Patel made an interesting link in his talk, which took a critical view of standard neoclassical approaches to food systems, tying the green revolution to the Rockefeller foundation and the fight against communism. In response to massive hunger and malnutrition in the 1960s, the US President's Science Advisory Committee concluded that: "The scale, severity and duration of the world food problem are so great that a massive, long-range, innovative effort unprecedented in human history will be required to master it." In other words, as Patel insinuated, hunger became a foreign policy issue and appeasing the masses was a convenient way to prevent the spread of communism. At this point, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations took the lead in developing agricultural technology and research systems to increase crop yield. And they were quite successful: thus, the Green Revolution.
In contrast to the green revolution, Patel highlighted his view of food sovereignty, which seemed a bit vague to me, but moderately well defined here:
Food sovereignty is a movement growing from the bottom up, from the farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples and landless workers most impacted by global hunger and poverty. Food sovereignty goes well beyond ensuring that people have enough food to meet their physical needs. It asserts that people must reclaim their power in the food system by rebuilding the relationships between people and the land, and between food providers and those who eat.
The notion was apparently framed by Patel's international peasant movement La Via Campesina.
So, without knowing too much about the movement or the functionality of food systems generally, I'd say this sounds like a motivating new approach to a global issue. However, I'm also a little hesitant to join organizations that claim to fight for rights that many people seem to already have (though in the case of food, certainly not all). From a strictly economic point of view, we have the economic consumer power to choose our food already, and I do a fair amount of this if I choose a CSA instead of Cub. So does my friend in Tanzania who opts for a bottle of Coke over the locally produced milk. However, if we frame the global food crisis as an information issue, in other words, that many people don't choose healthiest and most sustainable food sources because they don't know about the impact of certain foods, then movements like this make more sense to me.
I don't have it all figured out yet, but I think the debate is interesting, especially while the localvore movement in the US is exploding. This seems a good time to plug the IPID student speaker series: "the Global Food Crisis: Problems and Possibilities."
Hat tip: ALD