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Project title:
Vegamót? Luttakandi og virkin gransking av matpolitiskum hugsjónum og broytingum í Føroyum og í Sao Tome og Principe

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Project manager:
Elisabeth Skarðhamar Olsen

Lancaster University

Other participants:
Giovanni Bettini, Rebecca Whittle

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Project description:
This project engages with a pressing global challenge at the intersection of environmental and developmental policy, namely the sustainability of food systems in the Anthropocene and an increasingly unequal world. During the past two decades the socio-ecological impacts related to the political economic structures of the global food system have entered mainstream awareness. This has motivated those on the privileged end of the scale (consumers in the global North) to switch towards more conscious and ethical consumption habits (e.g. vegan, organic, local, fair-trade), as well as to become food producers themselves (e.g. urban farming, community gardens). Parallel to this, the idea that we need to change the way food is produced and distributed in the world is receiving mainstream attention on governmental and intergovernmental level with countries such as France taking the lead in a transition from industrial monoculture to agroecology, and the FAO encouraging other countries to follow. Yet while this tendency is increasingly the case in the global North, the situation at the commodity frontiers in the global South appears to be generally quite different. Here corporate agribusiness investments and development policies continue to push small-scale peasants off their lands and to degrade local environments in pursuit of economic growth, even though many small-scale peasants have for centuries been practising agriculture according to similar principles that are now being forwarded as ‘agroecological innovation’ in the global North.

In this PhD project I seek to make sense of the links and contradictions between food political dynamics in the global North and the global South using the concept of food sovereignty; “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007). I will do this by focussing on food political dynamics in two island contexts ‘on both sides of the equator’, the Faroe Islands and Sao Tome and Principe.

In spite of being very differently positioned in relation to global food system dynamics, it appears like there are food producers and food activists in both Sao Tome and Principe and in the Faroe Islands identifying with similar socio-ecological aspirations, which echo the vision and principles of food sovereignty. However, to what extent are food sovereignty advocates in the global North allies of food sovereignty advocates in the global South? For instance, do the Slow Food movements and urban gardening projects in the global North engage in the same political struggle and/or have the same socio-ecological objectives as peasant movements struggling against land grabbing in the global South? So far not much research has been done to understand such questions. This project aspires to address a portion of this gap by exploring the links and schisms between the way food sovereignty politics manifests in the global North compared to the global South on the basis of research in two contexts that are not (yet) part of the official global civil society platforms on food sovereignty.

The choice to focus on two island countries comes from the realisaton that island countries are generally underrepresented at international gatherings on food political matters, such as the Nyeleni Forum and at the FAO symposiums, and that international NGOs such as Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth often do not have chapters in small island countries. Being an islander myself, I also have an interest in contributing to knowledge production on issues that are of importance and relevance to islands. This PhD project therefore seeks to understand the challenges and opportunities for food sovereignty in small island countries, taking into account cultural dynamics that are unique to small island societies, while also taking into account how small islands countries are differently positioned in relation to world system dynamics, as well as differently influenced by global discourses on food security, food sovereignty, etc.

Theoretically and methodologically the project is also informed by research in the fields of rural sociology, human geography, anthropology, and political ecology, which study and engage with the bottom-up politics of contemporary food activists, and the perspectives and realities of contemporary small-scale food producers. The methodology employed, Participatory (Action) Research (P(A)R), is an engaged research methodology which seeks to involve research participants as informed and reflective co-researchers in the study. This means that the participants of the study will be involved in deciding the specific issues and questions that will need to be investigated in their respective local contexts. Through two such research engagements, one with food producers and food activists in Sao Tome and Principe and the other with food producers and food activists in the Faroe Islands, I aim to facilitate a stronger voice and presence of civil society in food political debates in their respective countries.

The main research questions guiding the project enquiry are:

How do the objectives advocated/mobilised for by Faroese government officials, food producers and food activists converge and/or diverge with those advocated/mobilised for by Sao Tome & Principe’s government officials, food producers and food activists?

How do food political dynamics in respectively Sao Tome and Principe and the Faroe Islands reflect the narratives and discourses of the IPC for Food Sovereignty, Via Campesina, World Forum for Fisheries People, and other transnational food CSOs?

Do my findings suggest a particular island ontology and positionality that cuts across the North/South dichotomy when it comes food political agendas?

How can small island countries support each other in obtaining food sovereignty? (The title was changed in november 2017)

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