Critiquing the ‘Double food production’ narrative

Ideas for Sustainability

There is little doubt that 9-10 billion people will need to be fed during the next few decades. How we do it is open for debate. The research in our group focusses on the food-biodiversity nexus (Fischer et al 2017), i.e. the challenge of attaining food security for all while conserving global biodiversity. In this field a couple of arguments on how to achieve these goals dominate the discourse. If you want to read more about them then see here, here, here and here for some examples.

Typically, papers addressing these two challenges begin with statements about how agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity loss, something like “Land use change is the biggest threat to biodiversity”, and then the attention turns to food security. Here is where you will more often than not read about the need to increase food production by 70-100 % to…

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New paper: A fresh perspective on food and biodiversity

More great work from Joern Fischer and colleagues.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

I’m writing to share new paper of ours that just appeared online in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Following from our earlier work, this is our most concrete attempt yet to show what a social-ecological approach to the food-biodiversity nexus might look like. The PDF is available here.

SES food and biodiversity

In a nutshell, we argue to conceptualise the food-biodiversity nexus via four archetypical outcomes. Hypothetical outcomes regarding food security and biodiversity conservation could be win-win, win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose. We then argue that all of these outcomes can be observed in the real world, and that – importantly – they are not entirely idiosyncratic. Rather, each has typical system characteristics associated with it. These characteristics are (i) features of the system (e.g. the kinds of capital stocks and governance arrangements in the system); (ii) drivers of the system (external influences that push the system in a…

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Boundary contestation in global food governance: Reflections from CFS43

From last year, a great post and contemplation of the dynamics at the Committee for World Food Security by my colleague, Josh Brem-Wilson. Should world agrifood governance move towards *publicisation* or “multi-stakeholderism”? That is, new and more *substantively inclusive* deliberative democratic forms, or neoliberal multistakeholder forms that reify the apparent sovereignty of the private sector? Read on and find out–or at least, to understand and share in the unresolved questions presented by Josh.

Food Governance

By Dr Josh Brem-Wilson

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

This week we launch the first thematic cluster The CFS: What for? with Josh Brem-Wilson’s reflections on how disputes over the boundaries between the spheres of public authority and private autonomy frame debates in the CFS.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

Attending this year’s plenary meeting of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, I became struck by how much of the work and debates of the CFS are contextualised by an ongoing, yet un-acknowledged, dispute over the character of the agrifood system (in its international, regional, national and…

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An underappreciated contributor to Democrats’ losses?

There are many conversations going on about the “populist” surges around the world, their causes, stakes, implications, etc.

For all the stories going around regarding the Trump victory and “forgotten” white and rural voters, I haven’t seen this one come back ’round, on the Obama Administration’s backing down on agricultural market concentration.

Specifically, Lina Khan, the author of a stunning and thorough 2012 piece in Washington Monthly on concentration in agribusiness, particularly contract poultry, says:

It is no stretch to assume that, from the perspective of the White House, the choice to abandon an apparently failed effort to protect independent farmers from such abuses may have seemed politically pragmatic. But over the longer term, it may prove to have been a strategic political failure. By raising the hopes and championing the interests of independent farmers against agribusiness, the administration effectively reached out to the millions of rural voters who don’t normally vote Democratic but whose ardent desire to reestablish open and fair markets for their products and labor often trumps any traditional party allegiance. Instead of translating that newfound trust into political capital, the administration squandered whatever goodwill it had begun to earn. Worse, the administration’s silent retreat amounts to a form of moral failure. Having amply documented the outrageous abuse of fellow citizens, it decided it was not worth expending more political capital to right this wrong.

While it seems unlikely that this particular battle was “the” thing that pushed certain rural voters one way or another, one wonders if it might not be an important, and under-appreciated part of it. Indeed, as you can see in this simple diagram by legal scholar Daniel Cole, effective action, trust, reciprocity, and reputation are all tied together — tied together in a way that I think is both intuitive, and under-appreciated/valued in progressive political thought. In essence, an importance of process AND action: getting things done together reinforces trust, reputation, and willingness to sacrifice for each other (reciprocity), but of course, if you don’t have a process that connects people and builds trust and engages people repeatedly/regularly, the loop of the “virtuous circle” won’t really be closed, either.

In any case, I’d say the example of the anti-trust back-down is perhaps another case where Democrats, and Obama’s legacy, may have been hurt by insufficient progressiveness and daring. Even had a stronger push been defeated, as it looked likely to be, Khan implies that the “backdown” of the Obama Administration did not go unnoticed by the farmers and supporters who showed up for the “listening tour” on anti-trust. Certainly, the sense of betrayal, of our politicians not really “being there” for [certain] people is something seen repeatedly in today’s discourse. Perhaps the value of being there for a group, even when you might (or do) lose, needs to be re-visited for the long-term movement-building that US electoral politics mitigates against. That is, people often remember those who stood by them and fought for them even when the odds were against them, and all did not go according to plan. “Cutting your losses” can sometimes also mean you’ve cut–wounded–your relationship with putative allies and supporters.

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Combine Good Evidence and Emotional Stories to Change the World

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy


This is my 2-page pitch for the Political Studies Association’s Total Exposure 2017 event on Thursday:

People are too quick to criticise the negative role of ideology, emotion, and manipulation in politics, especially after ‘Brexit’ and the rise of Donald Trump. Yet, a good positive and emotional story with a hero or convincing theme is just as important as ‘the evidence’ to social and policy change. This programme gives examples, shows you how to do it, and identifies what stories work. Through first person narrative, it describes the experiences of people telling their own stories, or of their heroes, to generate political attention and support for their cause. It provides additional narrative by experts on storytelling as a craft, and on the science of storytelling effectiveness, to connect powerful stories with the evidence on their role in politics. The end result is a programme which is entertaining, socially relevant…

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Why doesn’t evidence win the day in policy and policymaking?

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

cairney-southampton-evidence-win-the-dayPolitics has a profound influence on the use of evidence in policy, but we need to look ‘beyond the headlines’ for a sense of perspective on its impact.

It is tempting for scientists to identify the pathological effect of politics on policymaking, particularly after high profile events such as the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as US President. We have allegedly entered an era of ‘post-truth politics’ in which ideology and emotion trumps evidence and expertise (a story told many times at events like this), particularly when issues are salient.

Yet, most policy is processed out of this public spotlight, because the flip side of high attention to one issue is minimal attention to most others. Science has a crucial role in this more humdrum day-to-day business of policymaking which is far more important than visible. Indeed, this lack of public visibility…

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A tribute to Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – The walking teacher

On January 26 2017 at 16.00 p.m. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg gave his farewell address ‘The importance of peasant agriculture: a neglected truth’. It was lived broadcasted at WURTV and …

Source: A tribute to Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – The walking teacher

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Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty – A recap of the International Seminar in Donostia, Spain

Food Governance

By Jordan Treakle

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

This week we take a diversion and focus on the outcomes of the International Seminar on Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty that took place in mid-November in the Basque Country.  In this post Jordan Treakle identifies key themes to emerge out of the Seminar. We note that these themes relate to discussions taking place at the CFS and are thus relevant for this special series. Further, while focussing on global policies, there is a need to also address local-level policies.


In mid-November over a hundred participants from across…

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Are equity and accountability a likely outcome when foxes and chickens share the same coop? 

Food Governance

Critiquing the concept of multistakeholder governance of food security[1]

By Nora McKeon

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know:

Last week Carolin Anthes reflected on the role of human rights in the CFS and across the UN system.  This week we launch the third thematic cluster of this series: CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter? In this post, Nora McKeon presents a  critique of the rise of multistakeholder processes in food security governance, warning that a failure to take power imbalances and interests into account is working to reinforce the corporate food regime. 

There is a popular aspiration…

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To tackle the post-truth world, science must reform itself

Reposted under Creative Commons licence. See the original piece at The Conversation.

To tackle the post-truth world, science must reform itself

Andrea Saltelli, University of Bergen and Silvio Oscar Funtowicz, University of Bergen

Before Brexit and the US elections, Nature magazine columnist Colin Macilwain set out a challenge: “If Donald Trump were to trigger a crisis in Western democracy, scientists would need to look at their part in its downfall.”

Now Trump has become president, the possibility of crisis is real, including the spectre of a “Twitter ban” for scientists. So what of scientific introspection?

Macilwain argues that the scientific elite is inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment. In their continuous pursuit of funding, scientists reinforce the ruling nexus of politics and finance, oblivious to the evident cracks in the system.

We share Macilwain’s diagnosis, and note that the scientific community seems set to avoid a much-needed soul-searching about its responsibility in the twin crises of science and democracy, escaping introspection by using denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement.

These tactics need to be understood in order to address the current crisis and its potential solutions.

Denial and dismissal

Denial goes something like this: “There is no crisis in science. And if there is one, it does not impact the social role of science, including informing policy.”

International organisations studying the production and delivery of science, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO seem to adopt this position, discussing scientific advice without admitting the problems in the science that underpins it.

Alternatively, researchers and policy-makers could acknowledge the existence of a problem but dismiss it as something to be treated with topical remedies. For example, one recent analysis shows how bad incentives drive off good science by sustaining a state of affairs that systematically encourages malpractice.

But responses from the field seem to conceive of the problem as one that requires only a refined technical solution from within the scientific establishment, not fundamental reforms.

Even a recent manifesto for reproducible science, which lists measures to improve key elements of the scientific process including methods, reporting and dissemination, reproducibility, evaluation and incentives, aims only to make science more efficient.

We argue that the present scientific crisis emerges, in part, from uncritically applying to science a mainstream economics concept of efficiency, unavoidably associated with measurements and metrics, when metrics are seen instead by many as part of the problem.

Diversion and displacement

Diversion is another way to avoid addressing the current problems with science.

This stance can be summarised as, “There is a problem, and this is due to an ongoing war on science between the educated liberal left and the ignorant conservative right.” It has been realised by the election of Donald Trump.

Because science is under threat, then, it holds that scientists should close ranks and reject criticism, as they have done in the past when faced with postmodern critiques.

This position feeds onto a persistent Cult of Science, portraying science as the master narrative to adjudicate on the full range of human and societal affairs, and scientists as a nobler domain of humanity.

But in doing so, scientists risk being perceived as just another interest group. Indeed, the public is increasingly wary about trusting scientists to be objective, and scientists would be wise to reflect on the nature of their activism.

Last but not least, displacement is perhaps the most widespread response, judging by the insistent claims about the onset of the post-truth era. This position implies that before Brexit and President Trump, we were living in a world where truth was commonplace in policy and politics.

Scientists accuse the public of incompetence on scientific matters such as vaccines and climate change. And Donald Trump fuels these fires by flirting with known vaccine bashers and shutting down the climate pages on government websites.

In this view, the world would be a better place if only the lay public and politicians better understood science.

But it is important when analysing the vaccine saga – or the ease with which conspiracy theories catch on – to consider the relations between the pharmaceutical industry and regulators, feeding on a series of documented instances of corrupted science, and ruthless industrial pressure.

The mistakes of the lay public should not be taken as an excuse to overlook science’s own faults. Let us not forget the parallel cases of Love Canal in the 1970s, and Flint, Michigan and Washington, DC today, where the same script seems to repeat itself, with residents having to rely on their own scientists to expose the truth.

What went wrong with science?

In one recent analysis, we suggest that science is in crisis because of contradictions between the practice and structure of science, and its public image and social roles.

In his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, Derek de Solla Price described how the small-scale, single-project research activities that characterised most scientific work in through the mid-20th century shifted dramatically to big science after the second world war. This resulted from the impressive growth in the scientific production and workforce, and was characterised by large projects requiring advanced technologies.

De Solla Price speculated that this current context might one day lead to a senility of science.

Big science.
Amir Cohen/Reuters

Our analysis – which owes to earlier works by philosopher Jerome Ravetz – follows on to argue that the sheer scale of science today is destroying the disciplinary peer communities of little science and demanding objective metrics of quality, which encourage perverse incentives and are subject to corruption.

No quantitative and formalised system of quality control can replace the old, informal system. Instead, resolution will require people and institutions beyond the scientific system.

For political scientist Dan Sarewitz, the degradation of science is also due to its engagement in what he calls a “trans-scientific” endeavour, meaning a problem that can be expressed scientifically but is not amenable to a scientific solution via existing scientific means.

Obesity, for example, seems to be a scientifically soluble problem only if we neglect the extremely complex chain of possible causes which could contribute to the condition.

Sarewitz argues that the miracles of modernity came not from “the free play of free intellects but from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the US Department of Defense.”

From this perspective, the ongoing problems with reproducibility in scientific experiments result from researchers choosing to study trans-scientific issues to maximise their funding and publication metrics. Even though science is better, for Sarewitz, when constrained by clear mandates and control, for example, at the service of a market-driven technological development.

Still, the idea that “market” and “innovation” keep science clean begs the question of who keeps market and innovation clean?

What should be done?

Though science is often put at odds with religion, there share similarities in that both function as worldviews. And despite their existential crises, religion and science remain a source of hope for many.

For this reason, it is perhaps not far-fetched to look at the crisis of the church to gain insights for the scientific field.

Martin Luther started his Protestant Reformation in an outraged reaction to generalised corruption – economic and intellectual – within the church. Monk John Tetzel, who was selling indulgences (a remission to the amount of punishment a sinner has to undergo after death) in Germany around 1517, was an example of such corruption.

Today’s science crisis also reveals how the combination of corruption, rage and new technology can mobilise major social change.

Reconstructing science would require a broad democratic constituency, including humanists, technologists and citizen activists, as well as scientists, investigative journalists and whistleblowers.

At the moment, however, creating a blueprint for such a reformation seems delusional: we live in an age of increasing fragmentation, not inclusion.

We must be able to question the idol of objective truth without being accused of postmodern relativism. We must also critically view the co-evolution of science and power that Macilwain alludes to.

Any worldview shift today, scientific or otherwise, must also reconsider the present economic paradigm.

Science in society

None of these structural changes is easy to achieve, of course. So what we suggest, while conditions for this global critique ripen, is that science is at its best when it is explicitly embedded in society, enhancing knowledge rights to an extended peer community.

Taking cases of environmental degradation such as Love Canal or Flint discussed above, it is clear that corrupt administrations, operators and regulators, with their own science, may concur to produce disasters.

Here an extended peer community of concerned citizens and willing scientists can identify the problem and its possible solutions.

Citizens have the right to engage with ideological and political debates about science and question the governance processes that produced these failures. Instead, right now, they’re just being called to defend science from its purported enemies.

Andrea Saltelli, Adjunct professor, University of Bergen and Silvio Oscar Funtowicz, Adjunct Professor Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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