Mapping the state of play on the global food landscape

I spent the last two days in Waterloo, Ontario at an incredible workshop called “Mapping the state of play on the global food landscape”.  It brought together academic and civil society experts on ten key themes:

  • State of the world food system
  • Progress on the right to food
  • Global food trade
  • Corporate role in food and agriculture
  • Food sovereignty
  • Genetic resources and agricultural biotechnology
  • Land grab and agrarian reform
  • Financialization in the food system
  • Sustainable food systems and global environmental change
  • Global food governance in an era of crisis.

Still buzzing from the great conversations and debate. This was my dream conference. Amazing people, lots of discussion lasting from morning to night and great food.

There was also a lot of work! Each of us (3 per theme)  was asked to develop a brief and presentation that answers 3 questions on the past, present and future of our themes. I presented on the final theme an ended up not using the PowerPoint presentation I had developed. I figured it would be good to share. So, here is the presentation that never was:Towards ecological food security

There will be an output from the workshop and I will certainly share that when it becomes available.

 

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.

 

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!

Future of EU Food Safety and Nutrition Policy

From: http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/foodlaw/future_en.htm

The provision of safe, nutritious, high quality and affordable food to Europe’s consumers is the central objective of EU policy, which covers all stages of the EU food supply chain, “from farm to fork”. Its standards and requirements aim to ensure a high level of food safety and nutrition within an efficient, competitive, sustainable and innovative global market.

However, a series of emerging challenges and risks could put the currently successful European food system under severe stress. These challenges include:

  • demographic imbalances,
  • climate change, resource and energy scarcity,
  • slowing agricultural productivity,
  • increasing concentration of the supply chain,
  • price volatility,
  • changing diet trends, and
  • the emergence of anti-microbial resistant strands.

Foresight analysis on “Delivering on EU Food Safety and Nutrition in 2050 – Scenarios of future change and policy responses” is a first step of the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers’ Foresight Project for future food policy development.

The project aims to provide insight and guidance for future policy-making and the research which underpins EU policy in this area by identifying the:

  • critical challenges to EU food legislative framework;
  • future evolution of the challenges (in years 2020, 2030 and 2050);
  • impacts of current challenges on EU’s food legislative framework;
  • potential critical changes in the current framework necessary to maintain the prevailing high standards.

Click here to read the report: Foresight analysis on “Delivering on EU Food Safety and Nutrition in 2050 – Scenarios of future change and policy responses”

 

(Un)accepted foods: Why are some edible substances considered food and others not?

My Little Pony Burger

Last night I gave a presentation and moderated discussion at an event on “(Un)accepted Foods,” hosted by a group in Wageningen called Stichting Ruw.

The goal of the evening was to learn more about the potential of insects as food and about eating unconventional food products like horse and goose meat. 

There were excellent presentations.

Rob Hagenouw, an artist, spoke about his project Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier (Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal) where they make and sell  “My Little Pony Burgers” and croquettes from geese shot at the airport.

Arnold van Huis, author of ‘The Insect Cookbook’ and Professor of Entomology (see his TED talk here) gave a fascinating talk covering the opportunities and challenges association with the development of an insect eating culture in Europe.

I provided a socio-cultural perspective on food categorisation: why are some edible substances considered food and others not. If you are interested in seeing my presentation, here it is: (Un)Accepted Foods 08.04.14

Imagining Research for Food Sovereignty (video)

This video – Imagining Research for Food Sovereignty – highlights the outcomes of the farmer exchanges and the St Ulrich workshop deliberations.

For more information about the St. Ulrich Workshop on Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty and Peasant Agrarian Cultures and the Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative go here: http://www.excludedvoices.org/st-ulrich-workshop-democratising-agricultural-research-food-sovereignty-and-peasant-agrarian-culture