Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue An international conference
Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, September 14-15, 2013
Conference Paper # 9: Financialization and the Transformation of Agro-food Supply Chains: A Political Economy, by Ryan Isakson
Conference Paper # 10: Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential, by Antonio Turrent Fernández, Timothy A. Wise, and Elise Garvey
Conference paper # 11: Gold for Export? … or Water & Food for Life? The Case of Gold Mining in El Salvador, by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
For the abstracts of these papers, please see below.
Financialization and the Transformation of Agro-food Supply Chains: A Political Economy, by Ryan Isakson
This article documents the rise of finance in food provisioning. It queries the role of financialization in the contemporary food crisis and analyzes its impacts upon power structures and the distribution of wealth within and along the agro-food supply chain. A systematic treatment of key links in the supply chain – namely, farmland, agricultural inputs, agricultural risk, grain trading, food manufacturing, and food retailing – reveals four key insights: (1) the financialization of food and agriculture has blurred the line between finance and food provisioning; (2) financialization has reinforced the position of food retailers as the dominant actors within the agro-food system, though they are largely subject to the dictates of finance capital; (3) financialization has intensified the exploitation of food workers, increasing their workload while pushing down their real wages and heightening the precarity of their positions; and (4) small-scale farmers have been especially hard hit by financialization, as their livelihoods have become even more uncertain due to increasing volatility in agricultural markets, they have become weaker vis-à-vis other actors in the agro-food supply chain, and they face growing competition for their farmland. Given the regressive impacts of contemporary financialization, readers are asked to envision an alternative approach to finance food provisioning.
S. Ryan Isakson is an Assistant Professor of International Development Studies and Geography at the University of Toronto. His research and teaching interests are in the political economy of food and agrarian transformation, particularly in Latin America. He has conducted research on peasant livelihoods and the cultivation of agricultural biodiversity, land reform, agro-food certification, and compensation for environmental services.
Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential, by Antonio Turrent Fernández, Timothy A. Wise, and Elise Garvey
Once the poster child for free trade, Mexico is now better known for its failures, among them the loss of the country’s food sovereignty. Rising agricultural prices, combined with growing import dependence, have driven Mexico’s food import bill over $20 billion per year and increased its agricultural trade deficit. Mexico imports one-third of its maize, overwhelmingly from the United States, but three million producers grow most of the country’s white maize, which is used primarily for tortillas and many other pluricultural products for human consumption. Yield gaps are large among the country’s small to medium-scale maize farmers, with productivity estimated at just 57% of potential on rain-fed lands. To what extent could Mexico close this yield gap, using proven technologies currently employed in the country, to regain its lost self-sufficiency in maize? A comprehensive review of the literature highlights the potential for achieving that goal. The authors examine policy options open to Mexico’s new government, identifying those most likely to increase both maize productivity and sustainable resource use while reducing import dependence. With climate change likely to constrain input intensive agricultural productivity growth, these involve an emphasis on farmer-led extension services, the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, and improved water management, including expanded irrigation. They also involve a change in the Mexican government's approach to agricultural trade. Mexico's profound loss of its food sovereignty in recent decades offers rich lessons for developing country policy-makers.
Antonio Turrent Fernández is a Senior Researcher at Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP). Timothy A. Wise is Director of Policy Research at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. Elise Garvey is a researcher at the same institute.
Gold for Export? … or Water & Food for Life? The Case of Gold Mining in El Salvador, by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
With the rapid expansion of gold mining, social movements in many countries have gathered force to oppose the mining. Environmental concerns have been central to this opposition. But the opposition has grown into a larger critique of “what is development?” posing corporate-led export growth against peasant-led local agriculture. Based on the authors’ field-research in 2011, 2012 and 2013, this paper analyzes the case study of El Salvador where a strong peasantbased social movement has built a national-level coalition to the extent that the national government banned gold mining starting in 2009. The analysis then moves to the global level where two global mining companies have filed investor-rights suits against the Salvadoran government in the World Bank investors-rights tribunal (ICSID) claiming that the national government does not have the right to privilege the local, non-extractive economy. This case study of the struggle against mining in El Salvador reveals a great deal about the dynamics of “food sovereignty” struggles at a local, national, and global level, and provides a dynamic study to compare and contrast with other case studies of land-grabbing that pit local small-scale farmers and food and water needs against the transnational “grabbing” of land and mineral rights.
Dr. Robin Broad is Professor of International Development, School of International Service, American University. Dr. Broad has a wide range of professional experience, from international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and Congress, to work with civil-society organizations in the Philippines and El Salvador. She received her MA. and PhD in development studies from Princeton University. She is author/coauthor of several books including Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match, and Global Backclash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy. John Cavanagh has been Director of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) since 1998. He directed IPS’s Global Economy Program from 1983-1997. He is the co-author of 12 books and numerous articles on the global economy, most recently Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match. Cavanagh led the effort to detail a new global economy in the International Forum on Globalization book Alternatives to Economic Globalization. He is co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, an organization delineating transformative visions of a new economy that serves people and the planet.
The Food Sovereignty Conference:
A fundamentally contested concept, food sovereignty has — as a political project and campaign, an alternative, a social movement, and an analytical framework — barged into global agrarian discourse over the last two decades. Since then, it has inspired and mobilized diverse publics: workers, scholars and public intellectuals, farmers and peasant movements, NGOs and human rights activists in the North and global South. The term has become a challenging subject for social science research, and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in a variety of ways by various groups and individuals. Indeed, it is a concept that is broadly defined as the right of peoples to democratically control or determine the shape of their food system, and to produce sufficient and healthy food in culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways in and near their territory. As such it spans issues such as food politics, agroecology, land reform, biofuels, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), urban gardening, the patenting of life forms, labor migration, the feeding of volatile cities, ecological sustainability, and subsistence rights.
Sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University and the Journal of Peasant Studies, and co-organized by Food First, Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), the conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” will be held at Yale University on September 14–15, 2013. The event will bring together leading scholars and political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The purpose of the meeting is to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use, commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, such a dialogue aims at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an “intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what terms.