Civil Society Perspectives on Food Security: Taking Policies from Glassfronts to Grassroots

December 20, 2022

CUTS International organised a hybrid Panel Discussion titled “Civil Society Perspectives on Food Security: Taking Policies from Glassfronts to Grassroots” at the South Asia International Economic Law Network (SAIELN)’s Third Biennial Conference on Food Security and International Law: Critical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, in Kochi on 20 December, 2022.

The session saw panellists share their lived experiences and the pioneering work of their organisations in grassroots agriculture. The Panel was supported by Professor Leila Choukroune, Director of the University of Portsmouth Thematic Area in Democratic Citizenship and co-Chair of SAIELN. It was moderated by Dr. Veena Vidyadharan, Fellow, CUTS International, who noted in her introductory remarks the multi-dimensional nature of food security, and how civil society organisations (CSOs) have a very important role to play in many of these aspects.

Notably, CSOs are one of the few bridges which connect lived experiences of producer communities, consumers and citizens to national policymakers and ultimately, to international rule-shaping.

Mr. P.V. Satheesh, Director, Deccan Development Society, spoke about his experience of working with women farmers to renew degraded, marginal lands to grow food familiar to the local population in Telangana – millets. This has contributed to land restoration, soil fertility and both food and nutritional security. He also highlighted the importance and potential of uncultivated plants (“weeds”) for local communities.

Mr. Chatura Rodrigo, Founder, Green Space Consultancies, Gampaha, Sri Lanka, gave an overview of Sri Lanka’s food crisis and its complicated relationship with organic farming. He observed that organic farming has significant opportunity costs, and if combined with policy flip-flops, can prove disastrous for both farmers and the wider economy.

Ms. Mansi Shah, Program Manager for the Future of Work Activities, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), narrated the experience of marginal women farmers and emphasised the need to focus on local produce and decentralised administration for a more robust agricultural economy. She highlighted the need to dissociate agricultural welfare policies from land ownership records. She also noted that organising was key to build the collective strength of women in the economy.

Dr. Nitya Ghotge, Executive Secretary, Anthra, shared issues faced by nomadic pastoralist farmers. She highlighted the adverse consequences of climate change – the traditional knowledge held by the pastoralists was no longer able to navigate climatic challenges (if they were honed to deal with droughts, they were now having to tackle situations of flood instead). The fodder supply had been upset, and the altered climate also led to more frequent episodes of vectors and diseases like Lumpy Skin Disease, which had been particularly devastating this year. She also highlighted the need for welfare programmes to go beyond a sedentary community orientation and expand their focus to include nomadic communities.

Dr. D. Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi, focused on the public distribution system and related aspects. He pointed to examples such as community kitchens in Kerala during the pandemic, which were able to help out thousands of people meet food demands, which highlighted the transformative role that CSOs could play if they were supported by an empowered local government and community system. He also underlined the important role of technology as an enabler, as well as the role CSOs could play in gathering local-level data which could improve the policy administration process.

This was followed by a brief interactive discussion, which touched upon points such as the challenges and prospects of organic farming and of schemes such as GOBARdhan, issues relating to technology and access to the public distribution system, and the extent to which Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) should start dealing with granular details touching upon these aspects.
The hybrid session saw enthusiastic participation, with participants joining from various parts of the world both physically at the venue (the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi) as well as virtually.

With its headquarters in Jaipur, India, CUTS International has affiliated centres in Accra, Lusaka and Nairobi covering West, Southern and East Africa. Besides them, it has centres in Hanoi, Geneva and Washington DC. In India, it has a regional centre in Kolkata, a rural development centre in Chittorgarh and a liaison office in New Delhi.

For more information, please contact:

Vijay Singh, +91-80766-19084,
Advaiyot Sharma, +91-88901-11007,