The EU Protein Plan: shifting to sustainable supply-chains or more of the same?

Chris Chancellor, WU Graduate

The impact that our industrialised global food supply-chain has on diverse ecosystems and communities around the world is receiving greater attention than ever before. Scholars and activists have for decades emphasised how European agricultural demand has driven deforestation and environmental destruction in species-rich biomes such as the Amazon and Cerrado regions in Latin America.  Now it is becoming clear that the consequences extend far beyond the environmental harm generated by the production stage itself. When looking at the wider chain, the implications of industrial food systems for issues such as food and nutritional security, human health, social justice, rural vitality, employment, and the concentration of market control, become apparent.

Having found its way onto the political agenda, the European Union (EU) has come up with the idea of a European Protein Plan. The EU is currently heavily reliant on imports of protein crops, primarily soybean from Latin America’s Southern Cone region. As well as being linked with major environmental and human rights concerns, the reliance on imports also makes the EU agricultural industry vulnerable to shocks in international commodity prices. Soybean is the favoured ingredient in animal feed for the EUs powerful livestock industry, and therefore a price shock would have major socio-economic consequences.

The Protein Plan essentially proposes increasing the amount of domestic protein crop production. The idea is that this would lift the burden on Latin American ecosystems whilst at the same time providing the EU with greater ‘protein independence’. This has been presented as a win-win situation, and yet the manner in which this production would take place has received little or no critical attention.

A report published by civil society organisation European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) highlights the dangers of simply transplanting the same corporate industrial supply-chain into Europe. Last year, an agreement called the European Soya Declaration was signed by 13 member states, highlighting the suitability of fertile and ‘underused’ lands in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) for expansion of European soybean production. The ECVC report details the recent emergence of agribusinesses and financial investors in the CEE region. Land here is cheaper and often more fertile than in Western Europe, and offers suitable agro-climatic conditions for commodity soybean cultivation. There is therefore an opportunity for large profits to be made if land is bought up now, cultivated with soybean or other commodity protein crops, and potentially sold later when land prices have reached western European levels. As one company puts it: ‘protein crops are the new gold bars’. However, this process is not a neutral one, and entails radical reformulations of arable land ownership and control, threatening the livelihoods of the region’s small-scale producers and rural communities.

Another report from the Land and Resource Lookout reaches a similar conclusion, pointing out that ‘a control-blind approach’ to sustainability is evident. Much attention is given to the fact that this soy would be non-GM, would be deforestation-free, and would help to fix nitrogen in crop rotations. These are undoubtedly positive, yet these traits in isolation don’t automatically equal sustainable supply-chains. The manner in which this soy is produced, distributed and consumed, as well as how and who controls these processes and relevant markets, are key for building a truly sustainable and inclusive food system. It argues that sustainable food system strategies must explicitly address the issue of corporate control if effective progress is to be made.

With the European Commission set to release a report on the EU Protein Plan before the end of the year, both reports advocate for the inclusion of agroecological principles and the concept of food sovereignty in any future EU protein strategies. An agroecological transition offers a potential pathway for a truly inclusive, interconnected and mutually beneficial food system to be built, but this must receive political backing in order for it to really take hold.

The fact that the sorts of headline issues emphasised in the European Soya Declaration are receiving genuine political attention is a positive step. It provides an opportune moment to address deep-seated systemic problems in our current industrially-based food system; policy-makers must now be brave enough to seize it!

Note: are you a WU master student and interested in doing a thesis research on this issue, please contact joost.jongerden@wur.nl

Rural Futures – Inauguration Bettina Bock as Personel Professor of Inclusive Rural Development

BB Rural Futures

Thursday October 25 2018 at 16.00 Prof. dr Bettina Bock will give her inaugural address as Personel Professor of Inclusive Rural Development titled Rural Futures.

The inauguration will be broadcasted live by weblectures.wur.nl and can be viewed later as well.

Organic Times – first edition of the MOAgazine

 

Recently students of the Master programme Organic Agriculture (MOA) of Wageningen University launched the first edition of the MOAgazine entitled ‘Organic Times’. The magazine (Organic times online) is written and edited by MOA students and provides some insights into the programme, study and student activities and a variety of issues linked to MOA, including book reviews and organic recipes. As chair of the MOA study programme committee I have enjoyed reading the Organic Times and am proud of the time and energy the students invested in developing this magazine. It reflects the enthusiasm and commitment of this great and dedicated group of international students as well as the interdisciplinary character of the MOA programme.

Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems

There is a new Special Issue of the journal “Built Environment” on the topic of Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems.

The Special Issues starts from the question: How does and can planning and design enhance the freedom and wellbeing of marginalized actors in the food system – low-income residents, people of colour, small-holder farmers, and refugees – the very people the alternative food movements purport to serve?

In the Special Issue authors from across the Global North and South explore the role of planning and design in communities’ food systems, while explicitly considering the imbalances in equity, justice, and power.

The collection includes a paper by former Rural Sociology MSc student Maria Vasile and Jessica Duncan.

We want to be part of the broader project’ Family Farmers and Local Food Governance in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Brazil has been praised for the development of its agricultural sector, its policies against hunger, and its support for family farming. Yet, the future of small-scale family farmers remains uncertain. In this paper, we question whether food system localization facilitates the integration of small-scale family farmers into food governance processes in Porto Alegre, Brazil. To answer this, we present the City Region Food System (CRFS) as a conceptual approach to explore the relationship between food systems localization and enhanced participation of small-scale family farmers in food governance. After introducing the case study of local food in Porto Alegre, we highlight key structural inequalities that limit family farmers’ participation in local food practices and influence their involvement in food governance. We then examine linkages between local food policy efforts and family farmers’ praxis, attempting to discern mismatches and related implications for the development of an inclusive CRFS. We argue that systematization of local food practices within the city region represents a double-edged sword as it may
translate into a decrease in farmers’ autonomy and ownership of local initiatives and burden them with regulations not fit for purpose. In conclusion, we suggest that a CRFS approach to planning can help to address structural inequalities and power asymmetries in local food governance only if informed by local dynamics and based on context-sensitive mechanisms for participatory governance incorporating a variety of small-scale family farmers (and other stakeholders).

Kick-off Horizon 2020 project ROBUST

Recently a Horizon 2020 grant of € 6 million was awarded for a project entitled ‘Rural-Urban Outlooks: Unlocking Synergies’ (ROBUST). ROBUST has started on the 1st of June 2017 and is coordinated by Han Wiskerke of the Rural Sociology Group.

The overall goal of ROBUST is to a) advance our understanding of the interactions and dependencies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas, and b) identify and promote policies, governance models and practices that foster mutually beneficial relations.

The project focusses on five domains of urban-rural relations & interdependencies: 1) New businesses and labour markets; 2) Public infrastructures and social services; 3) Sustainable food systems, 4) Cultural connections, and 5) Ecosystem services. These domains will be studied in 11 place-based living labs: Ede (Netherlands), Tukums (Latvia), Helsinki (Finland), Mid-Wales (UK), Gloucestershire (UK), Frankfurt-Rhein-Main metropole (Germany), Ljubljana Urban Region (Slovenia), Styria (Austria), Valencia (Spain), Province of Lucca (Italy) and Lisbon and Tagus Valley Region (Portugal). Each Living Labs will focus on three domains of urban-rural relations. Domain-specific lessons and experiences will be shared across Living Labs in thematic Communities of Practice (five in total, each covering one of the aforementioned domains of urban-rural relations).

In each Living Lab a research organisation (university, research institute or consultancy firm) will collaborate with a local or regional authority. For the Dutch case the Rural Sociology Group will collaborate with Ede Municipality. In total the ROBUST consortium consists of 24 partners: 11 research organisations, 11 local or regional authorities and two umbrella organisations: the Peri-Urban Regions Platform Europe (PURPLE) and the European Secretariat of the International Network of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI Europe).

The kick-off meeting will take place on 7, 8 and 9 June in the Akoesticum in Ede. The website of the project is expected to be ready by September 2017. For more information about ROBUST, please contact one of the members of the RSO ROBUST team: Han Wiskerke, Henk Oostindie, Rudolf van Broekhuizen, Jessica Duncan and Bettina Bock.

What surprised a Polish researcher about Dutch care farms

By Ilona Matysiak, visiting guest of the Maria Grzegorzewska University in Warsaw, Poland

The idea is quite simple: to combine agricultural production with health and social services provided to people with different types of disabilities. However, it’s really hard to imagine or understand a care farm if you have never seen such a thing. One of the most important goals of my four-week research stay at the University of Wageningen was to unburden my imagination and see them for real. Continue reading

Gender & Diversity in Sustainable Development

 

PhD Course Gender and Diversity

Wageningen University’s School of Social Sciences  (WASS) will be offering a PhD course in May and June 2017 called Gender and Diversity in Sustainable Development.  Bettina Bock and Jessica Duncan, both from RSO, will lecture in this course.

Date Mon 22 May 2017 until Fri 16 June 2017
Time 09:30
Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
201
6706 KN
Wageningen
0317-483639

Inequality lies at the center of current debates about sustainable development, from which a number of policy issues, including Sustainable Development Goals, emanate. Yet, how social (in)equality contributes to creating sustainable development often remains invisible in research. This course enables participants to recognize linkages between gender and diversity and sustainable development in a contemporary globalising world.

The topics covered in this course are:

  • Introduction: key concepts in gender studies
  • Trends form a historical perspective
  • Economics: macro and micro perspectives
  • Work and care
  • Population and migration
  • Food security and governance
  • Environment and natural resource management
  • Global politics

 

This course will be a seminar. We will take a highly interactive learner-centered approach that combines short lectures with group-based learning activity and discussion. A series of instructors with gender and diversity expertise from WUR and other universities will discuss the relevance of the themes discussed in our class to their own domains.

More information is available here: http://www.wur.nl/en/Education-Programmes/PhD-Programme/Graduate-Schools/Wageningen-School-of-Social-Sciences/Courses/Show-1/Gender-Diversity-in-Sustainable-Development.htm

Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya – IMRD thesis by Jordan Treakle

treakle-dairy-cooperative-in-kenyaLast autumn Jordan Treakle successfully defended his Master of Science thesis ‘Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya’s changing governance landscape’ in Wageningen’s Rural Sociology Group to complete his International Master in Rural Development. Below a synopsis of the thesis. Continue reading

Pre-announcement Vacancy Associate or Full Professor in Agrarian Sociology

On the 5th of January 2017 we will open a vacancy for an associate or full professor in agrarian sociology. We are looking for someone with demonstrated excellence in research and education in the domain of agrarian and rural sociology. The associate/full professor will undertake independent research and participate in (and coordinate) international research projects, focusing on topics such as agricultural and rural development, rural-urban transformation processes, transitions towards regenerative agriculture, and the role of (multifunctional) agriculture in rural eco-economies. The associate/full professor will also teach courses for the Bachelor and Master programs International Development Studies and the Master program Organic Agriculture, and supervise Bachelor and Master thesis students for these programs. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees. At least 40% of the time will be spent on research, a maximum of 40% on education and approximately 20% on other aspects.

Candidates applying for this position are expected to have the following qualifications:

  • A PhD degree in (agrarian or rural) sociology, human geography or related social science discipline;
  • An inspiring vision on agrarian sociology and the future challenges and priorities for agrarian studies;
  • An excellent track record in research in agrarian/rural sociology, proven by publications in key international journals and by the successful acquisition of research grants;
  • A relevant international academic network, combined with good connections with grassroots networks and policymakers (at different levels);
  • Ample empirical research experience, preferably in different geographical settings;
  • Proven experience in supervision of PhD candidates;
  • Excellent didactic qualities and the capacity to motivate and inspire students;
  • Teaching competences that comply with the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program (LTHEP, in Dutch referred to as BKO, a system adopted by all Dutch universities) or willingness to follow the LTHEP;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Fluency in English and, if appropriate, willingness to learn Dutch.

If you are interested in this position, keep an eye on the vacancies webpage of Wageningen University or create your job alert, so you will be notified when the vacancy opens. Applications can be submitted between 5 January and 8 February 2017. From 9 January 2017 onwards you can contact me (email: han.wiskerke@wur.nl) for more information about the position.

Satoyama Stories: A Glimpse on the Movement for Regeneration of Matsutake Forests in Kyoto

The Rural Sociology Group and Kyoto University maintain a close collaboration. Flora Sonkin, a MSc student at RSO, participates in a summer school and participated in field work near Kyoto this month. In this posts she shares her experiences.

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I arrived in Kyoto, Japan a few days ago as a visitor for the FEAST project at RIHN (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature), and to join the Kyoto University Graduate Seminar on Sustainability Studies.

Being in Japan in autumn has a special effect on one’s senses. Feeling awakened by the warm yellow and red colors that paint the mountainous landscape, and by the fresh smell of fallen leaves and pine trees. On the first day of my visit, Mai Kobayashi (my host at the RIHN) took me to a Satoyama nearby RIHN, were a community-led forest management project is trying to regenerate a red pine forest – and hopefully matsutake mushrooms along with it. Continue reading

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