Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Seminar

Upcoming: Does food democracy matter? Linking the deliberative quality of soy and coffee value chains to ecological 'foodprints'

Tue 30 November 2021Speaker: Johanna Jacobi, ETH Zurich / 8:00pm-9:00pmVirtual seminar

The global food system is facing a multiple sustainability crisis. Agri-food value chains are among the main drivers of humanity’s overstepping the planetary boundaries related to climate change, loss of biodiversity (genes, species, and habitats) deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and nutrient imbalances. At the same time, key food producers like small- and medium-scale farmers are being driven from their land as a result of expanding extractivist resource use and highly asymmetric market access. Among the root causes of the global food system’s sustainability crisis are the multidimensional and increasingly asymmetric power relations – defined as the uneven capacity to influence goals, processes, and outcomes of governance – between the actors involved. Peasant communities, family farmers, rural workers, women, small-scale traders, artisanal food processors, and resource-poor consumers remain widely excluded from the decision-making processes through which agri-food value chains are governed. Deliberation – citizens’ political conversation and collective decision-making – has been described as a “partial antidote” to unequal power relations and as an important lever for rendering decision-making less power-driven. Democracy research argues that deliberation brings to the fore public goods and society’s ecological interests. However, empirical knowledge supporting these claims in the context of food and agriculture is scarce. This research aims at understanding whether and how deliberation affects ecological outcomes (“foodprints”) of soy and coffee value chains and power asymmetries among their key actors. Specific aims are to (1) determine the deliberative quality of selected agri-food value chains; (2) understand the implications of varying degrees of deliberation for power relations among key actors; (3) assess the selected agri-food value chains’ ecological foodprints; and (4) determine how deliberative quality relates to power asymmetries and ecological foodprints. We take a mixed-methods approach in four interlinked research streams: (1) Deliberative quality, comprising analysis of soy and coffee value chains and their key actors, institutional analysis, and discourse analysis to determine deliberative spaces and deliberative quality, and (2) Power asymmetries, focusing on whether and how the deliberative quality of agri-food value chains affects power asymmetries from key actors’ perspective – with semi-structured interviews, participant observation, focus groups, and document review applied in both streams; (3) Ecological foodprints, comprising life cycle inventories to measure the selected value chains’ resource use intensity, land use, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste/nutrient management, using semi-structured interviews, participant observation, as well as document and database review; and (4) Integration, applying process tracing to infer causal relationships between deliberative quality, power asymmetries, and ecological foodprints.

Dr. Johanna Jacobi is an Assistant Professor for Agroecological Transitions at ETH Zürich. She studied Geography, Biology and Social Anthropology. Her master thesis investigated wastewater-irrigated agrobiodiversity in peri-urban agriculture in Hyderabad, India. For her PhD studies at the University of Bern, she conducted research on the resilience of cocoa farms in Bolivia to climate change. In a post-doctoral project at UC Berkeley, she focused on agroforestry in Bolivia, where she then lived and worked in a transdisciplinary action- research project for several years. Her research focuses on agroecology as a transformative science, a practice and a social movement, and on power relations in food systems with approaches and methods from political ecology. Johanna Jacobi is also a member of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA).

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