Debating sustainable intensification

I follow the work of the Food and Climate Research Network quite closely. They have a great newsletter that includes updates and also commentary. A few days ago, we received notice of a New Paper: Putting back meaning into sustainable intensification. Today, in the weekly alert, we received this reply from Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming.

It articulates very clearly some of the concerns that I, and many others, continue to have around the idea of intensification. As I begin to work with colleagues on the concept of ecological intensification, I am struggling to articulate these concerns and make sure that they are addressed from the outset. Perhaps the weight of the word “intensification” is too heavy but I also think that it addresses an aspect of farming that we cannot ignore and which  needs to be done in an ecologically sustainable way.

Here are Peter Stevenson’s reflections:

I welcome this paper’s challenge to the concept of ‘sustainable intensification’.  Tara suggests that the problem lies not so much with the principles underpinning SI, but with  the name itself – the negative baggage that the word ‘intensification’ carries around may be simply too heavy.  I think the problem lies both with the principles and the word.

Tara has sought in a number of papers to broaden the SI concept.  However, the essence of the concept does put a one-sided focus on production and quantity leaving too little space for consideration of consumption and nutritional quality.  In addition, the SI concept reinforces the erroneous belief that in order to feed the anticipated world population of 9.6 billion we need a huge increase in food production.  We already produce enough food to feed 11 billion or more people but around half of it is lost or wasted post-harvest or at retail and consumer level or by being fed to animals.

While academics seek to give a nuanced scope to SI, many policy makers (ab)use SI to justify a primarily productionist agenda with little consideration being given to whether, in a particular context, yield increases are genuinely sustainable.  Intensification is rarely sustainable and the pairing of these words can mislead policy makers into thinking this chimera is readily achievable.  In practice, enhanced yields are often pursued through monocultures and increased use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.  This will increasingly undermine the critical natural resources on which agriculture depends thereby diminishing the ability of future generations to feed themselves.

Moreover, the term SI has become seen by policy makers as a goal in itself rather than as simply a policy instrument for achieving the real objective of food security.  Increased food production cannot, of itself, provide food security.  To achieve genuine food security we need to develop a food and farming model that eschews the over-reliance on productionism that is inherent in the SI model and instead:

·         uses resources more efficiently

·         focuses not on yield (in tonnes per hectare) but on the number of people actually fed per hectare of cropland

·         enhances soil quality, uses water sparingly without polluting it, avoids expansion of cropland into forests and grasslands, and restores biodiversity and ecosystems

·         provides healthy, nutritious food and reduces the contribution of poor diets to non-communicable diseases

·         improves the productivity of small-scale farmers in the developing world in ways which match well with their circumstances; this should not entail the introduction of industrial farming as this excludes participation of those farmers living in deepest poverty.

We do need to replace SI with a new term.  How about ‘feeding people sustainably’?  This encapsulates the core objective of achieving food security and allows balanced consideration of both production and consumption elements.


“Our culture is being eroded”: 2nd report from the field


What one of my students is up to.

Originally posted on Rural Sociology Group Wageningen University:

Florian Neubauer is working on an M.Sc. Thesis with RSO titled `Understanding changes in land tenure and livelihoods among the pastoral Maasai in southern Kenya´. Here he shares some reflections from his field work. All quotations are either taken from interviews or from informal conversations. Florian’s first post can be found here.

Still what it is all about? – Maasai cattle

Still what it is all about? – Maasai cattle

Part 2: Maasai culture

`We don’t have something like that here anymore´

He slants his head, looks at me and smiles. I don’t know what he is thinking. Is he reminiscing? Does he feel sorry to disappoint me? Or, is he amused by the naivety of the mzungu, the `white´? `We don´t have something like that here anymore´, he says after some time. I am sitting in the homestead of an old Maasai man, having a cup of tea with him. I am somewhere in the remote area…

View original 1,329 more words

Global Governance: What lessons from the CFS and its reform?

Over the last couple of days I was attending a workshop titled:  Global Governance: What lessons from the CFS and its reform? 

CFS: Committee on World Food Security
CSO: Civil Society Organization
CSM: Civil Society Mechanism 

The workshop, which targeted researchers, was hosted by CIHEAM, IDDRI, CIRAD and INRA and held at the IAMM Campus in Montpellier. It is expected that the meeting organizers will develop an output document of sorts so I won’t discuss the outcomes of the workshop but I will share the presentation that I gave. Click here: CSO Impact on the CFS

I received interesting feedback. Many were surprised that I was not more critical of the CFS and CSM process. Indeed, I have criticisms and concerns but my academic interest in the CFS is focused more on process and interactions between CSOs and the rest of the CFS than on the internal dynamics of the CSM. I believe that the CSM needs to be accountable to itself and to the CFS but that I am not the appropriate person to critique the CSM.

Second, people commented on the value of contextualizing the inclusion of CSOs as participants in the CFS. There are assumptions made that the inclusion of CSOs as participants in the CFS came out of the crisis and that such a process can be scaled out to other multinational contexts. I make the case that because of a long history of CSO engagement in the CFS the space had been created to facilitate negotiations for their participation and that this history needs to be taken into account when thinking of replicating the mechanism.

I also talked about a cycle of awareness and enthusiasm related to the CFS that is enhanced through CSO engagement. This sparked some interest, or at least recognition in the meeting. The idea is simply that through their engagement CSOs create awareness (e.g. through network and media communication), they experienced initial success which served to increased enthusiasm. In turn, this increased awareness both at the civil society level and at the political level. What I mean by the latter is that through engagement in debate, civil society challenge governments who in turn had the need to prepare more effectively for the negotiations. Part of this preparation included greater communication with technical staff in the capitals. This has the effect of increasing awareness about the CFS.

Similarly, we can develop a  cycle for academic enthusiasm and awareness. This was alluded to although not discussed explicitly.

Related to this, there were calls from speakers coming from within the UN system to move beyond the focus on the CFS process as a governance exercise/experiment and to reflecting instead on the impact of these governance processes. The call is a valid one but one that fell a bit on the deaf ears of the political scientists and sociologists whose interest and expertise is indeed governance processes!


New Food Security and Related Reports

Well,  turns out the first year of lecturing and doing research is far busier than I could have possibly imagined. Busy though it is, it is also pretty great. The courses I get to teach are interesting (at least to me, and hopefully also my students),  and the networks of researchers I am engaging with are endless and endlessly interesting.  At least there is never a dull moment!

To kick off a revival from a long period of absence, here are two new food security documents that may be of interest to some:

  1. UK House of Parliament: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – Report on Food Security
  2. High Level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security report on ‘Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems’   

Happy reading!

Food and the City: free online short course

Registrations are now open for the Universities West Midland online short
course: Food and the City.

The course will run for 6 weeks from 2nd June 2014 and is completely free.
The course consists of 12 lessons, with 2 released each week.

It is designed to take around 20 hours to complete and will comprise of a
mixture of written materials & videos along with other media and links to optional background reading.

There will be a light level of assessment throughout and opportunities to interact with the course tutors and other participants. The course has designed the materials to be suitable for participants from a range of backgrounds who are interested in urban food issues.The course has been developed by academic experts from West Midland universities though the Food-Smart City project.

For more information and to sign up please visit

Feminist Political Economy of Global Food Governance: Mapping Transformations in Agricultural Development

Call for Papers:  Feminist Political Economy of Global Food Governance: Mapping Transformations in Agricultural Development

56th International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Convention
February 18-21, 2015, New Orleans

The food price crisis of 2007-2008 highlighted the fragility of food security and led to renewed calls to rethink agricultural policies and to transform the global agrifood system. Feminist scholars emphasize that food insecurity is not simply a result of food scarcity but rather a consequence of gender-blind and misdirected priorities set in agricultural development, economic restructuring and resource management. They criticize the market-oriented conception of food security in global food governance – that is the primary focus at the availability of and access to food. Emphasizing the deeper structural causes of hunger and malnutrition, feminist scholars shift their attention to alternative concepts and strategies in food governance (i.e. food sovereignty, right to adequate food, gender mainstreaming) which address questions of power asymmetries in agriculture and food systems.
This panel focuses at the intensified efforts in the field of global food governance to solve the problem of food insecurity. On a political-institutional level, the panel seeks to scrutinize shifts in policy priorities in global food governance from a feminist perspective. To what extent have alternative concepts and approaches to food security been considered in global food governance after the food crisis? How attentive are these approaches to gender power relations in agricultural development? To what extent have these alternative approaches altered the parameters of global food governance in regard to gender equality? What is the state of gender mainstreaming in the field of global food governance? On a socio-economic level, the panel aims at assessing the influence of international agricultural, environmental and/or trade policies on local farming structures and food systems. How do shifts in food governance and transformations in agricultural development affect the gender division of labor in agricultural production, change women’s participation in agricultural value chains and alter gendered patterns of access to and control over resources?
We invite to send paper proposals (200 words) related to any of the above questions until 23rd of May 2014 to
guelay.caglar (a) and elisabeth.pruegl (a )

SITOPOLIS: Urban Agriculture and Regional Food Systems

Call for papers for an exciting new journal:

SITOPOLIS is a multi-disciplinary, peer-reviewed and open access journal focussing on urban and peri-urban agriculture and systems of urban and regional food provisioning in developing, transition and advanced economies.

The journal intends to be a platform for cutting edge research on urban and peri-urban agricultural production for food and non-food (e.g. flowers, medicine, cosmetics) uses and for social, environmental and health services (e.g. tourism, water storage, care, education, waste recycling, urban greening). It aims to explore, analyse and critically reflect upon urban and regional food production, processing, transport, trade, marketing and consumption and the social, economic, environmental, health and spatial contexts, relations and impacts of these food provisioning activities.

The journal addresses one of the contemporary grand societal challenges: how to secure the availability, affordability and access to culturally appropriate, nutritious and safe food for a growing and rapidly urbanizing world population in times of increasing resource scarcity, diet-related ill-health and climate change. This contemporary grand societal challenge requires a multi-disciplinary approach and hence SITIPOLIS welcomes contributions from a wide variety of disciplines, such as sociology, economics, marketing and consumer studies, gender studies, human and economic geography, urban and regional planning, architecture, urbanism, landscape architecture, political science, agronomy, soil science, water management, and public health studies.
The journal publishes original research as well as critical reviews.