Monthly Archives: April 2016

Land sharing versus land sparing

The Department of Geography in collaboration with the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network (BSUFN) and the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) are organising a weekly seminar series on “Food, Climate and Society”. This series will explore the multiple challenges that the global food system is facing: feeding more people healthy food while limiting environmental and social impacts.

The final seminar in this series will be given by Dr Jorn Scharlemann (University of Sussex) on the topic of ‘Land Sharing Versus Land Sparing‘. The seminar will be on Thursday the 28th of April 2016 from 12:30  until 14;00 and will be held in Arts C Global Studies Resource Centre, University of Sussex.

After completing a PhD on eggshell thickness declines at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK, Jorn Scharlemann worked as a Research Biologist for the RSPB studying the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity. From 2003-2005 he was a post-doc at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford modelling deer, ticks and tick-borne diseases, followed by a year as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama. From 2007-2012 Jorn was the Senior Scientist at UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK. In 2012 he moved to the University of Sussex as Reader in Ecology & Conservation. Since 2015 has been the Interim Director of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme.

Golden Rice, the Green Revolution, and heirloom seeds in the Philippines – New article by Dominic Glover

BSUFN member Dominic Glover (Institute of Development Studies and STEPS Centre, University of Sussex) has co-authored an article on Golden Rice and heirloom seeds in the Philippines with Glenn Stone (Washington University). This article has just been published online and relates to many of the interests of the BSUFN Special Interest Groups.

Abstract:  “Golden Rice” has played a key role in arguments over genetically modified (GM) crops for many years. It is routinely depicted as a generic GM vitamin tablet in a generic plant bound for the global South. But the release of Golden Rice is on the horizon only in the Philippines, a country with a storied history and complicated present, and contested future for rice production and consumption. The present paper corrects this blinkered view of Golden Rice through an analysis of three distinctive “rice worlds” of the Philippines: Green Revolution rice developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the 1960s, Golden Rice currently being bred at IRRI, and a scheme to promote and export traditional “heirloom” landrace rice. More than mere seed types, these rices are at the centers of separate “rice worlds” with distinctive concepts of what the crop should be and how it should be produced. In contrast to the common productivist framework for comparing types of rice, this paper compares the rice worlds on the basis of geographical embeddedness, or the extent to which local agroecological context is valorized or nullified in the crop’s construction. The Green Revolution spread generic, disembedded high-input seeds to replace locally adapted landraces as well as peasant attitudes and practices associated with them. The disembeddedness of Golden Rice that boosts its value as a public relations vehicle has also been the main impediment in it reaching farmers’ fields, as it has proved difficult to breed into varieties that grow well specifically in the Philippines. Finally, and somewhat ironically, IRRI has recently undertaken research and promotion of heirloom seeds in collaboration with the export scheme.

Stone, G. D. and D. Glover (2016). “Disembedding grain: Golden Rice, the Green Revolution, and heirloom seeds in the Philippines.” Agriculture and Human Values online first: 1-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10460-016-9696-1

The full text of the article is available online here.

 

 

Food and the sustainable healthy diets question

The Department of Geography in collaboration with the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network (BSUFN) and the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) are organising a weekly seminar series on “Food, Climate and Society”. This series will explore the multiple challenges that the global food system is facing: feeding more people healthy food while limiting environmental and social impacts.

This week Dr Tara Garnett (Food Climate Research Network, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford) will be giving a seminar titled ‘Food and the sustainable healthy diets question‘. This seminar will be on Thursday the 21st of April 2016, from 12:30 to 14:00. All seminars take place in Arts C Global Studies Resource Centre, University of Sussex.

Tara Garnett founded the Food Climate Research Network based at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. She has done much research on the contribution of food systems to global emissions of greenhouse gases and the consequences of project future food scenarios.

Contemporary Food Issues Symposium Keynote Speaker Announced: Tom Wakeford

We are delighted to announce that Dr Tom Wakeford will be giving the keynote lecture during our annual symposium on the 16th of June 2016.

Tom Wakeford is Reader in Public Science at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University. His work focuses on the addressing inequality and human rights through collaborative generation of democratic knowledge. Tom’s research is often practice-based through the use of participatory action research methods. He has a particular interest in addressing racism within the research system and, more generally, bridging the divide between academics and those whose expertise comes from their experience. His past research on food sovereignty and agroecological initiatives has primarily been in the UK and India.

In recent months Tom has been working with BSUFN on a number of initiatives, including a workshop on the use of arts as a method for engagement to improve research and dialogue around food.

We are looking forward to hearing Tom’s insights into collaboration across academia and non-academia and transdisciplinarity as BSUFN contunies to grow and develop expertise in this area.

More details about the symposium are available here, including information on how to register to attend and the call for abstracts (open until the 29th of April 2016).

Supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund. The Symposium 2016 is also kindly supported by: SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) and the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and COSTALS (Centre of Sport, Tourism and Leisure Studies), University of Brighton.

Life in a time of food price volatility

The Department of Geography in collaboration with the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network (BSUFN) and the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) are organising a weekly seminar series on “Food, Climate and Society”. This series will explore the multiple challenges that the global food system is facing: feeding more people healthy food while limiting environmental and social impacts.

This week Dr Naomi Hossain (Institute of Development Studies) will be giving a seminar titled ‘Life in a time of food price volatility‘. This seminar will be on Thursday the 14th of April 2016, from 12:30 to 14:00. All seminars take place in Arts C Global Studies Resource Centre, University of Sussex.

Naomi Hossain is a political sociologist with nearly 20 years of development research and advisory experience. Her work focuses on the politics of poverty and public services, and includes research on elite perceptions of poverty, governance and accountability of education and social protection, and women’s empowerment. Naomi has conducted primary research in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and cross-country research in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.

Should we buy into heritage vegetables?

This post is by BSUFN member Abigail Wincott.

heritage toms wp 1At this time of year supermarkets and garden centres start vying for consumers’ attention with trays of flowers and vegetable plants, and increasingly among these are ‘heritage’ ranges.

Indeed from requests for donations to plant conservation charities to the lifestyle sections of newspaper to serried ranks of heritage tomato plants, demands on consumers to buy into the protection of this peculiar new kind of heritage come from many directions.

Rarely are these claims questioned – naturally not by those selling ‘heritage’ seeds and produce – but also not by journalists, who tend to reproduce claims about the value of ‘heritage’ and the work to conserve it, made by conservation bodies, chefs or seed sellers.

In many ways the term ‘heritage’ seems a rather pompous one to apply to food. It more commonly applies to castles and cathedrals, solid evidence of human civilisation, handed on through the generations, and preserved for the good of humanity. What on earth can ‘heritage’ mean when applied to vegetables and seeds, which rot or are eaten or otherwise transformed, and surely seem pretty ephemeral, not to mention trivial?

And as consumers, should we buy into these claims – implicit or explicit – that we can shop to save ‘heritage’ – whatever it is?

Well, maybe yes. Actually.

For the past few years I’ve been collecting and analysing a database of texts about heritage vegetables, seeds and fruit trees, looking at the way the narrative of ‘heritage’ is created. The range of people involved is phenomenal – from the UN to Reclaim the Fields, via Waitrose, which would make a fairly bizarre shopping trip.

One thing stands out across the database, though, which is that the process of heritage is driven a sense of loss and ongoing risk to that which we inherit from the past. Social justice NGO Practical Action warns that ‘More than 90% of crop varieties have been lost from farmers’ fields in the past century’ and it dubs this a ‘haemorrhage’ of biodiversity. A National Trust webpage about lost apples says they had ‘all but vanished by the late 1970s’ though luckily, the Trust retains those grown from twigs snatched from a bonfire.

These tales of loss lead logically to the idea that something must be done to protect what’s left. Indeed the concept of loss produces a key component in the process of heritage – the guardian or trustee.

The National Trust puts itself forward as a guardian of plant heritage through its network of historic kitchen gardens. So do the John Innes Centre, the Heritage Seed Library and many, many more.

beetrA burgeoning movement

But the place you might more commonly come across this idea of ‘heritage’ vegetables, as a middle-class British consumer in particular, is the lifestyle section of the broadsheets and the heritage produce labels in supermarkets’ luxury ranges and the menus of the posher sort of pub.

Here the idea of loss is very muted. Rather than the sense we’re driving off the end of a biodiversity cliff, the consumerist story of heritage vegetables is that of a burgeoning ‘heritage vegetable movement’, powered by dissatisfied consumers, who ‘expect more’  and are forming a ‘back-to-the-roots revolution‘.

As a result, the loss is relegated to some vague recent past in lifestyle texts. The present is a time of revival, renewal and growth, where ‘the outlook for heritage varieties has changed’ as they have ‘moved out of the history books and back into vegetable patches, gardens and orchards’.

To me this is a striking difference. It might seem self-evident that consumer-oriented writing would stress the feel good factor, while charities and not-for-profits would emphasise tragedy. But both make their living, if you like, from ‘heritage’, whether that be through justifying public funding, appealing for donations, selling produce or selling advertising space and the consumers to look at it. If feel-good narratives are more appealing, then why would all interest groups not employ the burgeoning movement narrative?

donate box on Crop Trust website

Global Crop Diversity Trust website

One very good reason is that the feel-bad narrative suggests the need for official institutions of some kind to step in and ‘do something’. These are the very groups who reproduce that catastrophising version of the heritage story. That narrative also very effectively constructs ephemeral materials like vegetables, and abstract concepts like diversity or taste, as materials, at immediate risk of destruction. As such, their safekeeping in walled gardens or seed vaults seems very appropriate.

But seeds and vegetables are not like castles and cathedrals. Even when they’re ‘rare’ there are likely to be hundreds of them. They can be reproduced, often with little expertise. You can keep them in an old jar in your shed. As you may well do. And perhaps this is why this form of heritage is not uniquely identified as a properly expert domain, but remains a lively and contested field (forgive the pun).

Which is a good thing. Even those who work in the ‘expert’ conservation sector are aware of the limited effectiveness of trying to protect diversity by storing a very small number of samples in a box somewhere, and there is some recognition that home gardens represent important vestiges of diversity. But gardens and allotments are absolutely outside the sphere of influence of these groups, and inaccessible to the professional crop breeding sector.

While the lifestyle and ‘posh’ retail uses for ‘heritage’ entail their own problems, they nonetheless promote the idea of a broad-based movement to IMG_1174 (1)revive, rather than refrigerate, diverse food crops. And so, if it takes your fancy, by all means try a heritage tomato plant or heritage beetroot salad. And if they’re beyond your budget, you may be able to grow your own. Seed swaps take place in community centres around the country, and online. And it is just possible in this case your consumption will, aspart of a wider movement, help conserve this peculiarly ephemeral kind of heritage.


You can read more detail about the research which is published as Wincott, A. (2015) Heritage in danger or mission accomplished? Diverging accounts of endangerment, conservation and ‘heritage’ vegetables in print and online. Food, Culture and Society 18 (4). A limited number of free views are available by clicking

The Future of Food In or Out of Europe – Let the Citizens’ Jury Decide

BSUFN colleagues at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (Coventry University) and the Food Research Collaboration are hosting an event on food issues and the EU referendum.

Bon appétit? A pop-up citizens’ jury on the future of food – in or out of Europe?

10-5PM – 12TH MAY 2016

THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE, 30 ST PETER’S STREET, London, N1 8JT

Whether it’s the straight banana Euromyth, the high price of healthy food or rising suicide rates among farmers – the ‘in’ or ‘out’ debate touches on controversial issues relating to the future of food. We are hosting a public jury which will put the issues ‘on trial’ during a one day event that will also be webcast live, bringing new voices to the referendum campaign. Eight expert witnesses including Joan Walley (ex-MP and former chair of the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons), Prof. Tim Lang (City University) and Guy Watson (Riverford). For  further details see: peoplesknowledge.org

BSUFN member Professor Erik Millstone (Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex) will be giving evidence as an expert witness during this event.

You can register to attend the event for free and apply to be on the jury here.

See the flyer for the event below

Brexit and Food Citizens’ Jury CAWR FRC Event