EU food sovereignty starts at home

Local authorities are leading the fight for food sovereignty. Here are three ways the EU can support their efforts

By Gilles Pérole

Gilles Pérole is the Deputy-Mayor for Education, Childhood and Food in Mouans-Sartoux, France

23 Dec 2022

European local authorities are today the engines of the transition towards sustainable local food systems. Given the grave concerns over Europe’s food security, the key role that cities play in the food transition deserves to be further supported by the European Union, particularly in the upcoming legislative framework for sustainable food systems to be proposed by the European Commission in 2023. 

In 1998, following the mad cow disease crisis, we, the elected representatives of Mouans-Sartoux, a city of 10,000 inhabitants on the French Riviera, quickly realised the need to act by ourselves to protect the health of our inhabitants and the planet, starting with the main policy tool at hand: school canteens. As a result of this political commitment, the 1,100 meals served daily in our schools are 100 per cent organic (and have been since 2012) without any added cost, thanks to an 80 per cent reduction in food waste.  

This achievement led to many others: the creation in 2010 of a municipal farm that delivers most of the vegetables consumed by pupils and the tripling in 2012 of agricultural lands in the urban plan to support the reinstallation of smallholder farmers. In the end, we built an ecosystemic and innovative food project that positions itself as an open-source laboratory and inspires many others in France and Europe. 

However, Mouans-Sartoux is now only one example of many local authorities in Europe engaged in food sovereignty and food democracy. Ensuring fairer access to quality food for all, building resilient agro-ecological food systems, recreating urban food belts and developing a more participatory food governance are not mere objectives but realities taking shape on the ground.  

Taking stock of their rich experience, the voices of cities need to be further heard and promoted at the EU level. In September 2022, many European city representatives gathered at the first edition of the Mouans Sartoux Food Forum “A Table!” to discuss how the EU could help scale up this movement and identified, amongst others, three levers to activate.  Taking stock of their rich experience, the voices of cities need to be further heard and promoted at the EU level.

Taking stock of their rich experience, the voices of cities need to be further heard and promoted at the EU level

First, to implement their food strategies, local authorities need more and better tailored financial tools that could help them finance a wide range of investments such as farm-school projects to train new farmers, collective food processing units, as well as the sharing and transfer of best practices across territories. Such funds should aim to reinforce linkages between food production and consumption areas, potentially taking the form of an “urban-rural” LEADER programme (an EU financing instrument dedicated to the development of the rural communities).  

Then, the creation of multilevel cooperation mechanisms between local, national and EU levels, as envisioned in the forthcoming Commission initiative, would significantly enrich European food governance, enabling grassroots actors to bring up concrete issues and needs. To ensure a sound and representative dialogue, all types of local authorities – both rural and urban – should be represented.  

Finally, a food exception should be included in the EU public procurement rules to make it easier for cities to contract local and organic small producers that too often shy away from burdensome tendering procedures. Such flexibility would significantly reinforce public procurement as a critical policy tool that can incentivise organic production and shorter supply chains.