City Region Food Systems

urban AgA new issue of Urban Agriculture Magazine no. 29, which is a special issue on city region food systems.

This issue addresses the growing attention for policy and practice approaches that focus on food issues in urban areas from a city-regional perspective, taking into account possible contributions from urban and periurban agriculture and a strengthening of urban-rural relations.

To quote from the magazine:

Food is increasingly an urban issue. This is gaining broad recognition among local, regional and nationalgovernments, international and support organisations, civil society, the private sector, consumers and academia. Evidence for this recognition can be found in cities in all regions of the world, where policy and programme initiatives are being undertaken in various fields related to urban and periurban food production and supply – as many of the articles in this Magazine illustrate.

Check it out! 

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.

NEW BOOK: Food Security Governance: empowering communities, regulating corporations by Nora McKeon

A new and exciting book about food security governance is out and it is a MUST READ.  I have just received my copy and will follow up with a more detailed review but in the mean time, check out the summary and the reviews:

Today’s global food system generates hunger alongside of land grabs, food waste, health problems, massive greenhouse gas emissions. Nora McKeon’s just-released book explains why we find ourselves in this situation and explores what we can do to change it. It opens with a brief review of how the international community (mis)managed food issues from WWII up to the time of the food price crisis of 2007-2008. It moves on to contrast the ways in which actors link up in corporate global food chains as compared to the local food webs that we think of as “alternative” but in fact feed most of the world’s population. It unpacks relevant paradigms – from productivism to food security and food sovereignty – and points out the perils of “scientific evidence-based” decision-making when it intrudes on the terrain that properly belongs to political process and value-based debate. The author highlights the significance of adopting a rights-based approach to solving food problems whereby adequate food is not simply a desirable outcome but an inalienable right that governments are obliged to ensure for their citizens. She describes how people around the world are organizing to protect their access to resources and build better ways of food provision and governance from the bottom up, in what is increasingly referred to as a food sovereignty movement. She discusses how the Committee on World Food Security – a uniquely inclusive global policy forum since its reform in 2009 – could be supportive of these efforts. The book concludes with a call to blow the whistle on speculative capitalism by building effective public policy instruments for accountable governance and extending their authority to the realm of regulating markets and corporations.

To obtain a 20% discount visit the book’s page on the Routledge website and enter the code FDC20 at check-out.

‘Nora McKeon does a superb job at describing how governments have allowed markets and corporations to take control of food systems, and which tools could be used to provide healthier diets, ensure greater resilience, and empower communities.’– Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
‘At such an uncertain time in global food provisioning, Nora McKeon’s book offers an exceptional perspective… a lively account of food system crisis, competing paradigms and new questions of governance in an accessible and forward-looking analysis.’ —Philip McMichael, Cornell University, USA
‘This book is an overdue account of the fight over reform. It is a fine reminder that food democracy is the key to feeding everyone equitably, healthily, affordably and sustainably.’ – Tim Lang, City University, London, UK
‘..a wonderfully readable account of the world food crisis, distinguished by its grounded faith in the capacity of organizations – of people and governments – to prevent future hunger.’— Raj Patel, Research fellow at UCB and author of Stuffed and Starved, and The Value of Nothing
‘Nora McKeon understands the Byzantine world of global food politics better than anyone I know …. Everyone fighting for Food Sovereignty has to read this book.’ —Pat Mooney, ETC Group
‘Brilliant! An eye-opening tour of the march to democratize global food governance… A must-read for all who want to go beyond competing “issues” to governance itself — and real solutions.’ — Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet
‘A must-read for food activists seeking to go beyond slogans, techno-administrative fixes or business as usual into the realm of active, popular democracy.’ — Eric Holt-Giménez, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy

Global Food Security Governance: Civil society engagement in the reformed Committee on World Food Security

I am most excited that my book Global Food Security Governance: Civil society engagement in the reformed Committee on World Food Security is now available for pre-order!

It is part of the  Routledge Studies in Food, Society and the Environment

It is not exactly priced for accessibility so I encourage you to request your library to order it instead. That way you can access it for free!

You can do that at this using this link and click on “Recommend to Librarian”.

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Some reviews:

“In Global Food Security Governance, Jessica Duncan provides a timely and thoughtful analysis of the recent reform of the Committee on World Food Security and its evolving role in international policy-making on issues of hunger and nutrition. Both empirically rich and theoretically grounded, the book highlights the central role of civil society in reshaping food security governance and assesses the challenges facing the CFS as its work moves forward.”Jennifer Clapp, Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Canada.

“The Committee on World Food Security inaugurates a new breed of global governance: one in which civil society co-design institutions with governments. This is a superb assessment of this transformative moment.”Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014).

“The inadequacies of the world’s food system became only too clear when the banking crisis unfolded in 2007. Prices went volatile; hunger rose; politicians floundered. In this book, Jessica Duncan gives a wonderful account of the pressures in, on and around the UN’s Committee on Food Security, reformed as a result. The account she gives us both celebrates democratic attempts to make the food system more accountable, and points to tensions which remain. It’s a great read with sober messages.” – Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Centre for Food Policy, City University London , UK.

“With global food security emerging as one of the issues of the twenty-first century it is essential that obstacles to improved food access be identified and addressed. In her timely and engaging account of the Committee on World Food Security, Jessica Duncan reveals how powerful global actors are undermining the Committee’s attempts to develop and pursue progressive policies aimed at assisting the world’s hungry. Importantly, she also demonstrates how civil society is confronting global neoliberalism and – through the Committee on World Food Security – is helping to create a new framework for improved food security governance. This illuminating and very well-documented book is a ‘must read’ for those who are hoping for, and working toward, a fairer, more food-secure world.”Geoffrey Lawrence, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, The University of Queensland, Australia and President of the International Rural Sociology Association.

Postdoctoral Fellowships on Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions

Call for Applications:  Postdoctoral Fellowships on Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA Fellowships)

(led by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at
Tufts University)

Download the Call

Objective: To accelerate the development of innovative and interdisciplinary methods, metrics and tools to advance scientific understanding of the linkages between agriculture and food systems, health, and nutrition outcomes, and thereby inform policy and programmatic actions in low and middle income countries (LMICs).

Funding available: Six one-year postdoctoral research fellowships, in four rounds (2015-2018), with stipends for fellows and two mentors.

Who can apply: Researchers who have completed a doctoral degree in any field related to agriculture, nutrition or health research and practice, and are seeking a career in research, education, and engagement at the intersection of two or more of these fields. Eligible candidates must have received their doctorate within 3 years of their proposed fellowship start date. Applicants may be of any nationality and have earned their doctorate anywhere, but IMMANA strongly encourages applications from female candidates, who are citizens of low- and middle-income countries, particularly those who have research or faculty appointments in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. At least one of the fellowship project’s two mentors must be located in Africa or Asia. Fellowship duration is 12 months and is not renewable.

Deadlines for 2015-16 Fellowships:
Submission of concept memos: 10 January 2015
Submission of full proposals: 1 March 2015
Notification of applicants: 1 May 2015
Start dates for fellowships: 1 June – 31 December 2015

More about IMMANA Fellowships

More about IMMANA Grants (closing: 21 November 2014)

More about the IMMANA programme

The IMMANA collaboration is coordinated by the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) and includes leading experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical MedicineSOAS, University of London; and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston (USA).


Together with a colleague  I am organising a section at the ECPR general conference, Montreal 2015 (

We welcome panel and paper proposals (until 10 November  2014) that are based on the section description below.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me:

Cross-Disciplinary Issues for Food Policy and Governance: Challenges and Opportunities

Food has proven to be a complex, even wicked, policy issue which encompasses multiple policy domains. The call for a more integrated food policy away from mono-disciplinary focus on agricultural, international development, or health is  increasing. Food policy integrates nutrition and public health, agriculture, environment, ethics and social justice, trade, ecology, spatial planning, climate change, water management, and energy and therefore needs the analysis of all policy domains involved, as well as cross-policy domain research. The interconnectedness of  relevant policy domains means that food represents a policy challenge as well as a governance challenge at all levels (i.e., local, national, international, multinational). As such, it requires not only the setup of cross-boundary governance arrangements between traditional institutions and administrative competences, but also the analysis of possible gaps between institutions, deadlocks, miscommunication and/or lack of coordination.

Food policy and governance issues cross different levels and scales: from global discussion about food security, to local water management issues; from acute problems to looming catastrophes  in the distant future. All these interconnected linkages and cross-overs pose many challenges to state actors, civil society, and the private sector.  In this section we will to explore the variety of issues that arise when working towards integrated food policies.

We welcome panel and paper proposals that analyse cross-policy and governance issues in the field of food and agriculture. We are looking for proposals that address participatory governance for food security, integrated systems approaches for food governance, local governance arrangements for sustainable food systems, or food governance in a changing geopolitical context.

Suggested panels:

Panel 1: Participatory governance and food policy
Panel 2: Governing at the Nexus
Panel 3: Integrated Systems Approaches for Food Governance/ Global Environmental Change and Food Systems
Panel 4: Future Challenges for Food Governance
Panel 5: Local governance arrangements for sustainable food systems
Panel 6: Food Governance in a Changing Geopolitical Context