Food Sovereignty & Livelihoods

When communities lose their ability to grow food and raise livestock, they not only lose their livelihoods, but also the certainty of having enough to eat. This is especially acute in the global South, where rural communities are largely subsistence farmers, growing much of the food that they and their families rely on to survive.

We look here at the claims by corporations and governments that mining brings economic development, jobs and prosperity to a region. A closer examination of the real winners and losers (short- and long-term) shows that mining undermines the conditions for producing food, leads to the loss of more livelihoods than it creates, and weakens local, regional and national economies – for generations.

70% of the world’s people are fed by small-scale agroecological food producers. The planet’s small farmers and ranchers are feeding the majority of the world using only 30% of the world’s land and few external inputs. They are part of a lineage of guardians and custodians of the world’s crop and livestock biodiversity, water systems and soils. They are the most efficient food producers on the planet.

These agroecological, small-scale food producers have an intimate relationship with the land on which they depend, in many cases having nurtured it for generations. They understand that healthy soils, biodiversity, clean water, fresh air, a stable climate and healthy farmers are all essential for food production. Thus they recognise that it is their role to enhance the diversity of their crops and livestock, to preserve and protect their ecosystems – their soils, water and biodiversity – to create the conditions for healthy food production for generations to come.

Despite all this, it is precisely these food producing communities and their food systems that are the most threatened by the aggressive expansion of the mining and extractive industries. The world’s small-scale food producers are generally part of communal land systems, and are the most vulnerable in the face of government priorities. They are usually the first to be displaced by large-scale land grabs such as mining projects.

The “Food Sovereignty” movement was developed by the world’s largest peasant movement, La Via Campesina, which recognizes the critical importance of small-scale food producers, and their right to determine their own agriculture and food systems. Food Sovereignty is about ensuring their control and rights over land and water, so that they may continue to produce food for themselves and for us all to eat. Food Sovereignty systems work with nature, appreciating that healthy ecosystems are essential in supporting the health of animals, pollinators, crop diversity and farmers.

There is growing global recognition that in order to ensure that we can feed ourselves, and future generations, we must promote and support the principles of Food Sovereignty. Without the farmers and the soils, biodiversity, crop diversity and water that they tend, our planet’s food systems are at risk. Now, in the face of increasing climate instability, diversity-rich agriculture that helps farmers to spread their risk and adapt to new challenges is more critical than ever for food production.

Reducing local and national food production leaves nations dependent on food imports and communities vulnerable to rising local and global food prices, and with a greater risk of poor and narrow diets that increase malnutrition. Nations that are overly dependent on food imports are also more politically vulnerable to pressure from other, more powerful
nations and corporations.

Once mining begins, the livelihoods that the land provides are destroyed altogether.

In Venda, in South Africa’s Limpopo province, Australian mining company Coal of Africa Ltd (CoAL) promised that the Vele coal mine would provide 826 jobs. In reality, they provided 342 jobs before closure in 2011. The Venda Mineral Resources Stakeholders’ Forum calculated that 11,000 people in total would lose their livelihoods due to the diversion
of water sources from agriculture and tourism to coal production in the region.

In Romania, at the site of the proposed Rosia Montana gold mine, local people are fighting a bitter battle against the government’s efforts to force them to make way for Europe’s largest gold mine. It has led to protests by over 200,000 people across Romania and in cities around the world. The company, Gabriel Resources, claim that the mine will create 900 jobs. However the mine, which will use 40 tonnes of cyanide per day, and 13,000 tonnes per year (13 times the total amount currently used across all of Europe) will destroy at least 20,000 jobs in agriculture, tourism and other services due to the effects on the landscape, cultural heritage and biodiversity.

The exceptionally diverse habitats of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, home to the world’s largest salmon run, have sustained Native communities for 4,000 years. The sustainable livelihoods of more than 14,000 people in the mine. Such jobs usually require a level of technical skill or education that few local farmers, pastoralists or local peoples have been trained to develop. It is also not in the investors’ interest to dedicate the time and money needed to train people into these jobs if national or provincial/ state governments won’t do so. Mining companies tend, therefore, to bring employees from outside the region. For this reason, local incomes will decrease as a result of mining, even though figures that include the incomes of mining employees who have been brought in, may give the illusion of local economic growth.

A New Zealand study found that mining could reduce the national GDP from tourism by 1%, roughly equivalent to mining’s entire contribution to the economy. This means that the mining profit is entirely cancelled out by the loss in tourism incomes – without even factoring in ecological and social costs.