In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative turns the spotlights on one of their PhD candidates. We learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and their long term goals. This edition features Daniela Garcia-Caro Briceno who studies the sustainable food system transitions in Europe.
What is your research about?
My research is part of the Initiative’s Sustainable Agriculture research project and will explore sustainable food system transitions in Europe and their potential barriers. Food is essential to life on earth, yet its production is resource intensive, environmentally destructive, and inherently unsustainable. In recent decades, agroecology has gained prominence as a long-term, systemic approach capable of facilitating the transformative food systems change required to simultaneously address climate change and the myriad crises present within food systems. The European Union has recently joined the international call for agroecology and sustainable food systems through its Farm to Fork Strategy, a proposal at the heart of the EU Green Deal aiming to comprehensively address the challenges facing food systems while recognizing the inextricable links between social and planetary health. While the goal of this strategy is the promotion and implementation of sustainable food systems in Europe, it plans to make use of old governance and regulation instruments, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, that perpetuate old system behaviors and status quo production practices. This conjures up a huge question mark regarding the Farm to Fork strategy’s ability to effectively translate its objectives into European legislation, and whether governance and legal bodies are adequately prepared to address the complexity of the wicked sustainability problems facing global food systems. As such, my research aims to explore the relationships between the EU’s food governance and legal frameworks and the Green Deal’s vision for sustainable food systems from an agroecological perspective in order to identify stumbling blocks present within law and governance to the advancement of European sustainable food systems transitions.
“Towards fair and just systems that prioritize human wellbeing, environmental synergy, and local economies.”
How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?
It’s no surprise that starting a PhD amidst a global pandemic has been quite challenging. Missing out on those quick chats with peers over coffee and other general office and class interactions that really get you thinking about your research in new ways have pushed everyone to get creative as we all seek those connections outside of the university. These aspects of academic life add further complexity to my project, the nature of which has me sandwiched between law and philosophy. These first six months have primarily been spent navigating these two formidable and interesting disciplines for the purpose of identifying how they best work together in relation to the aims of my research.
This preliminary research has gone hand in hand with the writing of a literature review I am currently working on in order to identify and better map my research field, create a comprehensive taxonomy of European food system law and governance, and further develop the trajectory of my PhD. My main findings thus far relate to law and governance’s ability (or lack thereof) to understand and operationalize around the ambiguousness of non-prescriptive terms like sustainability or agroecology. This ambiguity is currently seen as an issue within law and governance requiring resolution in order to establish sustainable transitions. However, rather than attempting to provide a strict legal definition for what sustainability, sustainable food systems, or agroecology is, there should be greater interest around the role and utility of their ambiguity, and how law and governance could be made more receptive to it, considering it is an intrinsic part of most complex, global issues.
In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?
My research aims to develop the understanding of inclusive prosperity within the context of European food systems, operating around basic human rights and the concept of fair and equitable food systems. This includes the right to food and the notion that all actors, especially small-scale food producers, deserve living wages, safe working conditions free from exploitation, and access to affordable and nutritious foods. As a result, my research will delve into the dynamics of social and environmental systems present within the European food systems. I aim to explore the ways in which EU law and governance frameworks can better include, support, and prioritize social and environmental systems within broader systems that look at food as nothing more than a commodity, effectively addressing contemporary societal challenges and barriers to inclusive prosperity in the EU and elsewhere.
What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?
Sustainable and equitable food systems are located in the nexus between social and environmental systems. Transitions to such systems require much more than ecological approaches to agriculture, depending on holistic systems perspectives and interdisciplinary research tackling the studied phenomena from various system entrance points. Therefore, the value of carrying out my PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive prosperity comes from its intrinsic multidisciplinarity: my ability, as an agroecologist, to engage with legal and philosophical food system aspects is made possible by the collaboration between the School of Philosophy and the School of Law, the expert supervision provided by each department, and the opportunity for education in each discipline. Being immersed in a variety of perspectives is critical to improving the questions we ask ourselves as researchers and thinking about such complex topics in fresh ways.
What are your ambitions for the future?
My greatest ambition is contributing as a researcher and practitioner to real food systems transformations – moving away from greenwashed global food systems operating around the commodification of food at the expense of the environment, producers, and consumers towards fair and just systems that prioritize human wellbeing, environmental synergy, and local economies. From a researcher’s perspective, I am a strong believer in the critical roles that law and governance play in all kinds of sustainable transitions. Improving their ability to understand, regulate and govern such complex phenomena is key to ensuring truly regenerative and equitable systems for us and future generations. From a practitioner’s perspective, I hope to spend more time tending to my edible garden alongside my partner and our chickens.