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The 2023 Geneva Democratic Forum: A Milestone in Global Food Sovereignty Discussions

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In April 2023, Geneva hosted a pivotal gathering known as the Democratic Forum, significantly advancing the global conversation on the right to food and food sovereignty. This event was made possible through the collaboration of Mater Fondazione, Foundation Pistoletto, FIAN Switzerland, and the Social Gastronomy Movement, with additional support from the Sauvain-Petitpierre Foundation. It served as a critical platform for global leaders, activists, and organizations to address urgent issues surrounding food security.

One of the most noteworthy outcomes of the forum was the creation of the Geneva Right to Food Manifesto. This crucial document received extensive support from prominent international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Health Organization (WHO). It was also endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food and the Chairperson of the Committee for World Food Security, highlighting its importance and potential global impact.

The initiative for the forum was rooted in Geneva’s ongoing journey towards embedding the right to food into its Cantonal constitution. While this right is recognized in major international human rights treaties, it lacked explicit mention in local legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed the extent of food insecurity, accelerated these legislative efforts, leading to a significant vote in June 2023.

The Democratic Forum showcased a unique model of collaboration based on ‘demopraxis’—a blend of 'demos' (people) and 'praxis' (practice). This approach facilitated equitable participation, creating an environment where organizations could share concerns and connect their practices in a system emphasizing cooperation and mutual learning.

During the forum, participants engaged in in-depth discussions and working groups, focusing on essential aspects such as food availability, access, and quality. These collaborative efforts culminated in a law and policy proposal advocating the inclusion of food rights and sovereignty in the Canton’s constitution.

The Geneva Right to Food Manifesto now serves as a guiding document for global action, inspiring regions and countries worldwide to prioritize and legislate these fundamental human rights. It calls for systemic change, advocating for a world where food is not an adjustment variable in budgets but a fundamental right accessible to all, free from discrimination. Specific laws and public food policies are urged through participatory processes that embody human rights principles.

A key proposal from the manifesto is the establishment of a food council or commission, comprising representatives from various sectors, to support the development and implementation of the Right to Food Act and public food policy. The manifesto also stresses the importance of local production, fair pricing, and agroecology, advocating for State support for peasant farming and local production to ensure food accessibility and affordability.

Moreover, the manifesto tackles the democratization of food distribution channels and emphasizes the need to manage food waste more effectively by decoupling it from food aid provision. It encourages public catering services to provide nutritionally adequate food and calls for nutritional education at all schooling levels to foster an environment that promotes healthy and sustainable choices.

This manifesto is not just a document but a call to action to defend and promote the right to food and food sovereignty globally. It lays out a comprehensive framework for change, advocating for policies and practices that respect the dignity and well-being of every individual, reinforcing the concept that access to nutritious food is a fundamental human right. This comprehensive approach moves beyond the mere provision of emergency food aid to ensure regular, permanent, and free access to adequate and nutritious food for all.