In spite of steady gains against hunger and poverty, more than ten percent of the world’s population—about 795 million people—are undernourished and go to bed hungry. October 11-18 marks the 2015 Global Food Week of Action, which includes World Food Day October 16, International Day for Rural Women October 15 and International Day for Eradication of Poverty October 17.

Food Week of Action is an opportunity for Christians around the world to act together for food justice and sovereignty by raising awareness about farming approaches designed to help individuals and communities develop resiliency and combat poverty. The PC(USA) Hunger Program kicked off its recognition of Food Week of Action by hosting a webinar titled World Food Day Begins with Seed Sovereignty.

“Everyone in the world should have confidence that they, their family and neighbors have enough healthy food to eat,” says Andrew-Kang Bartlett, national associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Linked with seed saver networks, people having local control over their seeds are a critical part of ensuring the right to food for everyone. Seeds bring with them the ‘culture’ in agriculture, the history, farming practices, traditional recipes and more. The farmers’ ability to save seeds is one of the pillars of food sovereignty.”

Moderated by Kang Bartlett, the webinar featured Dr. Nettie Weibe, a retired college professor and organic farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada who’s served in leadership positions for the National Farmers Union and is the first woman to lead a national farm organization in her country. Weibe spoke of the transition from Canada’s large publicly-funded seed program to a privatized version in which farmers currently find seeds three times more expensive than they used to be, making it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.

“We’re systematically decimating the seed industry,” notes Weibe. “Whereas seeds used to be locally exchanged, large corporate ownership now means farmers have less control and diversity, and face higher operating expenses.”

She expressed a strong desire that farmers maintain the ability to keep alive the heritage of seed diversity and knowledge that’s been acquired and passed down over thousands of years.

Valery Nodem, Presbyterian Hunger Program’s international associate and coordinator for the Joining Hands initiative, co-presented with Weibe. He spoke about Haitian farmers being forced to use genetic seeds from multi-national corporations which are treated with toxic pesticide. He reiterated that corporate giants, like Monsanto, are diminishing seed heritage between local farmers for their own profit gain.

“Food sovereignty means more localized control of the food system by farmworkers, farmers, food chain workers and consumers,” says Kang Bartlett. “The ability of farmers and gardeners to save seeds and have access to a wide diversity of non-privatized seeds is part of our collective heritage and is essential for food democracy and food sovereignty.”

Food Week of Action provides an opportunity to examine food choices and calls for policy changes that ensure the right to food for everyone. 2015 is the UN International Year of SOILS, which celebrates the following:

  • Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food;
  • Soils help combat and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle;
  • Soils support Earth’s biodiversity and host a quarter of its total species;
  • Soils store and filter water, improving our resilience to floods and droughts; and
  • Soil is a non-renewable resource; its preservation is essential to food security and a sustainable future.

On its Food Week of Action and World Food Day webpage, the Presbyterian Hunger Program provides several call-to-action steps for individuals and congregations who are compelled to promote and celebrate healthy and culturally appropriate food. The page also includes worship and theological resources, as well as educational material.

Click here to watch a replay of the seed sovereignty webinar.