Food Systems Failure

Can We Avert Future Crises?

Authored by: Kiah Smith

Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804371
eBook ISBN: 9781315753041
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619864


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This chapter charts the growing awareness – within academia, policy making and wider society – of the systemic failures and structural inequalities of the current global food system, and of the potential for a fundamental shift towards a more just and secure food future for all. The food crisis of 2008 is understood here as a defining moment in the coalescence of multiple social, environmental and political failures of a global food system based on industrial agriculture, neoliberal economic and trade policy regimes, and a host of new (and not-so-new) global structural conditions (globalisation, industrialisation/productivism, corporatisation, marketisation and financialisation). Instead of ‘feeding the world’ as promised, producing more food through Green Revolution technologies and Green Growth policies has not solved the underlying problems of inequitable access, rising costs, over-reliance on fossil fuels, poor labour conditions, insufficient nutrition, and distorted trade relations. Food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition have increased; rural poverty persists; livelihood options for the rural poor have decreased; and environmental degradation linked to unsustainable food production and consumption practices shows few signs of slowing. These problems are exacerbated in the context of increasing global population growth, decreasing productivity levels in many key agricultural regions, and the uneven distribution of climate change impacts. In contrast to the continued emphasis on increasing food production (itself a contested assessment of the food security dilemma), more critical analyses of power and agency, participation, rights, democracy and governance have highlighted the complex relationships between food system inequalities and the failure to solve the problem of global hunger.

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