Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conversations on Research

You may have not noticed but I have made some minor edits to the post on my "new research topic" These edits were the result of some feedback I got from a former professor and thesis advisor.

Here is the conversation, a response to my write-up:
My initial reaction is wow! I think the whole food issue is really important given all the underlying situations that affect it as you mention—environment, fuel costs, production, cultural barriers, conflict, etc. The food riots at the height of the oil price hike this year really went under reported masking a real problem…the failure of the Doha round also indicates large pressure on the area…my sense is that however important… in its present form in your paper, the topic is way too large for a dissertation…the choice of case countries also adds to the expanse.

I sense the choice of cases to be problematic as well…while I don’t know the terrain, the agricultural system in the US is patently different from that of India…so much so that perhaps it may render the comparative advantage moot. In looking at India on this issue, I would make sure you would have access to the data required prior to undertaking the research…I am sure you are also aware that Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have written extensively (1989, 1990) on Food Security through examinations of famine in India…as a matter of fact, Dreze has moved on to a right to work program during fallow and famine times as a means to insure livelihood…the policy is now an India wide program…

Not to discourage you Justin, but to gently push to a narrower focus, with smaller cases J. You have to finish….

Note: I love the last comment! Yes, I have to finish and sooner than later!

Ok, so here was my LONG response:
Thanks for the response!

Your comments point out to me that there is still a need to better articulate the project so that others understand the actual scope of what I'm trying to do. To clarify, the project is not looking to model national food systems but rather the community interface to the food system, represented as a sub-system. So the primary scale of analysis is the community, anything beyond that is really outside the boundaries. Yet, this is not to say that this project is not overly ambitious. The issue as you say though is getting the data. Building a computer model is not really the hard part, it is getting the data to run the simulation experiments. Some of this data can be acquired through the FAO, State and National govs, NGOs and climate labs around the world. The difficulty is in calculating the fractions of community level inputs, through-puts and outputs related to the larger data sets that are out there.

This is where the case studies come in, to help fill in these gaps and provide ground level information on patterns of consumption and access as well as production and distribution, and how communities adapt to time of uncertainty, etc. The cases also are meant to provide a way to trace food habits and types of foods people use to gain their nutritional requirements back through the production chain. Some of those foods come from personal or community scale food production and some can from more "conventional" or industrial types of food production. The goal is to know what is that ratio between the two at the community level. Along with the ratio is the need to identify origin. The origin will help in calculating the carbon footprint related to distribution and processing. However, if the products are made in say the US and shipped to India and to this particular community (say Ranchi and surrounding areas), the US production system exists outside the scope of the case boundaries. The models will only deal with materials moving into the system, materials used and produced within and for the system, and materials leaving the system. Now, the models will reference resources existing outside the model boundaries and be brought in to the system as fractions of these larger resource pools, energy is just one example, capital inputs might be another. Note: it is not my intent to replicate the World3 model used in Limits to Growth, I may be crazy, but not crazy AND stupid....hahaha!

The reason for the comparison is to better understand how these food system configurations are different. While the differences between say India and the US are obvious to us, there are still efforts to apply uniform frameworks for food production. This scares me and I think that efforts to rationalize production and industrialize these systems as promoted by the World Bank and corporate backers from companies like ADM and Monsanto are potentially problematic, not just on environmental sustainability but on food equity. The rationalization model seems to promote corporate farming and a restructuring of labor. Localists argue that this will actually lead to less security as small-scale farmers will relinquish personal ownership over both their labor and the assets associated with being able to be self-reliant in favor of other forms of work that might put these people in a serious disadvantage considering the potential for further crisis in food prices. So I feel like I need to bludgeon people over the heads and remind them. Of course, maybe such a system could be perfected, but I'm not convinced.

Now, in relation to Dreze's program I would argue that the policy misses the structural problems of the system, it doesn't do anything to really address self-reliant food systems, nor environmental sustainability nor resilience of the system itself in times of hardship. Rather the focus is to offset the problems. I'm not trying to be critical of the work in the sense that I think it is wrong, but from the data that I do have on production systems, environmental decay and the regional climate indicators associated with global warming suggests that such problems will only worsen. This would further suggest that we need to be thinking about additional solutions. Some of the problems might be unavoidable and in those situations mitigation and adaptation is the best we can do, but in other situations the system itself is only exacerbating the problems.

Thanks Bro. Ed! You always have a way of getting me all amped up, thinking more deeply and pointing out the things I miss.

Shanti to Bro. Ed

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