- Research on the political, ecological and ethical debates concerning land use for feeding the world, providing alternative energy, and sustaining global eco-systems.
- The frogs, fuel, finance and food theme is central to balancing these priorities:
- Focus: Global institutions: FAO/World Bank
- Fieldwork FAO Committee on World Food Security regarding the land question, and agricultural investments.
- Performed by Phillip McMichael
- Management WP5 by Phillip McMichael, University of Cornell, USA
Analytical approach and research design
This WP will focus research on the political, ecological and ethical debates concerning land use for feeding the world, providing alternative energy, and sustaining global eco-systems. The frogs, fuel, finance and food theme is central to balancing these priorities. Given recent trends of financialisation of the global food system, the biofuels rush, and rising land acquisitions on every continent, the global land-use regime is experiencing a watershed moment. While every country has its distinctive political culture, often shaped by land settlement/use histories, there is nonetheless a shared involvement in global pressures to acquire land for future security – often by foreign investment interests as cited above.
Recognition of food, financial, energy and climate crises is driving such investments, and reframing the strategies of development agencies. At the same time, producers (small-farmers, pastoralists, forest-dwellers, fisherfolk) facing eviction from their land and/or access rights to common lands, are making their presence felt in this debate – not only in situ, where they are calling for a moratorium on the ‘global land grab,’ but also in national policy arenas and international forums, and particularly the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, whose Committee on Food Security (CFS) has recently incorporated the voice and votes of civil society organizations representing these populations. The newly framed debates in the CFS are giving new life to the FAO’s original mandate to protect landed cultures. Currently, various CFS-High Level Panel of Expert reports are under review.
Discussions regarding the food crisis are taking place, including the question of appropriate codes of conduct in land acquisition as a response to current and future food and energy needs. Here, the financial impulse to secure access to (often offshore) land for food and biofuel production, as well as for conservation (Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism/CDM and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation/REDD protocols), for speculation, and/or for indebted governments to defray debt – is under increasing scrutiny through the lens of sustainability of agrarian and forest cultures.
This WP will investigate the multiple ways in which this is occurring, via a series of studies from sites in both global North and global South to establish the cultural implications of new developments in global land-use, as well as to chart the growing institutional (FAO, World Bank in particular) contestation between a financial calculus and a cultural-ecological calculus as the world confronts a future of limits.
The WP will produce at least two publications on these questions: one concerning comparative (political and cultural) approaches to the 21st century land question (as outlined above); and the other an institutional study of how the principal development agencies are managing debate over the tension between financial and cultural-ecological calculi regarding land use, and how this debate embodies policy prescriptions at the national and international level.
Professor Philip McMichael of Cornell University will be responsible for the study. McMichael will participate in workshops organized by this research project at large, in order to insert the global and theoretical dimension, in addition to attending key sessions at the FAO, in Rome, to follow these debates, and interview participants.