Food is not a commons: Tiberius Brastaviceanu responds to Jose Luis Vivero Pol

Tibi responds to an earlier interview we published:

“Treating food as commons is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, unless we want to go back to communism.

Food is different from water and even more different from air, in terms of its availability. We can get air just by breathing. Water has some costs, especially in large cities, because bringing it to the point of consumption requires infrastructure. It makes economic sense to build public utilities and share the costs of water in large cities. Privatizing water doesn’t really make sense, since it’s infrastructure is expensive and therefore it would be exclusive, which creates a monopoly, which usually brings prices up and lowers the quality of the service. Yes evil people have evil dreams to control other people by controlling the essentials to their survival, but history shows that there is strong popular opposition to keep these dreams unrealized. In the modern world, food doesn’t just grow on our tables. For that reason, I believe that we cannot treat food (tomatoes and corn) as commons. Unlike in the Amazonian forest, where food literally grows on trees, in the modern world growing food requires capacity of production and distribution, and a lot of effort. Food is not abundant by itself. We produce an abundance of food, we waste a lot of it, and we miss allocate it. Treating food as commons requires treating the means of production and distribution as commons, which brings us back to communism.

In my opinion, the global food system is screwed up not because we treat food (tomatoes and corn) as a commodity, but because the means of production and distribution of food have been monopolized. These monopolies have influence and have raised the barrier to entry by putting in place policies and regulations, which is a very well-understood dynamic, it’s what monopolies do. My feeling is that treating food as commons as proposed in this paper means transferring these private monopolies in the hands of national and transnational public institutions, which again, I cannot distinguish from communism.

So what can we do??

We need to democratize food production and distribution.


There is a growing commons of knowledge around food production, created and diffused by open communities like Open Source Ecology, FarmHack, Apropedia, etc. This helps local producers, which in turn can aggregate into local food networks and coordinate themselves for transformation and distribution.


The truly p2p web-of-things (not Google’s version!) is a distributed sensing network that gathers information about agricultural activities, which can be aggregated into open databases, analysed and rendered to food producers to help them make better decisions. Layers of economic models can be created on top of the raw data. Leveling the information field can help brake these monopolies.


Open innovation helps individual farmers. Access to information gives everyone the big picture. New network resource planning systems (like the one proposed by SENSORICA with the OVN model) allows producers to share resources and processes and to implement more complex revenue sharing schemes. All this and more makes possible the aggregation of individual production into massive quantities with a great diversity, by networking a large number of individual producers, which can now formulate a value proposition to the consumer that can displace big agro.


It is also true that capitalist markets don’t capture all the costs of food. But some recently created markets do take into consideration quality, carbon footprint, environmental chemical pollution and even ethics. Examples are the local, organic and fair trade. We need to recognize that these are new markets, operating on a different logic, and we need to improve and to expand them. Their problem is that they only operate with one currency, the same one used in classical markets. What about introducing environmental points, which can buy land and water exploitation rights for example? What about reputation points?”

2 Comments Food is not a commons: Tiberius Brastaviceanu responds to Jose Luis Vivero Pol

  1. Øyvind HolmstadØyvind Holmstad

    It seems too that you are not able to distinguish communism from the centralized state socialism, which dominated the former USSR.

    Communism means that the workers own the production means in a decentralized common network. The state will this way dissolve.

  2. AvatarBob Haugen

    If we ignore the communism strawman for a bit (thanks for dealing with that, Øyvind), I think we need to seriously consider the rest of Tibi’s argument. It’s true that food, like any other material production of rival goods, has very different characteristics than open source software (for example), but then even software requires some scarce resources.

    How could we get to “to each according to need” for food? For one thing, the means of production of food would need to be commonly provided. And likewise a lot of the work.

    The patterns of food production for some crops have already changed from the individual private farmer: for example, Community Supported Agriculture, often including shared work on the farm in addition to paying up front for a share of the crop. Or permaculture, where typically many people work on a site over a long time and some of them never see the fruits and nuts mature. Or a common fishery. Or urban community gardens.

    One pattern that I don’t think works very well anymore is industrial agriculture, which was one of the places the USSR went wrong (and where they were copying capitalist methods).

    I do think good agriculture requires people who get to know a particular piece of land very well, so you can’t do that with solely transient work forces. But it’s also true that most of the food you eat was handled by many foodchain workers, some of whom can’t afford very much of the food. So the private farmer working alone is mostly a myth anyway.

    I’m not laying out a programme here, just some directions where some degree of common-ism is already evolving in the production and consumption of food, which suggests to me that food can become more of a commons.

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