Food Sovereignty for Poor Countries in the Global Trading System

32 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2012 Last revised: 3 Apr 2012

James Thuo Gathii

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: February 9, 2012


In this Brenden Brown Lecture delivered at Loyola New Orleans Law School in April, 2011, I address how imported foods often produced under heavy subsidization are quickly displacing locally grown subsistence foods in poor countries. As a result, local peoples in many countries have lost their control over what they eat. In addition, countries that were once food sufficient are now food dependent. Food imports have had adverse consequences on the health, culture and identity particularly of poor people in developing countries. In the South Pacific, for example, organically grown foods are being displaced by cheap fatty meat imports that are highly correlated with lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.

I propose food sovereignty as a way of both conceptualizing this problem brought on in large part by neo-liberal economic globalization as well as a way of countering it. By food sovereignty I mean, in part, giving autonomy to local communities so that they can leverage their bio-diversity and other resources in sustainable crop farm and ecosystem management. Traditional production systems should not be displaced by the onslought of industrial farming methods associated with export led agriculture. In addition to defending traditional agricultural farming, food sovereignty requires governments to support farmers with practical, accessible and affordable extension services such as farm inputs and appropriate technology transfers. This way, local farming does not become short-changed by the support given to export led agriculture or to cheap agricultural imports. In short, I argue that official development policy must not assume that subsistence farming must be fitted seamlessly into the neo-liberal economic project of export-led agriculture with its related apparatuses of intellectual property rights and genetic resource management which seldom address the problems of poverty, hunger and sustainable ecosystem management.

Suggested Citation

Gathii, James Thuo, Food Sovereignty for Poor Countries in the Global Trading System (February 9, 2012). Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, Vol. 57, 2012; Albany Law School Research Paper No. 44 of 2011-2012. Available at SSRN:

James Thuo Gathii (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 East Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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