Food Governance Module – Prof. Olivier De Schutter and Nora McKeon

The course started off by recalling some key features of how food provisioning was governed in a few ‘pre-modern’ and/or non-Western societies and reviewing the history of global food governance through two lenses: first, its institutional process and, second, the food regime analysis, that looks at the evolution of food governance with particular reference to the way world capitalism has organized world agricultures in function of enhancing commercial profits.

In the light of these premises, the lessons faced the major current problems and aspects of the right to food. We began discussing “land grabbing” in developing countries, a phenomenon resulting from the volatility of international agricultural commodity prices and the merger between the energy and food commodities markets.

We then moved our analysis from the access to land towards access to markets. This issue involves commodity buyers, who try to respond to the requirements of their food industry clients by increasing vertical coordination and tightening their control over suppliers. Our class explored what can be done about this situation, including the possible initiatives to strengthen the fundamental rights of agricultural workers.

Particularly important for the right to food is also the access to seeds, which takes into account the way private sector seeks to promote innovation by strengthening intellectual property (IP) rights and provisioning improved seed varieties to farmers. We were called to debate about solutions, arguing that this model may leave out precisely those who need most to be supported.

As a result of the obstacles facing reform at international level, the right to food needs to be protected also at national level, taking into account the increasingly important role played by cities and courts in the transition to sustainable food systems.

We then discussed and compared two contemporary approaches to food provisioning and their governance implications, analysing terms as chains, webs, systems: dominant global corporate supply chains and territorially-embedded food webs, which actually account for some 80% of the food consumed world-wide. After having identified the main actors involved, we have been invited to answer some key questions about who holds power, who derives benefits and how do they measure up to important challenges the world faces today.

In this context, the class discussed the progressive casting of the corporate private sector and its increased presence in governance forums. Two example could be found in the ‘Global Redesign Initiative’, launched by the World Economic Forum in 2010, and the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in 2012.

The set of classes ended with the focus on the reformed Committee on World Food Security, “the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform” deliberating on food issues. There, organizations directly representing those most affected by the policies under discussion are full participants and, from 2009, it contributes to two main achievements:  generating progressive normative guidance and serving as a space in which dominant paradigms can be questioned.

Finally, the class studied the difficulties involved in applying global policy gains to national situations with a role-playing exercise linked to one of the recent CFS sets of policy recommendations, “Connecting Smallholders to Markets”.

Valentina De Gregorio

Silvia Giordanengo

Daniela Ueda


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