Reclaiming food autonomy as a response to crisis
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Reclaiming food autonomy as a response to crisis. Robert Biel UCL Development Planning Unit. approaches to the topic:. 1. projects through UCL. .... some explicitly health-related. London 2062. critiquing systems which channel wealth, resources and power to those who already have them.

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Reclaiming food autonomy as a response to crisis

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Reclaiming food autonomy as a response to crisis

Robert Biel

UCL Development Planning Unit

approaches to the topic:

1. projects through UCL

.... some explicitly health-related

London 2062

critiquing systems which channel wealth, resources and power to those who already have them

2. Political Ecology

... resulting in widespread environmental injustice, deprivation, malnutrition, food poverty

... the food issue is political!

low-input method working with soil as complex system

3. practice in farming

  • Marx: we are alienated ... from nature, and at the same time, from product of our own labour

Political Ecology framework for this topic

this is why we are at the same time exploited, and also messed up, mentally and physically

  • in nature, everything, organic or mineral, is cycled around

‘metabolic rift’ (Bellamy Foster 2009)

illustration: de Rosnay 1979

traditional sustainable farming systems slot into these cycles

in a physical sense, the rift happens when we lose touch with this

at a level of property relations, the alienation or rift is expressed in expropriation (grabbing, ripping away)

  • ... both of the land itself, and crucially, of knowledge

... resulting in disempowerment, loss of resilience, loss of confidence that we can cope

in the global South it’s even worse: acute deprivation, food insecurity, land and knowledge grabbed by corporate interests

  • at a social level alone, this would demand change

... but climate crisis – which qualitatively increases vulnerability – adds another dimension to the urgency

technical parameters to understanding and healing the rift


  • what’s conventionally seen as mitigation, though it’s really about kick-starting benign feedback loops

  • therefore, as part of metabolic rift, we could conceptualise a ‘carbon rift’

the natural metabolic cycle is also a carbon cycle

  • soil conservation is “central to the longevity of any civilization,” (Montgomery 2007) ; but at present soil is vanishing at up to 50 tonnes per hectare per year, 100 times faster than its formation rate (Banwart 2011)

soil holds nearly three times as much carbon as vegetation and twice that of the atmosphere (Yi et al, 2011)

feedback loop: the more carbon we can get into the soil, the better plants will grow, and the more carbon they absorb ... thus we simultaneously feed the planet and solve the climate problem

there are interesting technical solutions to correct this

  • primarily a question of diversity

  • wide spread of responses to shocks and extreme events


  • a.diversity of crops and of strains

  • b. allowing biodiversity to reconstitute itself (natural predators, pollinating insects)

  • also a question of property relations

but the alienation can’t be healed at a purely technical level

  • self-organising nature – self-organising society

  • ... commons

  • e.g. in relation to carbon loops:

knowledge commons, reconstituting traditional approaches...

  • recapturing initiative, autonomy, coping...

radical social movements initiated in global South

food sovereignty

  • and reclaiming the land itself:

tradition of struggle in this country

Land and Freedom Camp, Clapham Common, London, September 2011

  • self-organising nature – self-organising society

  • the alienation or rift is healed through a convergence from both these directions

... thanks very much!

Robert Biel

[email protected]

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