Sunday, 28 April 2013

Oxford Global Food Security Conference, 2013

An interdisciplinary conference dealing with issues of food security and uncertainty around the world was held at Oxford University on April 27, 2013. Although not directly related to my current research on rural livelihood vulnerability to water scarcity and climate change, the conference was an interesting collection of diverse approaches to understanding, quantifying, and addressing food insecurity around the world. Across three panels, there were nine speakers with interesting and thought-provoking presentations. I'll just talk about some of the highlights:

The first panel dealt with Food Security and Environmental Change. Of particular interest to me was a talk by Dr. Joost Vervoort who explained the CCAFS's findings in Eastern Africa on future food security scenarios. Using different demographic, economic, political and environmental trajectories, the work comes up with an innovative typology of what food security in Africa may look like. Pertinently, Dr. Vervoort explained how these scenarios were used in workshops with different stakeholders across six African countries to 'back-plan', i.e. work backwards from their desired goals to understand how present challenges need to be tackled.

The second panel on Food Politics and Policies dealt with food security issues at global and regional scales. Rebecca Farnum, a masters student at UEA, gave insights on how the discourse on food security and political unrest were framed differently in the Middle East and North Africa on one hand, and sub-Saharan Africa on the other. She questioned this discourse dichotomy and explored the role of western media in constructing and shaping such narratives. I liked that she ended with a call for everyone to recognise and question their own dichotomies and understand its impacts.

The third panel explored diverse methodological  approaches to capture and understand food security issues from ethnography to econometrics. Serena Stein, a PhD student from Princeton University, gave a presentation on the application of Amartya Sen's Capability Approach in understanding food security, taking the case of Mozambique. Her narrative, coupled with a slideshow of photographs, was an innovative and evocative exploration on differences food access and utilization at the intra-household level.

Particularly interesting for me were some voices from the audience, mostly elderly academics who questioned, "We have been facing the same issues over the decades. We have repeatedly arrived at the same roadblocks and tried similar solutions. What are we  doing wrong?" In spite of the spirited conversations around food security, I feel their questions remained unanswered. The conference ended with a stimulating keynote address by Doug Gollin who spoke of the spatial nature of food security, elaborating on how transport facilities play a crucial role in farmer livelihoods. His, talk both lively and profound, tried to alleviate some of the gloom in the room and ended, as best things do, with a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:  

PS: A conference that ends with wine and cheese? Yes please!

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