Food security: The ‘old’ versus the ‘new’ policy discourse
“We can produce enough to feed ourselves” – a Sankarist approach for sovereign and sustainable food security
by David Drengk
This paper throws a light on the food security discourse with emphasize on the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ discourses including their different approaches. In the literature it is widely argued that we entered a phase in history in which new food policies are needed in order to meet the increasing world population’s needs. Furthermore, increasing processes of impoverishment and food insecurity in several parts of the world, particularly in countries of the Global South have to be counteracted.
The brief discussion on the changing discourse serves as background information for the sake of contextualization. The main focus of this examination pays more attention to the example of the Burkinabé revolution from 1983-87 under the leadership of Thomas Sankara. In this regard, I position specific actions of the revolutionary administration in the previously outlined discourses. I argue that Thomas Sankara and his fellow comrades were already ahead of the so-called ‘new’ discourse on food security, which only became prominent in 2007/08 when both oil and agricultural commodity prices around the world exploded.
The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ policy discourse on food security
This part of the examination throws a light on the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ policy discourse regarding food security. In a brief discussion, I illustrate some main aspects, which are usually attributed to the two approaches. This helps to retrace the ongoing debates on food security. Besides, it forms the contextual basis for the examination of the measures that were undertaken by the Sankara government in Burkina Faso in the 1980s.
First of all, it has to be mentioned that both approaches have in common that they aim at reaching a state of food security. In the course of this paper, food security can be understood as defined by Maxwell: “A country and a people are food secure when their food system operates efficiently in such a way to remove the fear that there will not be enough to eat.”
The ‘old’ discourse first emerged during the 1930s and became increasingly important in the post World War II decades. According to Maxwell and Slater, food policy was here rather
focusing on the rural population. It was rural peasants that were regarded as being food-insecure and the general focus of food policy was on agricultural technology and production. Analysis came to the conclusion that the core problem of food insecurity was a general agricultural under-production. Consequently, the state of insecurity could mainly be overcome by an increase of agricultural production. With the combination of science, technology and increasing investment in the production sector, this ‘productionist policy paradigm’ aimed at lower food prices particularly for the previously mentioned part of the population at risk, the rural peasantry. With that policy makers tried to improve access to food and affordability of food. According to Lang and Barling, the ‘old’ discourse all “[...] centred on availability, hunger and unmet need [...].
Besides this ‘old’ discourse, a “new” paradigm debate finally kicked off in 2007/2008 when both oil and agricultural commodity prices around the world exploded. Scholars as well as policy makers recognized that the former discourse with much emphasis on local agricultural production was outdated and global market complexities had to be taken into account when addressing issues of food security and sustainability. However, not only the dramatic high food and commodity prices lead to such a rethinking of food security. The crisis in 2007/2008 was only one aspect of the transformed global food system. It has undergone and still undergoes a phase of industrialization and globalization and it became increasingly important to take global interconnectivities of finance, food as well as energy markets into account. Nowadays, local agricultural food production can most of the times not be seen as being detached from global markets and economic structures anymore. Local production influences the markets and vice versa and therefore these cannot be looked at as two entities that are separated from each other. In addition to the ‘old’, the ‘new’ discourse recognizes an unbalance between production, consumption and food policy. It pleads for a rethinking of the food system in the global context while considering increasingly important social, economic and environmental criteria. The growing importance of multinational companies and the decreasing decisive power and participation of the nation state in the food system is further stressed. While the ‘old’ discourse still regarded the state as an important player in the food markets, the ‘new’ emerging discourse already acknowledges less influence of the state in this field. Here it is rather the consumers, private companies and global market forces that drive and influence food markets, agricultural production and consequently local as well as regional food systems. In that regard, one can recognize that neo-liberal political thinking still seems to be increasingly on the forefront.
While it seems that the literature assumes that the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ emerging discourse contradict each other, I rather believe that both approaches have to be taken into account to the same degree. Interestingly, as I later on argue in this paper, the revolutionary government in Brukina Faso during the 1980s took that already for granted when addressing the issue of its population’s food security.
Finally, it has to be stated that as Lang and Barling put it in a nutshell: There is no unifying policy framework, however. Foci vary from primary production to end-consumers; from farmers to retailers; and from insecurity in developing countries to insecurity in rich societies (Riches 1997 2002). We conclude that food security is subject to competing positions even by proponents from broadly similar ‘policy camps’. In reality, food security is a policy term within a set of overlapping policy-relevant ‘intellectual neighbours’.
Autarky, food nationalism and food sovereignty
Before going into the actual example of the Burkinabé revolution under Sankara, it is necessary to clarify the terms autarky, food nationalism and food sovereignty briefly. As it is shown in the final part of this paper, all these aspects were of central importance during the revolutionary endeavour in Burkina Faso.
‘Autarky’ can simply be seen as a state of ”economic independence or self-sufficiency”. ‘Food nationalism’ is directly connected to ‘autarky’ and refers to the striving for national self-sufficiency, which can be realized by the combination of national production and consumption of nationally originating food. One can recognize that this was one core element of the economic reorientation during the revolution. ‘Food sovereignty’ for its part is another crucial aspect when it comes to food security. In this rather political concept that became prominent during the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996, markets and international corporations do not play a major role. Instead, the people that produce and distribute food within a country are the centre of discussion. Via Campensina defines it as follows:
Food sovereignty is the right of each nation to maintain and develop its own capacity to produce its basic foods respecting cultural and productive diversity. We have the right to produce our own food in our own territory. Food sovereignty is a precondition to genuine food security.
Sankarist approach for sovereign and sustainable food security
In this main section of the examination I argue that Thomas Sankara and his government were already ahead of the later emerging ‘new’ discourse. With his ideas and visions for the people of Burkina Faso, he already took considerations of both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ policy discourse regarding food security into account. Hereafter, I present some examples from the Burkinabé revolution that illustrate this extensively.
After Thomas Sankara became president in August 1983 of what was then still called Upper Volta, he soon started to implement reforms and to restructure several sections in the country’s political, economic and social sphere. Generally speaking, these efforts were aimed at forcing back imperialist powers and their exploitive activities within Burkina Faso and its society. However, this did not only refer to external forces but also to allies of these forces from within the country. He further goes as far as to equate neo-colonial and colonial societies. Sankara showed already at an early stage of the revolution that he took global interconnectivities into account in the country’s political orientation. This becomes apparent when he points at the activities of capitalist forces in Burkina Faso and when one recognizes his awareness of international political power and economic dynamics. Moreover, Sankara stresses the importance of the peasantry and that the people of Burkina Faso have to thank these peasants for the country’s wealth. By the time of the revolution, approximately 90 percent of the population were subsistence farmers or cattle herders.
In the economic sector, which is the centre of attention in this examination, Sankara believed that reaching food security for the country’s population would only be possible if the country could be food sovereign. This meant that the people of Burkina Faso could build and form their food system independently without any interference from international actors outside the country. This striving for food sovereignty was directly connected to food self-sufficiency. Sankara believed that there would never be food security within the country if self-sufficiency and food sovereignty could not be guaranteed. Agricultural self-sufficiency could certainly only be achieved if the peasantry and the agricultural sector would be supported and pushed.
Look on your plates when you eat imported rice, wheat, and millet – it is as close as that. We can produce enough to feed ourselves, but because of our lack of organization, we are required to hold our hands for food aid, food aid that blocks us and instills in us the reflex of beggars. We have to make this aid unnecessary by our own production.
Here, one can recognize aspects of the above mentioned ‘old’ discourse, which believed in reaching food security by increasing the output of agricultural production. Sankara followed that and introduced tax exemption for farmers. At the same time, he raised the prices for basic food stuff. With that he intended to encourage farmers to increase their agricultural production of local food stuff. Although the efforts of the government to control the grain prices were not crowned with success, it succeeded in stimulating an increase in agricultural production. According to the literature and statistics from the FAO, the production of sorghum and millet for instance increased a lot during the years of the revolution. While there were still 658.786 MT of Sorghum produced in 1981, five years later the production of the same commodity had already increased to 1.010.919 MT. With that, Burkina Faso could report an over-production. These years marked the period when the country could for the first time guarantee a sufficient food production for its people. However, all these efforts to reach an increase in agricultural production were directly connected to the protection and conservation of land suitable for cultivation. Especially against the background of advancing desertification, Sankara recognized the importance of conservationist initiatives. This was done by fighting illegal clearance of the forests, against bush fires and against the illegal unregulated wood trade. Besides that, a vast number of trees were planted by the masses for reforestation purposes.
In general, Sankara was convinced that the necessary increase in agricultural production could only be achieved if the living conditions of the rural population, mainly the peasantry, could be improved. This included improving the conditions for agricultural production like irrigation systems, natural fertilizer provision as well as the creation of a local demand for the locally produced food products. Furthermore, improving the health care situation as well as the educational sector was of main importance. Therefore, large schooling and vaccination campaigns were initiated although against the reservations of international institutions such as IMF or World Bank. This illustrates that the Sankara government took many sections of society into account. The efforts for a re-orientation of the country’s economy were not one-dimensional and only focused on the production sector but rather on all sorts of surrounding fields of importance that would finally contribute to the wider goal of food security for the Burkinabé population.
However, Sankara did not labour under the illusion that enormous infrastructure projects such as the Sahel Railway or the hydro-electric dam at Kompienga could be realized without any foreign financial support. The focus on the transformations and restructuring processes on the national level were directly linked to the international finance and development aid sector. Although the revolution strictly aimed at national independence both politically and economically, it did not intend to cut just any ties with foreign institutions, countries and global markets. The opposite was the case: Sankara always stressed that anyone could participate in the ongoing revolutionary changes as long as this participation would go on in accordance with the will of the people of Burkina Faso. Particularly in regard to the country’s level of indebtedness and the involvement of the IMF in Burkina Faso’s national budget, Minister of Financial Resources Damo Baro is quoted saying:
We don’t have any particular problem with the IMF, but we prefer to prepare ourselves very carefully before we approach it, which is what we are currently doing. If we do strike a deal with the IMF, the main purpose will be to allow us to reschedule our debts, as most of the loans that were contracted with a 10-year grace period are now falling due.
Besides that, the external dimension to Sankara’s efforts can be recognized in several other ways. In order to reduce the dependency on import goods, taxes on cola nuts and tobacco were raised as well as on other imported goods. This was one of the government’s protectionist tactics to boost its own economy. Another measure to reduce particularly food imports was to extend regional trade and export rates. In the Sahel region, Burkina Faso was the leading country in terms of regional trade. Additionally to that, the resumption of gold mining in several areas contributed to the improvement of the trade balance and strengthened the country’s importance for the regional economic sphere.
Particularly in the financial sector, the administration realized that it would be crucial for further national development to guarantee as much independence from foreign capital as possible. Measures were undertaken in order to prevent foreign multinational companies from making profits from economic sectors such as the cotton industry without participation of the population.
This paper has briefly illustrated the two existing food security discourses and has argued that elements and approaches of both could be recognized during the revolution in Burkina Faso. Although the ‘new’ discourse only emerged around 2007/2008, Thomas Sankara already took several aspects of that particular discourse into account. The increasing importance of global interconnectivities on both political and economic levels was among the issues that shaped initiatives during the revolution. The efforts of the revolutionary government to achieve the goal of sustainable and sovereign food security had local as well as regional/global dimensions. As has been shown, actions that were undertaken all aimed at the well-being of the people of Burkina Faso while positioning the country and its economy in the wider context of external markets and power structures.
Without any doubt, the outcome of the revolution was remarkable if one looks at food production and progress that has been made during the 1980s in several sections such as agriculture, infrastructure, health care and education. Nevertheless, Thomas Sankara, the visionary behind all these transformations and restructuring processes was assassinated in 1987. With that, the revolution came to a standstill. One could ask whether the revolution failed in its battle against imperialism and neo-colonialism. In any case it seems that capitalist dynamics within Burkina Faso as well as outside the country finally lead to the end of the revolutionary endeavours. However, what remains is the fact that Thomas Sankara and his fellow comrades were ahead of their time when it comes to the question of how to tackle the issue of sustainable and sovereign food security.
It is fair enough to state that the scope of this examination did not allow me to go into much detail but rather outline some basic facts and observations. In a further examination, it would certainly be important to look more detailed into the global integration of the Burkinabé economy during the revolution.
Boudon, Laura E., ‘Burkina Faso: The “Rectification” of the Revolution’, in Clark, John F. and David. E. Gardinier, Political Reform in Francophone Africa (Boulder, 1997), 127-144.
Clark, John F. and David. E. Gardinier, Political Reform in Francophone Africa (Boulder, 1997)
Gakunzi, David, ‘Oser inventer l’avenir’: La Parole de Sankara (Paris, 1988).
Hörburger, Raimund, ‘Burkina Faso unter Thomas Sankara’, in Hörburger, Raimund, Helmut Nehr, Sabine Neuweg and Klaus Pischlwanger (eds.), Burkina Faso: Unterentwicklung und Selbsthilfe in einem Sahel-Land (Frankfurt, 1990), 72-90.
Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food Security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate’, The Geographical Journal, 178:4 (2012), 313-326.
Lee, Richard, ‘Food Security and Food Sovereignty’, Centre for Rural Economy, Centre for Rural Economy Discussion Paper Series No. 11 (Newcastle, 2007), online available at: http://people.ku.edu/~anirtak/foodsov_vs_foodsec.pdf [Accessed 08 Apr 2014].
Maxwell, Simon and Rachel Slater, ‘Food Policy Old and New’, Development Policy Review, 21:5-6 (2003), 531-553.
Novicki, Margaret A., ‘Transforming the Statistics’, Africa Report, 31:3 (1986), 68-72.
Pathfinder, Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-87 (New York, 1988).
Reardon, Thomas, Peter Matlon and Christopher Delgado, ‘Coping with Household-level Food Insecurity in Drought-affected Areas of Burkina Faso’, World Development, 16:9 (1988), 1065-1074.
Sankara, Thomas, ‘The ‘Political Orientation’ of Burkina Faso’, Review of African Political Economy, 32 (1985), 48-55.
Sankara, Thomas, We are the heirs of the world’s revolutions: Speeches from the Burkina Faso revolution 1983-87 (New York 2002).
Savadogo, Kimseyinga and Claude Wetta, ‘The Impact of Self-Imposed Adjustment: The Case of Burkina Faso, 1983-9’, in Cornia, Giovanni Andrea, Rolph van der Hoeven and Thandika Mkandawire (eds.), Africa’s Recovery in the 1990s: From Stagnation and Adjustment to Human Development, (New York, 1992), 53-71.
Shaw, D. John, World Food Security: A History since 1945 (New York, 2007).
Suppan, Steve, ‘Challenges for Food Sovereignty’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 32:1 (2008), 111-123.
Sylla, Ndongo Samba (ed.), Redécouvrir Sankara: Martyr de la liberté (Douala, 2012).
World Development Movement, ‘What is food sovereignty?’, World Development Movement (Homepage), online available at: http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-sovereignty [Accessed 08 Apr 2014].
 In the course of this paper, I intentionally make use of this different terminology, ‘Global South’ instead of ‘development countries’ because of the sense of discrimination and inequality that comes with this particular term. The expression assumes that a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in terms of ‘development’ and ‘progress’ (whatever that may be) exists. With upholding the use of such terms, I believe that these differences can never be overcome but the opposite is the case: Further segregation among people is pushed forward. However, this could be the topic for an entirely different examination and I am aware that this point of view is very subjective and does not reflect the opinion of others.
 As it will become apparent, this section indeed only serves as a rough outline of the two different angles. The analysis does not seek completeness and is only meant to serve as an orientation in order to contextualize the later discussion of the Sankarist approach towards food security. A detailed history of food security and the discourses that come with the topic can be found in Shaw, D. John, World Food Security: A History since 1945 (New York, 2007).
 Quoted in Maxwell, Simon and Rachel Slater, ‘Food Policy Old and New’, Development Policy Review, 21:5-6 (2003), 532.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food Security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate’, The Geographical Journal, 178:4 (2012), 313.
 Maxwell, Simon and Rachel Slater, ‘Food’, 534.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 317.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 316.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 313.
 Maxwell, Simon and Rachel Slater, ‘Food’, 534.
 Here, I am aware of the fact that this discussion can easily fit into the ongoing globalization discourse. Particularly agricultural production with an increasing large scale farming sector worldwide, is of high importance for the debate on interconnections and dependencies of the local and the global sphere. However, this examination does not elaborate on this ongoing discourse any further since it would certainly go beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, one should acknowledge the importance of these kind of aspects and bear them in mind when analyzing the change in the food security discourse.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 317.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 316.
 For the sake of simplicity, central ideas of such thinking can generally be described with aspects like free trade, open markets, increasing privatization, decreasing importance and influence of the state apparatus on economic affairs or an increasing importance of the private sector just to mention a few.
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 321.
 Definition according to Oxford Dictionaries, online available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/autarky [Accessed 06 Apr 2014].
 Lang, Tim and David Barling, ‘Food’, 322.
 Particularly the challenges for this concept can be found in the brief examination Suppan, Steve, ‘Challenges for Food Sovereignty’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 32:1 (2008), 111-123.
 World Development Movement, ‘What isy food sovereignty?’, World Development Movement (Homepage), online available at: http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-sovereignty [Accessed 08 Apr 2014].
 Quoted in Lee, Richard, ‘Food Security and Food Sovereignty’, Centre for Rural Economy, Centre for Rural Economy Discussion Paper Series No. 11 (Newcastle, 2007), online available at: http://people.ku.edu/~anirtak/foodsov_vs_foodsec.pdf [Accessed 08 Apr 2014], 6.
 A brief introduction to the populist revolution from 1983 can be found in Boudon, Laura E., ‘Burkina Faso: The “Rectification” of the Revolution’, in Clark, John F. and David. E. Gardinier, Political Reform in Francophone Africa (Boulder, 1997), 129-132.
 Sankara, Thomas, ‘The ‘Political Orientation’ of Burkina Faso’, Review of of African Political Economy, 32 (1985), 49-50. The original version of the speech in French can be found in Sylla, Ndongo Samba (ed.), Redécouvrir Sankara: Martyr de la liberté (Douala, 2012), 20-44.
 Sankara, Thomas, ‘The ‘Political’, 49.
 Sankara, Thomas, ‘The ‘Political’, 50, 52.
 Novicki, Margaret A., ‘Transforming the Statistics’, Africa Report, 31:3 (1986), 69.
 However, some studies have further looked at household-level food insecurity in certain localities in Burkina Faso. Here it becomes apparent that the household level is crucial for the wider goal of national food security. See for example Reardon, Thomas, Peter Matlon and Christopher Delgado, ‘Coping with Household-level Food Insecurity in Drought-affected Areas of Burkina Faso’, World Development, 16:9 (1988), 1065-1074.
 Quoted in Novicki, Margaret A., ‘Transforming’, 69.
 Hörburger, Raimund, ‘Burkina Faso unter Thomas Sankara’, in Hörburger, Raimund, Helmut Nehr, Sabine Neuweg and Klaus Pischlwanger (eds.), Burkina Faso: Unterentwicklung und Selbsthilfe in einem Sahel-Land (Frankfurt, 1990), 79.
 The exact figures can be sound online in parts of statistical database of the FAO (FAOstat): http://faostat.fao.org/desktopdefault.aspx/?PageID=339&lang=en&country=233 [Accessed 08 Apr 2014].
 Hörburger, Raimund, ‘Burkina‘, 80.
 Some general issues about the importance of that fight can be found in Sankara’s speeches ‘Imperialism is the arsonist of our forests and savannas’ in Sankara, Thomas, We are the heirs of the world’s revolutions: Speeches from the Burkina Faso revolution 1983-87 (New York 2002), 85-92 and ‘Save our trees, Our Environment, Our Lives’ in Pathfinder, Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-87 (New York, 1988), 152-156. The original speech from 5 February 1986 ‘Sauver l’arbre, l’environment et la vie tout court’ can be found in Gakunzi, David, ‘Oser inventer l’avenir’: La Parole de Sankara (Paris, 1988), 163-167.
 Novicki, Margaret A., ‘Transforming’, 70.
Some of these initiatives in the health sector were for instance “Operation One Village, One Primary Health Post” or “Operation Vaccination Commando”. In education, the government launched “Operation Literacy Commando”.
 Novicki, Margaret A., ‘Transforming’, 72.
 Savadogo, Kimseyinga and Claude Wetta, ‘The Impact of Self-Imposed Adjustment: The Case of Burkina Faso, 1983-9’, in Cornia, Giovanni Andrea, Rolph van der Hoeven and Thandika Mkandawire (eds.), Africa’s Recovery in the 1990s: From Stagnation and Adjustment to Human Development, (New York, 1992), 59.
 Savadogo, Kimseyinga and Claude Wetta, ‘The Impact’, 63.