to produce a given product. It is an important parameter - and an oft-neglected one - and should be taken into consideration in the case of massive food exports from one region to another, as is the case at global level today. Finally we need to bear in mind that today’s agribusiness model is responsible for water pollution and scarcity in agriculture, and that the IMF, the WB, WTO, the World Water Council and the CAP have historically supported it. The agro-ecological production methods that the European Coordination Via Campesina support provide a genuine alternative to the agro-industrial system that we condemn. Agro-ecology airs the soil, and enables it to hold moisture; water is also needed by the animals and the insects that allow our plants to grow without having to use any artificial fertilizers, and therefore without any agro-chemical contamination. Breeding local landraces that are more likely to survive in the region helps plants to adapt and make the best use of available water supplies. Produce is of a higher quality, and contains less water. These production methods use far less water. In order to encourage these methods of production, we need to encourage and support research by farmers’ groups and partnerships between public research and the farmers’ groups to improve water usage in the framework of an agro-ecological model of small-scale family and peasant farming.  Water, agriculture and climate change Just as in the case of water consumption, and for the self-same reasons, the agribusiness model plays an important role in climate change , unlike peasant agriculture. Peasant agriculture and the agro-ecological techniques it uses mean that water is used sparingly and therefore present a certain advantage in terms of mitigating the phenomenon. They also present the only possible way forward of long-term adaptation (through breeding suitable varieties, soil fertility, compost, the diversity of varieties grown and agricultural systems). From a more global point of view, it is necessary to consider dams and hydro-electrical power stations not merely from the point of view of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, as is often the case with a view to commodifying carbon and nature, but rather to include their disastrous economic, social and environmental impacts  Agricultural and water policies versus the rights “of” and “to” water WTO, CAP, the ambiguity of the European Framework Directive on Water, the WB, the World Water Council, the fora dedicated to commodification of living beings such as the World Water Forum are the main actors in the policies that have led to today’s situation. Water policies are increasingly present in political discussions in Europe. As ECVC, we wish to see these discussions focus on promoting an agricultural model that will safeguard water supplies in the European Union. Rather than supporting agribusiness, agricultural policies should defend and protect Commons such as water. Likewise, the management, distribution and sanitation policies should be linked to - and influence - agricultural policies at all levels. Finally, concerning water rates for agriculture, we support the right to free water supplies up to a certain quota, and a progressive scale of rates based on social, environmental criteria that is also linked to methods of production that use water more or less sparingly.

Latest activity