By: Lucia Goyen
At the recent IPSA conference on Food Security, I was able to delve into the deeper issues of food sovereignty during the afternoon workshop titled Indigenous Peoples. In it, the two speakers, Murielle Borst from the Kuna and Rappahannock tribes and Alison Cohen from World Hunger Year outlined the use of food as a weapon and the lack of power many communities have over their basic food choices. Many development programs dealing with food security often have an element of nutrition training, something that can, and often does, conflict directly with local cultures. As Borst explained, these outside people, under the guise of food security and good intentions, are sometimes seen as using nutrition as a tool of gentrification. These programs usually include outside supplements, that while raising caloric intake, negate the eating practices of local communities and force recipients to change their eating styles to one more “Westernized”, which can cause obesity, diabetes, and other health problems, as we have seen in many Native American cultures. As the speakers explained, food shortages are part of larger systemic issues of power, politics, loss of environment, lack of clean water, etc. Without addressing all these issues, a community can never really be “food secure.”
The sad fact is that much of the world, even us here in the U.S., are so far removed from our food that we do not see the effects these changes have on our health, our way of life, and the way we relate to one another. Food and water are basic essentials of life, but many people have little control over what they can eat, where they can access water (if they can even access clean water), and how much they are made to pay for these basic rights. As with everything we have learned at Wagner, there is no panacea to solve the massive issue of hunger; people must be able to reclaim these rights and have true power to access real choices.
IPSA is proud to confirm two additional speakers for the March 26th Spring Conference.
- Jessican Adelman, Vice President, Corporate Affairs NAFTA Region, Syngenta
- Javier Molina Cruz, Food and Agriculture Organization, Liaison Office, New York
Stay tuned for more information about each speaker.
With Spring Conference only 6 weeks away, we have confirmed additional speakers.
In addition to Frances Moore Lappé, our keynote speaker, the following participants have been confirmed. Be sure to check back at we secure more speakers.
- Andrew Rice, The New York Times
Andrew Rice has written about Africa for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The Economist, among other publications. His article “The Book of Wilson,” published in The Paris Review, received a Pushcart Prize. Between 2002 and 2004, he lived in Uganda as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, an American nonprofit foundation. Prior to that, he worked for several newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Observer. A native of Columbia, South Carolina and a graduate of Georgetown University, he currently lives in Brooklyn.
- Penelope Anderson, Director of Food Security, Mercy Corps
- Noel Gurwick, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists
Noel Gurwick is a climate–agriculture scientist in the Food & Environment Program. Noel received a B.S. in biology from Brown University and an M.S. in Natural Resource Policy and Management from Cornell University. His Ph.D. in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Change, also from Cornell, centered on carbon and nitrogen cycling in shallow groundwater near streams. As a post-doctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Dr. Gurwick studied responses of plant–soil ecosystems to multiple, co-occurring aspects of global environmental change, including carbon dioxide enrichment, warming, changes in precipitation, and increased nitrogen deposition.
Noel has served as an expert reviewer of the IPCC 2007 reports and is on the Ecological Society of America’s advisory board for Issues in Ecology. In the past, he sat on the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council and held the position of research translator at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, working to improve information flow between the science and policy communities concerned with coastal zone management.
Before coming to UCS, he was a AAAS Science–Policy Fellow in the State Department’s Bureau of Economics, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), where he managed the biofuels partnership with Brazil and supported U.S. diplomatic relations concerning low-carbon energy technologies. At State, he also strengthened EEB’s relations with the academic community.
- Christina Schiavoni, International Program Coordinator, World Hunger Year
- John Coonrod, Vice President, Strategy and Impact, The Hunger Project
John Coonrod is Vice President, Strategy and Impact of The Hunger Project. He was one of the first volunteers in The Hunger Project in early 1977, assisting in the research during the organizations formulation, and was then a volunteer leader in its enrollment, educational and financial family campaigns through 1984. In 1985, he joined staff to assist in opening the Global Office in New York and facilitate our work with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
John has been instrumental in the formulation and management of the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger since 1986, and in the development of all Hunger Project programs. The board elected him Vice President in October 1997.
John grew up in the Midwest, and was trained as a physicist at Stanford (BSc) and the University of California-Berkeley (MS, PhD), during which time he was active in the civil rights and anti-war movement. He worked as a research physicist at Princeton University from 1978 through 1984. As a physicist, he was involved in the design and construction of the High-Energy Astronomical Observatory satellite, the first whole-body CAT scanner, and the first tokamak to achieve a break-even fusion reaction.
At a Hunger Project event, he met his colleague and future wife Carol. They were married in 1988 and are living happily ever after.
- Ellen Gustafson, Co-Founder and Executive VP, FEED Project
Ellen is the co-Founder and Executive Vice President of FEED Projects, LLC. She is also the Executive Director of the FEED Foundation, a non-profit that seeks ways to support a more sustainably fed and well-nourished world. Previously, Ellen was the NY Communications Officer for the UN World Food Program (WFP). At WFP, she was acting Sr. Spokesperson in 2006 and launched the Universities Fighting World Hunger initiative of over 70 partner schools. Prior to WFP, Ellen reported in the ABC News Investigative Unit and was a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations in the Military Policy and Communications groups.
Ellen has a BA in International Politics from Columbia University and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Food and Nutrition Policy at New York University. She hails from the battlefields near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Ellen loves to cook and sing, both of which are enjoyed regularly by Team FEED.
In a recent NY Times article, Andrew Rice digs in to a meaty issue: agro-imperialism. He tells us about American Botanist Robert Zeigler who flies to Saudi Arabia to lend his expertise regarding food security to come face to face with the intense reality that the problem is being confronted by some countries with aggressive "land grabs", or "purchases", or "investments", depending on how you see the issue. The fact that countries like Saudi Arabia are increasing their holdings in other countries for food production highlights the deep fear food insecurity poses and perhaps the beginning of a land rush.
The buying or leasing of land at crazy low prices on the one hand seems unfair. It doesn’t belong to them! Its exploitative of a poor country! But its also creating jobs, that pay a whole 75 cents a day. And it wasn’t being used before (if you close your eyes tight enough, you might not see all the people that live there). In Ethiopia every farmer leases land from the government, including, quite legally, the Saudis. Given this, and the fact that despite action to the contrary, development organizations and local governments have been saying for years that Africa needs agricultural investment, is it really a "land grab"? Rice asks us "Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?"
Well, in Ethiopia, 10 percent of the population suffer from food shortages, so to me, it does seem a bit disgusting to be leasing land to foreign governments. Rice makes an excellent point when he says "it looks bad politically for countries like Kenya and Ethiopia to be letting foreign investors use their land at a time when their people face the specter of mass starvation". The countries leasing the land justify their argument, claiming they are doing it legally, creating jobs, exploiting the land more efficiently. These arguments are all too familiar. Remember the last time foreign countries came to Africa to use the land better? Heck- they managed to find rubber, oil and diamonds! And think of all the "jobs" that were produced!
Rice doesn’t go so far, but for me despite my inability to really pick apart the problem with the whole thing, just feel that its wrong. I’d love to be more specific but I can’t even figure out if food security is a production problem or a distribution problem. I’m hoping to learn more at IPSA’s upcoming Spring Conference on food security.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?
IPSA is pleased to announce that Frances Moore Lappé will deliver the Keynote Address at its 2010 Spring Conference on Friday, March 26, 2010.