In our series of guest blogs from the Nexus Network Annual Conference on 19 November 2015, we are pleased to publish this post from conference participant Rachael Taylor. Rachael is a Doctoral researcher at SPRU, the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex.
The blog is Rachael’s overview of the ‘Nexus struggles: agricultural scales, policy spaces and nexus interactions’ morning breakout session, led by Professor Steffen Böhm, University of Essex, Dr Tom Wakeford, Coventry University and Dr Antonio Ioris, University of Edinburgh.
The ‘Nexus struggles’ session looked at the food-energy-water-environment nexus from an alternative perspective to uncover the hidden narratives of nexus struggles.
Through discussion during the session it was proposed that a lot of the nexus-related challenges we are facing already have answers or solutions at a grassroots level. Academia needs to access that by giving a voice to the realities of nexus struggles.
Steffen Böhm suggested that the nexus has been at the heart of modern capitalist economic development but there is a metabolic rift whereby capitalism is constantly undermining the water, energy and land resources on which it depends. Capitalism requires cheap food, cheap energy, cheap raw materials (including water), and cheap labour in order to sustain the envisioned growth.
He outlined the history of rural peasants being driven off their land and into cities, which continues to be state policy today in India and other countries. Although in these countries, smallholder farmers are so small that they have nothing in common with the dominant model of agribusiness and mass production.
Rural livelihoods are thus identified as the past and urban living as the future.
Steffen went on to describe the lasting effects of the Green Revolution in India. The Green Revolution was built on a model of agricultural production which relies on monoculture, fertiliser and pesticide use, and high-yielding seed varieties. The Green Revolution was widely perceived to be successful, for example, has resulted in an increase in the number of calories being produced per population.
However, this is not a nation-wide picture. In some areas of India the number of calories consumed is declining and the reliance on agricultural inputs has increased the vulnerability of farming.
As input costs have continued to rise, land has become degraded, water resources are under greater pressure, and the agricultural livelihoods of smallholders have become increasingly difficult to sustain. This has tragic consequences. Today, approximately 40 farmers in India commit suicide each day because they see no way out of their struggles.
The Struggle for Voice
Tom Wakeford focussed on struggles within the UK food nexus and suggested that we need to hear the hidden voices and hidden histories.
Presenting the project ‘Our Food in North East England’, he explained the use of dialogue to explore stories of food. It is often thought that young people with families in deprived neighbourhoods lack access to good food because they lack a car, but the reality can be even more straightforward. Listening to these families reveals that often people don’t have kitchen facilities or even a saucepan to cook fresh food.
Social movements can create an organised space to recover lost histories of our food through dialogue. Using re-imagined political and invited spaces, Tom proposed a radical shift in the food system which allows these claimed spaces to criticise the top-down framings and decisions. This can build reflexive movements to reclaim people’s right to co-produce our food system.
Image credit: Paddy fields, with thanks to shankar s on flickr.