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Food sovereignty: reasons for a plant-based diet?

For many, Veganism seems to be the most straightforward way to eat more sustainably. It’s often oversimplified as a solution to the ails of the food system, such as excessive carbon emissions, industrialised livestock rearing, and the depletion of natural resources. Zooming out, the idea of food sovereignty may be a more convincing reason for adopting a plant-based diet.

Food sovereignty originated from La Via Campesina in 1993, an international movement that advocated for peasant agriculture against the backdrop of increasingly industrialised farming. The Green Revolution (or Third Agricultural Revolution) between the 1950s-60s saw the adoption of new agricultural technologies to feed the world’s growing population using agrochemicals, high-yielding crop varieties, and mechanised cultivation on vast monoculture farms. These technologies have increased production efficiency but have also been stretching our planetary boundaries. The food sovereignty movement developed a shared vision for smallholder farmers to struggle against multinational agribusinesses. It advocates a grassroots approach to minimise the inequalities that smallholder farmers face.

The main message behind food sovereignty, as stated by La Via Campesina, is that people should have the right to access healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right to define their agricultural systems. This goes beyond having enough food to meet people’s physical needs but also encompasses the idea of food as a human right as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The food sovereignty movement is grounded on the following principles that provide a springboard for how we should think about our food system.

  1. Focus on food for people

  2. Value food providers

  3. Localise food systems

  4. Keep control local

  5. Build knowledge and skills

  6. Work with nature

You might be thinking, shouldn’t this be left to businesses and policymakers, what do these abstract concepts have to do with me? It matters to all; farmers, agribusinesses, and consumers are active participants in the world food system instead of siloed units along the supply chain. After all, what goes around comes around.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimated that smallholder farms produce around a third of the world’s food. Smallholder farms are typically no bigger than five acres of land and are more labour intensive than industrial farming, meaning that crops are cared for mostly by human hands instead of agricultural machinery.

These extra pairs of hands often translate to minimal use of agrochemicals to spur plant growth and ward off pests. Smallholder farms, in contrast to large commercial farms, are more adept at using local know-how to grow crops. What’s more, smallholder farmers, many belonging to the informal economy, are people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy ecosystem. Yet, they bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, most notably facing unstable harvests from extreme weather phenomena.

Photo from Mzansi Agri Talk

What steps can we take?

Consumers opting for Fairtrade-certified products is commonplace as farmers are organised into collectives to ensure they can negotiate for fairer prices in the global marketplace. These collectives improve knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices and set up community development projects for rural communities. Keep in mind that there are countless smallholder farmers who are not part of the system, yet they act as keystone food providers in their local communities. See more here for the challenges of Fairtrade.

While Fairtrade products usually come along with advocacy material about poverty in the global south, the definition of smallholder farmers is not confined to those living in Africa, South America, or South Asia. In Hong Kong, numerous smallholder farmers are featured in the vegetable markets around the city.

The most well-known vegetable market may be the Star Ferry Wednesday Farmers’ Market, organised by the Sustainable Ecological Ethical Development Foundation (SEED), or the Star Ferry Sunday Farmers’ Market, organised by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden (KFBG). Besides having a fixed venue for local farmers to sell their produce, they act as an equitable trade platform for consumers, social enterprises, and even local artists to express their support for a better food system. Visit the Green Wiki by SEED to learn more about the locally grown vegetables that the Star Ferry Farmer’s Markets have to offer.

Photo Taken by David Leung

If you live away from the urban centres of Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, you can visit the Tai Po Farmer’s Market on Sundays to support local farming. Organised by the Federation of Vegetable Marketing Co-operative Societies (FVMCS), it boasts up to 30 stalls from organic farmers scattered around New Territories. With its size, booths are set up every now and then to promote organic farming and sustainable living. The most recent booth was the Local Organic Watermelon Festival which lasted for two days from 1-2 July across farmers’ markets in Central, Tai Po, and Mei Foo.

The markets mentioned are by no means an exhaustive list of all farmers’ markets in Hong Kong. There are more scattered around the city and they can be found through a quick Google search.

As urbanites in Hong Kong, it’s easy to lose touch with the origins of food while we get on with our busy lives. With more people taking an interest in different methods of sustainable living, there may come a day when the collective efforts of food sovereignty bear fruit.


Food sovereignty from the ground up -

Smallholder Farmers -

Small family farmers produce a third of the world’s food -

The State of Food and Agriculture -

Smallholders produce one-third of the world’s food, less than half of what many headlines claim -

How much of the world’s food do smallholders produce? -

The Difference That Fairtrade Makes -

Farmers' Markets in Hong Kong: 7 Markets to Buy Fresh Produce -

Where to find the best farmers’ markets in Hong Kong -

Written by David Leung

Edited by Cissy So

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