By Joëlla van de Griend
Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Economics, as part of the Asian Platform for Global Sustainability & Transcultural Studies (AGST), aims to contribute to sustainable development in Asia and throughout the world. Wageningen University’s Rural Sociology Group is a key partner in this platform. As a part of this partnership, Dr. Jessica Duncan has come to Kyoto University to teach a course on Global Food Security Governance.
Taking a sociological approach, the course covers a variety of angles to think about global food security governance. The course is attended by graduate students, PhD candidates and faculty members, which has contributed to rich discussions. Furthermore, amongst the participants there is a large variety of backgrounds and fields of expertise such as law, economics, development studies, business management, political science, and agricultural science with attendants coming from Asia, Europe and Africa.
One of the students attending the class is Wurihan. She decided to follow the course because of a growing interest in policy regarding food security. Before attending Kyoto University as a research student, she went to an agricultural university in China where she studied geographical information systems:
“I used to think that to ensure food security we should increase efficiency in production. But after I did some fieldwork I found it was more about policy and how this can sometimes turn out differently than policy makers intend.”
That is why she wants to learn more about food governance in order to understand how we can contribute to solutions of problems like the distribution of food and obesity.
As one of the objectives of the course is to explore the complexity of the thinking about food security, many theories and approaches are discussed and explored in class while using “framing” as a method to understand the different (often competing) perspectives.
Other topics discussed in the course so far are the global context of food security, trade, participation, policy, politics and lastly governmentality. For this complex subject, we did a close-reading of a chapter by J. Joseph (The Social in the Global) in which he discusses Foucault’s idea of governmentality. As this is not easy literature, reading in a group is helpful to understand the concepts and ideas that are discussed in this chapter. After three hours of class we managed to get through almost twenty pages, what a brain training!
One way that we explored the different perspectives on food security was by re-enacting a debate on the role of food trade for food security. Students took on different roles and experienced what it would be like to represent a market-oriented organization that sees food primarily as an economic good. The other half of the students acted as representatives of a food sovereignty movement who understand food as also being a social good. Some of the students acknowledged that using these narratives was challenging.
The narrative ‘food as an economic good’ seems to have a consistent and simple argumentation whereas ‘food as a social good’ entails a more diverse character which complicates the creation of a clear narrative. This outcome was also reflected in the reading for that class. Both groups also tried to come up with convincing arguments based on scientific evidence, showing that the role evidence has in the discussion is not neutral, but that the choice for evidence can be led by ideological motives.
In our class debate, no consensus was reached regarding the causes of and solutions to problems. The question posed was how opposing actors can continue without reaching this consensus. The political dimension of consensus and the implications of this status were discussed in one of the lectures about the post-political condition of food security governance.
Are you interested in studying at Kyoto university? For more information see http://agst.jgp.kyoto-u.ac.jp/ or contact Prof. Shuji Hisano (hisano (a) econ.kyoto-u.ac.jp).
Joëlla van de Griend, intern Kyoto University and student from Wageningen University