The JySALA Congress


The problems of food insecurity in the Americas are currently expressed in the paradoxical coexistence of hunger, malnutrition, and obesity: part of a scenario where dependence on the supply of basic foods is growing and, at the same time, positive agricultural trade balances are reported. These phenomena result from social, economic, political, and environmental processes that cross the food systems from the field to the table, dividing societies and territories.

In June 2018, the Permanent Seminar on Agriculture, Food and City was inaugurated. It was coordinated in collaboration between the Programa Universitario de Estudios sobre la Ciudad of the UNAM and the Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos (CEMCA), in order to articulate efforts of academia and civil society around the problems of peri-urban agriculture, supply and consumption of food in metropolitan regions, and regional territorial integration (rural-urban).

The International Congress on Food Justice and Sovereignty in the Americas (JySALA) seeks to create a space for reflection and debate on political transformations in the Americas. The context is also that of global change and of the new approaches to sustainability inferred by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We propose to articulate the discussion from the notions of food justice and sovereignty, notions that come from differentiated academic, political, and geographical contexts, but that share interest in the social consequences of the paradoxes described above. They also question the processes that slow down or encourage—at different scales—access to quality food of the entire population.

From the focus of food studies in the social sciences and from a perspective that aims to encompass theory, practice, and art, the JySALA congress will be a space for reflection and debate on the inequalities of access to food, the marginalization of farmers on the continent and the socio-environmental consequences of such phenomena. At the same time, it will be a space to share, discuss, and imagine opportunities to solve them. We seek to provide analysis that transcends the binary and normative thoughts about producing and eating "well" or "badly," and analyzing food systems in their complexity, paying particular attention to the interdependencies between table and field.

Theoretical Perspectives: Favor conceptual dialogue and focus as much on nutrition as on agriculture

The definition of food justice proposed by FAO in 1996 is one of the most common references in the field. Since then, the ideas and debates around food security have been substantially modified and new concepts, whose development is closely linked to social and political movements that look to generate alternative proposals to combat food insecurity and its repercussions; among these are the ideas of food sovereignty and food justice.

The focus of food sovereignty comes as an answer to of the proposed global strategies to guaranteeing food security, outlining the importance of the the right of peoples, their countries or unions of states to define their food and agricultural policies without dumping vis-à-vis third countries (Via Campesina, in the World Food Summit,1996). The movement for food justice seeks to respond to the limits of the global food system as well as those of sustainable food alternatives and increased differences in access to food. It highlights the need to equitably distribute the risks and benefits of how food is produced, processed, transported, distributed, consumed (Gottlieb and Joshi, 2010).

The American continent plays a key role in the emergence of these concepts, with the defense of food sovereignty emerging from the south and damands for food justice coming from the United States. The theoretical objective of this congress is to put forward a collective reflection from the specificities of the social, political, economic, environmental organizations that characterize the continent from north to south. We also aim to question the relevance of the use of these concepts to understand the wide variety of conditions currently linked to food insecurity in the Americas and the rest of the world (Edelman, 2016). Far from wanting to limit ourselves to the study of American cases, proposals from other continents will be considered, both to observe the circulation and reappropriation of concepts in other contexts and to clarify the situations of injustices and food dependencies in the Americas from other perspectives.

At the theoretical level, we also want to favor a conceptual dialogue from a perspective that incorporates visions of “food” with agricultural studies. It’s about observing and analyzing the inequalities that cross all the agro-alimentary systems: (at the level of production locations, processing, transport, commercialization, distribution, consumption, waste, recycling) but also the systems of actors and networks (Rastoin et Ghersi, 2012). Beyond definitions, food justice work has been led mainly led by North American cities, while the challenges of food sovereignty have been addressed from the production problematic and with family farming. We wish to concordantly contemplate the elements of food systems, from the land to the individual and social body, with their complexity and interdependencies. This also implies working with all types of relationships between city and rural areas. Indeed, the problematization of relationships (or non-relationships) between food, agriculture, justice, sovereignty, is not enough to understand the situations of food insecurity (Hochedez and Le Gall, 2016). It seems necessary on the one hand to clarify the relationships of inequality and dependence, and on the other hand to place justice and sovereignty at the heart of food systems (Slocum et al., 2016). It is a matter of exploring the spheres of praxis (Slocum et al., 2016; Beisher et Corbett, 2016).

Regional Perspective: American Integrations and Transitions

Throughout Latin America, free trade agreements and treaties— consolidated (MERCOSUR, 1991; ALBA-TCP, 2004; CAFTA, 2006-2009), emerging (SICA-UE, 2012; TPP, 2016), or renegotiated (NAFTA, 1994; now USMCA, 2018)—are central in the organization of intra- and extra-continental trade relations, in the reshaping of the role of the different actors linked to production and distribution, but also in territorial and social reconfigurations. The majority of these integration policies were defined from neoliberal rationale of open commerce, privileging comparative advantages and specialization of productive spaces. However, it is long evident that these integration policies have had profound and lasting impacts on family farming economies, on rural societies, and on market dynamics. At the same time, they have very markedly transformed food practices as well as the relationship between the consumer and the food product/producer, with strong impacts on health, well-being, and the decision-making capacity of consumers.

Faced with challenges in terms of public health imposed by a double nutritional burden closely linked to disparity in food and nutrition access, the national political guidelines play a fundamental role both locally—in the metropolis, for example—as well as on the national level, from the perspective of food dependence or security of a given country. Within the framework of the different political transitions that have occurred on the continent in recent years (Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, the United States, etc), it is necessary to attentively observe strategic orientations and concrete measures that influence justice and food sovereignty, in different cases of study.