Category Archives: President’s Corner

President’s corner September 2012 Geoffrey Lawrence


The XIII World Congress of Rural Sociology, held in Lisbon, Portugal, in July/August this year, was addressed by Professor Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
De Schutter’s mandate, as described by the UN Human Right’s Council is to:

  • Promote the full realization of the right to food and the adoption of measures at the national, regional and international levels for the realization of the right of everyone to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger so as to be able fully to develop and maintain their physical and mental capacities;
  • examine ways and means of overcoming existing and emerging obstacles to the realization of the right to food;
  • continue mainstreaming a gender perspective and taking into account an age dimension in the fulfilment of the mandate, considering that women and children are disproportionately affected by hunger, food insecurity and poverty;
  • submit proposals that could help the realization of Millennium Development Goal No. 1 to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, as well as to realize the right to food, in particular, taking into account the role of international assistance and cooperation in reinforcing national actions to implement sustainable food security policies;
  • present recommendations on possible steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right to food, including steps to promote the conditions for everyone to be free from hunger and as soon as possible enjoy fully the right to food, taking into account lessons learnt in the implementation of national plans to combat hunger;
  • work in close cooperation with all States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as with other relevant actors representing the broadest possible range of interests and experiences, within their respective mandates, to take fully into account the need to promote the effective realization of the right to food for all, including in the ongoing negotiations in different fields;
  • continue participating in and contributing to relevant international conferences and events with the aim of promoting the realization of the right to food.
  • To access Professor De Schutter’s talk at the Rural Sociology Congress, please visit:

    President’s corner August 2012 Geoffrey Lawrence


    Address to the General Assembly of IRSA from In-coming President, Professor Geoffrey Lawrence, Friday 3 August 2012

    I’ve entitled my short statement this afternoon: ‘Think Global, Act Rural’. It is not an original title. It is the title of a 2010 film by award-winning French director Coline Serreau. The film argues that industrial agriculture is degrading resources, poisoning the world’s fresh water supply, causing cruelty to animals and destroying farming systems that have fed the world sustainably for millennia. This film is about the emergence and consolidation of a corporate-endorsed farming system that pollutes the land, compromises human health, and undermines the well-being of millions of small-scale producers worldwide. While the film is not without faults, Serreau makes a basic and important point: if you want to change the global, you need to understand – and change – the rural.

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    President’s corner July 2012 Reidar Almås

      almasTime is approaching for the thirteenth world congress of rural sociology in Lisbon, Portugal, and it seems already to be a memorable congress. 75 working group leaders have been preparing a comprehensive program with 1450 papers. The scientific committee and the local organizing committee have undertaken a major effort to facilitate a program that also includes a number of excursions to the countryside in Portugal. This congress will be one with the largest turnout ever, with more than 1000 participants recorded so far. On behalf of IRSA, I will congratulate Professor Manuel Moreira and his team with an excellent preparation for this congress and we are looking forward to see each other in Lisbon July 29 to August 4.

    The time of climate change and food uprisings? Reidar Almas, president of IRSA

      Have we seen the beginning of the time of food uprisings? During the 2006-2008 food price increase, FAO real (deflated) food price index rose to 184,7 points (June 2008), and more than 40 countries experienced food rebellions. In March 2009 President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar had to step down in the midst of an economic crisis. The opposition claimed that his regime had opened up too much for foreign investments, particularly in mining and agricultural land. In November 2008 South Korea’s transnational company Daewoo had signed a 99-year lease for half of Madagascar’s arable land, the firm expecting to pay “nothing” for the lease (Financial Times November 18 2008). In a military backed coup Andry Rajoelina seized power and abandoned the $6 billion the controversial land lease agreement The deal would have turned over 1.3 million hectares to produce corn and palm oil for export at a time when one-third of country’s children weree malnourished. Daewoo officials have later said they are already putting plans together to switch their investment to more receptive countries in the region.

      Recently the 2008 food price peak has been surpassed, and at present the real food price index is up to 202,2 (March 2011). Sugar, fats, oils and cereals have increased the most, while dairy and meat have had a more modest price increase. The last month, sugar and oils decreased slightly, but both grains, dairy and meat is now substantially above the former 2008 record level. In some of the Arab countries experiencing insurgencies lately, protests against food price hikes is giving intensity to the political revolts.

    Food security in the age of land grabs and volcano eruptions Presidential address at the IRSA webpage Reidar Almås

    The April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland has caused immediate disruption of air traffic in and to Europe, and may have longer-term implications for climate change. Further south, the ongoing oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico may destroy regional wildlife and fisheries for decades. Both of these events have raised new public and research concerns over food issues. Further, factors like soaring oil prices, and energy costs more generally, have meant more land used for biofuel cultivation. These, combined with global biosecurity crises and pandemics, suggests that food security has entered the world stage of politics with a new agenda. Together with ongoing concerns about climate change, they may help to shift the whole way we think about risk, food security and sovereignty, and environmental policies.

    The idea that volcanic eruptions could create a whole year of winter in certain regions of the world, derives from historical evidence. In 1815, the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia exploded, producing the largest eruption in recorded history. Rock and ash spread in the atmosphere, reducing sunlight and causing global cooling. As a result, 1816 was termed the year without a summer in Europe. Here in Norway, at the Lufall farm where I grew up and live, 6 infant children died in the years 1815-1821. Part of the reason were the after-effects of the British blockade of Denmark-Norway during the Napoleonic wars, but the Tambora shock and the resultant cooling made it impossible to raise a normal harvest, which exacerbated an already-dire food situation. Eyjafjallajökull is one thing; should the neighbouring volcano, Katla, explode, we may again have a year or two without summer in the Northern hemisphere. This could easily be made even worse as there are many volcanos that could erupt elsewhere; one only has to think of the so-called ring of fire surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

    Like Norway, countries producing less grain than they consume, are now carefully following the global food scene. Recently the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), signed an agreement to re-establish national grain reserves and have decided to create a joint agriculture information base to help each country to calculate production and consumption balances. Moreover, to further protect themselves, Beijing is signing land leases at a grand scale with developing nations in Africa, well aware that full stomachs mean happier Chinese.

    The financial crisis may now be well into a double dip global recession after a short recovery. This has implications for food prices now, as it did in 2007-08, when speculation in food futures was the immediate cause of the food price hike of that year. This raises research concerns and problems which food and rural sociologists must urgently take up and address in their research: Who are the winners and who are the losers as food issues become more pressing? What can be done to reduce food price volatility and food insecurity? At the world congress of the International Sociological Association (ISA) in Gothenburg this summer, these issues will be discussed further at a mini-conference organised by International Rural Sociological Association (IRSA). On July 14, under the theme Comparative perspective on the new productivism: Agricultural system and policy responses to increasing food and energy prices and climate change. I ask you to bring your views and research results, as well as giving them in the discussion forum launched on the IRSA webpage.