Review: Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’

Originally posted on Food (Policy) For Thought:

Man, sometimes you just have to catch yourself in moments of pure luck. Like today, after a morning spent in glorious summer weather hammering out the last formatting issues of my thesis, when I was able to attend a lunch seminar (who said there was no free lunch in economics?) with the inspiring Kate Raworth and have a 2-hour chat afterward with her as well as some senior researchers in ecology, animal genetics, food systems and the like from SLU. What did we talk about? Basically, how to change the world. And economics education. But most of all, Raworth’s suggestion for a new framing of the global challenges and goals as we move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals as of next year: the so-called “doughnut” of the safe and just operating space for humanity.



As Raworth explained, she was inspired by and built on…

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Enough Is Enough [ISEE recap 1]

Originally posted on Food (Policy) For Thought:


Ohhhhh ecological economics, where to start… At the conference there were more than 100 different sessions with 3 – 5 presentations each, so it was actually pretty overwhelming to figure out where to go and who to listen to. Plus, one of the great attractions, but also of the main complications is the interdisciplinarity of the field – there was work on social psychology and group organization (holla! that was us!), ideas on a completely new monetary system that blew my mind, very in-depth presentations on planetary boundary quantifications, for example in land use, and so much more!

What really blew me away though were the keynote speakers. They were all very well-chosen, combining great insights with impressive public speaking skills to make for very enjoyable first sessions of the day.

On the first day, Johan Rockström gave an update on his Planetary Boundaries framework (which I explained in…

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ThinkForward Cross-Post: Recognizing Food Sovereignty

Originally posted on IATP’s ThinkForward, September 23, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell

Community to Community Development, one of the co-winners of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize

IATP, as a member of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, is excited to join our partners and allies in congratulating the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine and Community to Community/Comunidad a Comunidad, as co-winners of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize. Food sovereignty, which demands that the shape of food and agricultural systems must be designed by and responsive to the needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food, rather than by the demands of markets and corporations, is very much part of the values and objectives of IATP. It calls for a democratization and decentralization of food systems—two vital principles that UAWC and C2C are both striving for in their own work.

As the USFSA states in their press release announcing the winners:

Their stories of continuous struggle to defend the rights of their communities – farmers and fishers in the occupied Palestinian territories and migrant Mexican farm workers in Washington State, both seeking to produce their own food, on their own land, in their home communities – stand in stark contrast to the storylines coming from agribusiness: that technological changes to crops can meet human needs and resolve hunger.

Palestine has been under Israeli occupation for decades and this summer faced heightened pressure, including thousands killed and many more injured from bombings, destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, farms, and fishing boats, and hundreds of arrests without due process, and the continued building of settlements on Palestinian farmland. UAWC builds farmers cooperatives and seed banks, and supports women’s leadership, while continuing to seek its members’ human rights to food, land, and water.  “This important prize inspires UAWC to carry on its work in defending Palestinian farmers’ rights against the brutal Israeli violations, both through supporting small-scale farmers and fishermen toward their food sovereignty and rights to land and water, and also through coordination with local and international movements for social justice and human rights,” said Khaled Hidan, General Director of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Palestine.

In Washington State, amid failed immigration policies that criminalize working families, Community to Community Development has supported and worked with immigrant farm workers to develop farm worker-owned cooperatives, organize a successful nutrition education project called Cocinas Sanas, and promote domestic fair trade in regional assemblies and meetings. Most recently, C2C has supported an emerging farm worker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and organized a national boycott of Sakuma Farms, their employer, who withheld pay, provided poor housing, and has since retaliated against the workers. Familias Unidas por la Justicia recently won a settlement for wage theft and had a Superior Court Judge rule uphold their right to organize – but their fight is not over.  “In honoring Community to Community, the USFSA honors indigenous farmworkers in the U.S. Displaced by NAFTA, these peasant farmers from Mexico are practicing a tradition of struggle for justice. Together, C2C and Familias Unidas are promoting food sovereignty in rural Washington State and challenging the corporate agricultural interests that are controlling our food system,” said Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development.

The Food Sovereignty Prize, founded in 2009, “spotlights grassroots activists working for a more democratic food system.” Honorees are groups that have raised public awareness, organized on-the-ground action, and/or developed and implemented programs and policies recognizing the importance of collective action in bringing about social change; who have built global linkages into their work, and prioritized the leadership of women, indigenous peoples, people of color, migrant workers and other food providers marginalized by the global food system.

As opposed to the World Food Prize, which honors individuals and emphasizes increased production through technology, the Food Sovereignty Prize “champions solutions coming from those most impacted by the injustices of the global food system. In honoring those who are taking back their food systems, the Food Sovereignty Prize affirms that nothing short of the true democratization of our food system will enable us to end hunger once and for all.”

The Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony, which I will be attending as a representative of IATP, will take place at the Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines, Iowa on the October 15, 2014. It will be refreshing to join groups focused on the key elements of providing sustainability and food security—scientifically validated factors like women’s rights, social change and social and economic justice—and not just on agricultural production: a factor that, without justice, means little for helping people rather than simply profits.

Read more about this year’s winners here and the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance here.

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Matthew Di Carlo: The Fatal Flaw of the Reformers

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute says that the reformers cannot succeed, despite their best intentions, because they over promise what they can accomplish. Whether it is a promise of closing the achievement gap in short order, turning around 1,000 schools a year for five years, college for all, or making every single child proficient by the year 2014, they set goals that might–if all goes well–be achieved in decades, but cannot be achieved in a few years. They say “we can’t wait,” as if their sense of urgency will surely cause obstacles to crumble. But the obstacles are real, and genuine change requires time, patience, will, and the collaboration with teachers that reformers think they can bypass.

Hubris has its limits.

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Text of Scientists’ Support Letter for the International Symposium on Agroecology, 18-19 September, 2014

As previously posted (originally on IATP and subsequently here), nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) yesterday, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security.

The text of the letter is reprinted below.

Updated 23 Sept 2014: 6 names added to signatories, denoted by “***”.

Scientists’ Support Letter for the International Symposium on Agroecology, 18-19 September, 2014

As scientists and scholars working in sustainable agriculture and food systems, the undersigned praise the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (the FAO) for organizing and convening the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security.

This Symposium comes at an opportune time as climate change, continued food insecurity and rural poverty present myriad challenges to sustainability. Agroecology, especially when paired with the developing principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems to an extent not matched by other approaches or proposals. This is why agroecology has been endorsed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter[1]; the 10,000-member Ecological Society of America[2]; through the formation and statements of the Latin American Society for Agroecology[3]; in the scientific report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD); by La Vía Campesina, the world’s largest organization of peasant farmers; by a growing number of research institutions around the world and most recently, further endorsed by over 250 scientists and experts[4].

As the organizers and attendees of the Symposium likely already know, these groups—and the undersigned—view agroecology as a well-grounded science, a set of time-tested agronomic practices and, when embedded in sound socio-political institutions, the most promising pathway for achieving sustainable food production. Agroecology integrates multiple fields into a unique “trans-discipline”, drawing on ecology, agronomy, political economy, and sociology, among other fields. It can be considered a science, a set of practices, and a social movement for distributive and procedural justice. In fact, without these elements of justice—which are often lacking in other approaches (for example, “climate-smart agriculture” or “sustainable intensification”)—no approach can be scientifically assessed as “sustainable” according to most established definitions of sustainability[5]. The procedural justice element has been associated with the growing conceptualization of and movement for “food sovereignty”—the right for people to design and decide on the shape of their own food system within their own localities, to the maximum extent practicable, with the maximum possible participation.

Based on established research and science, we affirm that:

  1. No approach can be called sustainable without explicit planning for and realization of procedural AND distributive justice;
  2. With regards to food and agriculture, this means specifically and substantively addressing issues around who gets access to resources and the processes to determine this access. Empirically established pertinent resources include: education, land, gender equity, infrastructure, credit, market access, affordable inputs and affordable food.[6] Means of “value-adding” and processing must also be available for farmers. (These issues may be thought of in terms of distributive justice.) Procedurally, point (1) may be addressed by ensuring the active and equitable participation of small farmers and the food insecure in all decisions affecting them. Allowing the sole decision-making at any stage to be undertaken by government officials, development experts, multi-national corporations or wealthy donors can interfere with appropriate local processes that Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom found could be robustly and sustainably effective in managing resources, given the right facilitating factors[7].
  3. Agroecology is uniquely positioned to support the realization of these principles and needs.

The evidence for the contributions of agroecology are amply documented, including in the reports and letters mentioned above (e.g. as found in the footnotes of this missive). Highlighted peer-reviewed work has examined the numerous benefits to both social and ecological systems—from ecosystem services[8], to lowering the amounts of synthetic inputs and reducing run-off[9], increasing nutrition security and supporting women’s empowerment[10], and improving resilience and mitigation and adaptation to climate change[11]. Agroecological practices can also substantially boost yields in areas where productivity increases may be most needed[12], and support vital biodiversity and environmental conservation objectives[13].

Important and productive questions to be addressed by agroecologists include the strong and well-replicated empirical observations of greater per-unit-area productivity or higher land efficiency ratios of smaller farms; total farm and landscape ecosystem service provision and productivity (instead of yield measured for single crops on farms and landscapes producing multiple goods), and the means of promoting and maintaining agroecological models that will support and provide public goods, resilience, food security, and farmer autonomy. Notably, despite the broad promise, none of the areas of agroecology have seen the levels of investment in research, education, and extension seen for input-intensive conventional agriculture[14]. This may be due to the fact that the provision of public goods, avoidance of negative externalities[15] and the lower commercial input needs of agroecological farmers provide ample services to society, but fewer possibilities for private gains to large corporate concerns who supply and buy food and agricultural products.

The idea that simply making more food with less land and other inputs—sustainable intensification—will lead to a smaller overall land use in agriculture has historically not been the case[16]. Theory and empirical observations show that the determinants of land use and land areas under cultivation are far more complex[17]. Proponents of sustainable intensification have themselves acknowledged that intensification without carefully crafted policies will not necessarily lead to lower land-use[18]. However, what has not been emphasized is that carefully crafted policies that promote equitable access to land, credit, markets and inputs, along with environmentally-sound farming methods, are able to preserve nature and provide food security in many, if not most, cases[19]. Focusing on “intensification first”, or in the absence of these policies, risks failures in achieving sustainability or alleviating poverty and food insecurity[20].

We suggest that “climate smart agriculture” and “sustainable intensification” cannot be alternative terms for agroecology as they do not include the transdisciplinary breadth nor the specific experimental and empirical depth of established agroecology. A sound and scientifically-supported approach must pursue climate mitigation and adaption strategies as part of a larger approach under the umbrellas of agroecology and food sovereignty. Under these two concepts, established and innovated methods are used to provide greater farmer security, greater diversity and greater autonomy. They draw on an active but under-supported research agenda and a tradition of strong partnerships and leadership from farmers. In contrast, the exact conditions of “climate-smart agriculture” and “sustainable intensification” are not only vague but also subject to abuse through misleading or incomplete definitions. Agroecology’s long history, existing discourse[21], and better-defined transdisciplinary space[22] help guard against such dangers.

If we are to further the socially responsible goals of sustainable agriculture, food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, then logically we must build on these foundations within agroecology. Other approaches cannot similarly count on the science, practices and movements behind agroecology, yet we know that all three, particularly social movements, are as crucial as scientific and technical innovation in sustainably implementing the right to food. Although agroecology does increase yields in many important cases, the centrality of procedural and distributive justice as parts of the agroecological tradition might be remembered with this simple phrase: “No intensification without representation.” Efforts to realize such representation may be practically seen in examples like Empowered Participatory Governance[23], the Just Sustainability Paradigm[24], and many elements of specific approaches like participatory budgeting, deliberative polling, the principles of subsidiarity, and many of the examples elucidated by Ostrom and colleagues[25].

We therefore call upon FAO member states and the international community to build upon the proceedings of this Symposium in order to launch a UN-system wide initative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises: an initiative centered around social, cultural, and food sovereignty issues in agriculture and food systems. We see such an activity as becoming one of the pillars of the future work of the Committee on World Food Security as it develops the Global Strategic Framework on Food Security and Nutrition while making an invaluable contribution to discussions and negotiations about agriculture within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process and the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda.

We look forward to seeing a discussion of our proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security meeting 13-18 October 2014.


M. Jahi Chappell, Ph.D.
Director of Agroecology and Agricultural Policy
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Visiting Scientist, Washington State University
Minneapolis, MN, USA

* All institutional affiliations provided for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement by the respective institutions.

**Please direct return correspondence to Dr. M. Jahi Chappell at Correspondence will be forwarded to the following individuals who have endorsed the letter.

Signing on behalf of:

David J. Abson, Ph.D.
Research fellow, Future of Ecosystem Services (FuturES) Research Center, Faculty of Sustainability
Leuphana University
Lüneburg. Germany

Miguel A. Altieri, Ph.D.
Professor of Agroecology
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Molly D. Anderson, Ph.D.
Partridge Chair in Food & Sustainable Agriculture Systems
College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, ME, USA

Catherine Badgley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Residential College, Museum of Paleontology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Kirsten Valentine Cadieux, Ph.D.
Research Associate in Sociology and Geography, Society and Environment
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Jill Carlson, M.S.
Madison, WI, USA

Ademir Antonio Cazella***
Dr. em Ordenamento Territorial, Coordendor do Programa de Pós Graduação em Agroecossistemas (PGA)
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) do Brasil

Sandra Andrea Engelmann, Master’s in Geography
Professora do Instituto Federal do Paraná
Campo Largo – PR – Brasil

Miguel Ángel Escalona Aguilar, Ph.D.
Profesor de la Facultad de Ciencias Agrícolas
Universidad Veracruzana
Xalapa, Veracruz, México

Bruce G. Ferguson, Ph.D.
Research Professor and Department Coordinator, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Society
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Luiz Carlos Pinheiro Machado Filho, Ph.D.
Professor; Secretário de Relações Internacionais (SINTER) – UFSC
Secretary for International Affairs – UFSC
Florianópolis, SC – BRASIL

Joern Fischer, Ph.D.
Professor, Faculty of Sustainability
Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany

Charles A. Francis, Ph.D.
Professor of Agronomy & Horticulture
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Lincoln, NE, USA

Harriet Friedmann, Ph.D.
Visiting Professor, Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) Erasmus University Rotterdam
Professor Emeritus and Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
Toronto, ON, Canada

Ryan E. Galt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Human Ecology; Provost Fellow, Agricultural Sustainability Institute
University of California, Davis
Davis, CA, USA

Stephen R. Gliessman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Agroecology
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Katherine E. Goodall, Ph.D.
Botany Postdoctoral Fellow
Wellesley College
Wellesley, MA, USA

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, American University’s School of International Service
Washington, DC, USA

Emily Green-Tracewicz, M.Sc.
PhD Student, Individual Interdisciplinary PhD Program; Research Assistant, Crop and Soil Sciences
Washington State University
Pullman, WA, USA

Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D.***
Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist
Center for Food Safety
Washington, DC, USA

Jan Hanspach, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Sustainability
Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany

Amber A. Heckelman, M.A., M.S.
Ph.D. Student, Land & Food Systems
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Oakland, CA, USA

Maria José Hötzel, Ph.D.
LETA – Laboratório de Etologia Aplicada e Bem-estar Animal
Departamento de Zootecnia e Desenvolvimento Rural
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
Florianópolis, SC, Brasil

Alastair Iles, S.J.D.
Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management; Faculty Co-Director, Berkeley Food Institute
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Pesticide Action Network North America
Oakland, CA, USA

Nicholas Jordan, Ph.D.
Professor, Agroecology
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Alexandra-Maria Klein, Dr. Prof.***
Professor of Nature Conservation and Landscape Ecology, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources
University of Freiburg
Freiburg, Germany

Jack Kloppenburg, Ph.D.
Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI, USA

Claire Kremen, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Anna Lappé, M.I.A.
Founder/Director, Real Food Media Project & Small Planet Institute and Fund; Author; Contributor, Al Jazeera America
Oakland, CA, USA

Frances Moore Lappé
Co-Founder, Small Planet Institute; Author; Right Livelihood Award Winner; Recipient of 18 honorary doctoral degrees
Cambridge, MA, USA

Jacqueline Loos, M.Sc.
Ph.D. Candidate, Sustainable Landscapes, Faculty of Sustainability Science
Leuphana University
Lüneburg, Germany

Pedro Antonio Macario Mendoza, Ph.D.
Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur

Kathleen McAfee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, International Relations
San Francisco State University
2014 Fellow: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society
Munich, Germany

Philip McMichael, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Development Sociology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY, USA

Nathan McClintock, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Toulan School of Urban Studies & Planning
Portland State University
Portland, OR, USA

Friederike Mikulcak, M.Sc.
PhD Fellow, Sustainable Landscapes
Leuphana University Lueneburg
Lueneburg, Germany

Albie Miles, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems
University of Hawai’i, West O’ahu
Kapolei, HI, USA

Maywa Montenegro de Wit
Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management; Communications Coordinator, Center for Diversified Farming Systems
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

James R. Moore, M.S.***
Ph.D. Pre-Candidate, Biology
Washington State University Vancouver
Vancouver, WA, USA

Helda Morales, Ph.D.
Professor/Researcher, Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente
El Colegio de La Frontera Sur
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México

Ezequiel Antonio de Moura
Biólogo e Educador, Instituto Federal do Paraná
Mestrando em Desenvolvimento Territorial Sustentável – UFPR
Paraná – Brasil

Danielle Nierenberg, M.S.***
President, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank
Chicago, IL, USA

Clara I. Nicholls, Ph.D.
President, Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology; Professor of Agroecology
Universidad de Antioquia
Antioquia, Colombia

Dale Nimmo, Ph.D.
Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Life and Environmental Science
Deakin University
Melbourne, Australia

Johan Oldekop, Ph.D.
EU Research Fellow, International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Marcia Ostrom, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, School of the Environment and Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources
Washington State University
Wenatchee, WA, USA

Damian Parr, Ph.D.
Research & Education Coordinator, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS); Lecturer, Environmental Studies Department
University of California – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Raj Patel, Ph.D.
Research Professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
University of Texas, Austin
Austin, TX, USA

Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D.
George W. Pack Professor of Natural Resources, School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Christine M. Porter, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in Community & Public Health; Food Dignity Project Director and Principal Investigator; Division of Kinesiology & Health
University of Wyoming
Laramie, WY, USA

Dr. Pedro Pablo del Pozo Rodríguez***
Profesor Titular; Vicerrector
Universidad Agraria de La Habana Cuba
Habana, Cuba

John E. Quinn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Furman University
Greenville, SC, USA

Prof. Dr. Clarilton Ribas
Pós Doutor em Sociologia; Professor Associado IV na
Universidade Fedaral de Santa Catarina
Florianópolis – SC – Brasil

Dianne E. Rocheleau, Ph.D.
Professor of Geography and Global Environmental Studies
Clark University
Worcester, MA, USA

Ricardo J. Salvador, Ph.D.
Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
Washington, DC, USA

Valter Roberto Schaffrath, Ph.D.
Professor e Pós Doutorado em Recursos Naturais e Ambiente
Instituto Federal do Paraná – IFPR
Paraná – Brasil

Mindi Schneider, Ph.D.
Convenor, Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
The Hague, Netherlands

Ilyas Siddique, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor of Agroecosystems, Department of Crop Science, Center of Agrarian Sciences
Federal University of Santa Catarina
Florianópolis, SC, Brazil

Mateus José Falleiros da Silva, D.Sc.
Professor, Eixo Tecnológico de Recursos Naturais – Agroecologia
Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Paraná – IFPR
Paraná – Brasil

Fábio Kessler Dal Soglio, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil

Doreen Stabinsky, Ph.D.
Professor of Global Environmental Politics
College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, ME, USA

Steve Suppan, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst for Market Regulation, Trade and Technology
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Paul Thiers, Ph.D.
Associate Professor; Program Leader for School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs
Washington State University Vancouver
Vancouver, WA, USA

Paul B. Thompson, Ph.D.
W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food & Community Ethics; Dept. of Ag. Food & Resource Economics; Dept. of Community Sustainability
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI, USA

L. Ann Thrupp, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Berkeley Food Institute
University of California Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Dr. Rémy Vandame
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
Chiapas, Mexico

John Vandermeer, Ph.D.
Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Hans van der Wal, Ph.D.
Investigador Titular “A”, Grupo Académico de Agroecología
El Colegio d ela Frontera Sur
Villahermosa, Tabasco, México

Shiney Varghese, M.A., PGDRM
Member of the UN CFS High Level Panel of Experts on Water for Food Security and Nutrition
Senior Policy Analyst for Water, Agroecology and Global Governance
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Dr. A. Cristina de la Vega-Leinert***
Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität Greifswald, Institut für Geographie und Geologie
Lehrstuhl für Nachhaltigkeitswissenschaft und Angewandte Geographie
Greifswald, Germany

Oane Visser, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
The Hague, The Netherlands

Hannah Wittman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Faculty of Land and Food Systems
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

*** Indicates signatories added to the letter subsequent to its original delivery.


[1] Olivier De Schutter. 2014. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Final Report: The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food, Document A/HRC/25/27. (New York: United Nations, 2014).

[2] Ecological Society of America (ESA). “Letter to Dr. Catherine Woteki, under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics and Chief Scientist of the United States Department of Agriculture.” (Washington, D.C.: ESA, 2013).

[3] See

[4] Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Scientist Statement of Support for Public Investment in Agroecological Research.” (Cambridge, MA: UCS, 2014).

[5] Jacqueline Loos, David J. Abson, M. Jahi Chappell, et al. “Putting Meaning Back into ‘Sustainable Intensification’.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12 (2014): 356-361.

[6] De Schutter, Report of the Special Rapporteur; High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE). Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security: A Report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. (Rome: Committee on World Food Security, 2013); Joern Fischer, David J. Abson, Van Butsic, et al. “Land Sparing Versus Land Sharing: Moving Forward.” Conservation Letters 7 (2013): 149–157.

[7] Ecological Society of America (ESA). “Elinor Ostrom 1933-2012.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 94 (2013): 17-19.

[8]  Claire Kremen and Albie F. Miles. “Ecosystem Services in Biologically Diversified Versus Conventional Farming Systems: Benefits, Externalities, and Trade-Offs.” Ecology and Society 17 (2012): 40.

[9] Adam S. Davis, Jason D. Hill, Craig A. Chase et al. “Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health.” PLoS ONE 7 (2012): e47149; Jennifer Blesh and Laurie. E. Drinkwater. “The Impact of Nitrogen Source and Crop Rotation on Nitrogen Mass Balances in the Mississippi River Basin.” Ecological Applications 23 (2013): 1017-1035; Sieglinde S. Snapp, Malcolm J. Blackie, Robert A. Gilbert, et al. “Biodiversity Can Support a Greener Revolution in Africa.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (2010): 20840-20845.

[10] Rachel Bezner-Kerr. “Gender and Agrarian Inequality at the Local Scale.” In Agricultural Systems: Agroecology and Rural Innovation for Development, edited by Sieglinde S. Snapp and Barry Pound, 281-308. (Burlington, MA: Elsevier, 2008); Andrew D. Jones, Aditya Shrinivas and Rachel Bezner-Kerr. “Farm Production Diversity Is Associated with Greater Household Dietary Diversity in Malawi: Findings from Nationally Representative Data.” Food Policy 46 (2014): 1-12.

[11] Eric Holt-Giménez. “Measuring Farmers’ Agroecological Resistance after Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua: A Case Study in Participatory, Sustainable Land Management Impact Monitoring.” Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 93 (2002): 87-105; Nadia El-Hage Scialabba and Maria Müller-Lindenlauf. “Organic Agriculture and Climate Change.” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 25 (2010): 158-169; Brenda B. Lin, M. Jahi Chappell, John Vandermeer, et al. “Effects of Industrial Agriculture on Global Warming and the Mitigation Potential of Small-Scale Agro-Ecological Farms.” CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition, and Natural Resources 6 (2011): 1-18.

[12] Jules N. Pretty, Camilla Toulmin and Stella Williams. “Sustainable Intensification in African Agriculture.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9, (2011): 5-24; Catherine Badgley, Jeremy K. Moghtader, Eileen Quintero, et al. “Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply.” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22, (2007): 86-108; Snapp et al., “Biodiversity Can Support a Greener Revolution”. Although many “before-after” case studies have been dismissed because one cannot control for what factor was “agroecology” per se (or “organic” or other related terms) as opposed to effects from confounding factors that may have changed over the same time—including farmer learning, education, etc.—these “before-after” cases are instructive in showing the possibilities with the broader dissemination of agroecological principles and practices.

[13] Chase D. Mendenhall et al. “Predicting Biodiversity Change and Averting Collapse in Agricultural Landscapes,” Nature 509, no. 7499 (May 8, 2014): 213–17, doi:10.1038/nature13139; Luke O. Frishkoff et al., “Loss of Avian Phylogenetic Diversity in Neotropical Agricultural Systems,” Science 345, no. 6202 (September 12, 2014): 1343–46, doi:10.1126/science.1254610.

[14] Liz Carlisle and Albie Miles. “Closing the Knowledge Gap: How the USDA Could Tap the Potential of Biologically Diversified Farming Systems,” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development  3 (2013):  219–225,

[15]  Jules Pretty et al. “Policy Challenges and Priorities for Internalizing the Externalities of Modern Agriculture,” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 44, no. 2 (2001): 263–83.

[16]  Thomas K. Rudel, Laura Schneider, Maria Uriarte, B. L. Turner, Ruth DeFries, Deborah Lawrence, Jacqueline Geoghegan et al. “Agricultural intensification and changes in cultivated areas, 1970–2005.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no. 49 (2009): 20675-20680

[17]  Michele Graziano Ceddia, Nicholas Oliver Bardsley, Sergio Gomez-y-Paloma, and Sabine Sedlacek. “Governance, agricultural intensification, and land sparing in tropical South America.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 20 (2014): 7242-7247; B. L. Turner and Paul Robbins. “Land-change science and political ecology: Similarities, differences, and implications for sustainability science.” Annual review of environment and resources 33 (2008): 295-316.

[18]  Ben Phalan, Rhys Green, and Andrew Balmford. “Closing yield gaps: perils and possibilities for biodiversity conservation.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 369 (2014): 20120285.

[19]  Fischer et al., “Land sparing vs. Land sharing.”

[20] Lisa C. Smith, Amani E. El Obeid, and Helen H. Jensen. “The geography and causes of food insecurity in developing countries.” Agricultural Economics 22, no. 2 (2000): 199-215; Thomas J. Bassett and Alex Winter-Nelson. The atlas of world hunger. University of Chicago Press, 2010; Raju J. Das. “The green revolution and poverty: A theoretical and empirical examination of the relation between technology and society.” Geoforum 33, no. 1 (2002): 55-72.

[21] Stephen R. Gliessman. Agroecology: the ecology of sustainable food systems. CRC Press, 2007.

[22] V. Ernesto Méndez, Christopher M. Bacon, and Roseann Cohen. “Agroecology as a transdisciplinary, participatory, and action-oriented approach.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37, no. 1 (2013): 3-18.

[23] Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright, eds. Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. (London: Verso, 2003).

[24] Julian Agyeman. Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. (New York: New York University Press, 2005).

[25] Amy R. Poteete, Marco A. Janssen, and Elinor Ostrom. Working together: collective action, the commons, and multiple methods in practice. (Princeton University Press, 2010).

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Scientists praise and challenge FAO on agroecology

Originally Posted by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell on IATP’s ThinkForward blog, September 17, 2014

Used under creative commons license from faoalc.

Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.

According to the letter, agroecology’s broad base in science and society means it is uniquely suited to address today’s challenges in food and agricultural systems. It can be considered a science, a set of practices, and a social movement for food sovereignty and justice. As a science, agroecology integrates multiple disciplines into a “trans-discipline,” drawing on fields such as ecology, agronomy, political economy and sociology. As a set of practices, it can provide multiple benefits to society and the environment, from reducing pollution from agriculture and supporting the conservation of the environment to boosting nutrition security and improving resilience in a changing climate. As a movement, it can address the vitally important issues of distributive and procedural justice in food and agriculture—that is, who gets access to what resources and how to decide. The letter points out that, according to well-established science, social movements and addressing distributive and procedural justice are just as crucial as scientific and technical innovation in sustainably implementing the right to food.

International institutions are currently using a variety of different terms, with different meanings, to identify a way forward for agriculture and food systems to address critical crises including climate change and food security. The FAO and other international institutions like the World Bank have supported other approaches which they call “climate-smart” agriculture and “sustainable” intensification. The letter criticizes these as vague terms that are subject to abuse through misleading or incomplete definitions. In contrast, agroecology is a holistic approach with a long history and an extensive body of knowledge grounded in science and in the experiences and leadership of farmers themselves.

The scholars 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 group sign-on letter to the FAO for more.

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The Growth of Wealth and the Rate of Return on Capital


Interesting analysis of Piketty.

Originally posted on Rugged Egalitarianism:

Justin Wolfers has posted some slides purporting to deal with the arguments of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Unfortunately, the discussion outlined in Wolfers’s slides suggests that while he has read some of the more prominent recent responses to Piketty –  including Lawrence Summers’s review of Piketty in Democracy: A Journal; a recent paper by Per Krussel and Tony Smith on Piketty’s second fundamental law of capitalism; and some posted comments on Piketty by Debraj Ray –  he doesn’t seem to have read much of Piketty himself. I say this because Wolfers repeats some of the same interpretive errors that appear in those other works, despite the fact that the errors are quite easy to avoid, and even obvious, to anyone who has worked directly with Piketty’s text.

I commented on some of Debraj Ray’s criticisms of Piketty in my post “Why Is r >…

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My new post at IATP’s ThinkForward: “‘Sustainable intensification’ is unsustainable”

“Sustainable intensification” is unsustainable

Posted September 3, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell    

(Photo used under creative commons license from leisaworldnet: Technicians and farmers discussing the results of sustainable intensification on a rice farm in Nepal.

In a new paper led by collaborators at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany) and just released in print in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, my colleagues and I question one of the buzzwords in international conversations about hunger and conserving the environment: sustainable intensification (SI). Explained briefly, sustainable intensification seeks to produce the most food, on the least land, with the lowest environmental impact.

SI has been the subject of a recent European Union report, proposals by  prominent scholars, and is a major theme area of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. SI is often seen by some experts as “key” to agriculture’s future, particularly in Africa, and has been the subject of a number of high-profile publications in some of the world’s top scientific journals. It is, in short, an idea on the rise.

Despite the term’s popularity among national and international aid organizations and top thinkers, it is getting more attention than it warrants, at least in its current form. Given how readily powerful groups are taking to it, there’s a serious danger that it will drain both funds and attention from the larger and altogether different reforms necessary to fight hunger and food insecurity today, and in the future.

My colleagues and I question, however: Is it a good idea, or a sufficient one, for the problems at hand? Our piece addresses two basic arguments:

  1. A focus on agricultural intensification is, by definition, a focus on production. Yet production is not even the most important factor in reducing hunger, much less the only one. So the phrase “sustainable intensification” cannot be viewed as a proper goal in itself, or continue to be treated as the most prominent “tool” in our efforts to sustainably nourish the planet. This point may be an object of some confusion, given that SI is so often mentioned in the context of growing population, food demand, and persistent current hunger. However, documents promoting SI rarely explain how it will directly fight hunger, rather than resting on the tempting-but-incorrect notion that making more food, in and of itself, will do the most to fight hunger. We plainly know that this is not the case. It will take much broader social action and multi-factor approaches to achieve sustainability and fight hunger, because neither one is simply related to how much food we can produce per acre.
  2. Extensive research in the areas of both nutrition and sustainability affirms our point that “[w]ithout specific regard for equitable distribution and individual empowerment (distributive and procedural justice)” increasing productivity cannot claim to be “sustainable”—sustainability requires addressing inter- and intra-generational justice (i.e., justice for today’s generations, and considerations for future ones) and simply “producing more with less” can actually lead people to consume more, swamping out benefits from efficiency and causing a net increase in unsustainable consumption.

In other words, if our goal is dignified and rightful access to culturally appropriate, healthy food for everyone at all times (food security) while being environmentally sustainable, we should not confuse this with undue emphasis on “sustainable intensification.”

In light of persistent misconceptions around sustainability and food production, some relevant basic facts we reference in our piece:

  • Simply producing more food does not necessarily feed more people. Consider the fact that 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted; that many of the world’s farmers lack reliable access to education, infrastructure, credit or fair markets; the fact that intensification often goes hand in hand with squeezing out the small farmers and landless rural laborers most likely to be suffering from hunger. In this light, simply producing more cannot be thought of as sustainable without looking at how that food is distributed, who it is distributed to, and who gets to make those decisions—the food sovereignty movement argues that it cannot simply be left to concentrated and corporate-dominated “free markets.”
  • In some places where “maximum yields” are not obtained for all products, almost any intensification would likely disrupt local ecosystems with no clear benefits for food security—which depends on political and economic power, not just yields, in a world with enough food for everyone already.
  • Vast amounts of land and energy are poured into feed for animals and biofuels—with the benefits going overwhelming towards large companies, not the hungry, and by and large not struggling farmers (despite the potential for biofuels to have done so).
  • The “distribution gap” is several times larger than the “nutrition gap”—that is, in many countries, it would take 2-4X as much food to address hunger if we don’t address unequal distribution as it would take to address hunger and provide nutrition if it were evenly distributed.
  • Producing “more food on less land” in no way guarantees that less land will be used for agriculture, and in some cases increases the amount of land used because as yields go up, the potential profits entice more people to enter the market and farm more land.

With upcoming meetings this fall like the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology and the Committee on World Food Security, and the nascent Global Alliance on (so-called) Climate Smart Agriculture, it is imperative that these issues be understood, and that addressing these complex problems not be simply swapped out for the far less effective idea of producing more food using less land and fewer resources.

It is true growing more food in a more sustainable manner is something that will need to be done in some places, and at some times. But whenever it’s talked about in the context of hunger, food security or feeding the future, it must come after discussion, participation and planning specifically with those who face hunger and food insecurity, be they small farmers, landless workers or urban residents. Ignoring the issues of procedural justice (who gets to make the decisions and how) and distributive justice (how and who has access to the food produced) is ignoring both the established science and the need for democratic justice that will truly bring us into a food secure and food sovereign future. Organizations and scholars embracing SI need to rethink its usefulness, and its potential to distract us from evidence-based and effective approaches based in human dignity and food sovereignty

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Why Does the U.S. Test More Often and Earlier than Any High-Performing Nation?


And now for something completely different.

Education blogging from Diane Ravitch. Interesting and wanted to pass it on.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Education policymakers in the U.S. seem to think that more tests will produce higher achievement, but there is no evidence for this assumption. As this article from the Center on International Education Benchmarking shows, the U.S. tests more frequently than any of the world’s high-performing nations.

Jackie Kraemer writes:

“Unlike the top-performing countries on the 2012 PISA, the United States stands out for the amount of external testing it requires for all students. As the chart below shows, the United States is the only country among this set to require annual testing in primary and middle schools in reading and mathematics. A more typical pattern among the top-performers is a required gateway exam, or an exam that allows a student to move on to the next phase of education, at the end of primary school, the end of lower secondary school and the end of upper secondary school. This…

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Paper recommendation: Changing the intellectual climate

Originally posted on Ideas for Sustainability:

The following paper may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Changing the intellectual climate by Castree N, Adams W, Barry J, Brockington D, Büscher B, Corbera E, Demeritt D, Duffy R, Felt U, Neves K, Newell P, Pellizzoni L,Rigby K, Robbins P, Robin L, Rose D, Ross A, Schlosberg D, Sörlin S, West P, Whitehead M, Wynne B. Nat Clim Chang ; 4(9):763-768, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2339 nclimate2339

 This is an extremely important paper that all global change, sustainability and conservation scientists should read. It highlights a very important point: that the type of research on “human dimensions” of global change represented by much existing work is too narrow.

The authors argue that critically important questions about fundamental questions of value, responsibility, rights, entitlements, needs, duty, faith, care…

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