Monday Sept 22: ‘Eat it all Food Market’ Leeuwenborgh

Originally posted on Rural Sociology Group Wageningen University:

humble harvestNext Monday,  September 22nd, Humble Harvest will organise the ‘Eat It All Food Market’ in the Leeuwenborgh canteen! Super-local, organic, delicious foods which otherwise would have been wasted, will be sold at the market for very low prices.

The food comes directly from a farmer from the other side of the river Rhine and would have been thrown away because it does not conform to supermarkets’ standard for shape and size.

The market will be held from 12.00 to 1.30pm in the Leeuwenborch canteen. Bring some coins, your own bag and sustainable it is!!

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International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security

Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is convening a two day International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security.

Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the FAO today commending the organization for convening the symposium.The letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.

They further call on FAO member states and the international community to build upon the proceedings of this symposium in order to launch a U.N. system-wide initiative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises. Such an initiative could form one of the pillars the future work of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and make an invaluable contribution to negotiations about agriculture within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change process and the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda.

The letter closes with a hope that the FAO will consider this proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security meeting on October 13–18, 2014.

Read the full letter here:

“Land grabs” and Responsible Agricultural Investment in Africa

Recently, a paper was published that supports land grabbing for food security. The paper suggests that the land in question is  ‘marginally utilised’ and land grabbing will lead to more food being produced.

In the article, the authors argue,

It is expected that in the long run large scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) for commercial farming will bring the technology required to close the existing crops yield gaps… We show how up to 300–550 million people could be fed by crops grown in the acquired land, should these investments in agriculture improve crop production and close the yield gap.


The article is: Maria Cristina Rulli & Paolo D’Odorico (2014) “Food appropriation through large scale land acquisitions” Environmental Research Letters. 9: 064030 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/6/06403

Timothy Wise has posted a reply on the tripple crisis blog:  “Land grabs” and Responsible Agricultural Investment in Africa

Here are some snippets:

In this case, these seemingly well-intentioned Italian economists came up with the dramatic but useless estimate that global land grabs could feed 190-550 million people in developing countries. The heroic assumptions they needed to get there should have stranded them on a deserted island, because they make no sense in the real world.


• Assume land grabs produce staple food. (Mostly, they don’t.)
• Assume such assumed food is consumed domestically. (Overwhelmingly it’s exported.)
• Assume the calories they might produce go to hungry people. (They don’t, they go to people who can afford them.)
• Assume calories are all that’s needed to nourish someone. (They aren’t.)
• Assume productivity-enhancing investments on such land would be made for an assumed market of hungry consumers. (They wouldn’t, the hungry are no real market at all because they have no effective buying power.)
• Assume the grabbed land didn’t displace anyone from producing food. (According to the same data relied on by these economists, most projects have displaced farmers.)

Perhaps the most absurd assumption, though, is that the governance mechanisms exist, at the national, international, or corporate levels, to manage the surge of investment we’ve seen since the food price spikes of 2007-8. Trust me, they don’t, which is why the UN’s Committee on World Food Security is meeting in Rome this week to negotiate the RAI guidelines.


Early work published by these authors on the topic has been critiqued, for example:

  • Ian Scoones, Ruth Hall, Saturnino M. Borras Jr, Ben White & Wendy Wolford (2013) The politics of evidence: methodologies for understanding the global land rush, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40:3, 469-483, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2013.801341 Available:

Ian Scoones, Ruth Hall, Saturnino M. Borras Jr, Ben White & Wendy Wolford (2013) The politics of evidence: A response to Rulli and D’Odorico, The Journal of Peasant Studies,40:5, 911-912, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2013.853045

The authors replied here: 

Maria Cristina Rulli & Paolo D’Odorico (2013) The science of evidence:the value of global studies on land rush, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40:5, 907-909, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2013.853044

Maria Cristina Rulli & Paolo D’Odorico (2013) Reply to ‘The politics of evidence: a response to Rulli and D’Odorico’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40:5, 913-914, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2013.853046


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…

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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!