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Food as a commons: A paradigm for a fair and sustainable transition

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This presentation (the fourth of a PhD seminar on governance of the food system) presents the counter-hegemonic paradigm of food as a commons, a different view of food based on the multi-dimensional values it carries, many of them essential to human beings. Departing from different schools of commons, and using the idea of common resources as social constructs (and thus politically agreed upon), the author unfolds the main faultlines of the industrial food system (based on the idea of food as a commodity) and presents the pillars for a transition towards a more sustainable and fairer food system, based on partner states, social enterprises and self-regulated collective actions.

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Food as a commons: A paradigm for a fair and sustainable transition

  1. 1. 1 JOSE LUIS VIVERO POL PhD Research Fellow in Food Governance FOOD AS A COMMONS A paradigm for a fair and sustainable transition Photo:ShenghenLin,Flickr
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  3. 3. Commons are material / non-material resources, jointly developed and maintained by a community/society and shared according to community-defined rules, irrespective of their mode of production (private, public or commons-based means), because they benefit everyone and are fundamental to society’s wellbeing 3 Photo: ukhvlid, Creative Commons, Flickr
  4. 4. Scholars’ & People’s Commons People have commons in common (diversity) Academics have theorized from different epistemologies (schools of thought) • Historical Approach (describing institutional diversity) • Legal Approach (slighly reductionist, mostly a duopoly) • Economic Approach (highly reductionist, mostly a monopoly) • Political Approach (recognising diversity of social arrangements) • Activist Approach (struggle for old commons, inventing new commons): praxis & theory as counter-hegemonic and alter- hegemonic to capitalism (neoliberalism)
  5. 5. 5 Economic School: reductionist + theoretical
  6. 6. 6 25% of Galicia is onwed in communal property Private property Legal Approach 9% of Europe is communal property
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  8. 8. Different epistemologies, confusing vocabularies • Water: private good (ECO), public-private-collective ownership with different bundle of rights (LEG), public good (POL), commons (HIS) • Knowledge: public good (ECO), public-private- collective (LEG), public-private (POL), commons (HIS) • Health/Education: public goods (ECO), public goods provided by public & private means (POL), non- defined propietary regimes (LEG), private goods (HIS) • Food: private good (ECO), private good provided by private, public & collective means (POL), public- private-collective properties (LEG), public-private- collective owned & manged (HIS)
  10. 10. Commodity Commons Culture Food dimensions Human Need Human Right Natural resource
  11. 11. Food as a commodity mono-dimensional approach whereby economic dimension of food prevails and overshadows non-economic dimensions. Price (value-in-exchange) 11Photo: Dean Hochman, Flickr
  12. 12. Food as a commons means revalorising different dimensions relevant to human beings (value-in use) & reducing the commodity dimension (value-in exchange) 12 Food commons are what a society does collectively, through private, state and self- regulated provision, to guarantee everybody eats adequately in quantity and quality everyday
  13. 13. 13 Consideration of food as commodity is social construct that can / shall be reconceived WHY? Creative Commons
  14. 14. 14 Food is essential for human life… … so access to food cannot be exclusively determined by the purchasing power
  15. 15. 15 Only the economic dimension Objectification & commodification of food, depriving & neglecting the other dimensions Every food has a price Maximizing profit not nutrition (value in exchange dissociated from value in use) Food is rival & excludable Economic concept VS political, legal and historical approaches Food access is the main problem Ample consensus in science & policy makers: access is limited by price, law & property
  16. 16. 16 The actual way of producing, distributing and eating food is unsustainable and it cannot be maintained as a such for the next 50 years IAASTD (2008) UNEP (2009) UNCTAD (2013)UK Foresight (2011)
  17. 17. 17 Planetary Boundaries Climate Change Oil Peak Radical change UK Gov IAASTD Business as usual Increase productivity Improve access
  18. 18. 18 The TRANSITION towards a fairer & more sustainable food system needs a different narrative Recognizing & valuing the multiple dimensions of food = FOOD AS A COMMONS
  19. 19. 19 Industrial Food System Food Commons System Mono-dimensional Food as a commodity (value in exchange) Multi-dimensional Food as a commons (value in use)
  20. 20. TRANSITION MOVEMENT Contemporary collective actions for food (urban consumers) Alter-hegemonic + gradual
  21. 21. Food as a commons Food as a commodity
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  24. 24. 24 Food as a new old commons (innovative + historic) Sustainable agricultural practices (agro-ecology) Open-source knowledge (creative commons licenses) Polycentric governance (states, enterprises, civic actions)
  25. 25. Social Market Enterprises Supply-demand Food as private good Public Private Collective actions Communities Reciprocity Food as common good Partner State Redistribution Citizens welfare Food as public good Tri-centric Governance of Food Commons Systems Incentives, subsidies, Enabling legal frameworks Limiting privatization of commons Farmers as civil servants Banning food speculation Minimum free food for all citizens Local purchase Rights-based Food banks
  26. 26. 26 The Re-Commonification of Food will take generations
  27. 27. 27 Considering FOOD as a COMMONS may be utopical… But is the right thing to do and the best goal to aspire Eduardo Galeano Uruguayan writer and activist “Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”