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February 29, 2016 / Rob Dyball

ESA Human Ecology Section Paper on Food System Governance


Emerging forms of food system governance, from local to global

Molly D. Anderson, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT,

This is the abstract from Molly’s forthcoming paper to be presented at ESA Fort Lauderdale as part of the Human Ecology Sections symposium Human Ecology, Human Economy: towards good governance of the Anthropocene.


A core function of food systems is ensuring that all people have regular and reliable access to healthy food, but this goal is not being met systematically at present. By the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization’s very conservative estimate, nearly 900 million people suffer chronic food insecurity, and about 2 billion experience deficiencies of critical vitamins or minerals (“hidden hunger”).  How decisions are made and who participates in decision-making are key distinctions between different food systems, and they affect a food system’s ability to address food insecurity and hidden hunger.  The global food system is increasingly dominated by a few companies that determine the rules of the game:  who produces what and where, and how much they are paid.  Food security and nutrition are not the core goals of these companies; they want to sell their products in ways that provide ample profits to shareholders or company managers.


At both the local and global levels, new forms of governance are emerging that show more promise for equitable outcomes in terms of viable livelihoods and food access. After the 2007-2008 spike in food prices, the Committee on World Food Security was reformed to allow greater participation by social movements which give voice to people who are suffering from food insecurity, and to mandate that all recommendations and guidelines be consistent with the right to food.  The 2009 reform has been widely praised as a positive measure to ensure that different groups can participate in decision-making, and held up as a model of good governance in the UN system.  At the same time, local governments in the United States and Canada have been instituting food policy councils that allow more equitable decision making in municipalities or states. These changes at different scales are fulfilling similar purposes.  A notable gap is equitable participation in food policy at the national level in the United States.  Lessons from successful global and local governance need to be applied to broaden access to governance mechanisms at the national scale.

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