“Global Food Security Governance” at Kyoto University

By Joëlla van de Griend


In-class debate on trade and food security


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.


Participants prepare for the in-class debate


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



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About FoodGovernance

Jessica Duncan is Associate Professor in Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (the Netherlands). She holds a PhD in Food Policy from City University London (2014). Jessica’s main research focus concerns the practices and politics of participation in food policy processes, particularly the relationships (formal and non-formal) between governance organizations, systems of food provisioning, the environment, and the actors engaged in and across these spaces. More specifically, she maps the diverse ways that actors participate in policy-making processes, analysing how the resulting policies are shaped, implemented, challenged, and resisted, and she theorizes about what this means for socio-ecological transformation. Participation and engagement is at the core of her approach. In turn, she is active in a broad range of local, national and international initiatives with the aim of better understanding participation processes with a view towards transitioning to just and sustainable food systems. She is involved in several research projects including ROBUST, HortEco & SHEALTHY. Jessica is published regularly in academic journals. She recently co-edited the Handbook on Sustainable and Regenerative Food Systems (2020). Her other books include Food Security Governance: Civil society participation in the Committee on World Food Security (2015) and an edited volume called Sustainable food futures: Multidisciplinary solutions (2017). Jessica has received several awards for her teaching and in 2017 she was awarded Teacher of the Year for Wageningen University (shortlisted again in 2018 and 2019, longlisted in 2020). With the funds she has received for these awards she launched a story-telling workshop for students and faculty, with storytelling trainer, Emma Holmes. Jessica is on the Editorial Board of the journal Sociologia Ruralis and is an advisor to the Traditional Cultures Project (USA). She is a member of the Wageningen Young Academy and sits on the Sustainability Board of Experts at Wageningen University.

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