The food state and the state of food: how food systems and states make and unmake each other

Graeme MacRae (Massey University Auckland)
Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne)
Ligertwood 113
Start time:
13 December, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

States have both depended on and controlled food production for 5000 years. This relationship is changing again now as new mixes of players and interests have entered the game. Two divergent models of food security have emerged. What is at stake?

Long abstract:

The standard narrative of state formation is that it followed from the domestication and large-scale intensive cultivation of grains. States were enabled by, but also reinforced, this symbiotic relationship with grains. James Scott (in his keynote address) questions this and points to the importance of other crops in state formation. For 5000 years, nearly all states have invested considerable political, economic, and ideological energy into maintaining control over the production, storage and distribution of staple grains and other foods. By the mid-twentieth century, nation states were entering into new partnerships with "philanthropic" foundations, seed and fertiliser corporations and national and multilateral aid organisations to further develop food production and manage food security on a global scale. More recently, we are witnessing another epochal transformation - the withdrawal of states from the responsibility of managing the food security of their populations. This responsibility has now largely devolved to foundations, multilateral organisations and the agri-food industry, but also NGOs and community, producer and consumer organisations. In the process two radically divergent views of food problems and solutions have emerged and become embedded in institutional forms and ideologies - one large-scale, industrialised and focused on maximising production; the other oriented to (re)building local, community-based ecologically sustainable systems. Ethnographic studies reveal complex and contradictory relationships between global agencies, agribusiness, local communities and residual and new forms of state control. We invite papers, preferably ethnographically informed, that explore the changing relationships between these actors, with a view to resolving contradictions between competing approaches to food production.