The answer to life, the universe and everything?

Originally published 9th Nov 2016


Don’t Panic!


According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. I think this may be true because there was 42 European Countries as part of the Nyéléni Europe 2016 Food Sovereignty Forum held in Romanian, Scotland was one of them, and I was one of the Scottish delegates (representing Leith Community Crops in Pots) along with representatives Chelsea of Scotland the Bread Mags and Fergus from Common Good Food, Elly from the Jack Kane Centre, Reuben from Locavore and Frances from the University of Edinburgh – and to hear more about their interesting and ambitious work throughout Scotland.


Unfortunately I missed the first day. Ironically this was because of the issue’s very importance. I had been invited to speak at the Royal Botanic Gardens event hosted by the Scottish International Story Telling Centre, Festival of Dreams, I had been invited to talk about our food growing project and its relevance to past and present. The story of Leith Community Crops in Pots is very much a story of reclaiming food sovereignty in Scotland.


Food sovereignty explained


The six main elements of food sovereignty are that it:

  • focuses on food for people

  • rejects corporate control

  • values food providers

  • builds knowledge and skills

  • works with nature

  • localises food systems


It was summarised in the Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007:

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

This is what all of us from across the world were there to help achieve.


It was immediately clear to me that the 42 countries represented fell into two groups. There were those trying to preserve and build on what food sovereignty they had left and there were those that were keen to restore and revive their extinct food sovereignty. Sadly, it seems that Scotland might be on its own in the latter category. As emerged at the conference, there are historical reasons for Scotland’s struggling food system: the land clearances and associated land ownership issues, and the depredations of the big supermarket chains feature prominently.


The UK – out in the cold


The nations of the UK met towards the end of the conference, at first in the venue where the plenary sessions were held. This was too noisy, so we found another room, which turned out to be freezing. It emerged that some English delegates were disappointed that they had not had much contact with other English representatives during the very busy conference, whereas the Scots – admittedly from a much smaller nation population-wise – had all rubbed shoulders. On the other hand, we Scots – representing fewer than six million citizens – were inspired and emboldened by the great work being done by our southern neighbours, and the UK delegation as a whole remarked on how impressed we had been by how other nations had brought and shared food – testimony to what it was all about: people sharing the fundamental stuff of life.


The English project we found most inspiring was the Land Workers’ Alliance. This emerged from the Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007, and the seven Scottish delegates to Nyéléni, 2016, have returned to Alba determined to launch a similar alliance here. Building on our commitment to build on our comradery and shared purpose across the UK.

The global south