We attended the ISS Colloquium on Climate Justice & Agrarian/Social Justice

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During the 4-5th February 2016, we attended the Colloquium on “Global governance/politics: climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges” at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Around 400 academics and activists working on agri-food systems and/or climate justice gathered during a really packed two-day event to share knowledge and experiences on food/climate systems research and activism and explore potential synergies and collaborations. Rosa and I were happy to see a group of known suspects linked to the Ecological Economics network (mainly former and current ICTA colleagues) working on related issues.

The topics covered by the Colloquium were broad and included: corporate take-over of global governance; transnational trade; market/state mechanisms in governance questions around food security/extractive industries/trade/conservation; intersections between climate change, mitigation/adaptation policies, resource grabbing, and conflict; financialisation of the food system, nature and farmland; climate smart agriculture; and issues around climate justice and agrarian/food justice. Of course, the approaches to the topics were also extremely diverse.

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One of the contributions I enjoyed the most – although it was extremely short (only 7 minutes) – was from the anthropologist Suzana Sawyer, one of the speakers during the opening session. She started developing the idea of the extent to which climate change has messed up traditional social science categories for understanding reality and implied becoming more radical. She seemed to work from a similar material agency perspective to our project as she asked what would it mean to include non-human actants and shift from global human politics to Earthbound politics? (if you are looking for an introductory text on material agency, this is a useful one).

Another remarkable contribution in one of the parallel sessions was from C. Konstantinidis. He made a very interesting and shocking presentation about food-related dynamics in Greece during the economic crisis. The most striking information he gave was that since 2013, there has been a national law banning direct producer-consumer trade relations in Greece in towns with more than 3000 people, and especially around supermarkets. All the people who were listening to this presentation were shocked, as direct producer-consumer relations can be a strategy for both consumers and producers to navigate an economic crisis. The fact that, according to this scholar, Greek people are forced to buy in supermarkets (usually with bigger corporations involved and more intermediaries) at the expense of investing in short supply chains was upsetting for the audience.

In general, the Colloquium was enjoyable and interesting. However, we were quite disappointed with the food that was offered at this event focused on food systems. We were expecting that, since it is a Colloquium in which concepts such as agroecology, food sovereignty, food and climate justice were notably important, the food we would encounter would meet (at least partially) such criteria. It did not. We were actually expecting that the Colloquium would understand that organising a food/climate academic gathering is an opportunity to invest in short supply organic food chains. That would be a great way of enacting the food/climate justice discourse, politicising the everyday choices of an academic institute, and bridging the distance between academy and activism.

 

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