Nyeleni 2011 – European Food Sovereignty forum – and so it begins….



I am in Krems Austria at the end of the first day of the European Food Sovereignty Forum and it’s been a jam-packed day!

The Nyeleni forum originated in Mali in 2007, and now the first European one is taking place near Vienna in a town called Krems an der Donau (on the Danube) with 35 different countries participating.  For those new to the term Food Sovereignty, I must admit I’m pretty new to it myself and that’s half my reason for coming,(to learn more) but in short I’d describe it as taking back control over what we eat, how it’s produced, who produces it and making all these processes socially just for those involved and sustainable for the planet. Food sovereignty fights for local, GM-free, organic, seasonal, culturally-appropriate and fairly priced foods.

So, I’ve come to this gathering representing Gluaiseacht along with an Irish delegation of 7 in total, from LASC, Dublin Community Gardens, Seomra Spraoi Food Action Group, and Leitrim Organic farmers group. Gluaiseacht decided to fund 4 folks coming over, from Gluaiseacht and Seomra Spraoi Food Action, of which 3 made it in the end. We all travelled by land to get here….Donna hitched most of the way from Lyon, as she was travelling round Europe for the summer anyhow, (and found herself a real nice mountain bike in a bush on her way here yesterday!) Mad but true! Myself and Sian (Seomra Food Action) travelled by land from Ireland, because Gluaiseacht doesn’t fund air-travel to save a wee bit of the climate and cut down on carbon emissions, short-haul flights being the worst.

So land travel huh? How insane is that? Ireland to Austria? Well…..yes, it wasn’t that bad or that pricey. A 2 day trip for 200 euro (Dublin – Vienna). Land travel is pretty cool if you have the time . The bus wasn’t the cushiest( best night buses I’ve experienced were in Brazil; why can’t we have better ones here??) so the legs were feeling it the next day but we got plenty of time to talk about the forum, our reasons for coming, and basically to get to know each other better too, apart from meeting some very colourful charaters on the way (Harry Bird and the Rubber wellies).

I started out a from Dun-Laoghaire port with a sail and rail ticket to London. I was a bittired, having had a great wee evening at the first Irish Permaculture Gathering in Wicklow where the lovely crew had made a great communal meal for all on Saturday eve from many local veg followed by a great sing-a-long by the fire.  That was great start to my trip towards Austria in terms of healthy, local, fresh, seasonal food, all in line with food sovereignty.

However, that was the last of the good ethical food as despite our best efforts to be eco and travel by land, buying local, fresh produce on the route was absolutely impossible.  I’d brought some wholemeal bought bread, nuts and a tomato from Lidl (grown in Holland).  Sian brought some home-made flapjacks.  We bought Charleville cheddar in a centra near the port (no local shops to be had), which Sian later told me is partly produced in the UK, so it may not even have been that local! It was mostly cheese sandwiches for the first day. We stayed the night in London with friends (in a great squat! ‘ Colorama’) and took off early the next day on our Eurolines 22hr ride to Vienna. As expected, all the bus stops en route were at stupid motorway multinational chain stores, such as Carrefour, and Shell petrol statis.  We got some more bread, yoghurt, brie, crisps and saucisson but none were very local or cheap! We picnic’d away the day while reading, chatting and stretching our legs at each stop. We soon realized that although travelling by land might be more eco but we had no control over our food supply!  We could have brought more homemade stuff with us, but 2 days was a bit long to keep things fresh on a bus.

We arrived into Vienna Tuesday morning at 9am, and promptly found our way to Krems on a local train, where after setting up our tents and having some much-needed (glorious) showers and lovely lunch, we got stuck into the women’s meeting which was first on the agenda.  About 70 odd women from all over western and eastern Europe took part (15 different countries at least), plus some international delegates from almost all continents.  In smaller groups, we were asked to envision a future world without discrimination or violence against women, and then what steps we could take to get there. Some interesting suggestions came out of this, including such things as feminization of economics and more egalitarian participation, more rights for children to participate, redefining values from a more feminine point of view such as salaries and work and being prepared to engage in civil disobedience to take a stand for what we believe in.

After that the whole forum split into constituency meetings which meant splitting into the sectors we represented, namely producers, NGOs, Consumers/urban movements, and trade unions. I went with urban movements, as Gluaiseacht is more of a network of mostly urban-based people.  We all introduced ourselves and then said what main topic we were attending during the forum (1. Production models 2. Markets/food chains 3. Social aspects and conditions of work 4. Land access and resources 5. Public policies) so that we could then report back at the end of the week. After this session, 2 Belgian guys came up to me as they were interested in the direct action stuff I’d mentioned Gluaiseacht supports in campaigns such as the Rossport Camp.  They were part of an artist collective called collectifartivist.be, and we exchanged addresses to grow the network.  Yes….networking is definitely a huge part of me being here. Personally, I’m also interested in meeting people from Latin America in struggles there to see what links can be made between farmers and consumers in how food sovereignty affects them.

The plenary came next with everyone together in the main hall where the forum was officially opened with some speeches, and later a cool world café was done where we all moved about to different tables to answer 2 questions: Why was the forum important for us? The interpreters did a great job through out translating via radio transmitters, and then live at the discussion tables of the world café.  A bit of Austrian traditional dance ended the evening, with some nice beers drunk over chats before folks off to bed.

There are no main speakers at this forum. It’s all about small discussion groups through sectors and topics we associate ourselves with.  The methodology is very participative and the organizers are doing a great job of trying to document the discussions, ideas, proposals and actions which develop in each of the sub-groups of the thematic axes. So, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few days!

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