Summer School on Food Safety and Food Security in Europe: A multi-level educational perspective.

This summer I will have the pleasure of lecturing on food policy at a summer school hosted in Brescia, Italy. The theme of the school is Food Safety and Food Security in Europe: A multi-level educational perspective.

There are just a few spots left for the course. For more information, check out this Brochure.

It runs from July 6-10, 2015 and covers a diverse but interrelated range of themes including:

  • Framing food security
  • Food safety
  • Determinants of health
  • Food waste

It also includes a visit to Expo 2015 in Milan.


Eco Intensive Agriculture Conference proceedings

Originally posted on Rural Sociology Wageningen University:

The proceedings of the Eco Intensive Agriculture Conference are available at the website of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Rural Sociology was represented by our chair prof. Han Wiskerke and Jessica Duncan (Food Governance).

Jessica Duncan’s Pecha Kucha (a presentation of 6:20 with a series of 20 slides that change every 20 seconds) was called ‘Governing the Doughnut: the role of scientists in transformations towards sustainable food systems‘, watch the video above.

Han Wiskerke was one of the six key note speakers, presenting ‘Eco-intensive agriculture and the provision of public goods‘. All six key note speakers were asked to make short statements on four questions and this was recorded. These short video are also available at the NIOO website. Below the answer to question 4: What step is needed now?

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On the Political

Last week I wrote a few posts related to a talk I was asked to give to the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). The talk was inspired in part by a book by Chantal Mouffe (2005) called On the Political: Thinking in Action that I have been teaching this period in the course People, Policy and Resources in Comparative Perspective.

The book challenges the trend towards a post-political society wherein we restrict or even deny differences and passions that Mouffe argues (and I agree) cannot be ignored. She makes use a conservative thinker to challenge contemporary liberal approaches to deliberative democracy and consensus building.

I like the book for teaching because it posits a fundamental challenge to values most students hold dear and take for granted. It is a nice book to begin a critical reflection on contemporary politics.

However, some students do find it quite challenging and so to support their reading, learning and reflecting, I developed a mind-map of key terms and some of their interconnections.

Sharing it here in case it if of use to anyone out there. I would also be curious to connect with any other teachers who make use of Mouffe in their courses.

Mind map of key terms from Mouffe (2005)

Mind map of key terms from Mouffe (2005) “On the Political”

Pecha Kucha: Governing the Doughnut

Today I gave a Pecha Kucha. A Pecha Kucha is a presentation of 6:20 with a series of 20 slides that change every 20 seconds. It is an unforgiving format that is admittedly probably engaging and potentially energizing for the audience but as a speaker it offers no space to engage with, or respond to, the audience and no room for error in your speech as the slides keep rolling even if you are not quite ready for them to! I get the appeal and the value but for an academic presentation, this is a terrifying format. Indeed, I found it so challenging to frame an academic paper/idea this way that I instead opted to give what amounts to more of a political speech.

I struggled to develop my talk for today, more so than any talk I have given in recent (maybe even distant) memory. I was intimidated by the audience (mostly soil scientists) and riddled with doubt: “Will they understand what I mean by governance?”;  “Do I even understand what I mean by governance?”

To further prepare, while on the train to the conference, I tried to write out the key ideas of the talk, without the limitation of having to shape ideas into 20 second with accompanying images.

Point 1: We need a transformation in the food system and this required attention to governance The talk starts from the position that we need a transformation towards sustainable and just food systems. I then argue, taking from transition theory, that governance plays an important role in facilitating or blocking such transformations.

Point 2: The doughnut offers a framework to consider environmental and social factors I then present Haworth’s idea of a doughnut: the space that is made between the planetary or environmental boundaries (outside the doughnut) and the social values or foundation (inside, or the doughnut hole- always the best part: Tim Bits, anyone?). The doughnut is a framework that serves to identify the safe and just space for us to work within to respect people and the planet.

Point 3: We need to embrace the idea of multiple solutions pathways The doughnut is not prescriptive. It offers the possibility for multiple pathways, and this is key for a just sustainability transition. These pathways need to be developed with and by people and address peoples’ practices in the everyday world.

Point 4: We need governance arrangements that can empower/support this solution pathways However, the architecture of governance is not able to support such pathways in its current arrangement. Key reasons for this include: lack of coherence and coordination, policy silos, overlapping mandates, competing understandings and interpretations of the problems, strong economic interests and an unreflexive commitment to productionism. Furthermore, governance has entered the realm of the post-political meaning in part that the debate has become polarised, or conversely framed around creating consensus. Both results arguably lead to a situation where conflict and tensions that necessarily exist around the tough decisions we need to make to support sustainability transformations are masked and this is unhelpful to supporting transformation.

Point 5: As scientists, we contribute to the post-political nature of governance In science and academia, there is a culture of studying complex problems and working towards answers that have narrow ranges of uncertainty: we tend to work towards simplicity. The problem is that the results of the research are never simple and if they extend beyond the labs and our offices they are applied to situations that are highly complex and which produce numerous uncertainties. In suggesting there is a final or correct answer to a problem we ignore this complexity. More problematically, we create a body of science that serves to justify almost any policy decision as science based.

Point 6: We need to acknowledge that our work is political. Scientists want their work to have impact but many refuse to acknowledge the political implications of their work. By trying to address complex socio-ecological problems we are engaging in the realm of the political. We need to be aware of this. We do not need to change our science necessarily but rather think about the potential impacts of the science. It means that we need to get out of our own silos and discuss the implications of our work with other scientists and importantly, non-scientists, notably those likely to be most affected.

Point 7: We need to politicise governance Those of us working on governance need to recognise the post-political nature of governance and work towards creating governance arrangements that are capable of addressing complexity, conflict and uncertainty. Such governance arrangements need to be organised in such a way so as to support the multiple pathways through the doughnut.

Point 8: What characteristics should these governance arrangements have? Well this is the big question! I have just written a paper about this with an Australian colleague, Ro Hill. I will post our answer to this big question when the paper is published!

Off to Copenhagen to address another conference on how to feed the world in 2050. This time Prof. David Barling and I are looking at food supply governance and identifying governance trends and challenges for the future.

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability

This coming week I am giving two talks at conferences that seek to contribute answers to the question “how to feed 9 billion people by 2050″.

The first conference will be in Amsterdam, and is called “Towards an ecology intensive agriculture: learning from nature“. I am giving a Pecha Kucha talk (6:20 minute talk with 20 slides that change automatically every 20 seconds) called “Governing the Doughnut”.

The talk starts from Kate Raworth’s idea of the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries. Then, making use of transformation theory, which highlights the key role of governance in (dis)empowering socio-ecological transformation, I try to reflect (in 6 minutes!!!) on what we can do as scientists to support governance arrangements that can in turn support multiple pathways inside the doughnut (i.e., safe and just operating space).

The argument I make is particularly influenced by the work of:

In preparation, I am re-reading a commentary developed by scholars at the STEPS Centre, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Tellus Institute.

The article is called “Transforming Innovation for Sustainability”.

In the article, the authors argue that the 3Ds of direction, diversity and distribution, along with “sustainability brokering” can help to guide the analysis and decision-making processes we need to ensure a sustainable future.

They make a strong case for equity to be a  “core pillar of of world prosperity in an environmentally constrained planet” and that “business as usual is not an option; even a strong, sustained program of policy adjustments may be insufficient to counter harmful trends.”

They reiterate the urgency for transformation not only in policies and technologies but also across modes of innovation. They highlight that while there is agreement on the urgency of the addressing current planetary challenges, most actors have settled on solutions that rely on combinations of top-down policies (at multiple scales) which rely on “political will”.  They warn that such “top-down” policy proposals are often coupled with particular forms of technological fixes, which are packaged as solutions and rolled out. But they question if such approaches are enough. They call for a reconnection across local initiatives and global processes so as to find a safe operating space for humanity, from the bottom up. They argue this can best happen by embracing local action in multi-scale approaches.

They conclude:

Looking across these dimensions—the “three Ds” of Direction, Diversity, and Distribution—it becomes clear that defining and navigating the particularities of sustainability ultimately reflect political values and choices, as much as scientific and technical ones. … broad calls for integration need to be underpinned by finer-grained attention to what sort of sustainability and development are being pursued, for whom and how, and what this implies for improved stewardship of our planet. This brings further and ultimately more fundamental sociopolitical and justice questions to bear, concerning how such choices are made in relation to what values, by real decision makers in particular social and political contexts, and their implications for ecosystem stewardship and sustainability…