Natural Capital Day

a new nature blog

IMG_0421 can natural capitalism help reduce flooding? (c) Miles King

Monday was Natural Capital day at the Green Alliance. They produced a report called Natural Partners, in which they sought to explain that Natural Capitalists and Nature Conservationists could get along fine, instead of bickering. On the same day, they held a Natural Capital debate in London, which I went along to. There was a very good turnout.

I read the report on the train to London. At first I was not sure about it; was it entirely sensible to frame the debate as either traditional nature conservation, or natural capital? Other options are available – for example a broader environmental stance, or indeed the new kid on the block – rewilding.

A deeper problem for me was that the report failed to mention the vital importance of education and raising awareness. Education and raising awareness drives societal change at…

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From counting carbon to commodifying nature: the per-analytical ties that bind

Ideas for Sustainability

Recently I read an article in the Guardian with the headline “The solution for the melting polar ice caps may be hiding in the rainforest”. It was written by Dr Paul Salaman, the CEO of Rainforest Trust. The article was, at least tangentially, about a recent paper by Houghton et al. in Nature Climate Change about the carbon stored in the tropical forests (which can be found here). The Houghton et al. paper is purely a biophysical assessment of net primary productivity in rainforests. Dr Salaman used that scientific paper as a starting point to argue:

“Rainforest conservation is also incredibly economical. One acre of Amazon rainforest in Peru, which stores up to 180 metric tonnes of CO2, can be protected for just a few dollars; the same is true elsewhere in Latin America and Africa. The implications here are astounding and should give us pause: for…

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Looking back from Paris to Senegal: What the FAO Regional Agroecology Meeting had to say on Climate-Smart Agriculture

Used under creative commons license from wdm:


Cross-posted from IATP, December 22, 2015

With the recent conclusion of climate talks in Paris (see Ben Lilliston’s coverage here, here, here, and here), which included strong pushes for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) by a variety of government, NGO and corporate actors, it’s worth returning to the recent conversations about agriculture at the FAO’s second Regional Agroecology Meeting. This meeting, which I attended in Dakar, Senegal from November 4-6 of this year, once again united scientists, civil society and members of government to discuss agroecology and its potential to improve small-scale food producers’ lives, support their extensive existing knowledge and improve environmental impacts from the agrifood system, from climate change to biodiversity.

One clear message voiced by civil society (which included groups representing pastoralists, fisherfolk and smallholder farmers from throughout the continent of Africa) was a desire to keep climate-smart agriculture distinct from agroecology. There has been interest from various actors in comparing or even combining agroecology—proposing to take “the best of both.” As we have written at IATP, we are skeptical of such an approach, not least because its “clever ambiguity” opens the door for practically anything to be called climate-smart. During conversations and consultation in Dakar, it seemed clear that, by and large, the civil society participants did not see what value “climate-smart” was bringing to the conversation or their efforts. They saw it as unambiguously different than what many of them were practicing in terms of agroecology, a term that spoke to many of their groups and their traditions. The concepts of agroecology also align with the efforts of Africa-wide organizations such as the Alliance for Food Security in Africa, which launched a series of agroecology case studies at the meeting, and intercontinental organizations such as La Vía Campesina, the smallholder family farmers’ movement which is currently headquartered in Zimbabwe and led by General Coordinator Elizabeth Mpofu. It was interesting seeing so many stakeholders expressing the fact that agroecology, along with food sovereignty, had already been identified as the path they see to a better, more sustainable future for both food producers and the climate. The message was clear that, whatever others’ interest was in climate-smart agriculture, what most of the farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk (and no small amount of the scientists and government representatives) there wanted to focus on was support for agroecology. In fact, several participants pointed out an international convening in Nyéléni, Mali earlier this year had already brought together “small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples, communities, hunters and gatherers, family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people” to affirm the importance and centrality of agroecology.

The fact that these voices from small-scale food producers in Africa already reflect the positions of many of IATP’s allies on climate-smart as a “false solution” seems all the more reason to believe that we are on the right track with our critiques of climate-smart agriculture. Indeed, one participant (and proponent of CSA) at the FAO Regional Meeting did say, “Well, perhaps climate-smart agriculture is more of a slogan, but you know, slogans are important to politicians.” I think this may in fact be the case, and the root of the discomfort many of us feel about climate-smart agriculture. Frankly, I feel this old saw encapsulates CSA pretty spot-on: “What’s good is not new, and what is new is not good.” CSA does not, that I can see, add anything of substance to the science, practices and movement of agroecology. What it does add appears to be buy-in from some governments, NGOs and corporations. But what is this supposed “buy-in” worth when there are no firm commitments to what counts as CSA and what doesn’t, and no firm commitments to provide new funds to support good, participatory research and implementation? And even if there were such funds, what reason is there that they should be classified for “climate-smart” rather than for agroecology? One of those two terms has been around for 85 years and is based on a combination of modern science and thousands of years of farmer knowledge (hint: it’s agroecology). The other is based on a catchy phrase that entered the international lexicon five years ago or so, based on political jockeying. Now, I understand as well as the next guy that compromise is a necessary part of every effort, but the politics of this situation seem to simply be that some powerful players like the term CSA, but don’t know what it means, exactly; don’t know what new ideas it brings; don’t necessarily have new funding committed for it; and don’t have a distinct reason for using it instead of agroecology (except maybe it doesn’t ‘scare’ some people like agroecology does.) This may be the stubborn scientist in me coming out, but accepting a new term that involves so many “I don’t knows,” no additional resources and makes some powerful people less nervous does not seem a reasonable way to go.

An (unfunny) thing happened on the way from the FAO Agroecology Forum

It is worth noting a couple of other significant points from the meeting in Dakar. One is the interest by many groups in the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI). OSSI (which IATP has helped develop) seeks to keep the world’s heritage embodied in seeds and other germplasm[i] open for all to use, in perpetuity, rather than keeping it locked up behind intrusive and exploitative intellectual property regimes.[ii] Many African farmers fear, with good reason, that their traditional and indigenous seeds and varieties might be used to develop patented or otherwise restricted varieties by companies like Monsanto; or, that such traditions and heritage might otherwise be lost. This would be a grave shame as not only is the world’s plant and animal genetic diversity important for its own sake, our present and our future, but also because many traditional varieties have much to offer us[iii]

A case in point comes from the representatives of the Malawian Farmer-to-Farmer Project ( Nutritionist Dr. Mangani Chilala Katundu, along with farmers Anita Chtiaya, Alice Gubudu and Edwin Nyati Kasamba, attended the meeting in Dakar (representing this incredible project) told me that they were worried that international corporations or government pressure might lead the loss or co-optation of a local landrace of orange maize. This landrace, they told me, actually provided as much or more Vitamin A as attempts at “biofortified” varieties. It turns out, in fact, that this was recently confirmed in a study (co-authored by Dr. Katundu) published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry. I told them about OSSI, which ended up interesting a variety of farmers in Dakar; although, so far, OSSI does not have a branch or chapter in Africa. Additionally, the main power OSSI has brought so far is the ability to name and shame any companies or people who might try to take advantage of OSSI-pledged materials by locking them away behind patents. Nevertheless, despite the fact that OSSI does not create a legal barrier to taking traditional varieties out of the realm of the common good, Monsanto scientists have already made the Orwellian argument that keeping plant materials in the realm of the public domain may be “one of the most restrictive forms of access” of all.[iv] Because as a result, no company or individual could then demand everyone who ever uses a seed to pay them—the fact that seed sharing and diversification have happened for thousands of years before patenting apparently does not count.

To many of the farmer groups who attended the Dakar meeting with me, this idea—that protecting open accessibility of their common heritage to all is in fact more restrictive than a regime where farmers have to pay for their seeds each year, even if their ancestors helped breed those seeds—would have been funny, were the perverse corporate logic not so tragic.

[i] Germplasm is “the living genetic resources such as seeds or tissue that is maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation, and other research uses.”

[ii] “Today, only a handful of companies account for most of the world’s commercial breeding and seed sales. Increasingly, patenting is used to enhance the power and control of these companies over the seeds and the farmers that feed the world. Patented seeds cannot be saved, replanted or shared by farmers and gardeners. And because there is no research exemption for patented material, plant breeders at universities and small seed companies cannot use patented seed to create the new crop varieties that should be the foundation of a just and sustainable agriculture. Inspired by the free and open source software movement that has provided alternatives to proprietary software, OSSI was created to free the seed—to make sure that the genes in at least some seed can never be locked away from use by intellectual property rights. Through our Pledge, OSSI asks breeders and stewards of crop varieties to pledge to make their seeds available without restrictions on use, and to ask recipients of those seeds to make the same commitment. OSSI is working to create a pool of open source varieties, to connect farmers and gardeners to suppliers of open source seed, and to inform and educate citizens about seed issues.” (From

[iii] Altieri, Miguel Angel, Laura C. Merrick, and M. K. Anderson. “Peasant Agriculture and the Conservation of Crop and Wild Plant Resources.” Conservation Biology1 (1987): 49-58; Chappell, Michael Jahi, Hannah K. Wittman, Christopher M. Bacon et al. “Food Sovereignty for Poverty Reduction and Biodiversity Conservation in Latin America [V1; Ref Status: Indexed, http://F1000r.Es/23s].” F1000Research 2, no. 235 (2013); Pautasso, Marco, Guntra Aistara, Adeline Barnaud et al. “Seed Exchange Networks for Agrobiodiversity Conservation. A Review.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development (2012): 1-25.

[iv] See The (access-restricted) article referred to is Butruille, David V., Fufa H. Birru, Marv L. Boerboom et al. “Maize Breeding in the United States: Views from within Monsanto.” In Plant Breeding Reviews: Volume 39, edited by Jules Janick, 199-282: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

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NEW PAPER: Participatory scenario planning in place-based social-ecological research: insights and experiences from 23 case studies

Ideas for Sustainability


It is more than a year ago that we had announced the publication of the results of our scenario planning in Southern Transylvania on this blog. By the time, it was the first article that went online for a special issue featuring the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) in the journal Ecology and Society. Last week and still in the very same special issue, another paper went online to which we have contributed with our work in Transylvania. This new paper was led by Elisa Oteros-Rozas  and summarizes the methods and experiences from 23 different participatory scenario planning exercises from different parts of the world (see map).

Map of the location of the 23 scenario planning case studies. Underlying are the world's biomes after Olson et al. (2001, Bioscience 51: 933-938) Map of the location of the 23 scenario planning case studies. Underlying are the world’s biomes after Olson et al. (2001, Bioscience 51: 933-938)

In short, the paper gives an overview of how diverse participatory scenario planning…

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Economists don’t understand the financial system

More old but good stuff


Cross posted from Naked Capitalism.

A bit more than a week ago I went to a panel discussion at the Met about the global financial crisis. The panel consisted of Paul Krugman, Edmund Phelps, Jeffrey Sachs, and George Soros. They were each given 15 minutes to talk about what they thought about the Eurocrisis, especially Greece, the U.S., and whatever else they felt like.

It was well worth the $25 admission fee, but maybe not for the reason I would have thought when I went. I ended up deciding something I’ve suspected before. Namely, economists don’t understand the financial system, and moreover they don’t get that they don’t get it. Let me explain my reasoning.

The panelists all are pretty left-leaning guys, and each of them basically talked about how the U.S. government should stimulate the economy in one way or another. Krugman kept saying that hey, this isn’t too…

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Guest Post SuperReview Part III of VI: The Occupy Handbook Part I and a little Part II: Where We Are Now

Oldie/ goodie



Moving on from Lewis’ cute Bloomberg column reprint, we come to the next essay in the series:

The Widening Gyre: Inequality, Polarization, and the Crisis by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

Indefatigable pair Paul Krugman and Robin Wells (KW hereafter) contribute one of the several original essays in the book, but the content ought to be familiar if you read the New York Times, know something about economics or practice finance. Paul Krugman is prolific, and it isn’t hard to be prolific when you have to rewrite essentially the same column every week; question, are there other columnists who have been so consistently right yet have failed to propose anything that the polity would adopt? Political failure notwithstanding, Krugman leaves gems in every paragraph for the reader new to all this. The title “The Widening Gyre” comes from an apocalyptic William Yeats Butler poem. In this case…

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New paper: synthesis of biodiversity drivers in Central Romania

More excellent and exciting , truly socioecological work from Joern Fischer’s group in Germany!

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

There is only a handful of publications still in the pipeline for our project on sustainable development in Central Romania — timely indeed, since funding finishes at the end of 2015! Today I’d like to briefly highlight a new paper that takes a first stab at synthesising what we’ve learnt in five years of research. This paper just came out in the new journal Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, which is published by the Ecological Society of America together with the Ecological Society of China. The paper is led by Ine Dorresteijn, and synthesises drivers of biodiversity.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.24.24.png

What causes Transylvania’s exceptional biodiversity? We came up with seven underlying drivers or processes. While these are specific to Transylvania, it seems likely that there are parallels to other traditional farming landscapes elsewhere.

1. Similar proportions of three main land-use types support a rich regional species pool. It is relatively well-known…

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X-post from IATP: Contribution to Africa Regional Meeting on Agroecology

Originally published November 17, 2015 at IATP’s ThinkForward Blog:

Used under creative commons from cidse:

MINNEAPOLIS, NOVEMBER 17, 2015 — Agroecology has been growing on national and international agendas, ranging from the 2012 decree on agroecology of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, to the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology, to the 2014 International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition held by the FAO and subsequent regional meetings. This growing prominence reflects the important roles of both science and civil society in addressing the challenges facing us and that extend across borders—challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation and continued hunger and poverty. Agroecology is unique in its increasing incorporation of science, practices and movements, bringing together three vital parts of social and environmental change for the better.


As a science, agroecology draws together the disciplines of agronomy, horticulture and ecology, along with social sciences such as economics and sociology. The term dates back to at least 1928, around 50 years after the term “ecology” itself was coined. It can be thought of as the application of ecological science to inform agricultural practice, along with the use of social sciences to understand the dynamics that have led to current sets of agricultural practice; the evolution and context of functional traditional knowledge and practices; and the socioeconomic and political dynamics of producers’ efforts, livelihoods and contributions. The practice element of agroecology translates ecological knowledge into agricultural practice, as well as observing and learning the costs and benefits of current practices. Finally, agroecology as a movement is important because a system of agriculture which takes into account larger environmental costs and threats like climate change will require the re-organization of a number of social institutions. Social movements and civil society are undeniably an important element of such a re-organization, and hence can be said to be part of agroecology. Further, social movements offer a logical point of articulation for agroecology’s focus on acknowledging and supporting farmers’ leadership, knowledge and local contexts. Lastly, as a practical note, movements can be thought of as a vital part of agroecology given that effective articulations between farmers and scientists will require politics of inclusion and community empowerment.1

Discussion Points

There is strong support in the relevant literature for the most important factors in supporting food security, good farmer livelihoods, productivity and effective environmental management (e.g. for climate change mitigation and adaptation). Although no factor can guarantee success, the factors at the center of each of our key points are associated with higher probabilities of success. Further, these factors are either part of existing agroecology discourse or are compatible with it, especially if agroecology is paired with the concept of food sovereignty, the rights and resources for each community to determine its own food system.

Key point 1: To reduce hunger, fight climate change and increase sustainability, empirical research emphasizes the key importance of community well-being and public goods.

Agroecology supports, and in turn is supported by, these factors.

A significant part of the current conversations around food security and climate change has focused on production and productivity to meet present and future needs. While this can make important contributions to solving these problems, more and more scholars and community members are observing that it is not sufficient. As one recent peer-reviewed paper states, “there are a series of filters that determine the extent to which intensification is sustainable and contributes to greater food security… unless it meets the demands of both distributive and procedural justice, increased food production cannot be described as sustainable”.2

To this point, an important observation is the sizeable impact public goods make on improving food security and health measures (and these in turn support social capacity for mitigation and adaptation).3 To quote a recent, broad-based and very thorough expert analysis:

For Sub-Saharan Africa […] empirical results point to access to sanitation, women’s education, and gender equality as key priority areas… [N]ational food availability does not feature near the top of the priorities for accelerating undernutrition reductions in either South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. This does not reduce the importance of maintaining adequate food supplies, including food production, but simply acknowledges that the scope for it to reduce stunting prevalences is lower than that of the priority underlying determinants we have identified.4

While their results merit careful consideration and there is room for discussion around priority measures, the observation that public goods are strong—and perhaps the strongest—levers for increasing food security is a powerful and important insight.

Further, improvements in each of these priority areas would also be likely to increase the community-level autonomy, capacity,and sovereignty, as well as improve agricultural productivity. Pertinent to this meeting, each of these priority areas can also gain from,and contribute to successful agroecological initiatives. One key challenge will be the possibility, mentioned above, that addressing some priority areas—for example, increasing productivity—will not be effective unless other priority areas are addressed simultaneously.5 This may add additional challenges and complexity to creating successful interventions.

Overlap with agroecology

The methods of agroecology require a combination of farmer leadership and knowledge with modern ecological science, meaning that support for education and two-way communication between farming communities and supporting governments and NGOs has been repeatedly seen as a key element of successful agroecological projects. In turn, certain agroecological approaches can provide numerous benefits to communities through conservation and maintenance of ecosystem functions, many of which are under-valued and/or non-market functions.6 According to one recent review, examples of functions provided by more diverse agricultural systems7 include greater carbon sequestration; greater retention of nutrients; and a greater ability to resist and recover from various forms of stress, including herbivorous pests, diseases, droughts and floods.

It will likely be important to consider and discuss which agroecological approaches may best provide different benefits, such as the potential to mitigate climate change8 and increase resilience.9 This should be considered alongside participatory evaluation of which practices are the most accessible or locally suitable according to community desires, preferences and near-term capacity. Towards this end, we would note that: (a) particularly in agroecological systems, best practices raise productivity significantly10 (which reinforces the potential and importance of participatory research and education); and that (b) rural education, particularly when it increases access and achievement by women, usually both reduces malnutrition11 and increases productivity.12

Re-emphasizing Gender

Agroecology has a strong and growing focus on women’s rights and gender equality,13 a focus that is being continually strengthened by the concept and commitments of food sovereignty14 and the related agroecology and food sovereignty movement.15 Issues of gender are naturally complex and locally-specific, and may need different approaches even within the same small community. Therefore, addressing gender is not well-suited to the use of automatic processes and is likely best served by adaptive, specific, locally-suited and participatory approaches.16 Also, although there are many probable benefits to women, men, children and agriculture when gender inequality is dealt with in an effective manner,17 careful consideration and deliberation is important so that an emphasis on fulfilling women’s potential does not lose sight of their rights or place additional disproportionate burdens on them to support and improve community development:

While recognizing the power of women to lift their families and communities out of poverty, women are not simply instruments for hunger reduction. Women must be empowered and recognized as equal partnersvalued for their contributions and knowledgenot because they deliver results but because they are equal with men.18

Key point 2: Evidence implies that improving and maintaining food sovereignty, autonomy and political agency are important levers to support improvements in food security, resilience and sustainability.

Collaborative political empowerment and mutual accountability between communities and regional and national governments are necessary to achieve the potential of agroecology.

A common but often under-emphasized observation is that food insecurity and agrifood system unsustainability represent market failures. In fact, the presence of food security is a public good that will not be provided in sufficient amounts by markets without government intervention and contemporary agrifood systems generate numerous negative externalities such that “business efficiency is not the same as social efficiency.”19 In other words, it is likely that food security will be under-provided by free markets, and negative externalities will exact costs on society that are not reflected in prices and therefore will not be efficiently or effectively managed without public intervention designed by and with local communities and governments. (It practically goes without saying, but decades of research in environmental justice and political ecology have shown as well that unsustainability and food insecurity are likely to be exacerbated by inequality—marginalized and poorer communities will receive even less public goods and suffer from more “negative externalities” than is proportionate or just.)

There are many proposals on how to best deal with the problems embodied by these externalities and inequalities. One very strong vein of research and practice towards this end has focused on empowerment and collaboration with local communities: decentralization along with a significant degree of devolution of resources and decision-making authority. Economics Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom used both theory and field research to validate the proposition that greater autonomy for local communities improves the likelihood that they will create and maintain governance institutions that can sustainably govern scarce resources over prolonged periods.20 Numerous political scientists have similarly written on the importance, track record and potential of strong, well-supported and empowering local governance,21 polycentricity and subsidiarity (strong local governance backed by governance structures at other scales).22 Beyond the cases presented by these researchers, others have made similar observations specifically in regards to decentralization and local empowerment in successful agricultural extension,23 nutrition,24 and conservation of forests.25

In fact, a common roadblock seen in successful implementation of agroecology projects is very much in line with one of the observed challenges to better conservation outcomes in community forestry: insufficient support and empowerment of local communities and too much privilege and control afforded to “expert” voices.26 And of course, focused empowerment and involvement of women and girls has been shown to improve multiple outcomes in terms of improving individual and community well-being, both ecologically27 and socially.28

A key element of successful projects seen across these works is the effective efforts towards truly open and transparent participation by local populations29—which, when the local population is a historically marginalized one, is likely to require substantial public investment and collaboratively-tailored support, particularly from regional and national governments, in order to create and maintain the capacity to participate in the first place.30 Although support from other actors (such as donors and international NGOs) can lend additional help, accountability has been empirically observed to be important as a feedback mechanism and way to increase the likelihood of success, underlining the importance of responsive and adaptive governmental support. In particular, an important observation for consideration is that of Karnani (2010), who argues that “Corporate Social Responsibility” is conceptually and empirically ill-suited for providing public goods and cannot replace government action. This should be a careful part of the evaluation of the possible impact and viability, for example, of Private-Public Partnerships (PPP), which may have limited potential to improve food security, production and sustainability for marginalized communities.

It is worth noting that in addition to the empirical research cited previously, and theory-building by Ostrom and others, Farrell and Shalizi31 have recently synthesized research across economics, psychology, political science and network theory to propose that problem-solving is greatly aided by (among other items) a higher degree of substantive equality among actors and the ability of dissenting minority voices to be heard and for their points to be given serious consideration. While providing the space for this in the context of the significant levels of inequality experienced by marginalized communities is a difficult challenge, deeply participatory models have shown promise and a number of cases of success,32 including in Africa.33

Food sovereignty

Given the above points, food sovereignty is an important framework to consider in the design and implementation of interventions to improve food security, resilience and sustainability. The concept of food sovereignty can be thought of, on the one hand, as an expression of the human right to self-determination and additionally, on a more functional level, to be an empirically-backed concept that may improve the realization of the right to food alongside sustainability objectives. That is, the elements of participation, autonomy and empowerment at the level of local communities are strong enabling factors and align with the normative principles and movement elements of agroecology, which has often been closely identified with food sovereignty.34 Food sovereignty in fact includes priorities of local-scale empowerment and collaboration and originated 20 years ago in part to address the need for rights-, equity-, and policy-based approaches to food production and consumption. Akram-Lodhi has described its basic pillars as: (1.) a focus on food for people; (2.) the valuing of food providers; (3.) localization of food systems; (4.) the [broad-based] building of skills; and (5.) working with nature [ecosystems and ecological knowledge].35 Thus, although many challenges and questions remain, it can be said that the theoretical and empirical evidence for the importance and potential of food sovereignty is large, growing and strong.36

Key point 3: From healthy, empowered people to healthy, rich soils.

Though connections between sociocultural factors and empowerment, on the one hand, and soil health and climate change mitigation on the other, can be difficult to understand, they are increasingly well-documented.

The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) project in Ekwendeni, northern Malawi works with over 4000 farmers in a participatory project where farmers use agroecological methods in a deeply collaborative process to improve soil fertility, food security and nutrition.37 This collaboration between researchers and the farmer-led Farmer Research Teams (whose members are voted in, and which is composed of over 50 percent women)38 has led to improvements in child nutrition,39 increased crop and dietary diversity,40 more stable yields with reductions in the need for synthetic fertilizer, increased profitability and a trend towards greater soil organic carbon and fertility.41 Three researchers involved in the project described the project as “focused on dialogue and problem-solving and [drawing] on local concepts of traditional leadership and knowledge to foster change… [with] attention to particular inequalities such as those experienced by youth or people infected with HIV/AIDS.”42The SFHC’s use of an Ecohealth conceptual framework43 reinforces the important connections between social, ecological and nutritional factors. Further, communities who are empowered with the rights and resources to govern their local environment are more likely to manage it sustainably44 (as discussed previously), and participatory analyses and approaches appear to practically be a prerequisite to successful agroecological interventions for small-scale farmers.45 Correspondingly, healthy soil in well-managed diversified agroecosystems will be better suited to support empowered communities able to exercise autonomy and engage in deliberative decision-making and knowledge co-creation.

Based on the above key points, we have the following recommendations.

RECOMMENDATION 1. Interventions to improve food security, productivity and sustainability should recognize the importance of communities’ basic rights, including food sovereignty, and thus must truly and directly involve them in participatory decision-making on the types of and approaches to appropriate interventions.

RECOMMENDATION 2. Correspondingly, interventions to improve food security, productivity and sustainability will often require the improvement and maintainencebasic public goods (especially clean water, sanitation, and education) in the context of participatory processes with local communities.

  • Specific case: Recognize that knowledge and innovation are public goods, and thus intellectual property must be handled in careful, locally-tailored ways that recognize and support the existence and sharing of traditional knowledge. Recognize that contemporary and mainstream “one size fits all” approaches may in fact do more harm than good.46

RECOMMENDATION 3. Fostering social equality—particularly, but not exclusively, along the lines of gender—is a vital element to properly implementing agroecological approaches and will powerfully support the effectiveness of any effort. But, as with all other elements, this must be done with collaboration and methods appropriate to the local context.

RECOMMENDATION 4. Experts specifically (e.g., policymakers, administrators and researchers) will need to use approaches that increase the effective voices of communities and support increased equality between and among actors in order to achieve the best results. These approaches should be based on established and innovative participatory methodologies that can be found throughout peer-reviewed literature and “gray literature” reports.

RECOMMENDATION 5. Private-Public Partnerships (and related approaches) should be evaluated very carefully, given that provision of public goods is by definition an area where government action cannot be replaced and will not be sufficiently provided by private interests. This type of approach may not be well-suited to appropriate interventions for food security and sustainability, where significant (positive and negative) externalities are likely to be present and of significant size.

RECOMMENDATION 6. A socio-ecological approach must be taken, involving local community members as well as social and natural scientists (keeping the previous point in mind), in order to best implement agroecological practices to improve food security, sustainability and resilience.

RECOMMENDATION 7. Use direct deliberation between experts/government officials and community members in order to generate mutual accountability. That is, those giving resource support for the intervention need to respect the deliberation of the community and support modes based on procedural justice. In turn, effective and empowering community participation is more likely to generate mutual accountability between supporters and community members.

RECOMMENDATION 8. Successfully implementing agroecology and food sovereignty-focused approaches are highly likely to require removing existing policy barriers and implementing appropriate policy supports—for example, improving the accounting and internalization of negative externalities and improving the knowledge of and support for positive externalities. Further, multiple avenues to improved social well-being should be considered, including consideration of the variety of markets agricultural producers may produce for, including local and regional markets, as well as effective increases in income through increased self-provisioning. The diversity of production and markets that can support improvements in food security, resilience and sustainability is not necessarily well-served by a prioritization of international markets or commodity crops.


1. References for many of these points are cited in the next section.

2. Loos, J., Abson, D. J., Chappell, M. J., et al. (2014). Putting meaning back into “sustainable intensification”. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12(6), 356-361.

3. Ribot, J. (2014). Cause and response: vulnerability and climate in the Anthropocene. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(5), 667-705

4. Smith, L. C., & Haddad, L. (2015). Reducing Child Undernutrition: Past Drivers and Priorities for the Post-MDG Era. World Development, 68(0), 180-204.

5. Loos et al. (2014).

6. Sandhu, H., Wratten, S., Costanza et al. (2015). Significance and value of non-traded ecosystem services on farmland. PeerJ, e762.

7. Increased diversity is one of the key elements of many agroecological approaches—examples can be seen in Liebman, M., & Schulte, L. A. (2015). Enhancing agroecosystem performance and resilience through increased diversification of landscapes and cropping systems. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 3, 000041; Snapp, S. S., Blackie, M. J., Gilbert et al. (2010). Biodiversity can support a greener revolution in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(48), 20840-20845; and Kremen, C., & Miles, A. F. (2012). Ecosystem Services in Biologically Diversified versus Conventional Farming Systems: Benefits, Externalities, and Trade-Offs. Ecology and Society, 17(4), 40.

8. Skinner, C., Gattinger, A., Muller et al. (2014). Greenhouse gas fluxes from agricultural soils under organic and non-organic management — A global meta-analysis. Science of The Total Environment, 468–469, 553-563; Kremen and Miles (2012).

9. Snapp et al. (2011); Altieri, M. A., & Nicholls, C. I. (2013). The adaptation and mitigation potential of traditional agriculture in a changing climate. Climatic Change, 1-13.

10. Ponisio, L. C., Gonigle, L. K., Mace, K. C. et al. (2014). Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 282(1799).

11. Smith and Haddad (2015).

12. Ghosh, J. (2010 ). Poverty reduction in China and India: Policy implications of recent trends? DESA Working Paper No. 92. New York: United Nations; Agarwal, B. (2015). Food Security, Productivity, and Gender Inequality. In R. J. Herring (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Food, Politics, and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

13. Fitzpatrick, I. (2015). From the roots up: How agroecology can feed Africa. London: Global Justice Now.

14. Chappell, M. J. (2013). Global Movements for Food Justice. In R. J. Herring (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Food, Politics, and Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

15. Desmarais, A. A. (2007). La Vía Campesina: Globalization and the power of peasants. London: Pluto Press; La Via Campesina. (2015). Annual Report 2014 of La Via Campesina, The International Peasants’ Movement. Harare: La Via Campesina.

16. E.g., Bezner-Kerr, R. (2008). Gender and agrarian inequality at the local scale. In S. S. Snapp & B. Pound (Eds.), Agricultural systems: Agroecology and rural innovation for development (pp. 281-308). Burlington: Elsevier.

17. Rawe, T., Deering, K., Echols, W. et al. (2015). Culltivating equality: Delivering just and sustainable food systems in a changing climate. Atlanta: CARE.

18. Rawe et al. (2015).

19. See for example, the 2007 paper by nutrition economist and member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems Cecilia Rocha: Food insecurity as market failure: a contribution from economics. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 1(4), 5-22.

20. Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York: Cambridge University Press; Poteete, A. R., Janssen, M. A., & Ostrom, E. (2010). Working together: collective action, the commons, and multiple methods in practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

21. Fung, A., & Wright, E. O. (Eds.). (2003). Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. London: Verso; Herbick, M., & Isham, J. (2010). The promise of deliberative democracy. Solutions, 1(5), 25-27; Prugh, T., Costanza, R., & Daly, H. E. (2000). The local politics of global sustainability. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

22. Ostrom, E. (2010). Beyond markets and states: polycentric governance of complex economic systems. American Economic Review, 100(3), 641

23. Harwood, J. (2013). Has the Green Revolution been a Cumulative Learning Process? Third World Quarterly, 34(3), 397-404.

24. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2013). Key recommendations for improving nutrition through agriculture and food systems. Rome: FAO.

25. Porter-Bolland, L., Ellis, E. A., Guariguata, M. R. et al. (2012). Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics. Forest Ecology And Management, 268, 6-17; Lund, J. F., Burgess, N. D., Chamshama, S. A. O. et al. (2015). Mixed method approaches to evaluate conservation impact: evidence from decentralized forest management in Tanzania. Environmental Conservation, 42(02), 162-170.

26. Scheba, A., & Mustalahti, I. (In press). Rethinking ‘expert’ knowledge in community forest management in Tanzania. Forest Policy and Economics.

27. Agarwal, B. (2009). Gender and forest conservation: The impact of women’s participation in community forest governance. Ecological Economics, 68(11), 2785-2799.

28. Smith and Haddad (2015).

29. Ostrom (1990); Poteete et al. (2010); Borras, S. M. (2007). Pro-poor land reform: a critique. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

30. Ribot (2014).

31. Farrell, H., & Shalizi, C. R. (2015). Pursuing Cognitive Democracy. In D. Allen & J. Light (Eds.), From Voice to Influence: Understanding citizenship in a digital age. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

32. Carlson, J., & Chappell, M. J. (2015). Deepening food democracy. Minneapolis: Institute for Agriculture and trade Policy; Fung and Wright (2003).

33. Bezner Kerr, R., Shumba, L., Dakishoni, L. et al. (2013). Participatory, Agroecological and Gender-Sensitive Approaches to Improved Nutrition: A Case Study in Malawi. Paper presented at the Expert Meeting on Nutrition-Sensitive Food and Agriculture Systems; Pimbert, M. P., Barry, B., Berson, A., & Tran-Thanh, K. (2010). Democratising agricultural research for food sovereignty in West Africa. Bamako and London: IIED; Hendrickson, M. K., Gilles, J., Schneeberger, K. et al. (2013). Can GM maize benefit smallholders and increase food security? Lessons from the field in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Paper presented at the Rural Sociological Society Annual Meeting 2013, New York, NY; Rawe et al. (2015).

34. Chappell (2013); Chappell, M. J., Wittman, H. K., Bacon, C. M. et al. (2013). Food sovereignty for poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation in Latin America [v1; ref status: indexed,]. F1000Research, 2(235).

35. Akram-Lodhi, A. H. (2015). Accelerating towards food sovereignty. Third World Quarterly, 36(3), 563-583.

36. See previous references, e.g. Chappell (2013), and Chappell et al. (2013) for a Latin America-focused analysis.



39. Significant improvements were seen in weight-for-age scores, with larger improvements where communities had been intensely involved in the project or had been been involved in the project longer: Bezner Kerr, R., Berti, P. R., & Shumba, L. (2011). Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public Health Nutrition, 14(08), 1466-1472.

40. Gender, wealth, and control of decision-making all influenced dietary diversity; farm production diversity contributed to dietary diversity, which itself is one of the strongest influences on overall food security. Jones, A. D., Shrinivas, A., & Bezner-Kerr, R. (2014). Farm production diversity is associated with greater household dietary diversity in Malawi: Findings from nationally representative data. Food Policy, 46, 1-12; Smith and Haddad (2015).

41. Snapp et al. (2011).

42. Bezner-Kerr, R., Lupafya, E., & Shumba, L. (2013). Food Sovereignty, Gender and Nutrition: Perspectives from Malawi: Conference Paper #68. Paper presented at the Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue, Yale University, New Haven, CT.


44. A further example of these principles can be seen in the case of Australian farmers: Marshall, G. R. (2009). Polycentricity, reciprocity, and farmer adoption of conservation practices under community-based governance. Ecological Economics, 68(5), 1507-1520.

45. Pretty, J. N., Toulmin, C., & Williams, S. (2011). Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9, 5-24.

46. Scheba & Mustalahti (In press); Stiglitz, J. E. (2014). Intellectual property rights, the pool of knowledge, and innovation. Cambridge, MA: NBER.

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We need your help: survey on food security and biodiversity conservation

Great project by the Leuphana group on biodiversity and food security. Contribute to the survey if you can!

Ideas for Sustainability

We are currently working on the development of a global theory that explains which characteristics of social-ecological systems benefit both biodiversity conservation and food security. Among other project components, we have designed a questionnaire that asks experts to share their insights on a specific landscape that they understand well. We need as many qualified people as possible to fill out this questionnaire – so please complete it and share this blog post widely within relevant networks!

What makes a landscape biologically diverse and its people food secure? We want to answer this question by collecting social-ecological characteristics of farming landscapes through this questionnaire (Photo by Neil Collier on Flores/Indonesia). What makes a landscape biologically diverse and its people food secure? We want to answer this question by collecting social-ecological characteristics of farming landscapes through this questionnaire (Photo by Neil Collier on Flores/Indonesia).

What is covered by the questionnaire?

The questionnaire consists of four main sections. All of them require the person completing it to think of one specific focal landscape that they are familiar with. The first section asks for a short characterisation…

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The UN’s most inclusive body at a crossroads

Food Governance

By Matheus Alves Zanella and Jessica Duncan

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The world food price crisis of 2007/08 shook global food governance. Pressured to find solutions for unexpected prices increase of several food products, many initiatives were launched at the global level.  One of those was the reform of the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), who transformed itself from “the most boring UN body of all” – in the words of an experienced diplomat based in Rome – to the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for food security, with substantive participation of different actors including member states, civil society and private sector.

That was 2009 and there was a general sense of urgency in addressing claims that over 1 billion people were going hungry worldwide. The reformed CFS was well positioned in this debate, by giving voice to all actors, notably those most affected by food…

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