Research

My research covers several areas: international regulation of trade in agriculture and food; commodity agreements and economic development; international human rights law (especially as it pertains to food insecurity such as the right to food, right to land, right to water, rights of indigenous peoples); climate change and transformation of the global food/fuel/feed complex and its governance; and, the policy drivers of hunger. The basic approach of my research is interdisciplinary and I draw from international relations, international political economy, sociology, law, geography, economics and environmental science.

I currently have four active research projects at the intersection of food security, development, transnational governance and advocacy (two projects are funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada). Please see the Selected Publications tab for my publications related to these areas.




 Hunger in a Globalizing World

 
A central objective of my research is to improve our knowledge of the global governance of agriculture and food. It does so by examining the global governance of food security. Food insecurity is not simply a ‘natural’ or ‘scientific’ phenomenon:  it is primarily caused by human-made actions. As such, it is a direct by-product of historically specific forms of social, economic, and political organization. Achieving world food security has long been a major objective of international cooperation and a focus of international and regional institution building and development policy. In the present era, there has been a renewed centrality of food security to global governance, especially in the context of agricultural trade liberalization, developments in biotechnology, climate change and most recently the global food crisis.

Rising levels of food security is currently one of the most pressing issues in global politics. While the United Nations (UN) system has traditionally been responsible for addressing world hunger, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has emerged as a major site of global food security governance. As a result, the UN and WTO now share authority over the global governance of food security. There are major tensions between these two regimes, with WTO trade rules making agriculture and food increasingly subject to market forces, while, in sharp contrast, the UN advances a human rights approach to food and a greater role for states and deeper constraints on the market. The WTO’s expanding authority over food security has prompted a counter-movement by the UN system, with UN institutions actively seeking to shape WTO trade rules in an attempt to limit the negative impacts of trade liberalization on world food security. The research project develops a theory of international organizations as semi-autonomous actors that influence outcomes at competing institutional sites of global governance.

 

 

The Global Governance of Land Grabbing

This new project builds on my previous research on the global governance of food security. Since the 2008 global food crisis, investors have acquired over 150 million hectares of agricultural land in developing countries to produce food, feed and biofuel. This scale of land acquisition has not been seen since the era of colonialism and critics have referred to this phenomenon as a “global land grab” in direct comparison to its colonial-era antecedents. Several controversial land deals – most notably the attempt by the Daewoo Corporation of South Korea to lease 1.3 million hectares in Madagascar (equivalent to half the country’s arable land) that led to widespread riots and the fall of an elected government – have prompted efforts to design new global rules to mitigate the potential risks and ensure the transparency and accountability of large-scale land acquisitions. This research project will analyze the negotiation of new transnational institutions to regulate land grabbing and their implementation at the international and national level. These acquisitions have ignited a global debate over whether such large-scale investment in agriculture will be channeled to promote pro-poor economic growth and sustainable development or exacerbate food insecurity, ecological deterioration and political instability in developing countries.

Existing scholarship has primarily focused on the local and national sites where land grabbing is occurring and its interplay with the political economy of land reform and agricultural restructuring in developing countries. However, the transnational governance dimensions of land-grabbing have been under-examined, in particular the emerging global governance mechanisms being negotiated at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)and the World Bank.  At each of these sites we find different configurations of state and non-state actors that are pursuing competing objectives and regulatory outcomes.  There is a major fault line between actors that support modes of voluntary, private self-regulation and those advocating for rules that could be enforceable under international public law.  As a result, these negotiations have become key sites of political conflict, yet it remains unclear how different actors such as global civil society organizations or private hedge funds are able to influence developments in this transnational negotiation setting.  By examining new efforts to govern land grabbing at the global level, my research project will provide a better understanding of how different actors (including states, international organizations, private sector actors and civil society) exercise power in transnational negotiations and shape an emergent global governance regime.



Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada

This third research project is part of a multi-year collaborative project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) the will examine changes in farmland land use in five Canadian provinces. This project seeks to determine if changing social values and attitudes towards food and agriculture are translating into change in the public policy process and we will focus on three policy regimes: food sovereignty, land preservation, and agri-food exports. For more information visit
Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada Project


Mapping the State of Play on the Global Food Landscape

This workshop project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant that will take stock on the rapidly evolving research on global food issues. This workshop project is co-organized by  Dr. Jennifer Clapp (Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo),  Dr. Annette Desmarais (Canada Research Chair in Food Justice at the University of Manitoba) and I with the objective to integrate multiple sources and forms of knowledge (i.e., experience in the field, expertise in policymaking and scholarly knowledge) to yield a compilation of written and web-based outputs that will be both widely accessible and relevant for informing policy and public opinion. *More information will be posted here in the coming months.